December 12th, 2015
I’ll admit… Phi Phi and Maya Island are two destinations I’ve been itching to see since reading the book The Beach. Continuing my trip from Singapore, Thailand is a two-hour flight and obvious choice for a long weekend to celebrate my 30th birthday.
PP (as the locals write and say it) is in the Andaman Sea, just north of Tonsai, and south of Phuket.
A two-hour flight, to a one hour drive, to a two-hour ferry. A long day of traveling, but worth the crystal clear waters and white sands that awaits.
Twenty years ago the islands were the ultimate backpackers paradise. You could share a wooden hut on the beach for around $5.00 and the only entertainment at night were the beach fireshows, which are still a big part of the island scene today. The 2004 tsunami radically changed the landscape and the economy of these small islands of paradise. Today, the island is a mix of small budget huts and 5 star luxury cabana’s and is overwhelmed with backpackers and Leo lovers.
I downloaded some reading material for the two-hour boat ride and regretted my choice of topics, but’s it’s a good narrative on one of the survivors story and how she miraculously survived.
The second I got off the ferry, I was immediately hit by a barrage of touts from nearby guesthouses and bars, offering me cheap rooms, free drinks, “special” massages, and tour packages. They came out to the very edge of the dock, and the line of touts extended down the pier and into the maze of shops covering the island. Certainly the island is beautiful, but was immediately way too overrun with the party-backpacker vibe for my taste.
As you land on the island, you first take notice to the awful stench. Phi Phi has a barely functional open sewer system that leaves an unpleasant smell over the island at all hours (they are building a sewage treatment facility to address this).
After pushing through the crowds holding my nose, I saw a man with a sign for my Airbnb. With 24 hours on the island and little time to waste, we walked through town, I dropped my bags off at my villa and hiked to the lookout where there was fresh air waiting.
Signs of more development…
Homeless cats roam the island
After 500 plus stairs, 2 water bottles, 30 baht ($2USD), and a t-shirt full of sweat I made it to the viewpoint in 40 min. A hike worth the view.
With now less than 24 hours, the next priority was a proper Thai massage (cost = $5USD/ hour) followed by organizing a tour for the next morning. I’ve heard horror stories of how crowded the sites get and I wanted to be the first one out and about.
Dinner was a short water taxi around the island which landed you on a beach full of candle-lit beachside restaurants. The sunset was stunning with a tropical storm lighting up the sky in the distance.
The first tour the next day began at 9am, so I hired a personal long-tail boat and left at 5:30am with a goal to get to Maya Island for the sunrise without any people traffic.
The inside of my camera fogged up from the humidity and it was unusable for the beginning of the day, but it slowly came back as the sun rose.
Checking for octopus.
Not many people get to experience Maya Bay without the crowds. A typical view of Maya Bay in high season would have the entire beach and bay area itself simply crawling with tourists (and the odd monkey).
Not my photo, but it gives you the idea of what the beach looks like during the day.
Dozens upon dozens of boats arrive here everyday, dropping off tourists like lemmings, who appear to multiply before your eyes, pushing past you in excited curiosity as if they are expecting Leonardo to jump off the ridge shouting “I’ve found it!” The emerald blue water no longer contains the twinkling mysteries of its submerged beauty but instead is flanked with a row of longboats floating idly while the sands rapidly become covered with a scattering of feet and the air fills with nothing but uncontrolled mayhem and the screams of boat captains. Now you know why I got an early start!
As the sun rose, more boats and crowds accumulated. Which meant it was time to leave.
Passing what’s called, Viking Cave
We then snorkeled for an hour where he proved several times how long he could hold his breath. I also quickly learned fish love pineapple, reef sharks are not dangerous but curious, and the sea turtles are in abundance and like pineapple too.
The following stop was called “the blue lagoon” and I was reminded several times how lucky I was to see it without crowds. This truly was one of the most beautiful scenes I’ve encountered in my life. If I’m ever fortunate to come back, I would spend a whole day docked here enjoying the ambience of nature at it’s finest. Forty-five minutes wasn’t enough.
After a half hour, boats started arriving which was a signal to leave. The last stop of the trip was Monkey Beach. Monkey Beach is, well monkeys that inhabit a nearby beach. You pull up in your long-tail boat and monkey’s come from every direction for food. We served pineapple. These two on my back came unexpectedly from a tree meters above.
I won’t bore you with more photos, but later in the afternoon I hopped on a ferry back to Patong Beach in Phuket for my last night. You may know Patong from the movie ‘The Impossible’ with Naomi Watts about the family who miraculously survived the Tsunami. Patong is a strange town and I’ll leave it at that.
My Uber driver back to the airport, joking.