What better way to run the gamut of the South East Asia rainy season by doing a three day trip to Ko Phi Phi? A six island paradise 50 km south-east of Phuket, part of Hadnopparattara-Ko Phi Phi National Park which also features the scenery of Maya Bay on Ko Phi Phi Leh in the infamous film “The Beach”. A word about the language: Ko means island (sometimes is it romanticized as Koh by wayward english speakers), thus to say Ko Phi Phi island is a nonsense as you are saying Phi Phi island island. I’ll use the word ko from here, rather than island. All clear?
As mud. Good. Let’s continue.
We had booked a stay at the Outrigger resort where, admittedly, we were looking for a more upmarket family place than the usual backpacker-sleeps-in-mosquito-infested-bamboo-hut experience. This is located on the largest Ko, namely Ko Phi Phi Don. We even decided to get a villa – more to do with having two sleeping rooms (adults v kids) but as it came with its own pool overlooking Loh Ba Gao Bay who’s going to complain? Given it was the rainy season we were blessed with sunny skies. There was the odd fierce shower – mainly at night, but it served us well as it took the sting out of the heat, which was not as bad as Bangkok given the breeze off the Andaman Sea. The extra bonus of going during the off-season is that the resort was at about 1/6th capacity so it was truly a case of solitude and peace.
To get to the island we took a one hour flight on Bangkok Airways – Asia’s Boutique Airline (a dangerous word that – Boutique – as it means so many very different things to people the world over) – which was not too bad. A meal was served, we were up and down quickly as you’d expect on a charter flight that does the trip six times daily. From there we paid the 8000Baht (about $250 at today’s market prices) for a return trip to Outrigger. This meant we got a pickup at the airport in an air-conditioned mini-van, a golf cart ride from the drop off to the luxurious (and very new) Grand Marina and then a catamaran (again in A/C but with a top deck for sun seekers/wave riders) for the 90min run to the ko. You can see some of the sailboats in the picture. This was when we left. On our return they were more numerous, more opulent. It’s definitely the hi-so departure point.
Of course, as we swept into the bay for our resort, it was a gleaming picture-post card of paradise as sold to any westerner who doesn’t really get a chance to see tropical beaches. I was suitably impressed as it has always been a desire of mine to visit one of these postcards that you so often saw in a UK Thomas Cook brochure. You know the kind I mean, the ones where the water is crystal clear, everyone sips champagne against a Turner sunset, romance is a miasma and not a scent, palm trees wave gently in a breeze and the only noise is the lapping shore with the odd call of a tropical bird. All of which makes me now wonder if paradise in Europe is sold to those who live in the tropics as a rainy day out in…oh, I don’t know…Paris, perhaps?
<<<< We all have the allure of this, but maybe tropics inhabitants are seduced by this? Eagerly reaching for their hard-earned Baht to go visit…>>>>
Who knows, right?
Anyway, we landed. People always have this vision of leaping over the edge of a prow, landing lightly, gracefully in a few inches of warm water over golden sand. The soft give of the fine grains, the lap of welcoming surf on your ankles, the sun blazing just a fraction more at your arrival. The reality is you tend to cautiously edge to the side and make an unsightly plop over the edge, bashing some part of you (bruises to follow swiftly), stumbling as the boat reels away in the tide, cursing as something you didn’t want to get wet proceeds to get saturated and then stepping on a sharp hidden rock, hidden due to the swirl of sand and silt stirred up by your farang non-balletic gait.
Ah…let’s go with the perfect dismount, eh? That’s how our memories will remember it in twenty years, becoming the foundation for cold fireside stories to our kids.
Having arrived we were shown our sumptuous palace (see earlier comment about our own pool) with its vast mosquito nets over the beds. We proceeded to enjoy three days of lazing by the pool, snorkeling for fish, eating and general fun and games. Some of the stand out items were:
- the snorkeling for fish. The bay has a vast tidal plain, about 150metres. When it is in you can walk in waist high clear water all the way out, at the last minute having to swim out (adults can tip toe) over the coral and rocks to encounter the billions of colourful fish. The kids will love it, it’s safe with no current to speak of, just a gentle tidal push back to shore if you’re inclined to float
- watching out for falling coconuts. Did you know that the coconut is very useful? Not only is it only a pure liquid at >26C, but it is used in the manufacture of rope, mats, mattresses, charcoal, cups & bowls, spoons, lanterns, oil, soap, cream, food, jelly, drinks, wrappers, brooms, thatch, lumber, dyes, medicine and lastly, I kid you not – mouthwash
- beefburgers. Now this is a strange one but I have to say the burgers produced by this place were some of the finest I have eaten. Sirloin beef, an amazing sauce, zero pickles…I had three in as many days. Ridiculous
- taking a longboat. You can go anywhere you want for between 1650THB and 4000THB (depends on the duration). There are at least six dive points to investigate, Maya Beach, Monkey ko etc.. Although I might recommend avoiding Mosquito ko. Hardly a selling point, that name.
Here’s some photos I took:
Oh, before I leave this narrative, I had wanted to get to the James Bond ko, the one featured in the 1974 film, “The Man with the Golden Gun” with Christopher Lee as Scaramanga and Roger Moore in his second outing as 007. My grandfather loved the James Bond films. His only VHS collection was of the lot and Boxing Day was always about the family watching the Bond Film. In his later years I took him to the cinema four times before he passed away – to see Golden Eye, Tomorrow Never Dies, The World is Not Enough and lastly, Die Another Day which all came out after the 13 year hiatus after “Licence to Kill”. My last fond memories of him are in a UK cinema, clutching a vat of caramelized popcorn, looking as eager as a kid to see his film hero in action again. For him, I wanted to go and see that ko as ‘The Man with the Golden Gun’ was one of his favourites. I didn’t get the chance, but I will before this Thailand journey is over…I think he’d love the fact one of his descendants made it there.
I cannot finish this post without a mention of the 2004 tsunami. The tragedy of the day is remembered both with a memorial on the island and in the ever-present tall pylons with the Tsunami Warning System around the coastline. Nearly a decade on the resort shows little evidence of the cataclysm, but going behind it into the ramshackle village and plunging further into the naturally narrowing ravine that spills towards the bay you can see the ravages of that fateful day. It was one of the hardest hit places, the numbers of deaths in the thousands. Today you wouldn’t think it had happened as you gaze at its idyllic views, but blogs like this – http://fiftyweeks.blogspot.com/2005/03/scene-in-ko-phi-phi.html – serve to remind us that Paradise is not always forever.
I will leave you with a video of our ride from Ko Phi Phi to Ko Mai Phai (or Bamboo Island) – a place about twenty minutes from the resort by longboat. It’s OK for snorkeling, but there’s better places around the islands.
Is this what diplomacy is all about?