After a relaxing day wandering around Patong Beach (and a couple of not so relaxing nights) it was time to go on my first tour. However I was a little worried, namely because this isn’t Australia where you can take companies to the ACCC if they rip you off by taking your money and vanishing into thin air (not that the ACCC can do all that much when that happens anyway – it is still a case of caveat emptor). So, I went into the lobby of the hotel (after having breakfast) with my laptop and book in my backpack (which was going to be a mistake) to wait for the bus to come and pick me up. After five people coming in calling out ‘James Bond Island’ and one calling out ‘Phi Phi Island’ I was starting to get a little worried. However the driver soon turned up, collected me, and took us off to the Royal Phuket Marina where our tour company, Sea Star, was based.
We all piled into the offices and were each given an armband to identify the boat that we would be taking. After about fifteen minutes we were then summoned into one of the rooms so that the chief could tell us a few things about the trip. Firstly, he said, we were going to Phi Phi Island, which is actually a collection of islands, of which the main one is an island called Ko Phi Phi Don (and the smaller one is called Ko Phi Phi Lee – Ko is Thai for island, just in case you hadn’t worked it out). Anyway, he did warn us that the seas were going to be particularly rough today (the waves were about three meters high) and if the weather deteriorated then it would be likely that the tour would have to be cancelled. Our guide said a similar thing since the boats that we were going to take were not designed for rough seas. The chief also told us about the sea sickness tablets – don’t take too many. Being game I decided that I would pass on the tablets, despite the fact that I did not know whether I would suffer from sea sickness (it turns out that I don’t).
The final thing he told us was about Monkey Beach, namely that they are wild monkeys so there would be a possibility that we would turn up and as such there would be no monkeys on the beach. It wasn’t as if we could call them on a telephone and say ‘Hi Monkeys, we have some tourists coming to your beach so it would be really nice if you could make an appearance just for them’. It would have been a shame if they didn’t turn up because the major reason that I was going on this tour was to see the monkeys.
So, after collecting our belongings we then headed out to the marina where the obligatory photographs were taken (though I managed to evade having one taken of me). We then headed down to the boat where we were instructed to remove our footwear (it was a good thing that I bought some thongs, otherwise known as flip-flops to those of you who aren’t Australian) since we were not allowed to wear them on the boat. So, having done that we all piled into the boat, put on our lifejackets, and prepared to take off into the high seas.
I sometimes find it rather amusing that people seem to think that life-jackets are an optional accessory that can be discarded if it doesn’t match their attire, or simply only worn in the laziest of fashion. I guess my reaction has more to do with having been a scout during my teenage years and being taught that when ever we were in a boat we should wear a life jacket. Okay, I’ve never worn a life jacket on any of the Sydney or Hong Kong ferries that I have been on, and I am sure if I even, for some bizarre reason, end up going on a cruise, I wouldn’t be wandering around the ship with one on either, but when we are dealing with smaller boats, especially when the seas are rough, then life jackets are essential. Granted, we were told that these speedboats are very hard to capsize, but then again you never know what would happen when you head out onto the high seas.
This was one of this things that our guide pointed out to us – we were going out onto the high seas. The route from Phuket to Phi Phi is across the open ocean and there is basically nothing to the west until you hit Sri Lanka. Well, okay, looking at the map I am probably exaggerating a bit, but these are not nice calm waters that you would expect to find in you average sheltered harbour.
We were then introduced to our guide – or rather she introduced herself to us. Her name was Latte, as in Caffe Latte, and despite the seas being really rough, she assured us that our captain (namely the guy who drives the speedboat) had fifteen years of experience driving these things. Alongside him were two other members of the crew, one who would stand out the front, and another who would hang from the back of the boat. In fact as we were bouncing over the waves on our trip, I would watch this guy with fascination wandering not only how he could hold on, but actually enjoy the experience.
The final person whom Late introduced us to was the camera man. His job was to film the tour and they would then compile the footage and deliver a customised DVD to our hotel the next day. I passed on the offer (though when they asked me on the second tour I really couldn’t say no – despite the fact that this DVD set me back $65.00). Latte also told us that due to the weather it was highly unlikely that we would be able to go to Maya Bay. Personally I didn’t care because I had no idea what the fascination with Maya Bay was – all I wanted to see were the monkeys (it is the beach where the Leonardo Di Caprio film The Beach was filmed).
So, we set off out of the harbour, and once we had cleared the harbour we then hit full speed. This didn’t seem all that bad I thought, until Late told us that we still hadn’t reached the open ocean.
Then all of the sudden the boat plummeted and everybody screamed. It then did it again, and again. Yep, I now know what they meant when they told us that the seas were really rough. Okay, I wasn’t going to get sea-sick, but while at first it may feel like one of those rides at a carnival, after about five minutes it starts to get really, really annoying. As I said, it wasn’t so much sea-sickness, it was just really uncomfortable bouncing all over the place for the next half-an-hour.
Then we hit the rainstorm. We were absolutely drenched. The rain started coming in softly and then all of the suddenly it felt as if we had struck a wall of water. Well, not so much a wall of water, but think of the experience when somebody throws a bucket of water at you, and then imagine that happening continually for the next five minutes – that is what it is like when you hit a tropical rain storm in a speed boat travelling, well, fast (I didn’t ask how fast these things travelled, but it felt pretty fast). That was when I suddenly realised that it was a mistake bringing my laptop. However, the fact that I am writing this on the said laptop goes to show that it came through the ordeal relatively unscathed (though the receipts that were in my bag didn’t).
Time for a Swim
Our first stop upon arriving at Phi-Phi island was the Viking Cave. Unfortunately I have no idea as to how it got that name considering there are no vikings in the area. The cave itself is a collection of platforms and scaffoldings and one website suggests that it is a temple as well as the nesting place for a bird whose eggs are a delicacy among the Chinese. Unfortunately we were unable to go into the cave since, as Late explained, only one tour company has the rights. However, considering the number of boats that were flocking around the area I suspect that it probably has more to do with a desire not to have tourists scrambling all over the place and destroying what is inside.
Unfortunately we were not able to get into Maya Bay simply because the seas were simply too rough. As Latte said, it is better to simply skip it and to run the risk of being smashed against the rocks. While others might have been disappointed, I could understand where she was coming from, and anyway all I wanted to see was Monkey Beach.
Actually, that wasn’t the only thing I wanted to see because I have always been fascinated by the huge limestone crags that thrust out of the water and wanted to personally visit the place. Mind you, the only real reason I came to Thailand was James Bond Island, however I ended up going on this tour on the recommendation of a friend who told me all about Monkey Beach (and Viking Cave).
The other thing that caught my attention were the small Thai outriggers that seemed to be crowded around the area, Apparently these are like water taxis that you can hire from Phi Phi village to take you around the islands.
To make up for the inability to visit Maya Bay we instead went to Pileh Lagoon, another location that appeared in The Beach. Latte told us that in the movie Leonard jumps off a cliff into the water near a waterfall, however the problem is that there aren’t any waterfalls on any of the islands in Thailand – such is Hollywood.
So, we entered the lagoon to discover that we weren’t the only people here for a swim. Mind you this is proper swimming, not the type of swimming you do at the beach where you simply paddle around in the water. The water here is pretty deep so you can actually go for a real swim. I wasn’t all that interested at first, but then decided why not, so I was about to jump in when I realised that I was still wearing my life jacket. Okay, maybe there are some safety concerns but seriously, I know how to swim, and I’ve been swimming since I was a kid, so I discarded the lifejacket and dived in.
I’ve always wanted to take a boat out into the ocean and the jump overboard for a swim – well now I’ve done that.
Latte then cried out ‘Sea Star! Sea Star!’ meaning that out swimming time was up, so we all piled back on board and we headed off to monkey beach. Well, fortunately for us the monkeys had decided that were going to go down to the beach to check out the tourists. Latte did warn us that these monkeys were wild and not to be trusted – they have a habit of stealing things that look interesting. While I got to see the monkeys, everybody piled to the front of the boat making it really hard for me to take any decent photos. I was really disappointed so I went back to my seat and sulked.
I probably should have done a bit of snorkling but right from the beginning it wasn’t something that I was all that interested in doing (particularly since you had to sign in for the mask and snorkel). Now that I look back I realise that unlike many of the people on the tour I did know how to swim, and despite never doing all that much snorkling (with the exception of some lessons at school) I simply said that it was too hard (particularly since my experience of snorkling involved sucking water in through the snorkel). Anyway, what I missed out on was seeing lots of beautiful fish and maybe even some coral. The mask actually allows you to see underwater (and even though I can and do swim underwater with my eyes open, it is not something that I would encourage). One of the things that they did was throw bread into the water to lure all of the fish to the surface. Anyway, most, if not all, of the swimmers were simply floating on the surface looking into the water to see the fish. I probably should have also grabbed one of those waterproof coverings for my phone so I could take photos underwater.
Lunch at Phi-Phi
Our next stop was Ko Phi-Phi Don. Okay, Monkey Beach is located on the island, but we were on our way to the Isthmus between the two limestone stacks. The interesting thing about Phi-Phi Don is that it is populated mostly by Muslims. The current population originally migrated from the south around Malaysia and Indonesia and settled on the island due to the abundance of fish. In fact most of the islands in the region are predominantly Malay and Indonesians. With the rise of the tourist industry a lot of Chinese and Thai moved over from the mainland to support the industry.
The main village on Phi-Phi Don is located on the Isthmus, which meant that when the tidal wave hit in 2004 the entire infrastructure of the island was destroyed (it is only about 6 meters above sea level and the tidal wave hit the island from both sides). Our boat was brought onto a beach at the western end of the island meaning that we didn’t get a chance to wander around the main settlement. Most of the time we spent having lunch in this large shelter (which was a buffet lunch, as I have come to expect from most tours) though we did have a little time to explore.
This was one of those times when I wish I knew what was going to happen because I spent my time since Monkey Beach sulking because I didn’t get a good photo of the monkeys, however as I was having lunch I looked up and saw these guys wandering around outside with monkeys on their shoulders (and the monkeys were wearing diapers). They would go up to people, throw the monkeys on their shoulders and then ask for 100฿ to take a photo of them. Upon seeing this I hurriedly finished my lunch, grabbed my bag and walked over to them.
As I approached two of them suddenly came up to me and threw the monkeys onto me and started asking 100฿ for a photo (which is the going price for having a photo taken of you with an animal). Okay, these monkeys are tame (though there is a very good reason why they are in daipurs) but they still shouldn’t be trusted. At one stage I had my camera dangling around my wrist and the monkey kept on trying to grab it. I wander whether if it did manage to steal it whether it would have run off and started taking selfies and posting them on facebook. Later I was talking to my friend wandering why the monkeys seemed to flock down to Monkey Beach and he suggested that it probably had a lot to do with the tourists – they are curious little creatures and I suspect they like looking at the tourists as much as the tourists like looking at them.
After lunch it was time to return to the boat, however that was when it started to get a little confusing because there were an awful lot of boats parked along the beach. I almost got onto the wrong boat, but they make sure that you don’t get on if you aren’t supposed to get on. There is a pier further along the beach outside the main town where the large boats will take you to the mainland, but as I mentioned I didn’t get time to check out the main settlement. It was a shame because where I was was an alcohol free location (due to it being private property owned by Muslims) however we were off to some place else where that wouldn’t be as much of a problem.
Then it started pelting down with rain again, so we all rushed off under shelter, but as was expected with rain in Thailand it didn’t last all that long (I’m simply too used to Australian rain which happens to drizzle pretty much all day). Anyway, here are a couple of more photos of the beach (not that it is a fantastic beach since all of the boats come to the sure, but that has something to do with the deep water harbour being located here – if you want a decent beach you go to the northern side of the island).
So, we got back onto the boat and headed out to sea again, and sure enough we hit the choppy waters. It wasn’t all that bad around Phi-Phi because the islands provided shelter, but once we hit the open sea the twenty minute carnival ride started up again. Also, once again, for the first few minutes everybody is screaming, and then for the rest of the time we are all bouncing about everywhere waiting for the trip to come to an end.
When we were first travelling to Phi-Phi I was using my phone to take photos, however it quickly became apparent that if I wanted to keep my phone, using it to take videos would be a really bad idea. Fortunately my camera allows me to take videos, and it has a strap on it that I can put around my wrist in case I drop it. So, my phone went into my bag and out came my camera. I also discovered that it also does sound.
Anyway, our final stop was Khai Island. Once again it was simply spending some time doing nothing: either swimming, snorkling, or sitting on one of the deck chairs with a Pina-collada (or a beer) and a book. I wasn’t sure what to expect and I was looking at all these large islands wandering if that was where we were heading. All of the suddenly Late told us that we had arrived, and I looked around to see this tiny island covered in deck chairs and grass roofed shelters. This was bizarre – what on Earth was this tiny island such a draw card for tourists.
Two words – The Beach.
As Latte explained before that rather ordinary Leonardo Di Caprio movie was made this place was little more than some rocks and sand. Nobody ever came here. All of the sudden people wanted to come and visit the spots where the movie was made, and with the people came the tourist industry. It is funny because the whole movie was about this guy going on a trek for a beach that was hidden away from the world – a secluded beach untouched by the tourist industry. That beach was Maya Bay, however once Hollywood revealed its location, the tourists pour in and the industry explodes.
Now Khai Island looks like this:
When we got off the boat we were lead around to an area that was owned by the company. The thing with Khai island is that if you want to sit on the deck chair you have to pay, so the tour companies have their own areas so that we don’t have to do so. Also, when you are sitting on the chairs touts will file past trying to sell you either drinks or a ride on a jet ski (though I have been told that you need to be really careful who you rent the jet skis off because there is a chance you will get ripped off – not that legitimate multi-national companies don’t rip you off). However we had our own bar, so I was satisfied with that.
Anyway, it was time to head off back to Phuket, however I couldn’t help notice how odd it was seeing people swimming wearing life jackets – I guess it has something to do with being Australian and never seeing anybody at the beach wearing a life jacket.
Oh, and just to be annoying, here is another photo of the beach at Khai Island.
Phuket Phenomenah – Speedboat to Phi-Phi by David Sarkies is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.If you wish to use this work commercially please feel free to contact me.