23 December 2002, Ko Phi Phi
We woke up early and got our bags together, and then went out for breakfast. We had considered the banana/chocolate roti, but Hyunjin wanted something more substantial, so we tried out the somewhat unfortunately named Pee Pee Bakery on the main walkway. Hyunjin ordered the “American breakfast” and I ordered the “Continental breakfast.” Both included toast and juice, but Hyunjin’s had two fried eggs and mine had a fresh fruit plate. As with any restaurant geared toward tourists, we paid about twice as much as we would have for a meal in a Thai place, but sometimes you just have to make sacrifices.
Our next order of business was to check on our ride back to Krabi. We took out our return ticket and saw that it read “T.P. Travel,” so we began to look for the T.P. Travel office. We couldn’t seem to find it, though, and everywhere we asked they pointed us further down the way—until at some point they started pointing us back the way we had come. With time running out, we decided to just go to the pier and ask there. When we showed them our ticket, though, they just pointed us to a boat, and I realized that there was no T.P. Travel office on Koh Phi Phi, nor was there any need for us to find one—after all, we had our tickets in hand. It makes perfect sense now, of course.
The ferry left at 9:00, and it was much bigger and sturdier than the boat that had taken us to Koh Phi Phi—or the boat that had taken us halfway to Koh Phi Phi, I should say. This time the ride was thankfully uneventful, and we arrived at the Krabi pier at around 10:30. From there we needed to take a taxi back to the bus terminal, but the first driver we talked to asked for 100 baht for both of us (the travel agency in Krabi had told us it would be 20 baht per person). We talked to the guy at the pier end of the travel agency, and he managed to find us a driver who agreed to take us for 50 baht. At the point I wasn’t about to quibble over 10 baht.
As it turned out, our timing was perfect. The next bus for Phang Nga (our next destination) was leaving just as we pulled into the bus station. Our taxi driver flagged it down, we transferred our luggage, and we were on our way. An hour and a half later we arrived at the Phang Nga bus terminal and went to the Sayan Tours office (it was recommended in LP). We had originally planned to do an overnight tour for 450 baht, but we saw that they had a new 24-hour tour for 750 baht. This included an overnight stay in a fishing village plus a full day tour. We decided to splurge a little and go for the gusto, as they say, and we signed up for the overnight full day tour. The price actually came out to 850 baht per person—according to the guide at the office, the government recently started collecting a 200 baht admission fee to Ao Phang Nga National Park, and the tour company is splitting this cost with its customers. Honestly, it sounded rather suspicious, but the tour company was highly recommended by LP, so we went along with it. At any rate, an extra hundred baht wasn’t going to kill us.
They run two of these tours a day, one starting at 8:00 and the other starting at 16:00. It was around 14:00 when we signed up, and we opted for the 16:00 tour to save time and avoid having to find a place to stay in Phang Nga.
With a couple of hours to kill, we went south down the main street toward Tham Tapan (Tapan Cave), stopping for fried rice for lunch along the way. The cave itself was billed as “mystical” at the Sayan Tours office, but “farcical” would probably be a more accurate description. With no disrespect intended to the faithful, the place struck me as a miniature Buddhist Disneyland. The cave itself was reached by walking through a very large concrete dragon. At the mouth of the dragon was what I took for a donation box. Not having seen what was on the other side (although I probably should have been tipped off by the dragon I was about to walk into), I dropped in ten baht out of courtesy. A laughing voice boomed out of a speaker, and I couldn’t figure out of it was supposed to be good luck or if I was being mocked for dropping money into a box next to a concrete dragon.
Once through the dragon we were presented with two paths: one that led into the cave and one that led down some stairs into a clearing. Having come to see the cave, we naturally took that path. A monk sat at the entrance, and as we walked in a boy set off some firecrackers, almost causing me to plant my head in the ceiling of the cave. The monk just laughed, though, so I wondered if this was a “let’s scare the pants off of the foreigners” welcome.
The cave itself was nothing special, and the efforts made to preserve it were even less so (for starters, setting off firecrackers in a cave can’t be all that good for the cave). We spent a few minutes poking around and then went back outside. We followed the other path down into the clearing, where we were confronted by horrific scenes of torture and suffering— a life-sized recreation of Buddhist Hell (I later found out that the cave was supposed to be Heaven).
At the top of the stairs overlooking the clearing, the King of Hell sat in judgment of the poor souls brought before him. On either side of him sat two scribes, one holding a black book and one holding a red book. If your name is in the red book, you get to go to Heaven, but if it is in the black book, it’s back to Hell for some more fun and games with the demons (I figured this out by looking at the expressions on the faces of the scribes who held the two books, not to mention the fact that red is a generally an auspicious color in Asia).
The tortures of Hell included some pretty horrific stuff, including getting sawed in two, having your insides wrung out, being forced to climb a spiky tree, and being hacked and stabbed with any number of painful-looking weapons. My personal favorite, though, was the ringer—the people came out looking like Gumby.
All of the statues were life-sized (maybe even a little larger) and they were incredibly simplistic—almost cartoonish. I had seen images of Buddhist Hell in paintings in Korean temples, but actually walking through the scenes was something else. Hyunjin was off somewhere else, and I must admit that the statues freaked me out a bit. I half expected the demons to spring to life and start hacking me to pieces.
Once we had our fill of Heaven and Hell, we headed back to the bus terminal to get ready for our trip. We arrived to find a Hungarian couple who would be traveling with us, and at around 16:00 the four of us got into a pickup truck that took us to the pier.
Since we started in the evening, our first stop was the Muslim fishing village on Koh Paynee. It is interesting because Koh Paynee, the island it is technically on, is pretty much a mountain jutting up out of the water, and the village is built entirely on stilts. Some of the village is built over the mud around the island, but most of the village sits above the water. Also, being a Muslim village, the town mosque rises above the single story buildings around it. At two stories it is the tallest building in the village, and its towers are fitted with loudspeakers to call the villagers to prayer.
We stepped off the boat and were led down the pier by a villager who had been waiting for us. Our accommodations were located on the east edge of the village, a series of simple bungalows operated by the villager and his family. The bungalow that Hyunjin and I chose was out over the water, and we could see it flowing by beneath us through the cracks in the floorboards (this didn’t bother me as much until I used the bathroom—I squatted over the toilet, did my business, and heard a loud splash. It turns out that the toilet was simply a hole in the floor and everything just dropped straight into the water). Furniture included a mattress with pillows and a small table, and there was a mosquito net to spread out over the bed at night. They were sparse accommodations, but sufficient for our needs.
We had some time before dinner, so we wandered off in the direction of the mosque. Non-Muslims are not allowed inside, so we just looked around the outside. Although located at the southwestern end of the village, it had a “village center” feel to it. In the open area next to the mosque (the only real open area in the village) children played football, and across the way was a large pavilion-style building with a wide wooden floor. Some of the village men were there talking, and apparently it was a sort of meeting place. Hyunjin and I went in (after taking off our shoes, as is the custom) and watched as the sun began to sink and a storm rolled in from the north. When it became apparent that it was going to rain, we decided to make our way back through the winding streets to our host’s place. The first drops of rain were falling when we reached the place, and the downpour started shortly thereafter.
Dinner was served at 19:00, and that was when we met the people who had taken the 08:00 tour that day. One was a Swiss woman named Carmen, and the other two were a couple who did not speak all that much to anyone else. The girl was Thai, I think, and the guy was apparently from France, judging by his brief conversation with Carmen.
The meal itself had been advertised as a “seafood dinner,” but the seafood turned out to be the shrimp in the tom yam kung. The rest of the meal consisted of rice, a chicken curry, vegetable stir-fry, and Thai omelets. The food was pretty good, but calling it a “seafood dinner” was really stretching it. I would have had no problem had they told me I was going to have a “Thai dinner,” but to advertise a seafood dinner and then come out with a few shrimp struck me as a bit shameless.
There was scattered conversation throughout the meal, but afterward we sat in an awkward silence. The French guy and Thai girl soon got up and retired to their bungalow, leaving Carmen, the Hungarian couple, and Hyunjin and I. It was then that we really got to talking, and we stayed up until up 22:30 talking about all sorts of things. We decided at that point that it would be best to get to bed, and we all went back to our bungalows.
We had been worried about water leaking through the thatched roof of the bungalow, but thankfully it proved watertight. We learned later that it rains quite often at night, and this is how the villagers get their drinking water. I had seen a couple large water tanks at one end of the village earlier in the day, and I wondered where they got the water to fill the tanks (seeing as the water beneath the village was far from potable). It turns out that the roofs of the houses are built to collect rainwater, and that water is then stored in the tanks.
The mosquito net was intact, so we spread that out over the bed. The rain stopped during the night and the air was cool, but my sunburn prevented me from lying comfortably on my back, and it was hard to get to sleep. I did eventually manage to doze off, though.