You may recall from issues past, a tale of spiked drinks that occurred on Koh Phi Phi in Thailand, but last time I didn’t really dwell on it as a place. It’s a truly unmissable spot that offers beautiful sands and world class diving as well as a whole heap of other activities. Up until the devastating tsunami of 2004 Phi Phi was a haven, for backpackers and tourists alike, as the perfect Christmas resting spot, and thankfully people are starting to revisit the area over the holiday season. While the natural disaster obliterated the landscape and cost the lives of many, it allowed for a tasteful fresh start for an island that was well on the way of being permanently tarnished by reckless tourism.
Whilst certainly a cliché (I’m sure things are a cliché for a good reason, mind) Alex Garland’s The Beach is truly a masterpiece appreciated by travellers the world over. While the mythical island is located on Thailand’s Eastern Gulf, the glossy Hollywood screen adaptation was in fact filmed on Phi Phi over on the West coast. One frankly fantastic company (Spider Monkey Travel – look them up if you go) currently offer a camping trip to Phi Phi Leh, the smaller undeveloped Phi Phi island, where The Beach was filmed. I stumbled upon this while asking some backpackers for recommendations: it shot its way into my top three experiences in Southeast Asia and I’ve been recommending it ever since.
The camping trip kicked off with an optional thrill-seeking afternoon, starting with cliff jumping. The islands are composed of gargantuan limestone cliffs, there for your climbing pleasure. Following some probably-dangerous climbing you can then plunge into the turquoise ocean below, to be nibbled by fish and stung by the jellyfish waiting to greet you. The adrenaline from throwing yourself from over twenty metres is quite something (though the painful bum left me suffering for some time afterwards).
Next came the shark snorkelling, which is a lot less daunting than it sounds: the area is home to some harmless reef sharks as well as a plethora of corals and species of fish that’ll keep you well entertained for days. Following a light lunch we were all exhausted but so excited to stand in awe at one of the most beautiful spots in the world, Maya Bay.
After a short swim to the island that involved huge waves slamming us into rocks and people losing shoes, we clambered our way through the jungle in haste. As my girlfriend had come out to join me I was set on this being a relaxed part of my trip, a break from the sweating and trekking, and we couldn’t have picked a better place. Perfect white sand, turquoise waters and sunny blue skies: paradise.
Perfect white sand, turquoise waters and sunny blue skies: paradise
I’d strongly advise against visiting during the day, as to do so would do the place no justice whatsoever. As we showed up later in the afternoon, hundreds of tourists were being booted off – and I mean hundreds. Thankfully strict policies mean that said tourists didn’t leave any litter behind, and we had a flawless island for just a handful of us for an entire evening. It’d be upsetting to have to share it with the speedos and sexpats instead of just a few soon-to-be close friends.
I think a lot of the time, the travelling experiences you recall with the greatest fondness are heavily dependent on the company kept. Hannah and I met some really great people that night, including someone from a familiar remote village back home. As always the circumstances lead to fast-paced friendship forming which made the evening so much more fun.
We had a barbecue, sat and drank beers and talked, before the evening picked up and turned into more of a party with fire tricks and great music on the agenda. A definite highlight was the obligatory skinny dip in the phosphorescent water: hardly as magical as DiCaprio’s moment, what with the Scotsmen belting “this is Sparta!” at the top of their lungs. Anyway, the partying was great fun, and the lack of a resident law enforcement was certainly taken advantage of.
Sometimes you need activities to keep you entertained, but the atmosphere of this place spoke for itself, and we didn’t really need anything but good company (if that). I really envy the Thai guys there, who definitely have one of the greatest jobs ever. I’d quite happily be paid to improve my fire stick skills, play some acoustic guitar and get drunk with travellers in such an awesome spot: remind me why I’m doing a degree? The good times continued well into the night before we retired on bamboo mats on the beach after tiring ourselves out from karaoke and catching crabs. Waking up in such an environment was quite something. As the tourists arrived we packed up camp and headed back to Phi Phi Don.
For some reason we decided that one night we’d abandon our perfectly adequate room for a bamboo shack on the other (party) side of the island, not then equating the excessive noise and thin walls to the lack of sleep that obviously followed. Several times I almost dozed off, only to be rudely kept awake by the likes of the Black Eyed Peas. I walked right past a shoe shop, smiling at the shoemaker on my merry way, only to find that the pharmacy was empty. Seconds later the shoe man popped up behind the counter as he buttoned up his slick lab coat. The Thais truly are a multitalented people: perhaps we could learn a thing or two. Taking full advantage of Thailand’s liberal over-the-counter policy I invested in some 10p diazepam pills, popped a few, and within thirty minutes was out like a light without any problems.
Before getting my drink spiked the days that preceded with newly found friends were great fun. The island has the usual funky markets with all sorts of cool crafts, great quality street food at low prices, and the sights atop the viewpoint are incredible and well worth the climb. The island also has a fruit shake vendor (who I now have on Facebook – praise be Zuckerberg) that I’d rate over any other on the continent. Hilarity can be found every evening at the Reggae Bar, where anybody inebriated enough can enter the ring and give Muay Thai a go: I decided that I’d give it a miss since I’m more of a lover (read: pussy).
I don’t really get all of the hype surrounding white Christmases: for those who stick around in England it’s just guaranteed disappointment, and unless you’re going to ski abroad what’s the point in being confined to the dim-lit coldness? I for one would much rather be in a place like Phi Phi, enjoying the glistening heat with a frosty beer and book in hand and not a care in the world.