20 December 2002, Krabi
When we got off the bus it was still dark, but a man was waiting there. We were the only foreigners on the bus, and when he saw us he introduced himself as the owner of a travel agency. After all my travel experiences, I tend to be very wary when someone approaches me, but the man was very nice and (more importantly) a quick look around showed that his was the only travel agency open at that hour. We followed him back to his office, where he offered us something to drink and his wife began explaining the fares.
We bought a round trip ticket to Ko Phi Phi Don (there are two islands Ko Phi Phi Don and Ko Phi Phi Leh, but only Don had lodgings—there is no settlement on Leh, as far as I know) for 350 baht. The boat was scheduled to leave at 9:00, and we had to wait around until 7:00 for a ride to the port. Once there we dropped off our bags at the local office of the travel agency and headed out for breakfast. We eschewed the tourist-oriented restaurants on the waterfront and walked into town a short way to find a local restaurant, where we ordered some good noodles.
The boat for Ko Phi Phi departed on time, and we were scheduled to arrive at 10:30. Halfway there, though, the boat broke down and we were stranded for an hour and a half until another boat came to pick us up. I suppose it might have been the sort of thing you might get frustrated with, but we just went out to the top deck and chilled. We talked with some of the other travelers, enjoying the early morning sun and jokingly trying to figure out who would be eaten first if no one came to rescue us. Being rail thin, I would likely have been one of the last people standing.
Fortunately for the more portly among us, though, we were rescued, and we docked at the Ko Phi Phi pier at around noon. Arriving at a new location is always a disorienting experience, but I think arriving by boat may be more disorienting than rail or air. In an airport there are plenty of signs to point you in the right direction, and train stations generally have some sort of organization. Stepping off the boat at Ko Phi Phi, though, I was overwhelmed (yes, ports in developed areas are a bit better, but you’re still generally left to your own devices).
We had picked out a place in LP called the Charlie Beach Resort, and that was our first stop. The room prices, though, were seven to ten times the prices quoted in LP. At first I thought we had the wrong place, but a bit of searching around proved that it was indeed the Charlie Beach Resort named in LP. Either they underwent some serious renovations in the past year (accompanied by some serious price hikes) or someone on the LP team left out a zero here and there.
We hoisted our heavy packs once again and wandered through the maze of sandy paths in the Thai Muslim village that lies between the two beaches of the “handlebar.” The island looks more or less like a dumbbell, and the majority of the population (both Thai and foreigner) is concentrated in the few-hundred-meter-wide strip. The northern bay is the shallow Lo Dalam Bay, where most of the resorts are located, while the southern bay is the deeper Ton Sai Bay, where all boats dock. It was difficult to get our bearings at first, most likely a combination of the unfamiliar territory, travel fatigue, our heavy packs, and the bit of a shock we had received at the Charlie Beach Resort.
I was in a daze as we wandered around the village, trying to figure out what to do next. Fortunately, Hyunjin spotted a guesthouse—the R.S. Guesthouse—and we decided to check it out. The rooms were fairly clean and had wall-mounted fans (rather than the kamikaze ceiling fans of Khao San Palace) and attached bathrooms. Considering the prices of the beach bungalows, a room here for 500 baht seemed quite the bargain. The water was a bit brackish, but according to LP this is because all the places on the island share a single, small reservoir. Anyway, the water was something we quickly got used to.
After getting settled we walked down to the northern beach to see about renting a kayak, and we came upon a place renting them for roughly 100 baht an hour (the pricing scheme was rather complicated, but it ended up being about 100 baht an hour). We went back toward the main street and ate lunch at a place called Lemongrass, located on a street running north from the main brick walkway on the southern side of the handle. The Thai food was pretty good and not too expensive. We also had fresh coconut milk right out of the coconuts, which was good.
By the time we finished lunch and found our way back to the northern beach (it took a while to get used to the maze of paths—and this was not helped by the fact that the beach front is dominated by resorts that don’t have too many through-ways), it was 14:30. We rented a two-seat kayak and headed out, rounding the point at the west end of the bay and going a little farther to Monkey Bay. The beach here is only accessible by water, and not very good for swimming, but it has some fascinating sea cliffs and a few mini-caves that were fun to paddle around in.
We continued on past Monkey Bay and rounded the northern tip of the island, only to find rather rough seas and winds, so we decided to cross the mouth of the bay at its widest point. I knew it was farther than it looked (distances over water are very hard to judge for lack of landmarks), but we had the wind at our backs, and a good fifteen minutes or so of hard paddling brought us to the opposite shore.
On our way back into the beach the tide was on its way out, and we had some difficulty navigating the coral on the eastern side of the bay. We managed to get back into shore (which was a good 30 meters farther out then it was when we left) at around 17:30.
At that point we were hungry and ready for dinner, so we went back toward the guesthouse. Earlier we had seen a sign outside a place called “Fatty’s Cheers” advertising an all-you-can-eat BBQ for 180 baht. We stopped by to check it out, and the owner was starting up the barbecue. To pass the time, we went back down to the main street to check out some snorkeling tours for the following day. There are a ton of snorkeling/scuba diving places, many of them run by foreigners (the scuba diving places in particular seem to be primarily run by foreigners). We passed by one diving place, and the guy sitting out front asked if we wanted to dive. You can earn your diving license in as little as a day, and I originally wanted to try scuba diving, but Hyunjin wanted to start out with snorkeling (and we had already bought equipment in Bangkok). When I told him this he said, “Sure, that’s the soft option. When you’re ready for the real stuff, come on back.” I laughed, but deep down I really wanted to take him up on his offer. Maybe next time.
We got back to Fatty’s at 19:00. It is located at the first intersection south of the R.S. Guesthouse, and north of Moskito Diving. The owner is a British (I’m guessing) expat. The place itself is very clean, nicely decorated, and serves some good Western food. They advertise Thai food as well, but if you’re going to Fatty’s you’re probably not looking for Thai food.
The barbecue (held every Tuesday and Friday night) consisted of chicken, pork ribs, pork cutlets, and sausages, along with bread, baked potatoes, green salad, and macaroni salad. The macaroni had a strange, pasty taste, but everything else was delicious. I tried a little bit of everything the first time around and then just concentrated on the ribs. After four days of rice and rice noodles, it was nice to have great chunks of meat roasted over a barbecue.
After finishing dinner we went down to the north beach to discover that it was practically deserted. Apparently everyone here heads for the bars once the sun goes down. We had almost the whole beach to ourselves, and we sat down to watch the waves come in. Bright, white lightning flashing down from a huge cloud out over the sea made for a nice after-dinner show. Having had a rather rough trip from Bangkok and not having gotten much sleep the night before—not to mention having a full day ahead of us—we decided to go to bed fairly early.