Koh Phi Phi
The Beach… Really?
So I decided that I should take a little time to visit the islands in the south of Thailand as Thailand has a reputation for having a disproportionately large amount of the world's nicest beaches. Now I admit upfront that that will be a tough sell for me as I am particularly fond of Paradise Beach in the Bahamas… To me, it is the perfect beach.
But with a partially open mind, I left for Phuket which is one of the access points to the islands, getting there with the excellent, moderately cheap Bangkok Airways. Bangkok Airways may not be the cheapest (Air Asia probably is) but I like the quality of the service and the fact that the airplanes are quite a bit younger than I am which is not necessarily the case of all of the cheap asian airlines…
So arriving in Phuket under a brilliant blue sky, I was a little discouraged to realize that my hostel smelled a bit of sewers. I thought I'd made a bad choice till I walked around the streets to discover that all of the old town of Phuket carries that aroma. Needless to say that I wasn't super impressed with Phuket, but then apparently I was in the wrong part of it as Patong is supposed to be the area to see. Patong is basically a series of resorts on a nice beach.
The next morning, I left by ferry, sitting on the deck of the ferry for the 90 minute ride to Koh Phi Phi Don. It was a rather beautiful and dreamy trip which is probably why I forgot to apply sunblock. Suffice it to say that when you spend 90 minutes sitting in the sun in the half lotus position, you get a funny looking sunburn! And what a sunburn it was! (oops!)
When the ferry set into port, I was impressed by the blue of the water, the beauty of the island. As I met a representative from my hotel, the Phi Phi Viewpoint Resort who was there to show me the way and cart my backpack, we set off into the jungle - or should I say the jungle of boutiques, shops, restaurants, clubs and stands. Hmm… Interesting.
Upon arriving at the hotel, I was greeted by the nice climb up to my bungalow. It was one of the bungalows that survived the tsunami of 2004 when most of Koh Phi Phi was wiped out. You can see several "tsunami shelters" and signs to them all over the island. Anyhow, the view from the bungalow was magnificent!
After checking in, applying loads of sunblock quite a bit too late, I set out for a swim at the beach. The beach is in a nice sheltered bay which at high tide makes for nice relaxed bathing. The problem is that I tend to get bored at beaches unless there are lots of things to see underwater. As the tides have a very high impact on the water level in this area, there is basically no underwater life anywhere in the bay as it spends several hours a day dry. And just laying on a beach works for me for about 15 minutes until I get bored.
For those who have seen me on Paradise Beach you'll probably understand why if I'm at the beach, I'm typically in the water snorkelling, not on the beach sunning myself. To each their own…
Anyhow, following a recommendation from the staff of the hotel, I set off to find the Calamero restaurant which made an excellent panang curry. This was a bit of an exception as many of the restaurants cater to westerners with western food. Want a burger? What pasta? Want pizza? Most of the places serve this food. I don't have anything against western food (I'm eating pizza as I write this…) but with such excellent typical Thai food it is a shame not to eat it more often and the Thai food was unfortunately a small assortment on the last pages of the menus in most places.
That evening, I went for a massage in the hotel's parlour which was in a big round solarium with 8 massage beds in it. Once again, great to have a massage, but having someone press down on sunburnt legs… Not quite as great…
That night, I went to bed hoping that the hotel receptionist was wrong in warning me of the noise in the evenings, but sure enough, there was constant loud music from 22:00 till 4am every night. What surprises me is as the sound made it through my earplugs, I can only imagine how loud it must have been on the beach.
Anyhow, the next morning, the weather had taken a definite turn for the worst (and this wouldn't change the whole time I was there except for one morning and was forecast to be like that for the week following my departure…). I hiked up to the top of the mountain under the rain the first morning to admire the view from 3 different viewpoints. Once again, the islands was beautiful, but simply overcrowded and I discovered upon returning to Bangkok that it is referred to as one of the "party islands". I returned to the viewpoints 3 mornings as the view was nice and the 300 or so steps plus climb was a good exercise in preparation for returning to the Bahamas...
Koh Phi Phi Leh in the distance...
Due to the rain, I spent a quiet day in the bungalow resting and catching up with some sleep during the day (which I wasn't really getting at night with the noise). The next day, I hiked up to the viewpoint during a brief sunny moment to take some pictures and then signed up for an island tour on long boat. The boat would take me around Koh Phi Phi Don (the island I was on) as well as to Koh Phi Phi Leh, the island that was used to film the movie "The Beach" and that is uninhabited.
We got to visit Monkey Beach though the monkeys were absent and then continued on to Bamboo Island which was rather beautiful. On the way back, the waves became a little more pronounced such that our speed between the islands was fairly slow. We stopped off at Shark Point, a point where you are "guaranteed to see sharks" and with the other people on the boat, through myself over board for snorkelling. This was the best snorkelling I would see during my whole stay at Koh Phi Phi. The visibility was good at about 20m and there were lots a fish and decent coral. No sharks, mind you, but I can't say that I mind that too much. Or if a shark saw me, I never saw it.
Then onto Koh Phi Phi Leh which is beautiful. We went to a bay where there was a single boat with people snorkelling and then carried onto Maya Bay, the bay used in the film the Beach. All of the bays on Koh Phi Phi Leh have very very small entrances but are huge from the inside. It really is surprising to enter them.
Maya bay is once again beautiful, but overcrowded. Sigh!… But certainly worth seeing if you are in the area (by this I include the Phuket and or Koh Lanta area which is supposed to be a more peaceful island).
On the way back, I got soaked both by rain and by the wind blowing the "side wake" of the boat into the boat. It was a blast and I really enjoyed the impromptu salty shower!
Koh Phi Phi Leh
Shark Point - great snorkelling but I didn't see any sharks...
Koh Phi Phi Leh
The next day, I bummed around Koh Phi Phi Don as once again, the weather wasn't good and decided to return to Bangkok the next day. A note of interest, there are tons of tattoo shops in Koh Phi Phi (as well as dive shops and massage parlours). You always see people getting tattoos, so it seems to be quite a successful business in Koh Phi Phi.
Upon returning to Bangkok, I was greeted by the sun.
Bangkok has been the place I've stayed the longest on this trip (approx 30 days) and I've become very fond of it. I could even consider living here someday should the opportunity present itself. I certainly hope to return someday.
I decided that to familiar myself more with Bangkok, I would walk from Silom to Siam Square. I spent part of the morning reading Sun Tzu's Art of War on my iPhone while sitting in Lumphini park visited by several very large (as long as I am) lizards. I then proceeded to visit the campus of Chulalonkorn University on the way to Siam Square.
I also spent a few days looking around different neighbourhoods and sampling lots and lots of food. The spices finally got the best of my and I started to develop heartburn on my last days there. Sigh! Extraordinary food that I'll miss… I do hope to be able to find all relevant ingredients in Montreal to make my own.
Giant lizard in Lumphini park and view from Lumphini park
A couple of days before leaving, I decided to visit Ayutthaya, the former capital of Siam. I particularly enjoyed the Bang Pa-In palace on the outskirts of Ayutthaya as well as a few of the Buddhist temples in Ayutthaya.
Bang Pa-In Palace
Tomb of Rama 10
Then it was time to get some last little souvenirs (food mostly…) and gifts for my nieces and then packing. So this morning, I checked out of my home away from home in Thailand, the Silom Lub.D hostel. It really is a boutique hostel and is unique as to its cleanliness, space and quality. I will miss it and the staff!
Now I get to look forward to a 15h40 flight to Los Angeles… Yikes, that is a long flight!