Phi Phi Don – The Island of the Cats

(pic - Story) Phi Phi - Title

This isn’t the first time that I’ve been to Phi Phi Island, though the last time, back in 2015, I only stayed for a short time. Basically I took a day cruise from Phuket, which took us to Pileh Lagoon, Monkey Beach, and then we jumped onto the island for a spot of lunch where some guys were wandering around with monkeys charging us ฿100 to hold them and have a photo taken. This was, basically, my entire experience of Phi Phi Don (the main island in the group), though I still have to admit that the most stunning thing about the island was the scenery, and the ragged mountains of rocks thrusting out of the ocean.

So, this time I decided that it might be an idea to stay here for a couple of days, and maybe relax a bit, and go for a boat cruise. Well, it became pretty obvious that one thing that you can’t really do on Phi Phi is relax – or at least I can’t, since I find it difficult to actually do any work in a place that doesn’t happen to be my home (or office, but since I have returned to full time studies, I no longer have one, not that I ever had my own office, such as the pleb that I was).

(pic - Story) Phi Phi - Mountain of Rock

Unfortunately, there is no airport on the island, so the only way to get there is by boat. Okay, you could go by seaplane, but I didn’t see any options to travel by seaplane, or by helicopter (not that I would have been willing to pay the asking price for it anyway), so we ended up on the boat, which I have to admit was quite nice. I guess wandering onto that boat the first noticeable thing were the younger crowd laying on the sun deck, soaking in as much of the sun as possible. There was also the first class cabin, which you pay by way of an upgrade when you are on the boat (฿300 for the first class cabin on the lower deck, and ฿500 for the premium cabin on the upper deck).

Currently, I’m sitting in the first class cabin on my way back to Phuket (or at least I was when I was writing this – it has taken me a while to get around to actually posting it), and since it happens to be the morning boat, it is awfully quiet, with people lying on the couches, not doubt recovering from the previous night, and also catching up on some sleep (if they actually had any). In fact, looking around the cabin, with the exception of my brother and I, and some guy playing on his mobile phone, pretty much everybody is asleep.

(pic - Story) Phi Phi - Night Time
This is probably what they were up to the night before

One Big Beach

When the boat docked, and all the backpackers piled off (Phi Phi is a major backpacker destination), we then had to make our way through the gauntlet of touts attempting to sell us accommodation. Some have suggested that you can get some pretty good discounts when you purchase accommodation on the spot, particularly since you can haggle, however I’m one of those people, especially when I’m travelling with my brother, to make sure all of the accommodation is booked in advanced. As such we ended up at a nice resort not too far from the docks. While it wasn’t the most expensive of places there, it still wasn’t cheap. Then again, the cheaper options tend to involve guesthouses, and with the heat that seems to be a constant part of the island, I tend to prefer to stick with something that happens to have airconditioning.

I should point out that when you arrive you have to pay a ฿20 clean up fee, which is not surprising due to the number of people that visit the island, and the amount of rubbish that no doubt accumulates. We are also talking about young people coming down to the beach to basically party, so you can probably imagine what the cleanup in the morning is going to look like (which I should point out is quite effective, since the beaches still seem to be remarkably clean). One thing that I also noticed is that this is a walking island, but since it is so small you can pretty much get everywhere by foot anyway. There is the occasional scooter, but not many. What you do see though are these guys with what I could call wheelbarrows, for want of a better word, carrying anything as everything. For a small feel, you can dump your bags into it, and they will take them to your hotel.

(pic - Story) Phi Phi - Street
Just to give you an idea of the average street

So, that brings me to the touts, and not surprisingly there are a lot of people trying to sell you pretty much anything and everything (well, not quite, because I couldn’t find an SD card reader amongst the stalls). However, you do have these water taxis, which are basically these long wooden powered boats, and they will take you to various parts of the islands, including the more popular bays. Oh, then there are the diving shops, and what surprised me that we have westerners as the touts. It was actually quite amusing, walking past one near our hotel, and hearing this American accent attempting to persuade us to go scuba diving. It was even more amusing when they attempting to persuade my disabled brother to do so as well.

Actually, I noticed a lot more westerners working down here in the bars and other places than I have noticed elsewhere. I suspect this has a lot to do with the backpacker culture of Phi Phi Island. The thing with backpackers is that they try to do things on the cheap, and fund their holidays by working – which is the case here. Personally, I’m not all that sure whether a job in Thailand could come anywhere near as close as paying enough to party, but they still seem to pick up whatever jobs they can – I guess that is why these stories of Western beggers on the streets of Bangkok have started to emerge.

(pic - Story) Phi Phi - Beach

As I have mentioned, Phi Phi Island is basically one big beach, which means that everybody (well not quite) walks around in their bathers (or swimmers, or togs, or whatever you want to call them). It is quite a sight those first couple of days, and I guess that is the nature of the place. Yet, it is surprising that there is so much exposed skin when Phi Phi is basically a Muslim island. Well, in a way it is, if you consider the permanent inhabitants, but not when you consider the transient population. I guess, in the end, it is hot, really, really hot, and tourism brings in so much money, that they have learned to put up with it.

Cats, Hundreds upon Hundreds of Cats

This is something that I didn’t pick up the first time I was here, and that were all the cats just wondering around the island. In fact it doesn’t take all that long to start seeing them – they are literally everywhere. The odd thing is that when people talk about Phi Phi Island, they talk about the beaches, the scenery, the hot weather, and the snorkeling, but nobody ever mentions the cats. However, this is one of the attractions of the island, and it is something that makes it unique. In fact, one blogger, when writing about her experiences, simply didn’t get any further than writing about the cats (as did this blogger as well).

(pic - Story) Phi Phi - Cat 01

The thing about the cats though is that they aren’t skittish, or at least 98% of them aren’t skittish. It is as if they simply accept people wandering about the place, and don’t mind then coming up to them and petting them. In fact I couldn’t bring myself to walk past a cat without stopping, taking a photo, and giving at a bit of a pet. In fact, you could say that Phi Phi island is literally one, gigantic, cat cafe, one which you don’t have to pay to enter (well, not quite, but you know what I mean).

(pic - Story) Phi Phi - Cat 02

Anyway, I was a little curious about why there were so many cats, and why they were so amicable. Well, it turns out that in Islam, cats are a highly revered animal. In fact the only animal that is allowed into a mosque is a cat, namely because they are considered ritually clean. I even read in one spot that if you kill a cat, then to cleanse yourself of your sin, you have to build a mosque. The reason for this adoration of cats goes back to the prophet, who happens to be a cat lover. There is even a story that one of his cats saved his life by killing a snake that was about to bite him. He then stroked the cat on the head, and if you see a cat with three stripes on its head, the story is that the cat is a descendant of that cat that he stroked.

(pic - Story) Phi Phi - Cat 03
Those are the stripes I’m talking about

Yeah, that movie

There was a movie a while back, which was based on a book, about some guy looking for the perfect beach. Well, it turned out that this perfect beach happened to be in the Phi Phi Islands, and turned out to be Maya Bay. Well, if you go to Maya Bay these days it certainly isn’t the perfect beach that it once was. This also baffles me somewhat because I didn’t think it was all that great a film. In fact the user rating on IMDB gives it 6.6, and Rotten Tomatoes is even harsher giving it only 20% (though that is the critic’s rating, the audience are a little nicer, giving it 57%). Still, with ratings like that it baffles me why all these people come to these specific locations – I suspect it has more to do with the scenery than the movie itself.

(pic - Story) Phi Phi - Maya Bay

Last time I was here I didn’t get a chance to go to Maya Bay, thanks to a huge swell. However, this time I did, not that it was all that great. The problem was that the boat we were on was much bigger, meaning that it needed a deep water harbour, and the swell prevented it from going into Pileh Lagoon. Getting to Maya Bay turned out to be a bit of a challange though, because we went to the south side of the island, to Loh Samah Bay, where they dropped anchor. The crew then pointed to a large fishing net dangling from a valley and told us that to get to Maya Bay we had to cross about 100 meters of water (by kayak) and the climb the net. A couple of people from the tour boat dispensed with the Kayak and dived straight in. Me, being the stupid Australian that I am, who was taught to swim at a very young age, dived in as well. It was a good thing I had a life jacket on because the swell was absolutely wretched. I eventually made it to the net, and struggled up it, thanks to the swell taking a lot of my energy in the first place. Needless to say, Maya bay wasn’t that impressive.

(pic- Story) Phi Phi - Maya Bay Entrance

That is until we went around to the other side of the island and pulled into the bay. Here we set anchor again, and it was time for some snorkling (or just swimming). I’ve never been a big fan of swimming at the beach, but we weren’t at the beach, we were in the middle of the bay. So, there is no bottom to worry about, which can be a bit of a concern if you swim too far from the boat, and while it was much calmer, there was still a bit of a swell. However, the crew then started throwing food into the water, and next thing I knew, I was surrounded by fish. Needless to say my brother, who can’t swim so he stayed on the boat, was delighted to see all the fish in the water.

A Bit About the Drugs

Well, one of the things that I also wanted to do was to visit the bars, and there are quite a few. However, after about two days here I had eventually visited all of them. That first night though, I wandered onto the back beach where there were a number of beach bars. At about 9:00 pm the fun starts when fire dancers come out and start performing their tricks, and some of these tricks are absolutely amazing. They even have revellers come in an join the fun, but I wouldn’t recommended it because you really don’t want to get burnt, especially in Thailand.

At about 10:00 pm the fire shows wind down and they then begin to alternate between limbo and jump rope. All the while there are these people handing out fluorescent ribbons. It is supposed to be some sort of ‘traffic light’ party (that is green for easy, orange for convince me, and red for don’t bother), however in the end these ribbons mean nothing – they are just fluorescent ribbons to wave about while dancing. At this is the thing, the techno beats will suddenly start blaring out of these bars, and people will start dancing all the way into the night. As the clock moves forward, the tide starts coming in, and you soon discover that you are dancing on the beach – delightful.

Yet where there are parties, particularly raves, you will also find the drugs. I’m not here to tell you how to get them or where to find them, but as a bit of a warning. Let us ignore the fact that Thailand has some pretty strict drug laws, and while having a joint might not result in you dangling from the hangman’s noose, you may find yourself with a pretty hefty fine – and this isn’t a slap on the wrist sort of fine, this is a holiday ruining fine. If you’re unlucky, you may find yourself having an extended stay in the Bangkok Hilton.

I could go on talking about the drugs, but I’m sure many of you have already heard the stories, and probably scoff at them too, writing it off as government propaganda – except that it isn’t. The thing is that drugs do seriously mess with your head, and I have seen lives destroyed by them – and this isn’t just the hard stuff either, marijuana is just as bad. Let us also have none of this ‘but alcohol is worse than marijunana’ because while that may be the case, the major difference is that you can have a couple of beers and still be pretty compus mentus. One can have a beer simply to have a drink, which is not the case with marijuana – people who smoke marijuana do so to get stoned.

Anyway, to finish off here is a picture of a cat.

(pic - Story) Phi Phi - Cat 04

Creative Commons License
Phi Phi Don – The Island of the Cats by David Alfred 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.

 


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