Phi Phi Don is the picture perfect island of true paradise. Like other honeymooners who decided Phi Phi was their perfect island destination, and like other honeymooners, we didn’t leave our bedroom for the entire duration. But, remember, this is a public forum and it’s definitely not what you think! Our time in Phi Phi was tarred as a result of a horrendous virus…
A little groggy from the night before, we took a short two hour ferry from Railay to Phi Phi Don. Greg was feeling pretty sick at this point, and it wasn’t too long after we arrived before I was heading for my bed as well. The ladies, not really appreciating the severity of our condition, and in hindsight, neither did we, went to enquire about diving for the following day. The girls made a light plan for the evening and Greg and I, hesitantly, met them later. However, after 5 minutes we needed to go home! Natalie also took a turn for the worse, and we all went to bed, leaving Isabel to fend for herself for the evening. I could see the pain in her eyes that she was the outsider of the group now, Team Blog had been divided. Team Death was three strong.
The following morning we were forced to cancel our diving. We were not in the right condition and it would have been unsafe to go being so dehydrated. Very aware that we only had one more night together before Greg and Issy departed for Malaysia, we all mustered up the strength to go and explore the surrounding islands. We hired a long tail boat for the afternoon which took us across to Phi Phi Lay.
Phi Phi Lay is a smaller island just off Phi Phi Don. Our boat took us to a beautiful spot at Palong Bay, stopping for a quick swim in the crystal blue waters. The bay was filled with different long tail boats, speedboats, and tour boats. It reminded us of Saturday afternoons at stingray city hiring a boat with friends for the afternoon to drink, party and soak up the sun. We then had a quick snorkel and was finally dropped at a creek directly behind Maya Bay.
Maya Bay or as it’s better known, “The Beach”. The very beach Leonardo Di Caprio made famous, and doing so, bringing thousands of tourists everyday of the year for the past fifteen years. They don’t make it easy though. Due to it being low season, the long tail boats cannot pull into Maya Bay which is why we were dropped at the creek. We then had to jump in, swim and climb a net whilst waves crashed against us and the adjacent rocks. Once above, you pay a fee to go in… For conservation, of course! The beach, to its credit, was beautiful. For me, the scenery, and the rocks, limestone kasts that surround the water made it truly magnificent. However, even after all this time travelling, the beach itself and water wasn’t a patch on Governors Beach in Cayman (my favourite beach). It’s hard to judge the beaches with it being low season and I appreciate that the tides and weather mean we can’t see the crystal clear calm blue water like the postcards show.
Whilst on the beach, we had great fun watching the Russians coming ashore and commencing their ‘photoshoots’. This wasn’t one or two but quite a few girls. For a long time too and taking it in turns to strike their pose. I hope one of these made the cut for their Facebook page. Keep an eye on our profile picture, changes coming soon….
Leaving Maya Bay, we asked our driver if he could drop us at Long Beach, a quieter beach further along the coast on Phi Phi Don. We wandered up the beach at dusk, admiring the sun setting views, then back to the hotel.
Still not 100%, our last evening together was very low-key. We had rebooked diving for the next day, but still not feeling fully functional, we just grabbed some dinner and strolled the lanes.
In the morning, we rose bright and early to go diving, although, again, it was not possible. This time however, the boat left without us. They hadn’t emailed us about a change in times and therefore when we arrived the boat had already gone. Whilst it would have been nice to dive in Thailand, maybe the lure was to dive together. Snorkeling the day prior showed the visibility wasn’t a patch on what we were use to and due to the adverse weather conditions, as its low season, the possibility of seeing sharks was very slim. As Isabel said at the time “it just wasn’t meant to be”. Not too disheartened, we grabbed breakfast and made a new plan for our last day together.
We decided to just relax together. We walked up to the magnificent view point, overlooking the whole town, and the beautiful blue sea. Learning from the posers the day before, and a few guys at the view-point, we took some posey pictures which will no doubt feature on our walls in the future. The views were really spectacular, and for me, the pinnacle of our time on the island.
Heading down the steep steps, legs shaking, we collectively decided to go and get pampered with foot massages before a final lunch together and a tearful goodbye at the port.
Natalie and I still had a few more days before flying to Myanmar so decided to move and try a different side of Phi Phi. That was the hope anyway. We had one day of enjoyment sitting by the pool and soaking in the sun. The next day however, eating breakfast, Natalie’s lips suddenly turned blue, her face as white as a ghost, she nearly passed out at the breakfast table and starts wanting to call for the hospital. After some effort, I got her back to the room where she remained, and didn’t move for our final 2 days on the island. You may have noticed the blogs have all come thick and fast over the last few days. Between looking after her, and eating alone, I’ve mainly been catching up with fun administrative tasks and writing blog posts. Sorry about that!
Phi Phi Island and Thailand
As I write this post, we are on the boat leaving Phi Phi Don looking back at the island and it’s surroundings, following 5 mixed nights. We are heading back to Krabi to prepare for our onward flight to Myanmar (Burma).
I know, and perhaps I am getting to self conscious about my thought-provoking posts, but this post is a perfect opportunity to provide some reflective content on our experience of Thailand, and specifically our journey through the south islands.
The south islands are top of a lot of people’s dream lists of destinations to visit, for obvious reason, and as a result, provide a level of expectation which I sincerely feel the experience falls significantly short, leaving you completely underwhelmed. Maybe Natalie and I are bonkers. Maybe a life of paradise in our beloved Cayman Islands taints our views. Who knows…. I’ll continue none the less.
The south islands are all very different in terms of infrastructure, landscape, people, cost and beauty. What they all have in common is their booming tourism industries which are still ever present and going strong despite it being “low season”. I for one, don’t want to ever see it in high season. A common discussion I have with people, and regularly with Greg and Issy was, who has made Thailand like it is. (It might be unfair to just say Thailand has the issues I refer too, but also neighbouring countries like Cambodia and Laos. Vietnam also, to a lesser extent.) Is it the tourists and the westerners that make it like it is or the locals for giving into what they perceive the tourists want and creating a tourism industry which revolves around alcohol, drugs and excessive partying? There are no islands which seem to just cater to the beach goers or people wanting to relax, you still have the constant interaction with the stereotypical Asian backpacker, which is almost impossible to escape. Yes there are resorts in Phi Phi and other islands that you can remain in pure solitude enjoying life’s luxuries but is paying $300 a night travelling experiencing the culture and knowing the country? To spend that amount of money, eat in resorts completely isolates you from the charm of the old ladies cooking in metal sheds, one dish at a time, or the street food vendors and long tail boat guys. I struggle to see how you can experience and know a culture when the experience you’re having is so distant from that of the general population. You could almost be anywhere in the world. Obviously ‘holidaying’ is different.
To imagine what the island was like more than two decades ago when it was first ‘discovered’ by adventurous backpackers looking for Eden on earth seems almost impossible. Those backpackers found it on Phi Phi. A long, wide sand bar gracefully arching between two magnificent islands, creating two placid bays ideal for swimming, snorkelling and scuba diving among sharks, coral and an abundance of fish, surrounded by cliffs waiting to be climbed and forests to be explored.
20 years ago, only a scattering of bungalows dotted the island, which was populated mostly by a community of Island People. There was no pier and only one public boat each week made scheduled trips to the island.
But the paradox in seeking out a hidden paradise is that it will wind up on the map and others begin to seek it out, too — in ever-increasing numbers. The once-idyllic Ton Sai beach became a port, clogged with boats and debris, with a pier to accommodate the large vessels needed to bring the growing number of visitors to shore.
With all that natural beauty, I find it hard to swallow that the locals have not once, but twice, over developed an island which is now totally over-run with 18 year olds drunk all day, clubbing all night, Brits on tour, shirts off, drunken injuries everywhere… The town is like Magaluf or Zante! This wasn’t a home for the Thai community and we saw very little families living there. After the devastation of the tsunami in 2004, from what I have read, nothing has changed and the redevelopment was quicker and more drastic than before.
The irony is that all this land exists on a national park and Thailand might have created a well-managed park with walking trails, rock-climbing, caving, unspoiled diving and snorkelling sites by preserving its natural beauty. From that perspective, it’s a paradise lost!
It’s a real shame that an island that special, with amazing people such as the Thais are, generally, that the culture, tradition and heritage is completely dominated by the need to cater to tourism. Again, is it the tourists to blame, or the locals for catering to it. Then you have to consider education, economy and government corruption and there you end up on a spiralling conversation that can last hours, with no definitive answer.
“Oh how beauty can be a burden. Like Marilyn Monroe, Phi Phi’s stunning looks have become its own demise” Lonely Planet.
Greg and Issy
I will move on now to something much brighter! Prior to travelling, we knew Greg and Isabel through mutual friends in Cayman and hung out just a handful of times. When given the chance to meet up with someone from home, 16,325km across the world, you do it. We changed our plan and route so our trips could coincide but as I have previously said we have zero regrets. In the days before meeting up in Bangkok, we were very excited but naturally slightly hesitant. We had our routine, our budget to work to and a way of travelling that worked for us. Now we had to join another couple. What if they want to eat there, stay here, and do that? Can we keep up? If we can, does our budget allow it?… Budget etc aside, thinking about travelling with another couple for three weeks, in each others pockets, on a standard situation is terrifying and inevitably leads to fireworks. But we are backpacking. It’s hard to explain but travelling almost makes time stand still, yet whizzes by at an unprecedented rate. Three weeks can often feel like three days in a country. This isn’t any normal situation and as a result, the three weeks we shared with Greg and Issy, were amazing. This is just our opinion. You will have to read their blog for their opinion, but we got on great. Individually and as a group. Team Plan and Team Blog quickly aligned seamlessly, and the group dynamic was set. Our relationship was easy, exciting and just full of laughing.
For me, personally, I loved it. Not to sugar coat it, but I’m an annoying and extremely sarcastic plonker, most of the time. Natalie needs a medal. When in company, my annoyance is magnified beyond annoying. They debated with me, took my sarcasm, gave it back bigger and badder each time and therefore where most people don’t get me, or shy away from me with a bad taste left in their mouths, I, and I think everyone, was able to relax and be themselves. I am grateful for that.
As I have explained above about the islands, without Greg and Issy, our experience would have been different and without question, less rewarding. Upon saying goodbye, sad and teary, Natalie and I both looked at one another and moped. We spent that evening in a sombre state with a barrage of junk food to numb the pain and fill the void.
Thank you both for sharing your travels with us. We cannot wait to get back to Cayman and continue our holiday romance. We will bring the Nutella, you bring the condensed milk!!! Greg you still owe me 1/4 baht! Don’t forget… I won’t!
We leave Thailand after 30 days and are excited and apprehensive about our travel of Myanmar. Myanmar has only recently opened its border to tourists and as a result, should be challenging and rewarding but exceptionally different to the rest of South East Asia. We are excited for that. We have had our pep talk with one another, as a big thing for tourists entering Myanmar is to talk to locals. They have been subject to a tourist boycott and junta for years and shut off from the outside world. They want to interact with tourists and appreciate tourists visiting given the global perception of their country. We have had to become so guarded to protect against the daily scams that someone talking to you, ‘just because’, is going to be strange again. We need to, and will, embrace it!
Take us back in time, Myanmar…. We are ready!