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!

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