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Published: November 24th 2006
Ugh, I hate it when I got for long periods of time without good blog updates, because then it makes it incredibly difficult to get up to speed when I finally get around to it! I just had a cappaccino, though (a totally unnecassary expense--I thought I'd cut those out?) so I'm caffinated and ready to go!
Let's see... when I last wrote properly (before the slightly intoxicated Bangkok entry) we were still in Krabi, about to head to another island. Ko Phi Phi was a glorioius place--definitely my favourite island we've visited in Thailand. The main concentration of shops and budget accomidation is on a sandy isthmus that connects two halves of the island. The area is quite small and incredibly low-lying, with high, jungle covered hills flanking it on either side. It's easy to see how it could be completed desimated by the 2004 Tsunami, which it was. Apparantly, the waves hit on both sides of the isthmus and essentially took out the entire town. It's hard to explain without you actually seeing it, however this internet place is really terrible and my camera won't connect to the computer, so I can't show you any pictures (yet). The good news is that the town has rebuilt itself quite well, although construction is still ongoing. Unfortunately, the demand for accomidation has outstripped its supply, so rooms (and everything else) are really pricey and hard to come by. On the ferry there, we met a really nice guy, Serge, who is a French-Canadian that now calls Oliver/Nelson, BC (he alternates) home. Well, for the last 9 months he's been living on Ko Phi Phi working at a dive center there. There are something like 25 dive centers on the island, despite its tiny size, which is a little rediculous. Anyway, Serge was super helpful and led us to his dive shop where he let us store our big packs. Then he gave us a map of the town, pointed out the best zone for budget accomidation, and sent us off on the hunt. We frantically hit up every "guesthouse" sign displaying place, but we were continually thwarted by "no room" signs, outrageously high prices, or a lack of facilities to accomidate 3 people. Things were looking dire when we reached the end of strip and found "PP Dream Guest House," which turned out to be an absolute dream! Our room was GORGEOUS, by our standards. Three separate beds, two good fans, clean, recently painted, with a really nice bathroom that had a western-style, flush toilet and a shower with good water pressure. It was perfect. The owner (who we secretely started calling "dad") said that it was only available for 2 nights, not 3 like we had requested, but we went for it anyway and hoped that we could find somewhere else for the final night. Luckily, when our time at PP Dream was running out, dad said that we could stay there for another night! We were overjoyed, because Derek and I had already checked out all over town for other options, and there pretty much weren't any. It looked like we might be spending our final night on the beach (which does happen here--things are that bad). Thanks, dad!
One of my favourite things about Ko Phi Phi was that you could pretty much walk everywhere you wanted to go. There are no motorized vehicles on the island, just long-tailed boats that travel around the perimeter to go to small beaches where bungalow resorts are set up. Our guesthouse was within 5 minutes walk of the action, but it was set far enough away to not be bothered by club or construction noise.
This island itself was gorgeous. White beaches (though strewn with litter, as are all the beaches here, which really upsets us =( ), turqoise water, lush jungle-clad hills, limestone cliffs; it has it all. My absolute favourite aspect, though, was the incredible snorkelling!!! Our snorkel gear DEFINITELY earned its keep at this island. I can't believe I've never snorkeled before this trip, because it's an activity that's majorly up my alley. The diversity of life just off shore is incredible. Anemones, sea fans, HUGE bivalves with brightly coloured mantle folds, and fish, fish, and more amazing fish! Serge told us that you could swim to some rocks offshore of Long Beach, a 1/2 hour walk from town, at dawn and see black-tipped reef sharks feeding. There are tours that take you to see them, but since we had our own gear we thought we could do it ourselves. The first day we accidently went to the wrong rocks, and by the time we got to the right spot the place was full of tours and no sharks could be seen (lots of other amazing stuff, though). The second time, Mark and I got up before dawn to try to find them. We lost track of each other in the water, though, which was really too bad because he found them, while I just got pushed around by currents and went in without really seeing much of anything. He said they were amazing, though. He also chased a cuttle fish around for a bit and watched it change colours to match its environment. I'm so jealous. Ooooh well.
On our last full day on Ko Phi Phi we joined a snorkel tour where we went in a long-tailed boat to a number of different locations and islands in the area. Long-tailed boats are really long, low set (though surprisingly stable) boats which have a pivoting outboard motor with a really long prop shaft. The boat is steered by moving the entire motor apparatus around, which makes them pretty manueverable. The have a lot of clearance, to, which allows them to go right up to shore and to navigate over shallow reef areas--well... sort of. While I absolutely LOVED the snorkelling on the tour and relished in the gorgeous scenary, I was quite saddened by being part of the tourism industry that is clearly desimating the reefs in the area. Our boat alone hit coral at every beach we docked at, although granted our driver seemed to be particularly bad and at one point was scolded by another boat captain for taking a poor route. There are many, many types of coral, but few seem to be in very good shape, although I don't really know for sure what the healthy coral would look like. There are lots of fish and a great diversity of species, but I have a suspicion that the numbers are not what they used to be. The highlight of the tour is supposed to be Maya Bay, which is located on Ko Phi Phi Leh, a small island that is entirely a national park. Maya Bay was the used as "The Beach" in the Leonardo DiCaprio film that apparantly came out when we were in grade 9 (I've never seen it, but I bought the DVD on Ko Phi Phi so I'll have to watch it sometime!). Apparantly, the movie made it become quite the destination for tourists. While the island itself and Maya Bay are both still gorgeous, the scene beneath the waves is another story. Broken, destroyed coral fragments litter the sand and huge reef areas have been broken up by anchors and boat props. Even the fish were fairly few and far between. Some national park. There has been much outrage over Thailand's handling of Ko Phi Phi Leh (and of Ko Phi Phi Don, the big island, as well) but I understand the pressure they're under to manage the huge tourist interest. Still, though, permitting boats to enter that shallow bay seems rediculous. It's too late now, though. Everything is dead.
Despite the problems at Maya Bay, I saw some great stuff on the other side of the island! You can walk across the island from Maya Bay and go through a hole in a rock wall to emerge on a rocky beach on the other side. Here, we saw some amazing crustaceans, including what appeared to be an 8-legged crab? It was really bizarre. We took some pictures, and I'm sending them to my crab-loving friend, Will, for help in identification. The other tourists in our boat had been waiting all day to see "THE beach," but I was most excited clambering away from the sand, over the rocks, photographing crabs =D
We went for a bit of a night on the town while we were on Ko Phi Phi. Serge had recommended a place called the Reggae Bar (there seems to be a Reggae bar everywhere we go, and no, it's not a franchise). This Reggae Bar didn't actually play any reggae, though. There claims to fame were: a huge screen with which to show soccer, fire shows, and muay thai boxing! They have a boxing ring right in the middle of the place, and foreigners can sign up to fight in a match for fun. They also have real Muay Thai fighters spar off, which is a pretty intense site. It seems that pretty much anything goes in Muay Thai, with the weapon of choice being lightning fast, incredibly hard, kicks to the head. I don't like boxing, but I must say I rather enjoy a bit of Muay Thai. The absolute BEST fights we witnessed that night were not between professional fighters, but rather between tiny little boys! In fact, the first fight of the night was between an 8-ish year old boy and his little 6 year old brother. Totally an unfair match due to size differences, but they were pretty good! They'd obviously had some training, or else they just practiced a lot at home. I'm not sure if they were tourists or if they lived on the island, or what (they weren't Thai) After a while, the 6 year old returned for his glory fight: a match against another 6 year old Thai boy!!! This was one good fight. They could both through some good punches and new how to do real take-downs. It was awesome and halarious to watch, and I immensly enjoyed it, but I couldn't help hating myself at the same time for enjoying watching two cute, tiny, beaver aged boys beating on each other. They weren't really getting hurt, though, and they obviously had fun, so I guess it was OK. The ref was really good, too. He was really gentle with them, and in the end he declared the match a tie.
It was at Reggae Bar the Derek and Mark each got their first Thailand "bucket." Buckets are big here on the island. Basically, its like a small beach pail filled with red bull, coke, and an alcohol of your choice. They had some kind of "sangsom" alcohol because it was cheapest. We don't really know what it was. The bucket was surprisingly tasty, though, and I may have to purchase one when we return to the islands in January for the Full Moon Party. The first show was great, too. Once again, it was a kid that dominated this show. He was probably 10, maybe 11, but could so some AMAZING things with balls of fire swinging on chains to music. Really impressive. Overall, it was a great night.
Our return to Bangkok by bus was fairly uneventful. We opted for the slightly more expensive direct ticket from Krabi to Bangkok so that we didn't have to deal with all the bus/company changing crap that we've been enduring so much. I think it was worth it, because actually got a bit of sleep on this bus, and the company we went with seemed pretty decent. We still got in to Bangkok at the ungodly hour of 4:30am, though. Buses here are honestly so dumb, I can't even tell you. As if the bus changing isn't bad enough, they all leave at times that result in you getting to your destination before dawn. WHY? Why don't they just leave at like 9pm at get in at 7 or 8am, in stead of leaving at 5pm and getting in at 4:30am? The current situation basically destroys two days. I just don't understand. However, we hopefully won't have to deal with private buses anymore, because we've discovered that it's worth it to make the trek to the government bus station the day before departure and buy a ticket directly from them! Our trip to Chiang Mai was amazing. Our bus was really nice, clean, AND we had sort of a flight-attendant type person that provided us with snacks, beverages, and cold towels! Also, instead of being dumped at a stand at the side of the road which is run by a friend of the company, we were taken to a place to eat which seemed pretty clean, and the price of our meal was included in our ticket price, so we just had to give them our voucher. What's Via Rail's slogan? "A more human way to travel" or something? Well that definitely applied to this bus trip. There's not doubt the booking of the trip was inconvenient since the bus station was way out of town, but the end product was well worth it.
We didn't do a whole lot with our day in Chiang Mai. The were pretty tired from our last couple of days of traveling, and a night of NO SLEEP in Bangkok because the AC was broken at our hostel and I couldn't even breath, due to heat, so we slept in quite late. Then we spent the afternoon wandering around on route to the train station to buy a ticket back to Bangkok for when we leave Laos. Glad that's out of the way, since the trains seem to book fast here, and we REALLY wanted to take a sleeper train back to Bangkok. We were going to book the train through a travel agent, but we were going to get charge 80B commission on each ticket, so we just decided to hoof it to the source, instead.
Now for the good news... we're going jungle trekking tomorrow!!!! We were waiting all day to see if one more person would sign up so that we would have the minimum to make the trip a go, and finally someone did! We'll be trekking through the jungle on a combination of jeep, foot, elephant, and bamboo river raft. We'll spend two nights in villages with hill tribe people, too. It's going to be amazing. Speaking of which, I've gotta run or I'm going to miss our pre-trip meeting. I won't have internet access for at least 3 days (obviously!) so I'll have to write when I get back. Bye!
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