Day 355 – Wednesday April 9, 2008 – Phuket & Phi Phi Islands, Thailand
As mentioned in our previous post, we booked a one day boat tour out to the Phi Phi Islands on Wednesday. Koh Phi Phi Leh is famous for being the filming location of the 1990’s movie “The Beach”. Due to its picturesque scenery and famed movie status, this area has become a huge tourist destination. While seeing the Phi Phi islands was important to us, it wasn’t the main reason we decided to book a tour out there. When we were sold the tour, snorkeling was emphasized as the main activity, which was in line with what we wanted. Unfortunately, unike our tour in Krabi, things on this tour didn’t turn out quite like we expected, but I better not get ahead of myself.
First thing Wednesday morning we woke up and packed our things up. I forget to mention that in an effort to spend the least amount of time possible in Phuket Town, we booked tickets for Wednesday evening on an overnight bus to Bangkok. This meant that our tour would end at 4pm and three hours later we would be on a bus to Bangkok. After a little negotiation at the guesthouse, we managed to agree on a price to rent our room until 7pm so we could come back to the room after the tour for a quick rest and shower before going to the bus station.
The one thing our travel agent made clear when we booked the tour was that we needed to be outside at 7:45am to be picked up and brought to the dock. Of course this didn’t happen. Since the boat was scheduled to depart the dock at 8:30am, when we hadn’t yet been picked up at 8:20am we got a little nervous. Finally though, around 8:22am a man came in a car and picked us up, getting us to the dock one minute before departure.
We opted to take a tour on a big boat as opposed to the smaller speed boats that cost twice as much. The trip from Phuket to our first stop at Maya Bay on Koh Phi Phi Ley took ninety minutes. When we arrived, the scene looked familiar as Maya Bay was the main location of filming for “The Beach”. Unfortunately the stunning beauty of this place was tarnished by dozens of boats and thousands of people.
Koh Phi Phi Ley is a government owned island and thus there is no development allowed. For some reason though they let countless tour boats dock in Maya Bay for snorkeling. Our large boat was allowed to dock in a narrow spot next to at least a dozen other large boats. In this tiny spot we were allowed to snorkel, but moving too far away meant getting in the path of incoming ships. Unfortunately, we had so little room to move that we kept bumping into everyone.
In the end, we were given an hour to snorkel around Maya Bay. Like I said before the water was just too crowded for the experience to be enjoyable. While all of the speedboats were allowed to go all the way to the white sandy beach, we were stuck out in the bay with thousands of other people. The water was crystal clear, but we didn’t see very many fish. The highlight of the snorkeling was seeing a very large jellyfish which Shawn Reece really enjoyed.
After our time snorkeling in Maya Bay, we were served a very bland buffet lunch on the ship. All of the food was freshly cooked on the boat, but they dumbed it down and it had very little taste. I guess they figure Westerners can’t handle the spice of Thai food. Without the spice, the food tasted like nothing. Blah!
Following lunch we drove into another bay on the other side of the island. This bay also had crystal clear water and white sandy beaches. We were not allowed to snorkel or leave the boat. In fact, Maya Bay was the only snorkeling spot on the whole trip. We had been deceived back in Phuket as to exactly what the tour entailed.
A few minutes after visiting the second bay we passed the Tiger Cave on our way to Phi Phi Don Island. Phi Phi Don was one of the hardest hit places during the 2004 Tsunami and is just now getting back up to speed. As our ship pulled into the dock, we were told that we had two hours to explore. Instead of giving us a tour, we were being dropped into a tourist trap.
Phi Phi Don is home to the largest backpacker scene in Southern Thailand. The beach while white and sandy is incredibly narrow and the party atmosphere at this place was in no way appealing to us. While I understand that a lot of this island was rebuilt with tourism in mind, this is exactly the kind of place that I loathe. We spent the next two hours desperately trying to kill time.
After reboarding the ship, we still had to endure the ninety minute trip back to town. Finally around 4pm the rip off tour was over and all we got was a bad lunch and one hour of snorkeling with a thousand of our closest friends. While we were disappointed, it was nice to see the stunning sight of these two islands, even though they have been absolutely ruined by tourism. While the beaches on Koh Sukhorn were not nearly as picturesque, the atmosphere more than made up for it.
Once back at the guest house we showered and got some dinner before heading to the bus station for our 7pm bus. The bus trip from Phuket to Bangkok was scheduled to take twelve hours. We opted to book a VIP bus which cost us 1000Baht each (~$33USD), but promised a lot of extra room and comfort. Come back to find out if that was a lie too!
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The Coomer Family