Having fun in the sea.
Dawn broke softly over Sura Thani on the morning we were due to depart. The rain from last night's thunderstorms was long gone from the early morning heat when we stirred, and rats the size of young children were having their early morning feasts from the left over of the local markets.
By 11 am we were on our bus and heading towards Phuket after a short one night stop off in Sura Thani to catch our breath before the next leg. The madness of the full moon was by now more of a dream than a memory, and our thoughts turned the much more important matter at hand... Getting a tan before we leave Thailand. And where better to do some sun worshiping than in Phuket, that internationally famous home of sun, sand and pre-operation lady boys where we would be chilling for the next few days.
With Maya bay ("The Beach" film) behind.
We booked ourselves on a large bus this time, no more minibuses for us, but as things have a tendency to in Thailand the gods conspired against us and this ended up being no better than the cramped mini buses we had being enduring. It was a bus straight out of the 1960s - Beatles "Magical Mystery Tour" style. While the seats and leg room was marginally better, this time it was the driver who caused the problems, as he drove our full size coach down the Thai roads like he would drive his motorbike in Bangkok; aggressively and without any care for his or our safety. After being in a car with my mother I didn't think I could ever be more afraid in a vehicle (only joking mam!), but by God he managed to keep us on the edge of our seat all the way there. The speed I can handle, by all means get me there sooner.
Sweet and sour for brekkie!
But when the reason he is hitting these speeds is because he is trying to overtake a huge lorry on a bend and divine inspiration is our only hope, then I'm bothered. Extremely so. If this happened once or twice, fair enough, but my terror, and theres no other word for it, was based on the fact that every time we were stuck behind a vehicle of any size or speed, his solution was to start overtaking and beep the horn furiously at the person he was overtaking to slow down so that he could get by. Because if they didn't slow down, chances were we would plow into whatever was coming round the next bend or over the next dip. At least 3 times we were saved not by his driving but by the poor person he was overtaking having to slam on the brakes to allow our driver to nip into the left and out of the oncoming traffics way by inches.
Enjoying my lolly.
When we stopped for food half way through the journey, we seriously thought about not getting back on!
We arrived in Phuket around 6 hours later, which felt like days, and we were considerably grayer and prematurely aged from our experience. There were the usual assortment of touts hanging around, with 2 jumping for our bags so that they could take us by taxi to a hotel which would pay them commission for our custom on top of their taxi fare. We headed for a nearby 'travel agency' to try and avoid being fleeced, or a tout with a shop as they are called over here, and after a few minutes realized that we were in Phuket town which is not the place to stay when in Phuket, funnily enough, and so we were soon on a tuk tuk and heading for a more reputable destination.
The perfect sands of Ko Phi Phi.
Patong was our beach of choice as it is for many visitors, and we managed to get a hotel room with a t.v for just 6 pounds a night, not bad for the area. We only booked for two nights as we wanted to spend most of our time in this region on the islands, mainly Ko Phi Phi, and so we spent night one of two sampling the street vendors food which, like most of Thailand, was awesome and the equivalent of a much needed counciling session after the horror bus journey we had endured. Day two was spent, as tradition in Phuket demands, sun worshiping, and we chilled on the beach watching very ugly English men in their 50's walk past with stunning Thai girls in their teens, which led to a fun game between us called "how much does he have to pay her a night". This would be a never ending game in Phuket so we instead headed for the night markets and bought a few nick naks for our time on the islands.
Early start for us the next day so again we ate well and had an early night watching a German business channel before some rest and recuperation.
We had nothing booked to get to Koh Phi Phi the next morning, but luckily the hotel were on hand to sort out our boat tickets and transport to the ferry terminal on, yes, you guessed it, another mini bus. This one wasn't over crowded though so we were fine. The boat had us pulling into the islands tiny marina in a few short hours, and we jostled with the other passengers for space to take that all important photo of the simply stunning bay. On dry land we decided to try our well used tactic for getting accommodation.
In Phuket, on the phone to my nan.
Ignoring the touts assurances that 400 baht was the 'cheapest on the island', John left me to mind our bags and have some food in a restaurant so that he could go and ask the hotels direct what they had available. Depending on arrival time and the place, this is the best option as your not paying anyone's commission then as well. It took some time, but after half an hour of asking and getting told 400 baht a depressing amount of times, finally he found a place further in the interior of the island that had decent enough little bungalows for 300 baht a night. A saving of 1 pound 70p a night! Result. (God help me when we're back in Britain, trying to haggle with the staff in McDonald's over the price of a big mac meal). The reduced price was because the area around the bungalows is still very viably affected by the tsunami in 2004, with plenty of rubble and debris from that monster wave that devastated the island.
In fact much of the island still shows signs of recovery, but even in spite of this its the most beautiful place I have ever been.
That night we walked away from marina and its more commercialised businesses to look for food, and found instead a little slice of paradise, a beach with crystal clear water and perfect white sand all nestled in a bay framed by soaring tree-lined cliffs. This is, after all, the area where the beach was filmed, and from the look of the place they chose the best spot on earth. We dragged ourselves away after taking some pictures and chatting to a guy we had met in Koh Phangan, and we all shared a meal together in one of the many cheap restaurants nearby.
On the boat leaving the island.
The rest of the time on the island was as perfect and as relaxed as this, relaxing on the stunning beaches and enjoying the turquoise waters by day, and debating which of the many excellent restaurants to eat in at night. Since there are no roads on the islands, there is no traffic of any real description. Goods are moved around the island by large carts which are pushed around by the younger generation here for a small fee, and boat taxis are the norm for longer journeys. We have seen about 2 motorbikes since we have been here, but all and all this what you'd expect from a tropical paradise, free from the un-necessary trappings of modern living except the essentials like food, beer and a fan in your room.
We did decide to do something a little more energetic on our second last day, day four, when we booked on a snorkeling cruise that visited the smaller of the two islands that make up Koh Phi Phi.
The island says goodbye...the Thai flag and the yellow flag of Buddah.
This island is mostly uninhabited as it is used to harvest a rare medicine that comes from a native bird, and so it is a real unspoilt gem. Our second stop on the trip was to Maya beach made famous in the movie "The Beach", the one which is used in much of the film's scenes. Although busy with tourists the beauty of the place was unmistakable, although not out of the ordinary from the other stunning beaches on the other island. Next we were off to a series of stunning coves and beaches where we enjoyed snorkeling and swimming in the perfect waters. We returned to the better beaches on the other island for more of the same, and since the boats operators were throwing rice to attract the fish, you literally had to push them out of the way to get past them. One of the bays was aptly named Shark point, and within a few minutes of getting in the water we could see why, as small sharks about 2- 3 feet long with big teeth drifted by us curiously.
Pre-sun burnt on the way to the island.
They were not meat eaters of course, but they had an impressive row of teeth which they seemed happy to show, so we kept a safe distance if you'd call 5 feet safe. We chatted with some girls from Limerick on the way back after a great but exhausting day, to find that we were both now red as cherries from the scalding sun, after working so hard on our tans the last few days!
Our final day was spent on the beaches once again, just shading under an umbrella while listening to chill out music from one of the tiny bars that dot the beach side, enjoying fresh fruit juice and already missing the place before our departure for Bangkok the next day.
When we both thought about traveling and Thailand in particular we both knew what we had in mind, and there's no doubting that the place that fulfills all those ideas about fantasy islands,perfect beaches and impossible sunsets is Koh Phi Phi.
On the beach.
And thats even in spite of the still apparent mess and building work thats going on due to the affects of the tsunami. When thats all sorted it will be even better, and needless to say, we'll be happy to come back and see it! Phuket was a tad too commerciaised, touristy and kind of a bit western sobwe didn't rate it much but it was good for a day or two and a must if you want to travel over to Koh Phi Phi.
Now for Bangkok, the toilet of South East Asia. Oh boy!!