Desperately seeking paradise. Ko Phi Phi, Thailand

March 24, 2010 at 2:45 pm 5 comments

It is almost redundant to describe Ko Phi Phi, so familiar is the western world with images of the emerald in Thailand’s crown. Featured in Alex Garland’s film The Beach and James Bond:The Man with the Golden Gun, the scorching white sand and silky green sea of Phi Phi are by now synonymous with both Thailand and paradise. What more could you want from a tropical getaway after all? Crystal clear water? Check. Luxurious sand? Check. Dramatic cliff faces topped with startling green vegetation? Check. Traditional longtail boats bobbing in the waves? Check. A rough jungle interior untouched by concrete roads or high-rise hotels? Check. Absolutely no motorised transport on-land? Check.

The only problem is that Ko Phi Phi’s shores are anything but the undiscovered playground that Leo and crew happened upon in The Beach. On the contrary, Ko Phi Phi is Thailand’s very worst kept secret so instead of that Castaway moment you were looking for, you are more likely to have a Kevin And Perry Go Large experience. Topless girls sunbathing only a hundred metres from the local Mosque, overweight middle aged couples sitting in restaurants wearing only their swimwear, drunk 19 year-olds stumbling down the street at 7pm, astronomical prices (relatively speaking of course. I am told that €2 is not really too much to pay for a large plate of curry, nor is €15 for a standard ensuite room ) – these unfortunately, are the realities of Phi Phi’s budding tourism scene. But for Phi Phi, I can forgive it. For Phi Phi, I can forgive anything.

Whatever about its on-land assets though, the best part of Ko Phi Phi is only open to a select few. Here the wildlife roams free and the natural habitat, alive with vibrant shades of pink and blue, is completely untouched. And what’s more, you can go for hours without seeing a single tourist or loose boob. I am of course talking about Diving: The Sequel. If the diving scene in Ko Tao was good, it was earth-shattering in Ko Phi Phi. Instead of the few barracuda we saw in Ko Tao, there were schools of them in Ko Phi Phi. Where we saw a handful of the same fish in Ko Tao over and over again, the waters of Ko Phi Phi housed far too many species to even take in – clownfish, angelfish, sergent major fish, harlequin sweetlips, grupas… And then there were the huge, menacing moray eels lurking behind the coral (waiting to report back on the Little Mermaid no doubt), striped sea snakes curled up on the sand and comical yellow trumpet fish looking a lot more serious than anything with lips that long should. Apparently Phi Phi also has a huge population of leopard sharks, reef sharks, seahorses and turtles although we didn’t spot any (our instructor informed us that ours was the first trip he had ever taken out to that part of the marine park without spotting at least one turtle).

And all that was just two dive sites out of an almost endless number on offer – sites which take in ship wrecks, deep sea dives and some of the most beautiful reef in Thailand. Just one more reason I could stay in Ko Phi Phi forever. Other reasons include the endless offshore uninhabited islands that I have yet to explore; the fact that when a local is passing you on a bike, instead of ringing their bell, they just sing “ring, ring” or “beep, beep” to ask you to move; the impossibility of getting anywhere without setting foot on a longtail boat, festooned at the front with coloured prayer scarves as an offering to Buddha in return for safe passage; the surprisingly interesting shopping scene; the spectacular weather; the snorkelling; the monkey that walks around town, hand in hand with his owner, wearing red shorts and a shirt with sailing boats on it; the lively nightlife and in particular the live band in Rolling Stoned; the hope that one day, I might arrive in the famous Maya Bay (where The Beach was filmed) to find it deserted and the opportunity to climb up to the view point every evening to watch the sun set behind the cliffs.

It has to be said though, that one of the best parts of our trip to Phi Phi had nothing to do with the island itself but rather the happy coincidence that we got to spend a little more time with Dan, Ash, Cat and Julia (okay fine, we followed them). Before our final, devastating seperation we spent a few days lounging on beaches chattering about nothing and everything, lolling about companionably in hammocks, arguing over whose turn it is to decide where we are going for dinner and, best of all, downing buckets and attending wet tshirt competitions in the local Irish Bar. When the Norwegians left for South Africa and Dan and Ash strapped on their boots and headed for Mt. Everest (“but they’ll climb that mountain when they get to it,” says Gary) Laura and Joe rolled into town and the merriment continued. Hurrah for friends!

Six days after we arrived, we left Ko Phi Phi bronzed, totally relaxed and in my case, completely smitten. Khao Sok National Park has some big shoes to fill.

More pictures from Ko Phi Phi are available in the gallery

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Entry filed under: Travel. Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , .

It’s better down where it’s wetter, under Ko Tao, Thailand Lions and tigers and bears. Oh my! Khao Sok, Thailand

5 Comments Add your own

  • 1. unstranger  |  March 24, 2010 at 3:27 pm

    Haven’t been by for a while and I see you guys are posting some superb stuff. I love the photographs, can’t wait to get the book. It should be only excellent. Well done you two.

    Reply
    • 2. yearlongbreakup  |  March 24, 2010 at 3:54 pm

      Unstranger! We were just talking about you the other day wondering if you were still following us – so glad to see that you are. Had a look at your blog a good while back – if you are considering moving could we suggest Laos? I would imagine that if you aren’t there for tubing it would be a lovely relaxed place to live, we saw a 10 acre plot along the river in Vang Vieng on sale for US$5,000. Now considering ditching our dreams of journalism and graphic design/photography and opening a hotel…

      Ha, a book, if we could get even an article published at home we’d be pretty happy but as far away as you get from Ireland, the word ‘recession’ is never far behind.

      Reply
  • 3. Denise  |  March 25, 2010 at 2:11 am

    HA! We LOVED that all you can eat barbecue place in Koh Phi Phi – it was so good as well as kayaking out to Monkey Beach etc etc etc… I’m loving your blog for bringing me right back every time. Keep up the good work folks!!

    Reply
  • 4. Laura  |  April 2, 2010 at 12:43 pm

    The band at rolling stoned goes by the name ‘made in thailand’ and has a fan site on facebook. Just an FYI x

    Reply
  • 5. happysole  |  April 10, 2010 at 8:18 am

    pass by El Nido, Palawan in the Philippines.. the paradise that inspired Alex Garland to write his book, “The Beach.” Apparently, he wrote the book while living there. happy travelin’!

    Reply

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