Published: April 30th 2012April 30th 2012
After a few days of drinking, eating and beaching, we'd decided to mix it up and possibly rent a kayak and do some snorkelling out to one of the smaller bays around the island.
Niki knew a guy from her previous trips to Phi Phi that was able to hook us up with some cheap kayak rentals (200 baht each for two hours) so we took our dry bags, snorkels and masks, my camera and not much else (something I'd come to regret a little later) and paddled out into the bay.
The water on this side of the island is fairly shallow for quite a ways out so aside from being incredibly warm, its also relatively calm and you can see the bottom really easily. It made for some great kayaking and it didn't take us long to get out to the edge of the bay and around the corner to Monkey Beach.
The beach is aptly named as monkey sightings are relatively common. There were none on this day though, which really didnt dissapoint me too much as we had quite a bit of fun snorkelling just off the beach. There werent a whole heck of a lot of fish (not like some snorkelling trips I had later) but the fish we did see were really colorful and generaly curious. I got a lot of fun photos and movies with my camera and you can see them up on facebook now.
After about 45 minutes of swimming around and snorkelling we walked down the beach a little to the little ramshackle snack bar to grab a couple beers. Since longtails (thai equivalent of boat taxis) come out here all day, there were a handful of people around when we grabbed our drinks and a sat on a cozy little tree bench-swing. After a moment we were stoked to see most of the boats taking off and leaving the beach mainly to us. This is pretty awesome because Phi Phi is a pretty popular place and its tough to find an isolated beach or cove around the island that hasnt already been found and subsequently frequented by longtails. We polished off our beers and decided we had a little more time to snorkel before we had to get our kayaks back.
We swam around for a bit and I was caught up filming this huge school of tiny fish swarming around me with my camera when I realized Niki had already gone back to shore. I was dragging myself back when I saw that she was talking to some thai guy who was on a telephone. He wandered off before I got back up to the kayaks and Niki told me we had been asked (told?) to leave. We figured it was about the time of day when everyone leaves these little beaches and seemed to make sense since all of the other boats had spit also so we didnt think too much of it as we packed up our kayaks and started paddling back.
The wind had picked up a little, so we had some resistance getting around the corner and into the bay but it was still a ton of fun. Its hard not to enjoy it when you are surrounded by a tropical paradise and you can see fish swimming around under you.
So we were sort of laughing as we paddled back to shore and having a generally great time. Niki asked me to snap a couple action shots of her paddling ahead of me.
Looking back at these photos, we'd later see that the beaches in the background were deserted, but we were having such a good time that this little detail escaped us. So here we are, paddling around, having a great time when a speaker on shore starts to kick in. This isnt really that out of the ordinary as a lot of the beach bars pump out tunes during the day and kick up the volume at night as well so I sort of figured it was a speaker test or something. I quickly came to realize how wrong I was.
What I thought was a bar sound system was actually a siren going off. Now, I havent been in many emergency situations so I have no real experience with these sorts of scenarios, but I did have enough sense to realize that a siren on the beach of a tropical island is not a good siren.
The siren wailed for a good 15 seconds before there was an announcement in Thai, followed by another in a seperate language and then again in English. I really didnt need to hear what it said, Id pretty much already formed my opinion and could tell Niki had also since we both had qudrupled our paddle speed, so it didnt come as much surprise when I heard - "There has been an earthquake in the sea. A tsunami is incoming. Please evacuate the beach and get to safety". Im not 100% sure if the wording is correct here as the adrenaline was pumping pretty hard at this point and I was doing my best to race myself to shore amidst frantic glances behind me for a wall of water, but you get the idea.
I am really not sure what prompted us to do this, but we've just hauled ass to shore while this tsunami warning system is blaring out of loud speakers down the beach, the last remaining people racing to get to safety and here we are taking the time to HAUL OUR KAYAKS UP THE SHORE AND DEPOSIT THEM BESIDE THE BOOTH WE RENTED THEM FROM. I dont know if it was the fact that maybe I thought it might be a drill or just that we're friendly responsible Canadians but I guess some part of me just didnt feel right leaving this guys belongings in the water. I mean, I didnt want him to lose them... nevermind that the entire town could very well be at sea in the next couple of hours. I guess Im just a responsible guy at heart.. go figure.
So we drop these kayaks and I'm now frantically untying my bag and flip flops from the kayak and I see that Niki's having none of it, shes hauling ass. I grab my things and making use of my slightly longer legs, catch up to her quickly in the now mostly deserted streets.
Sadly, several years ago Ko Phi Phi was absolutely devastated in one of the worst natural distasters ever recorded as a massive tsunami destroyed the town on the island. But, due to that tragedy there was now an early warning system in place. The sirens were just part of it, there were also clear signs leading us to an evacuation route and along the way, Thais (I still dont know if they were part of this system or just downright awesome) where standing at corners, directing people where to go.
We raced through the streets and reached the edge of town.. mountain jungleside. There was something of a path for about 50 feet up the side, packed with people trying to get to safety which we wasted no time in hauling our asses up. About partway up, as I was scaling up the side of the mountain (the path ended long ago) I realized Niki was barefoot - she'd left her flip flops on the kayak. Despite this little detail, she was making better time up the side of this mountain than I was so I kicked my flip flops off, grabbed them and continued up.
After about 20 minutes of this we reached the top. There were crowds of people everywhere that they could be standing and people were conversing in various languages. Most people had smart phones or ipads and after a little time we found out what the deal was - there had been an 8.4 earthquake off the cost of Sumatra. We also found out one other detail; the warning we had heard while paddling back wasn't the first one, there had apparently been one a half hour before, which we now realized was why the boats left Monkey Beach.
The protocol it seemed was that you had to wait 3 hours before you could return to the beach, so we settled in, traded some bug spray for some water and waited.
Before long we had made friends with some of the people surrounding us. A few girls from the Uk on one side and an american couple on the other. We chatted about small things, mostly to distract us, as other people climbed trees around us in some desperate urge to get a few feet higher above sea level.
After two and a half hours it was 7, officially three hours after the first warning. It felt safe so I stood up, convinced Niki we were good and turned to go. I'd taken literally no more than two steps when someone said to stop - there had been another earthquake. A second later the waring sirens went off again down in the town. Defeated, I sat back down. About this time it was staring to get dark and since we were basically in the jungle, the mosquitos were out in force. So here we were, sitting there in our bathing suits, waiting for a wall of water to strike the island, darkness falling while the jungle comes to life around us. To top it off a thunder storm was brewing over us, with the sky occasionally lighting up and thunder going off in the distance.
After about another hour the news finally reached us - there had been four earthquakes in total, but since they had occured at such a deep depth, there was no threat of a tsunami occuring. The authorities had officially recinded the order. A round of applause went up and people began the slow jungle trek down the side of the mountain using various phones and devices for light.
As we approached town we could hear music pumping. People were all pretty stoked to not be under several feet of water and were now living it up pretty hard at the few places that were open. It was quite the party that night and it got even better when we rounded the corner, heading to our guest house and we bumped into Ricky, our brit friend from Ko Phangan.
As it turns out Ricky had also had a bit of an adventure. He was on the ferry to the island when the captain came over the loud speaker and told them the news. There was an earthquake and the safest place for them was to be out at sea. They cut the engines and waited for the inevitable wave. He met two brit girls on the boat and being the english gentleman that he was, did his best to calm them.
As the announced time got closer for the tsunami, the captain told them it was 45 minutes away, 30, 15, 5 and then... nothing. People seemed pretty happy and the ferry fired up its engines and headed for shore. It was about 7 oclock when it docked, just as I was standing up on the top of the closest hill. So they were down on the pier, the ferry pulling away when they heard the second tsunami siren. The streets were deserted so they ran through this little tropical ghost town and ended up on the roof of a hotel with a couple thais who were kind enough to feed them some bread and water as they waited for the innevitable.
At any rate, they were as stoked to be alive as we were and we all tied one on that night.
Despite feeling safe, Niki and I slept with the glass door open.. just in case of another warning.