Koh Phi Phi Don

July 6th, 2008. Categories / Thailand

J. and arrived on the island of Phi Phi Don three days ago with high hopes. That morning, we were able to get a crowded boat from Rai Leh East for 390bht($12) a person. As the waters were shallow at the beach, two longtail boats full of people had to rendezvous with the larger ship at deeper water. The trip was two hours over grey, but smooth water. It drizzled and remained overcast. We chatted for most of the ride with an American from Sonoma, California. She was on her way to Indonesia after the island.

Around noon, the boat pulled around the edge of the island and into the crowded harbor. While construction of a new pier is almost complete, all boats still unload at a temporary pier. That area is a mess of activity. As everything has to be brought to the island, all kinds of food, construction supplies, and furnishing get unloaded into a constant stream of shellshocked tourists that spill off boats. The pier’s surface is made of boards, many of which have broken and then patched. There are still plenty of gaping holes that an inattentive tourist could lose their leg to. Beneath all the commotion is the emerald clear water lapping at the boats. All manner of tropical fish mingle with bilge water and small iridescent oil slicks.

Lifesaver and grey ocean.

One of many fishing boats.

A group of Thai fisherman heading out to sea.

Three kids playing in a dingy. The kid in front was somehow able to eat a bag of chips and a box of pokky sticks without getting them soaked.

The hustle and bustle on the temporary pier.

Ships docking for the night. I like how they line up from big to small.

It’s not a well made pier.

Fish eating algae off a boat’s anchor rope.

Our first concern was finding a place to stay and drop of our bags. We cut our load in half by storing non essentials in Krabi, but were still burdened by packs and duffels. For about an hour, we walked around and compared guesthouses. All of the prices seemed high, and the better values had sold out. We settled, begrudgingly on a 400bht room next to an internet cafe. The room was charmless, but the proprietor was friendly. The bed sounded like a sack of river rocks, but there was a hot shower.

After some arguments and sour moods that morning, we showered, got some lunch, and sat down to figure out what to do.

I visited Phi Phi Don three years ago with C. and his sister. From what I remember, C. was recovering from being sick, so I’m not sure what we did on that visit. But I had vivid memories of arriving and walking through the haunting, empty part of the sandbar that hadn’t yet been rebuilt after the tsunami. By that time, the debris had been cleared, but at least half of the development was washed away. Not so on this visit. While there was still a flurry of construction, that area had been largely rebuilt and more shops had sprung up everywhere.

While Phi Phi is a great story of recovery, it also felt kind of sad to be there. There is nothing to the island besides it’s scenery and tourism. The endless rows of restaurants and beach shops are as cultureless as anywhere. Throngs of youthful tourists (many from Australia) yell, eat pizza, spill out of bars. For them, the trip is more about partying than being in a foreign land. And on most of the developed part of the island, it doesn’t feel like Thailand.

Prices have also gone up. Foremost, fuel has doubled here in three years and is now about 42bht/liter ($6 a gallon). In relation to other prices, the cost of gas comes at a greater burden to anyone using it. This means the boat fares have gone up, as have the costs of delivery goods to the islands. Additionally Phi Phi is rebuilding, and rebuilding costs money. Lastly, tourists are willing to bear higher prices. The most reasonable meal price was about double that on the mainland. Still cheap by any standards but Thailand.

In the afternoon’s low tide, we explored the tide pools on the north beach.
It was still drizzling. After an uncomfortable dinner surrounded by Aussies, J. and I were feeling frustrated. We decided to cut bait and leave the island the next morning.

Me at low tide.

Friday, we got up early and hiked a bunch of mosquito infested steps to a view point overlooking the sandbar and western peaks of the island. This view, which I had only seen in photos, was the reason I wanted to come back to the island. It was pretty amazing. Afterward, we showered, got our boat tickets for 400bht each, checked out, and went to the pier area to watch boats until our 2PM departure.


Termites (I think) eating the wood on a bench on the way to the viewpoint.

Boats floating in the water off Ao Lo Dalam. That’s some clear water.

A panorama from the viewpoint. Click for larger size.

Tree growing from coconut.

My improvised sweaty shirt drying method.

The restaurant we had lunch the first day was doing brisk business selling soup to the locals. For our second lunch, I ordered a bowl. Delicious, rich brown broth with garlic onions, chicken, ground peanuts, sprouts, and fish balls. It was very good. Very good. 50bht($1.50)

But the weather had gotten clear, sunny and wonderful again. As we sat on the shore, staring at the clear water, it was decided that it would be stupid to come all the way to a tropical island and not make the most of it. We consulted the guidebook and hired a longtail boat to take us around the edge of the island to a more secluded area called Hat Yao (“Long Beach”). We found a mid-range bungalow with a view of the water for 750bht($23) a night. We decided to stay for two nights and get our swimming on. So that’s what we did: two days of swimming, sitting in the sun, reading, playing cards. There was a nice, though “expensive” restaurant near the bungalow that had great tables along the sand. It was a quiet, relaxing beach compared to the ones near the tourist village. It was like a whole new island.

Our boat captain, driving with both feet and hands.

Our Hat Yao bungalow.

The view from our bungalow’s porch.

J. sitting in the sun.

Koh Phi Phi Don’s little sister island, Koh Phi Phi Leh as seen from the beach.

Our dinner/breakfast table. Our first night at dinner, we stayed late and watched the sun set while playing cards. Phi Phi Leh is on the left.

Green curry and rice (80bht/$2.40). Expensive, but you pay for the view.

Sunset.

Sunday, we head back to Krabi.

4 Comments


Jon Klassen:

it’s been said before, and it will no doubt be said again; you look best at low tide.

c:

is that the same place we stayed when it was near-abandoned and we had to walk through the woods for hours to find?

Nik:

C., do you mean Koh Phu island where you and K batiked it up with the locals, or the island where we stayed on the hillside? This was the hillside island.

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