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Published: April 15th 2021
We were driven from Khao Lak down to Phuket, and then caught the ferry across to Ko Phi Phi Don where we spent the second part of our Thai sojourn.
There's something about signs at Thai tourist hotspots that's always brought a smile to my face, and I got an instant reminder of this as we got off the ferry. The large board hanging above the entrance to the pier instructed us to "Funnel into out the Passenger". Hopefully we complied. The rubbish bin in reception at the resort was labelled "Poisoning Garbage". Hmm. Probably best not to let any of that leak into the ocean. Finding the resort restaurant on the first night proved to be a bit of challenge - there were two signs to it on the same post, one pointing to the left and the other to the right? No shortage either of signs telling you what to do in the event of a tsunami - the main suggestion seemed to be just to run 160 metres in any direction. We could only see the back of another sign on one of the roads around the edge of the resort - the front was pointing into
impenetrable jungle. I managed to fight my way through a web of tangled vines to read it. It was another tsunami warning. Important that the monkeys know what to do in an emergency I suppose. But I think my all time favourite was six large identical maps of the island displayed at well spaced locations around the main village. They might have been really useful if not for the six large red triangles on each of them (yep - all six were on all of them) each denoting "You Are Here"......
Our home for the week was the Phi Phi Island Village Resort, which was on the remote east coast of the island, and only accessible by boat. We were taken there from the main ferry terminal in a much smaller craft. The beach in front of it was very gently sloping, and our transport ran out of depth about a hundred metres from the shore. Where's the pier, we thought? No problem. We watched on as a large tractor made its way down the beach and out through the shallows to collect us and our luggage.
The resort was excellent - quiet and secluded, but with a
pool and everything else we needed. If our usual friendly waiter was to be believed, our food selections at the beachside restaurant were impeccable. "Good choice, excellent choice" was his response, seemingly no matter what we ordered. We were upgraded to a two bedroom villa with its own plunge pool up on the hillside. It was a bit of trek up there, particularly after a few drinks, so the resort kindly offered a free shuttle service. We soon found out what it was really for. We tried to walk back up the hill in the dark one night and managed to inadvertently squash what must have been a significant proportion of the world's frog population. Wildlife was alive and well around the resort, well aside of course from ones that'd been squashed. Emma and I hiked up to a lookout point one night and nearly tripped over a well camouflaged green snake. We were told it was harmless, but we gave it a very wide berth nonetheless. I don't think us Aussies are familiar with the concept of a harmless snake.
We took a day trip across to the legendary Ko Phi Phi Lee, where the movie "The Beach"
featuring Leonardo di Caprio was filmed. We stopped on the way at Ko Phi Phi Don's aptly named Monkey Beach. There was no shortage of "Beware Monkeys" signs, but it seemed that nothing was going to stop animal loving Emma from trying to get a close up primate experience. All seemed to be going well until three of them sensed that maybe she was starting to threaten their territory just a bit too much and charged at her legs. Her shrieks would have been heard back in Bangkok. Fortunately our brave guide was on hand to intervene, so she lived to tell the tale. Next stop was for some excellent snorkeling in Phi Phi Don's spectacular Pileh Lagoon. The jewel in the crown however was undoubtedly the indescribably stunning Maya Bay, which was where the movie was largely filmed - jungle clad domes above towering limestone cliffs, complete with a powder white sand beach. It was very crowded, and it seems that the environment there has now become so threatened that it's currently closed for two years. Has this become the price for mass tourism - major attractions have become so overrun that the tourists are destroying exactly what they
came to see in the first place? I'm aware of similar issues with Venice, and at White Beach on Boracay in the Philippines, and I'm sure there must be countless other examples worldwide. Maybe COVID might give some of these hotspots at least a bit of a break to allow nature to regenerate, although I doubt that's going to help somewhere like Venice. Very sad. On a brighter note, next stop from Maya Bay was lunch on another powdery white beach in the similarly stunning but far less crowded Loh Sama Bay on the opposite side of the island.
Now I've never been able to resist a good walk. It seems that whilst the main village was inaccessible from our resort by motor vehicle, you could get to it on foot if you didn't mind a bit of a trek up over the jungle clad mountains. As usual, no one seemed to be breaking their necks to join me. I thought it'd take a couple of hours, so the rest of the crew decided they'd take the boat there and we'd meet up by the main pier. I got to the top of the range just as a thunderstorm
of biblical proportions decided to unleash itself upon me. Hmmm. I'm sure you're not supposed to shelter under trees when the lightning's flashing, but it did seem just slightly preferable to the only other seemingly available option of standing out the open and drowning. The rain just kept coming. An hour or so later it had slowed to a gentle torrent and I thought it might possibly be safe to proceed. Surely my beloved family would realise that I'd been delayed, but when I got to the pier they were nowhere to be seen. Hmmmm. Maybe they've got a bit tired of waiting and gone for a wander, I thought. The village isn't that big, surely I can find them. Several hours of wandering later I was back at the pier, still alone. Panic. The thunderstorm was pretty bad. I hope their boat didn't capsize. I paced up and down the pier, not quite sure what to do next. A local gent minding one of the boats noticed my panicked wanderings and approached me. "I don't suppose there's any chance you're from room 407 at the Phi Phi Island Village Resort?". It seems that I was currently the subject of
Ko Phi Phi Don pier
Hope we complied.....
an island wide search effort, initiated by my now very concerned family. The gent assumed that I'd want a boat ride back to the resort, but as all great mountaineers and other expeditioners know, you can only claim success if you return safely to your starting point on foot, so I politely declined and told him that if it was OK with him I'd prefer to walk. He told me he'd radio the resort to call off the search, and to let them know that I was now on my way back. It seems that my decision to hike back may not have been the most popular one I'd ever made, as I found out in no uncertain terms when I arrived - I did admittedly manage to get a bit lost on the way, and darkness was starting to descend when I finally got there. It seems that my beloveds had decided that when I hadn't turned up at the pier after two hours I must have fallen off a cliff and died. If that wasn't enough, it seems that I'd also inadvertently neglected to leave them with any money, which was possibly a trifle unfortunate in a country
Tsunami warning sign
Important that the monkeys know where to go in an emergency.....
where it's not possible to get into a toilet without paying. Scott was apparently so concerned about poor old Dad that he wanted to set off on his own one man search party, and the resort staff had to work overtime to stop him. Fortunately my family are a fairly forgiving bunch, and normal conversation resumed within only a few days........
We took a full day boat trip to the famed Phang Nga Bay, with its multitude of yet more towering limestone cliffed islands. We stopped off at Khao Phing Kan, otherwise known as James Bond Island. It featured prominently in the 1974 Bond film "The Man with the Golden Gun" in which Mr Bond and the bad guys chased each other around the cliffs in high powered speedboats. We were later loaded into some sea kayaks for a spot of paddling under the spectacular overhangs and cliffs of some of the Bay's other stunning islands. Last stop was Koh Panyi village, a Muslim community built entirely on stilts over the water next to the cliffs of Koh Panyi island. It seemed to have all the usual village conveniences - a full blown market, a mosque, restaurants and a
Ko Phi Phi Don map
Each of the red triangles was marked "You are Here".....
floating soccer pitch. Again the animal handlers saw us coming. No sooner had we landed than a couple of enormous birds (no idea what they were - they looked a bit like eagles to my untrained eye) had managed to take roost on Emma, one on one of her arms and the other one on her head. Photos were taken and money handed over, and it was then on to the next act - an impossibly cute and sedate monkey, dressed in a nappy, and with a baby’s bottle in its mouth. I think the nappy was only there to make it look human, but it was hard to be absolutely sure.
As was the case at Khao Lak it was a bit hard to ignore the horrendous impacts of the 2004 Boxing Day tsunami on Phi Phi Don. The island's main village, Ton Sai, is built on a narrow sandy isthmus only a couple of metres above sea level. The wave that approached from one side was more than six metres high, so the destruction was almost absolute. We saw some photos taken in the aftermath. The only thing that still seemed to be standing was the gutted
frame of the village's only two storey concrete hotel. The death toll was thought to be somewhere around 4,000, but no one's really sure of the actual number. It was particularly poignant for us, as a prominent Melbourne footballer, Troy Broadbridge, was among the dead. He was honeymooning there when the wave hit. He managed to lift his bride to safety but then couldn't save himself. We visited the Broadbridge Education Centre in the village behind the resort. It was opened in September 2005 by Troy's widow Trisha and his teammates from the Melbourne Football Club. We told some of the staff that we came from Melbourne, and they asked us hopefully if we knew Trisha. They said she was still a very frequent visitor and active supporter of the centre.
We spent a very pleasant final evening cruising out to a small nearby island as we watched the sun go down. Our offspring told us just before we sailed that this should be a celebration of life. That's a bit deep for your average teenager we thought. On further quizzing it seems that they were indeed slightly relieved to be still breathing. The internet had apparently been flooded
with predictions of the end of the world the previous day - something to do with an ancient Mayan calendar. They even made a movie about it - "2012", although that said I think I remember survivors in the movie.....
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