Thailand: Koh Phi Phi redux

Yesterday we rented a long-tail boat to take us to Phi Phi Lei, the uninhabited island made famous in the 60s by one James Bond movie, possibly Goldeneye, in which James comes roaring out of this canyon of emerald green water and high jagged cliff faces in a super-fast speedboat. It was all over for PP then, I’m afraid, although PP Lei is magnificent. It juts out of the water just south of PP Don and can be reached by long-tail in 20 minutes or so. It’s very steep rock cliff-faces jut vertically up out of the water and have been weathered and eaten by waves and wind for thousands of years into sharp, jagged formations. Clinging to these cliffs are twisted and gnarled trees hanging on for their lives. The bottom of the cliff faces are undercut into many caves, some very deep and the locals are harvesting swallows nests in one particularly large cave. The cliff walls open up into the “James Bond” canyon lagoon where the water is calm and emerald green; a tiny beach is nestled into one side of the cliff face. We slowly toured through here on our long-tail.

After emerging from this lagoon we stopped along with several others at a rocky knoll to snorkel. Ty and I had fun looking at all the variety of small fish, many gold and yellow, some larger ones iridescent blue and green. In areas of the seabed the coral reef has been destroyed, likely from the tsunami and is just beginning to grow back. My portable camera bit the dust (or water) here. Somehow, water got into its supposedly waterproof body and that’s that for that. Ty got some footage of the fish on our small video camera.

After our snorkel we travelled around to the west side of the island and into Maya Bay. It was also made famous in the same Bond movie and in The Beach, a schlocky 70s movie featuring a young Brooke Shields, I believe. As a result, the Bay was packed with longtails, tours boats and, most annoying, speedboats from Puket (on the mainland), screaming in every two seconds and creating huge wakes. We decided to pass on visiting the tiny and enormously crowded beach. The island itself is really beautiful and better to be visited as early in the morning as possible for the plague of tourist boats arrive.

In the afternoon we took a long-tail taxi to Long Beach, just around the point from our place and tried snorkeling along the rocky wall into the water there. We were able to see quite a few fish because the water is clearer there than on our beach, where construction projects and thousands of boats coming and going have stirred up the silt and clouded the water. Many construction projects are going on here; new bungalow and storefront developments are blasted into the rock right along the water, leaving a residue of cement bags and mud. Guys with small wheeled carts haul construction material through the cobblestoned paths, in and around the tourists obliviously walking in their way.

In behind all the chi-chi shops developed for the tourist trade are the usual corrugated and rusted tin hovels housing the local people who man these shops – not too many tourists venture into these parts and if they accidently do, they scuttle out quickly. The contrast between the two parts of town is more striking here than on any of the other islands that we’ve seen. Two nights ago we ate in a local hangout; we were the only farangs there until an old, fat white guy showed up with his new young Thai “girlfriend”. We were given the tourist menu and likely paid enough for our dinner there to feed a family of four for a week or possibly a month. Neither of us felt bad about paying probably 10 times what the other diners were paying for their meals – the disparity in wealth between us and them is huge. Our motto here is “Spread the wealth”.

We’ve seen quite a few really old white guys with beautiful young Thai women here – the men are shameless, possibly quite proud of themselves, and being taken for every penny, no doubt. Before Viagra, these guys would not have merited even a one second glance – I guess both parties deserve one another, although I’m more sympathetic to the women, for whom the tourist men are a way out of their corrugated shacks. Almost everyone here is opportunistic; the beach dogs, the cats who proliferate in the stores and restaurants meowing piteously for scraps, the myna birds who hang around on our deck, calling to us for food, the tourist touts, the off-island owners of the “Irish pub” and the Italian coffee-bars, the tourists looking for cheap sex and cheap booze … In the evening herds of youth stumble around holding plastic buckets of cheap liquor – it’s always Happy Hour on Phi Phi Island.

For Chinese New Year we decided to have grilled sea food in one of the beachfront restaurants. The first one we tried had sullen and surly young male servers who did little serving and much horking into the palm trees. After being presented with what looked like reheated prawns in tinfoil, we sent them back and bailed fast. We ended up instead in Mama’s Resto on the main drag, a restaurant owned by an Italian man who helped me pick out a nice bottle of white wine and served us fantastic, and huge, grilled prawns, so big that we just could not quite finish them all. Good food, good service and a pleasant atmosphere with local oil paintings on the wall. Here we paid a fortune for our dinner – 3000 baht, including tip, but figured that Chinese New Year on Phi Phi Island will only come around once for us and so it was worth a splurge.

Our last day on Phi Phi was spent on Bamboo Island, off the north coast of PP. We rented a long-tail and headed off through the pounding waves, getting a wet and wild ride. Once there, it was deserted and beautiful – we saw a black, white and yellow spotted moray eel, many beautiful angelfish, a barracuda and two blowfish.

We’re off to the much less developed island of Koh Jum tomorrow – more later.

See pictures here.

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