Below, dear reader, you will find the March edition of FARANG Untamed Travel.
For Halloween this year I wanted to have a bonfire in the backyard with the kids for the twin purposes of roasting marshmallows and disposing of all the garden rubbish that’s been piling up — mowed the lawn and everything.
Needless to say, it rained, this being Bangkok. Luckily I have a Thai-style woodstove that I use when the gas runs out.
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.
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.
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.
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:
After much huffing, puffing and complaining, we arrived at Phi Phi viewpoint #3. Apparently we took the back way.
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.
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.