Saturday, January 21, 2012

Koh Phi Phi

The journey to Koh Phi Phi (pronounced "Pee Pee") was probably the most extensive and interesting of our entire trip. As I mentioned in the Koh Tao post, the seas were quite rough during the time we were traveling. While at Scuba Junction, the owner, Natalie, had given us a few motion sickness tablets to help while out on the boats, and we had saved a few for our trip across on the ferry, knowing it would be a rocky boat ride. While on the ferry to Chumphon, I was VERY thankful to have taken a motion sickness tablet! Also, it turned out to be really good luck to have taken that ferry, as the ferry I had originally wanted to take that was booked was running far behind schedule due to the rough seas, and it would have taken much longer to reach land via that ferry. Our trip took just about 2 hours, and once we arrived in Chumphon, we were herded onto a huge coach bus that would take us into town, where we would then board another minibus to head to Krabi Town, where we would spend the night before taking the ferry to Phi Phi the next day. It's actually quite amusing how the tour companies keep track of people who have booked "packages" to get from point A to point B using several different types of transport. At the beginning of your trip, they give you a sticker to wear, which helps to get you in the right place for each leg without any language barrier issues. We probably paid about 60 Baht extra to have these things arranged for us, and since we don't speak any Thai, it was $2 well spent!
Almost in Chumphon and finally some calm seas!
There are lanes of traffic and speed limits in Thailand, but I'm not sure that they are actually obeyed, particularly by minibus drivers. They will drive in the opposite lane of traffic, on the shoulder, and will repeatedly pass people driving the speed limit, honking at them to move out of the way. Also, there are people on motorbikes EVERYWHERE, most riding without helmets and weaving in and out of traffic. Sometimes there will be a family of four on a single bike! I also witnessed several women carrying children in one hand and driving with the other. Insane. The trip from Chumphon to Krabi was supposed to be about 5 hours in the minibus, but I'm pretty sure we made it there in under 4 hours thanks to our super speedy bus driver! Once we arrived they dropped us off at a shady travel agency trying to sell us ferry tickets for twice the normal price, but we just politely declined and headed off to find our accommodation, which fortunately I had previously booked.

In Krabi Town we stayed at Cha-Cha-Lay, which was a fabulous small hotel that was immaculately clean and had the coolest outdoor bathroom.
The blue doors open from the bedroom into the "outdoor" bathroom. And a Western style toilet, yay!!
"Outdoor" shower
We paid 450 Baht (less than $15) for a room with a private bathroom, though you could get a shared bathroom room for an even cheaper rate. Krabi Town has a fabulous Night Market, with tons of food choices for great prices. Erik and I enjoyed dinner there and had a few Changs as well (it's hard to say no to beer when it is so ridiculously CHEAP!).
Many stalls to choose from at the Night Market
We took advantage of probably the most comfortable bed of our trip thus far and slept in the next morning. We were waiting around to meet up with two of our friends who were on their honeymoon in Thailand, but their train from Bangkok was delayed about 5 hours due to an accident on the tracks, so we had a few hours to kill before meeting them. I had been really wanting to get a Thai massage, but was slightly apprehensive because my knee was still sore and had limited range of motion. If you have ever had a Thai massage, you understand why this is a factor. If you haven't ever had a Thai massage, what are you waiting for?! Our massages cost $10 a piece for an hour, and it was definitely different from traditional Western massage, but in a good way. The women use a lot of feet/heels and elbows/forearms to really "dig" into your muscles, and during the last part of my massage I was actually lifted up into the air by the craziest massage move I've ever experienced (Erik didn't get that move...he figured maybe he was too heavy). Anyway, my knee was a bit sore after the massage, but it was absolutely worth the experience!

Our friends arrived around noon, so we got to enjoy a nice lunch with them before heading off to Phi Phi in the afternoon.
Rian and Mike were stopping in Krabi before heading to Lao Liang to do some climbing. Second time we've been able to meet up with honeymooning friends in random places and hopefully that streak continues! :)
Erik on the ferry to Phi Phi. Sweet limestone cliffs in background.
Phi Phi Island is the most expensive place we chose to visit, but by Western standards it is still "cheap". There are places on Phi Phi where you could spend $600 a night on a swanky hotel, but that wasn't in the budget for our trip this time around, so instead I picked Phi Phi Hill Resort. The "resort" is located quite a ways away from the main area of Phi Phi, which I knew and picked intentionally because the main beaches (Ton Sai and Loh Dalum) are notorious for being crowded and also for parties being held until 4am. Erik and I are quite the "old" folk these days and don't much care for being at the bar until the wee hours of the morning, so I thought that Long Beach, where Phi Phi Hill is located, would suit us better. 700 Baht (about $20) a night here for a really good size room and bathroom. The outside of the units are not as fun as the traditional bungalow (they are aluminum siding and have rusted over the years due to salt water, no doubt), but the inside was very tidy.
Bathroom is to the right in this picture
Luckily for us, Phi Phi Hill's restaurant as some of the most spectacular views on the island. We ate most of our meals there, so we got to enjoy plenty of postcard-worthy sights.
Phi Phi Leh is to the left, which is where "The Beach" was filmed. It is uninhabited. Phi Phi is actually two islands even though both are commonly just referred to as "Phi Phi.. Technically we were staying on Phi Phi Don.
On the first day we decided to make the trek into town and then up to the viewpoint to see the "two bays" of Phi Phi. The walk to town took about 45 minutes, as it is partly on the beach but partly through the woods.
Erik walking along Long Beach on our journey into town.
We stopped along the way to pop into a pharmacy so that I could pick up some medicine (I felt like I was maybe getting a sinus infection) and to ask for directions to the viewpoint. The clerk told us which way to go and we followed her directions. I had read that the hike to the top was steep but short (about 300 meters). Somehow we ended up on a 5km (3 mile) hike to the top! Apparently we went some sort of back way, though we did save $1.50 because the Thais have started to charge people to access the viewpoint now.
Phi Phi Leh in the background
Tonsai Beach on the left and Loh Dalum Beach on the right
At the viewpoint!
We enjoyed the view for a while and then headed into town to do some exploring there. On the way down we actually came across our first snake of the trip, a green one that slithered across the path right in front of me! Not sure what type of snake it was, as there are many different types of venomous snakes in Southern Thailand, but happy that it was similar to my first snake encounter in Oz, uneventful. After the hike back home we spent a lovely evening at Phi Phi Hill enjoying a beautiful sunset!
View from our dinner table
Sunset over Phi Phi Leh
The next day I had arranged for us to take a boat over to Phi Phi Leh early in the morning. I wanted to get there before many of the other boats (around 10am they start sending scores of tourists over and it becomes a madhouse) to enjoy the serenity and do some snorkeling. We hired a private long tail boat for about $40, which included snorkeling equipment and 3 hours of fun on Phi Phi Leh.

This is Maya Bay. The big black spots in the water are HUGE swarms of fish!
Pretty decent snorkeling there, though pictures are hard to get because our point and shoot camera was essentially just in a heavy duty Ziploc bag!

After snorkeling, we went on a tour of the rest of Phi Phi Leh, which has lots of little coves and beaches. Remember when I mentioned that the island is uninhabited? Well we did see some clear evidence that there are people actually living on Phi Phi Leh!

Pretty sweet swimming at your doorstep!
One of the "bays" of Phi Phi Leh
Upon our return to Phi Phi Hill, we ran into some monkeys! The little guy was hilarious to watch and mom and dad spent lots of time cleaning each other while the child was trying to find ways to entertain himself.

I also spent some time taking photos of flowers around the resort, which is one of my favorite things to do!

That night was New Year's Eve, and we were leaving the next day, so we decided we'd have a low key night. Actually we were even debating going to bed before midnight! However, after dinner and a walk on the beach, the Thais who work at Phi Phi Hill essentially INSISTED that we be there for their New Year's party. So it was us and another young German couple who joined the entire staff for a night of drinking, eating, and dancing. The Thais were so incredibly generous to us that evening, including free beers from the hotel manager...just for the non-Thai attendees! If you want to see a short video of that evening, you can watch it here. There were lots of laughs over the course of the evening, but one of the funniest things was when they put an entire fish that had been grilled in front of Erik and I. We had no idea how to eat the fish, as this was a whole fish, skin and all! A language barrier can really force you to use your other senses and nonverbal communication in order to get by. After a bit of demonstration by the Thais, Erik was able to free lots of delicious fish for us to consume. At midnight there were fireworks all over the island, which we had a great view of from the Phi Phi Hill restaurant. 

The next morning I wanted to snorkel a bit before we checked out, so we headed down to the beach basically right in front of the resort. On our entry into the water we saw hundreds of crabs.

No less than 5 minutes after we started snorkeling, a spotted a blacktip reef shark! I have a crazy fear of sharks, but I was actually really excited to spot the shark. We saw another one (or potentially the same one) a few minutes later as well. Turns out there was very good snorkeling right at our doorstep, and we saw lots of colorful fish, including a couple of clownfish in an anemone, which was a really cool sight! After snorkeling, we checked out of our room and headed to the restaurant to hang out, where we watched the East Coast ring in the new year on television (it was noon on New Year's Day, and Thailand is 12 hours ahead of Eastern Standard Time). We then started our long journey home, which entailed a long tail boat to the port, a ferry to Phuket, a minibus ride to the airport, an 8.5 hour flight back to Melbourne, a bus from the airport, and a tram to our house. We arrived home to HOT weather, as it was 103 degrees here on January 2nd!

Erik helped me create a little "travel map" to help you get an idea of how we traveled throughout Southern Thailand. Technically we started and ended at the Phuket airport, which is Northeast of the Phuket dot on this map. We did take the ferry to Phuket and drove through the town on our way to to the airport, but that was our extent of experiencing Phuket, and we were okay with that! The dots represent places that we stayed overnight.

All in all, we had a fantastic trip to Thailand. The beautiful scenery, amazing food, and friendly people are enticing reasons to visit again, though on the way home we made a list of where we'd like to go next and I'm not sure how a return trip to Thailand will fit into that schedule! :)

1 comment:

  1. "we had saved a few [motion sickness tablets] for our trip across on the ferry, knowing it would be a rocky boat ride..."

    Really, "we" save a few?!? As I recall, I saved mine, you lost yours. But being a kind, generous, and thoughtful soul, I selflessly gave mine to you so that your trip would be a more pleasant experience.

    I felt it was key to set the record straight on this point.


    Your loving husband