We're Never Coming Back

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Friday, March 23, 2007

Day 313 - Ko Phi Phi

thailand Leonardo DiCaprio has been here. Confirmed.

Right. Let's get one thing straight. Ko Phi Phi is gorgeous. I don't care how much you think Thailand sucks because *everyone* goes there these days. I don't care how overdeveloped, over-priced or over-trodden those shores are. I don't care. Ko Phi Phi is, without exception, one of the most beautiful islands I've seen on the planet. This is a fact.

We spent 4 days here. Its enough. You need extra days lurking around the Andaman coast (that's the one on the west of the thai peninsula) since the weather is a bit more temperamental than after its crossed the mainland and drenches the gulf coast in ceaseless sunshine. The journey from Ko Chang to Kratie, launchpad for the island, was without incident. Kratie itself, perhaps different when its not raining as heavy as a british winter, was lifeless and uninspiring. We hid ourselves in an internet cafe and slept in log cabins before waking early to catch the 2 hour ferry to the island. Which was beautiful. The islands, as well as most of the coastline in southern thailand, is karst limestone - that type of limestone that stretches vertically towards the heavens for ever, narrowing at the sea level and so appearing to hang in the air, almost weightlessly. Its so beautiful. We're racing across the ocean, catching glimpses of dolphins darting in and out of the water in packs, and growing closer to the large, densely forested island. The most amazing slips of white beaches stretch between headlands, and the crystal clear blue waters get closer to us with every minute.

Arriving on Ko Phi Phi (or PP for short) was another matter. The harbour area is clear, but dirty. The huge passenger ferries clump together, side by side, so that you have to cross from one to another, 3 ferries this time for us, just to get to the jetty. Then its an epic struggle to make it through the crowds of hotel owners thrusting flyers and booklets in your face, side-stepping lazy backpackers blocking your path and all along contending with the searing heat and lack of sea-breeze once on the land.

We stood around for ages - contemplating, trying to bag a decent deal. Getting a room for 4 was out of the question. And 2 doubles were gonna be expensive. Pool out of the question. But trying to get a good price is impossible - and soon we settle for 800B (!!!) per double room with NO FRILLS - the skankiest, most hideous rooms we've stayed in in south-east asia.

That stuff aside, we've arrived and its pretty and its hot, so within minutes we're stripped off down to our boardies and heading the 30seconds walk from our rooms to the beach. The water's crystal clear and calm and we chuck out towels down on the narrow beach and hop in the water. Its amazing. For about 30 seconds. Whilst still only waist deep in the beauitul waters, surrounded by the most impressive of natural bays I've ever seen, a jellyfish about the size of a grain of sand gives me a gentle although painful prod on my leg. Its unpleasant. I swim on. 10 seconds later, I look back and Sam and Eve are striding out of the water towards our towels, scratching and rubbing themselves in discomfort. Tom and I brave it onwards, out to sea. But within a minute we're heading back to shore. The microscopic sea stingers are dogging our every move. Simply the friction of water over the sting sites is enough to make it ripple pain subtly across the surface of my thighs. I'm narked off. Its too hot to sunbathe without being able to dip in the water, so Sam heads back to the room and I sit scratching my invisible 'stings' angrily with Tom and Eve in tow.

So, the sea is out of bounds, at least - as far as my pain threshold will allow - so Tom (fellow sex pest) and I wander along the short beach to see what the place is like. And its a sight to behold. I've only seen this sort of place a couple of other places in the world. Ibiza is one of them. The other is off the tv - some MTV show where they get loads of pretty people to all dance around in their swimmers in the late 90s.

You see Ko Phi Phi is stacked with buff bodies and thin, pretty girls. Its like a perv's dream destination. On every sun bed, lurking in the shallows of the waters edge, playing volleyball enthusiastically, wandering along the beach listening to their iPods with their shorts hanging too low off their hips - this place is overrun with well oiled, worked out and bronzed bodies. Its a bit sick. I mean, what brings all these people to the same place? How do they all know about it? Does Men's Health recommend you come here once you have established your six-pack? Is it known as *the* place to go if you think that you're hot?

I dunno. Whatever, I feel ambivalent about the place. One minute I'm gawping open-mouthed at the guys playing beach ping-pong as the infectious salt waters lap their feet, and the next I'm shading my (not unattractive but evident) belly from the flocks of girls watching me wander by. I never feel self-conscious with my shirt off - i think I look alright - but here I look like a pale, under-excersised over-eater. I hate it. But at the same time, no one seems to care, and I feel accepted into the gang of fun-loving 18-30s. Its so not my scene, but it feels like for a day or two, I can stop and stay.

But the lure of beauty is short-lived as I get bored and sweaty so decide the next best option after being surrounded by hot people is to be surrounded by electromagnetic waves, eminating from Myspace headquarters. A good couple of hours on the internet puts everything into perspective.

Which it does. Along with the promise of some more familar faces. Dan and Sarah, who we met in Sydney at the infamous Maze Backpackers, are on the island, staying at some posh resort on the other end of our locality. Sam has already gone in search of the guys, so I round up Tom and Eve and head off across the island to do the same. It takes us over an hour, 3 hotels and a lot of patient scouring through filing cabinets to find them, but eventually we're pointed at bungalow 2 and soon we're clambering over each other to say hello and catching up on 3 months of missed action.

Its a thai (that is a thai-tourist) custom to drink buckets of alcohol here. They get you wasted in a relatively short amount of time and you ALWAYS want another bucket, so you see these orphaned little half-full buckets lining the streets of thai resorts the next morning. Containing a bottle of local whisky, 2 bottles of redbull and a can of coke, they're lethal, and when I arrive at the scene in the bar, these guys are onto their second and its pretty obvious they're gonna keep going.

2 becomes 3, which becomes 4 before Sarah's dancing on the table, flashing her knickers; eve's wild as always; i'm dragging everyone upstairs onto the dancefloor overlooking the whole bar and dancing like a monkey and tom's sat sweating and wasted in the corner cos he can't really handle his buckets (sorry mate - its true though). Some dude manages to make Dan cry (ah, mate) but he's fought off in no time and soon I'm walking sarah home and stumbling my way through the local village back to our hostel.

And the next two days were a considerably more relaxed affair. Dan and Sarah are staying in the posh place for a few days, so they have a pool, so after getting up around midday we drag ourselves across the island (its a long walk and there's no cars here) to their pool and laze around all day, soaking up the temperamental Andaman sun. We eat plenty, drink plenty, soak and bathe ourselves and even hire a DVD player to watch some films on. Being here is so much like being on a two-week holiday its unreal. I love it.

The whole time was only marred by the weather and a few matters of the heart which came to a climax during the first evening. That said, its hard to be depressed when you're on such a pretty place. The weaving street that runs along the length of the beach, scattered with massage palours, cafes, restaurants and tattoo shops. Shops selling beads and sunglasses and boardies. Seafood restaurants where obese rich men are pointing out which lobster they want their trophy wife to eat. Blind dudes selling garlands of flowers. Palm trees overhanging the path so the steady flow of tourists, like ants marching in single file, need to veer out the way to get around them. Couples hanging off each other as they tread slowly along the sandy brick paths. Kids dropping ice creams and crying, and thai boat drivers calling out for you to take their taxi-boat around the islands on a day-trip tomorrow. Its relaxing and beautiful and despite the horrendous day yesterday, its a pleaure to have arrived and to be enjoying this place. And for minute I thought I was too jaded a traveller to enjoy an over-touristed thai island.

Now, I have to include the photographs, because I'm quite pleased with them, but I want everyone to be fully aware that I HATE FIREDANCERS. I'm not saying that out of some bravado for hating people who work on beaches, or because i'm too cool to like something like that. I just think its a lot of effort to learn this 'art' and the end results are a bit rubbish. Even here, where the shows were wowwing everyone in sight, I felt a bit let down and bored within a minute. I DID like taking photos of them though. This is my personal favourite.

So yeah, the place is awash with a million firedancers - some are like 5 years old and throw their flaming bats around like they've been doing it for years (they probably have - child labour enforcers are nowhere to be seen over these ways) to the angst of Rage Against the Machine. The older ones don't get as much applause (age discrimination is anything but subtle over here) despite the shows being just as energetic. and rubbish. and its hard to ignore these guys when you see flaming balls being lobbed into the air while you're eating your dinner, or the fear-filled gasps of the crowd when a flaming pole flies from its owners hands near to the feet of the crowd by accident and people start edging away. Some even pack up and leave, taking a final snap of the butter-fingered offender as they trapse reluctantly away.

We're off tomorrow on a boat trip around the island - if you don't know by now that I LIVE for boat trips around islands, then you should be aware that I have this annoying habit of gushing about them afterwards - so its an early-ish night tonight, soaking up the electrical thunderstorm that raises the hairs on Sam's legs and keeps me awake for hours after I've actually gone to bed. I'm kinda enamoured with Ko Phi Phi. Perhaps because Dan and Sarah are here? Perhaps because its so different (in the most touristy of ways) to the rest of our trip so far? Perhaps just because it really does have a magnetic, dazzling hold on you? I dunno. I like it a lot though.

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