Thursday, November 15, 2012

Koh Phi Phi or Koh Pyro Pyro

I am ready to start my SE Asia adventure! From Phuket Town I decided that Koh Phi Phi Island would be the next stop. Koh Phi Phi (pronounced pee-pee) is known to be one of the most beauiful islands in the Andaman Sea. Nearby is the famous Maya Bay where the movie "The Beach" was filmed, which helped put Koh Phi Phi on the world-travel radar.

Getting to Koh Phi Phi

In Phuket Town I purchased an open ferry ticket from Phuket Town - Phi Phi - Krabi which included the transfer to the pier in Phuket Town. After the 2-hour ferry journey I arrived at Phi Phi without arrangements for a place to stay. This is not a problem as arriving travelers are bombarded by locals who try to direct you to the guesthouse/hotel that they are associated with or receive commission for bringing travelers. As I walked through town and checked out a few places, it was hard to believe that the entire town was leveled by the 2004 tsunami.

After getting settled I hit the beach. Unfortunately, I didn't realize that there are small tar balls on the beach, so my favorite sarong from Rio was ruined and my fliplops and toes were covered in the gross goo. If you go to Phi Phi be sure to stay above the high tide water line on the beach to avoid this problem.

Even though I was in Phi Phi during the low season it was wall-to-wall tourists by late afternoon. Throw in the relatively small island and narrow pathways which only intensified the crowded out feeling. At this point I decided that two nights on the island would be sufficient and that a day out in the bay on a boat was the place for me. 

There are tons of Maya Bay tour operators that range from smaller long-tail boats to large speedboats that can accommodate up to 50 people. I opted for long-tail and for the earliest departure knowing that this would increase my chances of a more personable and less chaotic trip. I booked my trip with a Thai man named Mai. At first he told me a half-day tour was 1000 baht ($32 USD) which is CRAAAAZY. He asked me what I wanted to spend so I told him 200 baht. Yes it sounds like I am low-balling but he high-balled me - I like to think my negotiating skills are up to par and apparently they are because we settled on 300 baht which I would pay the next morning.

Playing with Fire

For the evening I visited the Thai boxing bar that was mild in the sense that they were not trying to kill each other. This bar also encourages tourists to don protective gear and get in the ring with fellow friends. If you do then you will receive a free bucket. A bucket? Yes, a beach bucket filled with booze and a mixer that is usually shared between a couple of people, or single-handedly by those who want the worst hangover - ever. Eventually the tourists and some locals migrate to the beach where there are several bars and parties - music, fire throwers/twirlers, fire limbo and fire jump rope. I think an appropriate name for this island could be Koh Pyro Pyro. It's an entertaining way to spend the evening but from a safe distance unless you want to get burned. I played it safe by not playing with fire and headed home early in anticipation of my Maya Bay adventure.

Maya Bay

My long-tail trip to Maya Bay couldn't have worked out any better. On the boat was 5 other girls who were all traveling solo through Asia and we were all in the same age range. The six of us were thrilled when we arrived at the spectacularly gorgeous Maya Bay. Wow! Just like the movie and even what's even better is that we were the only people there! We ran around on the beach, jumping in the water, snapping loads of photos, soaking up every minute of having this gorgeous place to ourselves because we knew that the clock was ticking down. After 20 minutes of having the beach to ourselves the large speedboats arrived dumping 50-60 people at a time. Within a few minutes the beach was packed with over 300 tourists. We decided to make our escape to the other side of the island where our long-tail was waiting for us. Knowing that the itinerary is essentially the same for all boats. We wanted to stay ahead of the crowd and get our snorkeling on before them.

Sunset Junkie

The girls and I decided to meet for a hike up to the viewpoint for the Phi Phi sunset. The hike turned out to be several hundred steps and well worth the huffing and puffing and being drenched in sweat. The sunset over the two crescent shaped beaches surrounded by jagged limestone karst was truly serene, impressive, and better than I could have imagined.

Travel Tips:
Haggle with a smile and be nice. Haggling is part of Thai culture and it's a friendly experience where two people discuss an agreed upon price. Never say anything negative or imply that they are not being fair or the product is sub par. In most Asian cultures 'saving face' is very important and aggression is frowned upon - literally. Check around and haggle with other operators and sales people.

Happy shakes, happy pizza, happy brownies? No, it's not like a Happy Meal. Almost anything that contains "happy" throughout SE Asia means it contains weed or possibly mushrooms (not button mushrooms). 

Up next: Krabi, songthaews, and the local beaches.