After two beachless days in Old Town Phuket, we’re ready to do some island hopping. We book a ferry to the famous Phi Phi Islands. A shuttle comes to our hostel at 10am and brings us to the pier.
The pier is a hectic scene of comings and goings. We are pointed to a booth where we exchange our tickets for a sticker to wear on our shirts.
We’re not entirely sure what goes on at Koh Phi Phi. We know that one of the nearby islands was a filming location for The Beach. Boarding the ferry, we soon have an idea after surveying the crowd. It’s a broad mix of tourist nationalities, most of them between 20-35 years old. We climb to the top of the ferry which is exposed to both beautiful island scenery and the burning rays of sunshine.
Searching for patches of shade, we happen to sit next to a group of Americans from Maryland. They’re drinking cans of Chang beer and chatting about some big electronic music festival they’re going to when they get home. We chat about festivals for a while, and get acquainted. They have some wear and tear from their past few days in Thailand: bad sunburn, moped scrapes & exhaust burns, and perpetual hangovers. They’re on a week long holiday from their otherwise professional and prospering careers.
Like a lot of the folks on the ferry, these guys are excited to experience the night life Koh Phi Phi has to offer. Thailand boasts beautiful settings with wild parties.
We are interested to explore the island and soak in the natural wonder of this tropical land. Sierra is protected from the sun with shawls and scarves, wisely sticking to the shade as the ferry moves away from Phuket. I am lounging in the sun for a while.
We see a white speck on a distant Phuket mountain. Someone says it’s a large Buddha statue. I think of Christ-inspired statues the conquistadors erected in South America.
The ferry chugs along toward a pile of islands in the distance. We chat with an Australian who seems very interested in our previous profession in Humboldt county. I go on and fill him in on some of the basic details of our work and I notice we’re raising the eyebrows of nearby tourists. The whole top deck is absent of authority figures so I deem it safe to discuss this otherwise taboo subject.
Later, Sierra reminds me that discretion is a better policy. From now on, we won’t go blabbing much about our past jobs. If anyone asks, we were migrant flower farmers. No more questions, please.
Off in the distance ahead, there are dark clouds trailing ribbons of rain behind them. The ferry is headed straight for them. Everyone begins packing their bags to brace for the incoming weather. We linger on the deck awhile, getting speckled with warm drops of water.
Soon enough the heavy rain slams us and everyone scrambles down the narrow stairs to the lower decks. I wonder if anyone will get politely trampled by this herd.
We move up to the bow of the ferry and snap some foggy photos of the limestone cliffs and tiny paradise islands.
The whole ride lasts a little over an hour as we near a bay full of long tail boats and yachts. The shoreline is dotted with hotels and resorts while the steep cliffs and interior island look too rugged to develop. This is Phi Phi Don and the bay where we’ll be staying for the night. Flat and accessible.
On the docks now, we march through mobs of tour-guides and hand-cart baggage-men, all talking over each other to offer us services.
Sierra stops to look at a map and we realize the island is quite small. It doesn’t have roadways for driving. The tuk-tuk drivers and taxis are replaced by Thais pushing large luggage carts up the hills to resorts and hotels.
Stoping in an Irish pub to eat some Thai food, we try to keep out of the afternoon sun. I’m already well-brunt from the ferry.
We are booked a stay in a bamboo bungalow on the hill.Making our way down the walking-street, we meet a European dive-tour salesman asks where we’re going. He gives us directions, then tells us to stop by later to talk shop about diving. The heat is getting straight to our heads as we struggle to remember which way the guy said.
We make a turn and head up a steep hill. Through some resorts and over a bridge, we find a group of Thai construction workers and ask them the whereabouts of our destination. They tell us we’re on the wrong hill and our bungalow is clear on the other side of town. These guys are awfully friendly and help us get the exact directions. As we’re leaving, one of them pulls a radio off his hip and squawks a few phrases in Thai.
At the bottom of the hill, a luggage-cart wheeler miraculously knows our destination and offers to carry our bags for a fee. We say no thank you, and he follows us to the even-steeper hill to see if we change our minds. We trudge uphill soaked in sweat, steadily growing weary and dehydrated.
We come upon a small pickup truck facing up the narrow walkway. The driver asks us if we want a ride. We say “no thanks” and keep walking but he stops us again and says “it’s free.”
We hop in the bed of the truck, sighing. Secretly, I wonder if there is some sort of catch. There are a few Europeans sharing the steep, winding ride with us. The road is just wide enough for the truck as it clamors uphill. We duck and weave around branches and the driver drops us at the front desk of our “hotel”.
The hosts are very nice to us. They carry our bags and give us cold water. We get the key to our bungalow and they tell us to take a shower and check back in later for directions around the island. I take a shower and type a bit.
In the distance, we hear PA systems firing up a jambalaya of electronic music. We see bucket drinks galore. For those who don’t know, a proper bucket drink gives you a pint of liquor and some mixers. The bucket is filled with ice and you are given your choice of straws. It costs around $5, depending on where you shop.
We watch a fire show at a beach bar. It’s a bunch of muscular Thai men spinning poi. They take turns on the raised platform, each man doing his act with one or two staffs, or the spinning ball-and-chain. A few ties a fire staff goes willy-nilly through the air and almost strikes a member of the crowd, closely arranged sitting in rows of chairs.
At some point during the show, a Thai man with wild eyes approaches me. He is holding a menu, presumably a waiter. I begin to wave him off when I notice he’s holding a small cardboard sign tucked inside the menu. It’s a menu within a menu! It contains a list of substances which I’ll refrain from naming here. At any rate, we wave him off because #1: his prices are outrageous and #2: I’m not going to break any of Thailands serious laws.
The house music is beginning to grind my ears apart so we wander back onto a well-lit walking street. A scuba salesman from the far north of America strikes up a conversation with us. He fills us in on the scuba certification classes and the costs. He pitches a great sale but we’re more interested in how long he’s been living here and how he manages.
The North American gentlemen, we’ll call him Carroll, has been sharing an apartment on a neighboring island with his girlfriend. She works as a bartender. For $300 a month they get maid service and air conditioning. He explained that most of the dive company employees get their start as daytime salesmen, collecting a 10% commission. They get a discount on diving lessons and the option to become certified as an instructor.
Carroll has been a full-time employee for the company on and off, living off his tourist visa. Since the island is, well, an island, they get plenty of advance notice when immigration will be arriving.
He is a wealth of information, letting us know how we can extend our stay and earn a bit of pocket money along the way. The bartending gigs seem easy enough since the drink menus contain the same eight tropical cocktails. Beyond that, a smartphone with a drink app and a knack for pouring would deem one certified out here. The only downside being the endless party, the repetitive music, and the long long nights. I suspect being a bartender on Koh Phi Phi would be a lot like the movie Groundhog Day except with LMFAO instead of Sonny & Cher to wake you up every morning.
We get the info for the diving lessons and consider coming back another time. We can probably find better deals of equal quality on Koh Tao, Thailands famous diving island.
We shake hands and walk on, passing so may beach bars boasting pool parties, beer pong, bucket drinks, and general techno-fueled partying. I’m feeling fried from all the sun I got on the ferry. All I want at this point is a quiet place to hard the waves lap at the shore. Pool parties are not my speed right now.
We get up to our bamboo bungalow and find no peace available. The music is audible from any point on this side of the island. Sierra wants to go dance but I’m feeling like a wet sunburnt blanket. We both have a terrible nights rest.
This island is really spectacular without the artificial glamour & glitz.
We grab some breakfast and enjoy our new favorite concoction: banana coffee milkshake. We knock back a few hours in the shade and hop onto an air-conditioned “yacht”. It’s a bit run down but the AC works and the boat seems to run fine. We anticipate a relaxed, quiet getaway at Koh Lanta Yai.