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2004-04-27 A long-tailed boat to Paradise

Not long ago, I made a trip to Paradise. Having spent time on the island of Phuket, I took a ferry to Kho Phi Phi (Pee Pee, titter titter!), one of many National Marine Parks in Thailand, comprising two main islands - Phi Phi Don and Phi Phi Leh - lying around 40km from Krabi on one side and Phuket on the other.

 

We docked at Ton Sai, Phi Phis main town, and were met by a bell-boy with his two-wheeled luggage trolley and a sign saying Phi Phi Charlie  the beach bungalow development we had chosen rather blindly as our home for the next four days. Phi Phi Don is the island with the infrastructure, the ATMs, Internet cafés, tourist shops and massage parlours.

However there are no roads or motorised vehicles on the island, and so, we were led, in 35º humid heat through the meandering sandy paths of a somewhat thrown-together Thai-Muslim village to Ao Lo Dalam beach on the other side of the island, and our palm-thatched beach bungalows. I was relieved we had paid extra for air-conditioning, and were not just relying on a fan to recycle warm air. Yet, our high season bill only came to around ¬30 a night, including breakfast, and mosquitoes.

Everything in Thailand is a bargain - an hour-long massage cost ¬4, a main course in a good restaurant ¬1.50, and a bottle of mineral water 10c at most. Phi Phi is inhabited by the semi-nomadic Chao Náam sea-gypsies, who tend to keep to themselves. Other than that the islands were thronged in high-season with tourists, island workers, and Thailands famed back-packers.


 

The following morning, I rode the Andaman waves in a speedboat, along with 19 others on a days snorkelling trip (¬8 including gear and lunch). Mr Moo was our kamikaze driver ; Mr C our smiling guide. We had the obligatory vomiting boy and hysterical lady who had clearly regretted their decision to make their first speed-boat trip.

 

Anchoring off Bamboo Island, the waters surface above the reef changed from emerald to azure - almost a turquoise hue. I was first to lower myself into this fertile coral garden and vast aquarium, aware that below me lay 200 species of hard coral, and marine life boasting a million multi-coloured species, from gobies, clown fish (Nemo), turtles, dolphins, an assortment of supposedly passive sharks, including some 18m whale sharks! Angel Fish and Banner Fish drifted by my mask in schools, while below me giant sponges, oversized brownish cauliflowers and brain-like coral were home to sea-urchins, spindly transparent crustaceans and black pooey sea-slugs. This was a world I had only seen before thanks to David Attenborough and others. Now I was part of it, and feeding these polite piranhas by hand. The sound of larger fish nibbling on coral beneath me echoed through the waters.

Next stop was Phi Phi Leh, made famous by Leonardo di Crabbio(sic) (as Mr C called him) in the film The Beach.The film centres around a back-packers failed Utopia, and is fairly awful, but despite being a flop, it has succeeded in attracting hordes of tourists to Phi Phi. Sheer limestone cliffs and overhanging grottoes sculpted by millenia guard this tropical lagoon and its white sandy beach, Ao Maya. A marine cave houses prehistoric paintings, while Birds Nest collectors risk their lives stealing swallow nests, made from swallow spit, to be sold as a Chinese culinary delight (each to their own) for thousands of dollars.

As the sun set, blue turned to orange, then pink. I lay on our beach while a large island lady kneaded my meridians, manipulated and twisted my frame, trampled my back, releasing toxins and redistributing energies throughout my system. In Phuket, I had declined the offer of a happy ending to my massage. Here, on Paradise Island it was not even on the menu.

I had a massage on each of my remaining days with the same lady in the same place. One evening I scaled my way up through rain-forest to the viewpoint to watch the sun go down. During the daytime, I hired long-tailed boats  Thailands trademark symbol  which took me to neighbouring beaches and islands to swim, snorkle and explore. I got high on flavours of garlic, lemongrass, coconut, pineapple, coriander and miscellaneous Thai spices. To adapt an otherwise corny lyric - Ive been to Paradise, on the island of Phi Phi .