Spent the last week or so in southern Thailand - heading soon for Chiang Mai in the North, via Phuket.We flew into Krabi in the South West and stayed in bungalows just outside Ao Nang. We took a "long-tail" boat to Rai Lay beach - which is a classic Thai beach nestled in between limestone pinnacles and cliffs, popular with climbers.
We rented a kayak for a few hours and explored around some of the nearby island pinnacles and caves. The water and beaches were beautiful and although it was very touristy, the long-tail boats and atmosphere of the karst cliffs made it very enjoyable.The long-tail boats are fascinating - long wooden hulls with high extended bows and what look like renovated truck engines, without mufflers, attached directly to 15' propellershafts - all of which are balanced in the air on a pivot and swung around to drive the boat.
The place we stayed in was nice enough - 6 bungalows around a pool with the owner's house at one end, surrounded by trees. It was a mile or so from the beach at Ao Nang and must have been nestled in quiet jungle at one point. However, there is a new road and small sub-division going in right next to it - a sign of the Thai development times.
Funny how transportation varies by country - Bali full of motor-bikes and narrow minivans, while in this part of Thailand at least, most 4 wheel vehicles are pick-up trucks, with a smaller number of motor-bikes. Speaking of which, each bungalow where we are stayed near Ao Nang had its own motor-bike.Ours was a 125cc Honda with kick-start and foot pedal gear-shift. I drove it down the steep and rocky drive from where we are staying onto the main road and into the nearby village and back - without damaging myself or the bike, which I thought was a successful effort.The girls did not try theirs - which was fine with me. It would be a pity to get injured in the early stages of our trip.
We took the boat from Ao Nang for Kho Phi Phi - the renowned islands about 25 miles South East of Krabi. We boarded the boat a bit late and found it full of people and their luggage. The average age increased significantly when I got on board - most were 19 pushing 22 or so - I guess fairly typical of Kho Phi Phi's visitor demographic.The boat was about 70' long and although there were seats inside, everyone wanted to be on deck.We set off and soon put into Rai Lay beach. Somehow I thought we were going to drop off people - but instead a steady stream of long-tails came alongside - each with 10 people and loads of luggage. After each boatload I think all on board thought we were done - but no - soon there were an extra 60 people and luggage on board and things became extremely cosy.
By the time we reached Kho Phi Phi, Jessi and Krista had already met a bunch of Canadians and Brits and arranged to start partying that evening. Arriving in the main harbour, it was clear that the place is well developed but still very beautiful. We transferred to a long-tail to take us to where we were staying - a bungalow resort on Long Bay.
Within a few minutes of arrival the girls were swimming and sunbathing, leaving us to settle into our very pleasant bungalow, just a few yards off the beach. Considering I thought our trip was going to be in relatively modest accommodation, this was pretty good. The sand was perfect and the water gorgeous. Overall, it has reminded me of the Caribbean - but with more spectacular island scenery.
Kho Phi Phi has been pretty much the best ocean water I have ever experienced - warm, crystal clear and very buoyant. I think it even beats the Caribbean.
The girls went off on their own the first night (and every night since) to get a boat into Tonsai in the centre of Kho Phi Phi to party - which was the point at which I had to remind myself that they really are both adults. Their parting words on their first night were not to start to freak out unless they were not back by dawn - very reassuring….
On the first night the girls made it back before dawn and woke up surprisingly early next day and we set off in a long-tail that we had rented for half a day. We first went to Phi Phi Leh - about five miles away - and the site of "The Beach" movie. The island is surrounded by dramatic sheer limestone cliffs. We skirted the island a few yards offshore, peering up the cliffs, some of which are harvested by the locals for the birds' nests, strange bamboo pole systems attached to the cliffs to help in the process.We snorkelled in a few beautiful deep-set bays, surrounded by cliffs in crystal clear shallow water.There were plenty of fish in some of the bays - though the coral was generally a mess - smashed to pieces by many years of countless boat anchors. Most of the boats now get it and tie to buoys - but it is too late. Most of the coral is dead and the sea-bed covered with coral fragments. It must have been spectacular once.
Maya Bay - the actual site of the movie "The Beach" is dramatically beautiful - but a bit sad now as the small beach was fronted by lines of tourist boats and the beach saturated with people who now had to pay 200 baht to land in the "national park area". We did not land and just anchored some way across the bay, where I snorkelled for a while.
At one point we joined a whole bunch of tourist boats on a tiny but beautiful jungle-surrounded beach, populated by small monkeys. They were clearly used to human company and would willingly but disdainfully drink from water bottles and Coke cans passed to them by visitors.
The four of us still had a great time swimming among the fish in various places around the island and off the beach near our bungalow.
One afternoon Krista and I hiked into the centre of Kho Phi Phi instead of taking a boat and met up with Sue and Jessica. The centre is highly developed, primarily with tourist stores, restaurants and cheap bungalows - all sitting on a wide sandy isthmus between what are almost 2 separate islands. When the 2004 tsunami hit, the wave must have concentrated as it funnelled up the bay and then flooded across the isthmus, which is only about 8' above sea level. We saw a photo of the aftermath and it is clear much of Tonsai has since been re-built.One photo of devastation was taken from almost exactly where we were sitting in a bar - which really made you think about what it must have been like. The North Vancouver neighbours of one of Jessi's friends both died here.
Long Bay on which we are staying is really a beautiful setting, probably the best spot on Kho Phi Phi. The only surprise is how noisy it can be at times - due primarily to the procession of long-tail boats shuttling by, none of which have any mufflers on the engines.Imagine a bunch of bikers on Harley-Davidsons constantly running by and you get something of the idea. Not sure if anyone has suggested that mufflers would be good- it could only cost $50 at most to fit one and would make a huge difference to the tranquility of things.Maybe it's a macho thing for the boatmen - "mine's louder than yours" ……..
I had a traditional Thai massage one day in a gorgeous spot in the resort - which beat anything I have had from a Canadian massage therapist. Some serious use of elbows and feet - I realised I was being walked on at one point - along with some moves that would make any chiropractor nervous - but I felt great afterwards.
Jessi and Krista have enjoyed the late night partying on the beach in Tonsai, though they decide to forgo the half-moon party the other night. This was probably because we planned on hiking to a viewpoint on the top of the island the following day - before the heat really set in. The views were great - the climb a bit tough for all but Krista - though we had left it pretty late and it was close to noon and very hot by the time we made it to the top.
While getting on a long-tail on the pier to return to our bay, my high-tech Nike water sandals slipped and I fell on a steep concrete ramp. I managed to save my camera and electronics from a bad dunking, but messed up my elbow a bit. The boat guy wanted to take me to the hospital - but I turned to a far more proven method of cure - rinse in salt water, then drinking water and Ozonol - then drink rum (or pour it in the wound if it is really bad). So far so good - no gangrene yet - I should have been a doctor ………..
Off to Phuket today then on to Chiang Mai.