From Krabi, I next took a two hour ferry to Koh Phi Phi, the collective name for two islands about an hour from the mainland. Koh Phi Phi is made up of two islands: Phi Phi Don, where all visitors reside; and Phi Phi Lay, an island heavily protected from development (so far), to the point where there are no residents on the island at all. The two islands are separated by a 15 minute ride by longboat.
Koh Phi Phi is eye-wateringly beautiful with beach and bay views to make you weep. The natural beauty of the island also provides welcome relief from the less attractive feel of Phi Phi Don‟s centre which feels like a tourist village resort with masses of diving shops, travel agents, tattoo shops, clothing stalls, hawker food stalls, bars, massage shops and internet cafes. It‟s not what I expected at all. It‟s as if an 18-30 holiday from Ibiza had been transplanted to the Andaman Coast. By this point in my trip, I knew the different types of traveller. There was the backpacker who was your archetypal “hippy”, very tanned, flip-flopped, newly tattooed, 3 week old matted hair, beads and crafted bracelets. There was your “lads” backpacker, in a group of other guys. There were also your “couple” travellers, far more prevalent in South-East Asia than anywhere else I’d been. I’d heard one story that a couple had been on the plane to start a year‟s travelling and actually split up before landing! The funny thing was that for all the non-conformist yearnings of travellers, there was a very definite “look‟ in common. Whatever the fashions of the time happened to be were completely driven by the market stalls around the classic backpacker haunts. This year, it was Trilby hats and scarves. Which type of traveller was I? Of course, I thought I was a unique, one-of-a-kind traveller (ahem!)
The resort feel of Phi Phi Don is reportedly much like the other Thai Islands such as Koh Samui and the nightlife is appropriately hedonistic. Buckets are immensely popular in Thailand and consist of generous amounts of alcohol and mixers (or not) in a small plastic „bucket‟. This isn‟t drinking in moderation! In one of the bars on Phi Phi Don, I saw audience participation taken to another level. Bar-goers were asked to fight each other in refereed bouts in the muay thai (Thai Boxing) ring in the middle of the room. The best fight I saw was between these two tourist women just kicking each other in the shins for three 3 minute rounds!
Tours around the islands are immensely popular around here and every operator tries his best sales pitch to snag your cash. For not much more money, I hired a longboat and its fifty-something skipper (a dirty old salt! He didn‟t have much English bar trying to recommend me some local girls he knew. Despite these faintly pimp-like tendencies, he had a gentler, nobler side to him as I saw during his rescue of a bird bobbing in the sea, its wings caught by some plastic. He fetched it out of the water, released it from its bondage and tended it. The bird gratefully and compliantly remained as a passenger until we were back in port) for the day and set off around the islands to explore the cliffs, the caves and, hopefully, hidden beaches by myself. It was just me and my boat. I headed anti-clockwise around Phi Phi Don past the cove at Long Beach to a deserted beach that I had all to myself – awesome! After two or three hours, I‟d gone all the way around Phi Phi Don seeing fantastic limestone cliffs and jagged rock faces jutting out onto opal coloured clear waters; I went across the strait to Phi Phi Lay where I found an amazing lagoon with the clearest waters and masses of beautifully coloured tropical fish in a bay surrounded by huge cliffs of limestone; just idyllic. All you had to do was to throw some rice into the water and, immediately, hundreds of small, exquisitely-patterned, fish would appear from nowhere to snaffle the food. Behind this is the legendary Maya Bay, as used in the movie version of Alex Garland‟s The Beach. It didn’t quite look like it did in the film but was still incredibly stunning. It points dead west and so faces the sunset; which itself is framed by the big, cliffs on both sides. It‟s the kind of view that makes you stop for a moment and then grin a big, wide smile. I still think Railay Beach has been the best beach view I‟ve seen so far though. After Maya, I stopped in the surprisingly still waters between the two islands to watch the sunset, where we bobbed gently with several other longboats, everyone just gazing at the dipping sun.