Ko Phi Phi is So Phoo Phoo
Epectations are a funny thing. I am not entirely sure where they come from. Possibly from the media, films etc and sometimes from others recommendations. So even though expectations are seemingly pointless and almost never met, why do I never learn?
Ko Phi Phi is my example. Before I left England and in fact before we even planned this trip, I had expectations, maybe you could even say 'dreams' of how travelling would be. Imagined idylic, paradise like locations, off the beaten track, living a unique experience a million worlds from the one I was living in. When I thought of specific locations, I had the wonderful help of the media to aid me in my mental images of far off lands. I speak specifically of the 1999 blockbuster, The Beach. This for me, sparked my complete interest and from that moment waited until I could be there and experience it for myself.
Ko Phi Phi is an island just off the South West coast of Thailand. It is very close to where 'The Beach' was manufactured and once upon a beautiful day, was a small peice of paradise. Some people I had the pleasure of speaking to had ventured to these lands before The Beach, 'the gap uyear' and the 'round the world trips' were invented. Their desciptions of Ko Phi Phi, pre Hollywood and in fact pre Tsunami (which also plays a large part in the charade) were mesmerising and enchanting.
As we became closer to Phi Phi, expectations already sky high, but not so deluded that I wasn't aware that things would have changed over the years, my ideas were supported by more positively wonderful accounts of peoples time there. People love it.
And so, we set off, my Hollywood style image of the place now reassured in my mind.
I have decided the best way to descibe the island is for you all to imagine that a very lucky university student union won a marvelous competition where by the whole campus is picked up and moved to a slimey Greek Island holiday resort.
The beaches are not white sand and clear waters, but more multi-coloured sand due to the fag butts and beer bottles and the sea is closer to baige, equally littered with students debris.
The town was wiped out in the 2004 tsunami, a horrific and truely sad event. Over 2000 people were killed, all business wiped out, taking with it all life.
And from the ashes of a disaster, would there come a second chance, a chance to make it great again? Well if there was, it wasn't taken. In what I can only imagine was desparation, Ko Phi Phi was rebuilt, flash resorts first and for most. Then came the guest house blocks and then the rows and rows of white boxes which each pose as shops, all selling exactly the same thing as each other and at twice the price of the main land.
And of course they do. That is what the monster of tourism is. It is no longer people travelling to see and experience culture different form their own. It is moving every horrible element of their own culture to a prettier, hotter destination.
The tourist population, mostly students, can be seen moving around the island in same sex pods. The males tend to move in groups of five, safetly of course in numbers. The pastimes of said males are to hunt women and beer. I was in fact lucky enough to over hear a snipit of a conversation between two guys on the beach. Their topic of conversation was essentially an appraisal of all females in the area. For example, "She's well fit mate, the one in the yellow bikini, with the big t***". I know I coul not believe it either, he noticed the colour of her attire! The British male student also can be recognised by the uniform of board shorts and beer logo vest, sold in all good Phi Phi shops. The vest can even still be identified whilst swimming, as it has left a bright red tan line, so they never need be without it.
The females of the species move in groups of two or three, which matches the males groups nicely. The females passtimes include the development of skin cancer and reading 'chick lit' by day and shopping for males in the evenings. The uniform of the female is bleach blonde hair, short slip dress or long vest and flip flops. Oh and must have an array of red and white striped strap marks to show to fellow females their skin cancer enhancing efforts of the day.
Both males and females must be branded. Females tend to go for butterflies, flowers and foreign writing in the small of their backs and males tend to have football teams or mauri warrior type marking on their arma and or legs.
There are also other breeds here. There are the young couples, who always look like theyre disagreeing, the lone traveller, who look like theyre wondering what on earth they are doing there and the pairs of Asian females, who constantly look like theyre on a photo shoot.
Activities on the island include watersports; chucking a frizby/ball in the sae between males, lilo surfing and 'bird' watching. If you're not too hungover and you get up in time, you can hand over half your weeks beer money for a snorkelling trip. Alternatively, the annoyed looking couples can be seen escaping beach culture to go rock climbing. They of course are more athletic, drink less beer and therefor have more money for escaping.
With this wonderful existence however, must come sacrifice. The local hospital makes an absolute killing from beer related injuries. In our two days there I saw two males on crutches and at least fifteen limping/hobbling. I assure you no exaggeration for dramtic purposes nessasary. Crutches alone will put you back 2000 baht which in student terms is around a whole nights beer tokens and a curry!
Now, I am quite sure. there are hundreds of people who visit the island every week, who adore it. They probably have the time of their lives. Infortuneately, I am not counted among them. So I take from Ko Phi Phi the confirmation of what I do want from my travels but with added caution to not rely on expectations. I will endvour to take all recommendations with a lake of salt and take great care of tips from those with whom I have little in common.
I must also remember and always bare in mind that times have very much changed. I am sure that I am at least thirty years late for the travelling I dreamt of. And so it shall stay in that form, a nice idea, and instead seek elemnts of my ideal. There are many places where you can still experience original culture and crafts, Ive been lucky enough to see it already.I am experiencing unique things everyday and thoroughly enjoying it all, good and bad.
The ironic thing of course, is that we have been to my Hollywood style paradice like beaches, swam in cystal clear waters and been absorbed in native life. Unfortuantley in my ignorance I did not see it at the time. Rarotonga was virtually untouched and I took it completely for granted.
That'll teach me!