I Need to go Phi Phi: Part III

It’s time to wrap up this travel trilogy. We were there in November 2020 and it’s March now. There’s other things to write up, new adventures to be had and other tales to be told.

Other Stuff

Koh Phi Phi is an island, the clue is in the name (Koh means island in Thai), and of course that means stunning beaches, blue waters, palm trees and so on. But there’s other things for the intrepid traveller to do off and out of the water. Just ask these guys:

In normal times, non-aquatic activities apparently extend to beer-pong, exploring, excess and unconsciousness. I guess the last two are still on the cards, but drinking yourself under the table isn’t a good look, so let’s find another way to spend our daylight hours. Time to do some research.

Mostly to scale, except the boats.

How about some shopping in town?

Shopping in town isn’t as much fun as it should be. Mostly everything is shut and the shops that are open are all selling the same tat. We bought a couple of fridge magnets for the collection and moved on. Walk along the beach?

Well, I got the photo I came for, wish it was sunny. What now? Surprisingly, there’s a jungly and mountainous interior to the island and rumour of a lookout point worth looking from. Miss Sachie and I prepared for a tough hike by donning flip-flops, discarding water bottles and scraping off sunscreen. Time to hit the trail.

There’s a surprising amount of inland on this island. We were staying in spitting distance of the beach (well, I could spit on the beach but Miss Sachie says such pursuits are adolescent) and this walk showed just how much development there is there. Check out the sailfish on these lightpoles –beautiful. The town slowly petered out and patches of green peeked from the side of the very steep road. The road leads to the other town on Phi Phi, where the locals live. You could say this is the new town. After the 2014 tsunami wiped the low-lying beachside town off the map, the natives rebuilt up the hill, which is understandable. It’s served by a real road that has actual cars! Well, pickup trucks. How do they get them on the road? It’s not like there’s a route from the pier.

We met a dog by the side of the road. The dog showed some interest in us and started walking up a side path, stopping to see if we followed. Intrigued and credulous, we did. Maybe a child was stuck in a well? Along winding footpaths and up rugged stairs we followed our pooch past cheap guesthouses, dilapidated bars and a completely rusted-out, open-air gym. As we walked I reflected on the ghosted patrons of these businesses, all deserted now. I suppose these are the cheap seats, for folks who can only afford a sea view from a distance and are satisfied with a slower, more languid pace of life. Dope smokers. After a time, our guide had apparently reached his destination and settled down to lick his testicles. I’d been hoping that he would take us to a bent-backed old man who would serve us yaa-dong and tell us stories of the spirits that inhabit the nearby bungalows and bars but it was not to be. Instead…

It’s the reservoir that serves the island. Typically, Phi Phi suffers from a lack of fresh water but this one is right up to the spillway. I guess it’s a nice view but I don’t know why the dog brought us here, time to press on.

We later found that our route was the dumb one. Longer, hotter and steeper. But it did afford us proper jungle trekking, especially when it became dirt, then clay, then holes. A roadsign warned of crossing monkeys, so I looked around and picked up a sturdy monkey-stick. Cresting one ridge, we came face-to-face with a foul roadblock.

Sorry for the poor photo, but I had other things on my mind.

Legend has it that the Romans used geese as sentries due to their alertness, noise and general bad attitude. I’ve rumbled with geese before but these guys had a turkey in the gang. No thanks! Luckily, they were being kept under supervision by this chap:

The Phi Phi Chicken dog.

After much huffing, puffing and complaining, we arrived at Phi Phi viewpoint #3. Apparently we took the back way.

I can see my house from here.

It’s quite a view. There’s a little shop open and a big cafe that isn’t. They don’t sell beer (dang it) and there’s a strict no-alcohol policy, which is probably a good thing as that platform you can see in the panorama above has no railing. I got a WhatsApp message from my mum and thought it a good time to give her a video call so she could enjoy the magnificent view and the spectacle of a monkey being chased away from the bins.

Under the viewpoint there’s a kind of park, with the mandated giant painted concrete fruits. I expect that it is quite striking when on mushrooms.

Here’s a rare photo of Miss Sachie and your author.

Following the path downhill we visited lookouts #2 and #1 and discovered that the staircase to these lookouts ends basically next to our hotel, so we definitely took the long way.

Island of Cats

They say that cats were domesticated about 7,500 years ago, probably in Egypt. Egypt would be a good candidate due to the vast quantities of sand in which to dispose of their leavings. I have some experience in this area, currently caring for seven of the fluffy little shitbags at home.

Phi Phi town is infested with Felis catus, they’re all over the place — in doorways, up trees, on the path, off the path, everywhere. In stunning numbers too, I counted more than 20 on one walk through town.

This cat has a t-shirt. He’s the one that gave me a scare in the pool on the first day. A large mammal wearing clothes, glanced from the corner of my eye had me scrambling to see if a monkey had stolen my sunglasses.

Bar cat here is one of the finer examples and in very good condition. In fact, I didn’t see any cats looking scratched up or diseased. Most looked quite well taken care of. They say (the same they as above) that cats are considered special under Islam because Mohammad was a cat man (that is, he fancied cats, not that he was some strange man/cat hybrid. The last thing I need is ISIS on my case!) He certainly wasn’t a dog person. So the cats get a pretty easy go of things. Indeed, some locals were putting out collections to buy food for them. I must confess I didn’t donate. I have mixed feelings about cats.

I had pet cats until I left home and I have them now. Unfortunately, I have learned the hard way that, left to their own devices, they will breed and breed and breed until they dominate their ecological niche — in this case my living room. Now I, like apparently everyone else on the internet, am entranced by their soft coat, graceful curves and languid, sultry attitude. They remind me of the bad-yet-hot girlfriend we all had shortly after high school. But in my native Australia, feral or stray cats are little murder machines that devastate the local population of small animals. I expect the same is true in Phi Phi town. I didn’t see a single gecko, but I didn’t see any cockroaches either.

I don’t like to judge other peoples but I’m going to anyway, an uncontrolled cat population on a tropical island just can’t be a good thing. Luckily, some things are being done with this Quora post saying that 800 (!) had been vaccinated in 10 days. Hopefully they spayed a few as well.

On the whole, the cats aren’t a problem for the visitor. I saw very little cat poo and the whole place did not reek of cat piss, unlike my living room. Unfortunately the island has a reputation for reeking of human piss during normal times, probably due to overtaxed septic tanks. Anyway, let’s get me on the front page of Google by posting a bunch of cat pictures.

Many shops have cat pit-stops like this. I would guess that each place has it’s favourites that make their range in these shopfronts.
Is this cat prostituting itself? Ha ha. I’ve always liked black cats but never owned one, although the neighbour has one that has basically adopted me.
I think it was this one that jumped in my lap and tried to eat the calamari off my plate at dinner one night.
Temple cat? No, it’s a rustic bar.

And that’s enough about cats. They are definitely a feature of staying on Phi Phi and must be remarked upon. There’s just so many of them.

And that’s pretty much it. We travelled to Phi Phi as I had very much enjoyed it back in the early 2000s and we would never be able to afford the place in normal times. I can say that I enjoyed it on this visit too. For the future? I would hope that the island uses this slow period as a reset point and has a good think about what they want their island to be in the future. I can’t get behind the party-central plan of the past — it’s a cheap (actually not, kind of expensive) and ugly commercial saturation. I’m sure many folks made a lot of money while the sun was shining but… Does this place really need a McDonalds? That said, I don’t condone making it a enclave of expensive, hi-so resorts. Some restraints on development, some planning and a unified goal of what the destination wants to deliver would go a long way to making the island a more sustainable and pleasant place to visit. The island has been devastated by the pandemic but there’s the kernel of opportunity to remake this place as a better, matured, island destination.

I Need to go Phi Phi: Part II

We’re back on Koh Phi Phi for the tale of the November 2020 visit by and Miss Sachie and me. Are you comfortably seated and properly hydrated? Good, let us begin.

Killing Time & Recreation

So, you’ve got your bed and a belly full of fried rice and are looking for something to do before you can crack a beer with a clear conscience. Let’s go for a swim.

It’s a damn nice beach. It’s taken a bashing over the years but is still lovely and, at the moment, it’s all yours. The bay is very shallow and low tide means a long walk. There’s some rocks and coral offshore so it’s time to strap on a snorkel and get the soles of your feet sunburnt.

Don’t tread on me.
Or us.

There’s a ton of these offshore that had Miss Sachie smacking her lips. There’s not loads of fish but we saw a few parrot fish and lots of little ones.

The astute reader will notice that I was taking photographs underwater. No, I didn’t get my phone wet and I didn’t take some large-format bellows camera down with me, Miss Sachie bought a waterproof digital camera when she went to the Red Sea. I immediately relieved her of this — as a photographer I am immensely more qualified than her to take poorly composed, mediocre stills and shaky video. Here’s an example:

This one makes me look like Stanley Kubrik compared to most of what I shot. That is, most of it is me forgetting to stop the recording so there’s lots of footage of water, sky and that sort of thing. Kind of like how your dad mostly took video of his feet with his first video camera.

This little fish could see his reflection in my diving mask and, thinking it another fish, moved in to attack. Ha ha, stupid fish!

Here’s a seahorse.

I’ve never seen one in the wild before and it really made the trip for me. Probably the best bit was that, while we were heading for the rocks on the side of the bay to look for something interesting I noticed a dark patch of water, indicating more rocks. Swimming over we discovered it was a huge shoal of tiny fish that swirled around us. Thousands of them. Magic. But that’s nothing compared to when we finally gave in and got a boat.

On the Boat

The thing to do if you’re on Phi Phi is drink until you vomit out of your nose take a boat trip around Phi Phi Ley. The other Koh Phi Phi. The little one. The very, very nice one. Lots of people from Phuket and Krabi take day trips to stare, slack-jawed, at the immense limestone karsts erupting from the crystal waters and to dive in said waters, to gaze, slack-jawed at the schools of colourful fish and jewelled corals beneath. It’s really something and I can’t recommend it enough. If you want to go on a boat trip I recommend talking to this chap:

This is Bo and his boat is the Ning Il Ham.

This isn’t it.
This isn’t it either.

It turns out I don’t have a photo of the boat, or it’s on my film camera, so you’ll have to wait. It’s a longtail and it’s not made of ham, sorry. Walking on the beach and in the town one gets touted for boat trips a lot. At the moment it’s about Bt1,000 an hour but one can get a three hour trip for Bt1,500 with a bit of bargaining. We paid Bt2,000. The deal is that you put-put out on a longtail on a sunny day and your skipper will pull up at certain spots and let you have a swim. We thought we’d have each to ourselves but even in these benighted times we had to share the snorkelling sites with other visitors. Here’s the trip out:

Sorry about the poor streaming but this whole site is about cheap hosting.

Here’s the view to the stern:

Here’s what happens if you take a panorama from a moving vehicle:

Which I think is cool. As I mentioned earlier, the island is a series of karsts poking out of the sea. Apparently it’s part of an old coral reef that extends through here and Krabi, and further into the middle of Thailand and up and out of Vietnam. Big reef. Old reef. A rock-climber’s wet dream.

Rock-climbers are a special breed, very enthusiastic with an almost erotic relationship to rockfaces and are very enamoured of ropes, big shiny shackles, harnesses and other instruments of bondage. Consider the following as rock-pornography:

Right. Hope you enjoyed that. Feeling relaxed? A bit sweaty? Need to tidy up a little before the girlfriend gets back from work? Good, we will proceed. Here’s the first stop, Viking Cave.

No, there’s no Vikings here, no even the modern Nordic families who come to Thailand on their three-month annual-leave vacations. But the sea floor is littered with horned helmets and longboats. Ha ha, not really. This is the home of the swallow-like swift, an industrious small bird who builds its nests from its own spit.

Now, pause to look around you. You are probably in your own residence. Perhaps you even built your own log cabin in the remote wilderness of, I don’t know, Arizona or something. Now imagine making everything out of your own saliva. Walls, floors, doors, the lot (and don’t even think about what the neighbours may say!) But that’s what these little birds do, through hard work, persistence, and spit. But why did we stop here? Because this is a historic locus of human industry, where brave men would hang from ropes or climb flimsy ladders to gather said bird nests so that all of us can enjoy the delicate dish of bird’s nest soup. Gross, hey?

These days it’s a more of a tourist-trap than an operating swift-spit mine as they (people) now build massive concrete towers on the coast (on the way to Hua Hin, a trip which I must write up sometime) and play birdsong to attract swifts to nest and make the gathering of their nests a lucrative pursuit. But I digress. Let’s get wet.

In we go.

As soon as the boat pulls up it’s surrounded by fish. I expect our scaly friends are used to boats dropping anchor here as they swarm around the hull and are welcome companions on our dive.

That’s nothing! There’s normally scores of them around you.

I have no idea what these hand-sized and striped fish are called, but they are very friendly.

I was completely charmed, until near the end of the swim when they started taking nips from me. Maybe that’s why they swarm the boat.

Now, I’ve seen more and better fish and more and better coral. Years of mass tourism has bashed it up a bit but it’s still a lovely sight in a lovely part of the world.

Stripy fish.
Still stripy, but different.

Now who are these guys? Is it Nemo and his dad?

Maybe not.

OK, let’s move along to Pileh Lagoon. What’s that? Well let’s step inside.

Looks like there’s a few more boats here, must be a popular place.

Oh I say! This is a nice part of the world. The lagoon is like something out of… well I really don’t really know how to describe it. A shallow bay with a tight entrance and a shallow bottom and shockingly-clear waters.

It’s pretty nice. It’s really nice! It’s probably the most beautiful sight I have seen. Bury me here. Here’s a video.

Let’s go for a swim.

Yum Yum. Coral!
Spots, not stripes.
Not a rubber children’s toy, or is it?
That’s a pufferfish puffing. It wasn’t me that startled it, I think. Pretty cool though.
Out of my way fish!
On the way out I saw a barracuda.

OK, that’s enough of our fishy friends, out we go.

Now we’re off to Maya Bay, shooting location of The Beach.

Maya Bay, along with James Bond Island (the shooting location for the final scenes of The Man with the Golden Gun), is one of the most popular places to visit on the Andaman coast, or even Thailand itself. As far as The Beach goes, I read the book before the movie was made and I recall during production there was criticism of damage done to the foreshore, but that was nothing compared to what came after. The movie was popular and every shallow asshole in the world came to Haad Maya to leave litter and otherwise screw up the beach. These days the national parks service won’t let you land on the beach and you have to pay a fee (Bt400 for us Farangs) to have a swim. Here it is:

There was one corner of the bay we could have a swim in deep water and shallows. Remember the barracuda I saw earlier, there’s a ton here.

I also saw a school of squid swimming about, which is a first for me. Bo was very excited when I told him but seemed a bit disappointed there were only six. Now, remember these guys?

Well, it turns out that they bite. The little buggers became bold and started taking nips at me. I guess they’re some kind of cleaner fish that nibble dead skin or scabs off you. An essential service if you’re some kind of big fish, especially if afflicted by parasites, but the only parasites on me are likely up my ass so I warned them to keep their distance. Time to go.

After rounding this… peak? Bo asked “Do you want to see the monkey?” I was about to say that we were very flattered but didn’t want to see his monkey when I recalled that the last stop on this trip is Monkey Island. Monkey Beach or something like that. We consented and were exposed to the monkeys.

Well, macaques.

It’s my understanding that these are crabeater macaques, which are much beloved by the scientific community for their utility in experimentation. They’re a tough and adaptable primate that will accept all sorts of abuses without immediately perishing. My experiment was to see if they’d eat my apple core.

Now it was back to shore for a well deserved cold beer after doing our bit to prop up tourism in these challenging times. I’ve been a bit slow writing this chapter, will try harder for part three, coming soon!