Phi Phi (pronounced pee-pee) is a small island off Thailand’s southern coast and is known best for its all night beach parties after Leo made one of its beaches famous after filming the aptly named film, The Beach. The island itself is so small that the roads are not big enough for cars or motorbikes and the whole walking portion of the island could probably be explored in an hour or so. Upon arriving to the island, the first thing that became aggressively apparent was that this was not going to be a cultural experience, unless the culture included dancing, drinking too much and fire twirling. Each lane-way was dotted with four kinds of shops (that repeated the whole way down each street) – liquor stores selling buckets of mixed drinks (for example a small bottle of vodka with sprite & limes) that most of the time doubled as tour offices, bars/clubs/restaurants, hotels/guesthouses/hostels and tons of tattoo shops. We hadn’t seen this many tattoo shops in one place before. Clearly they were pretty popular too because many people were bandaged with cling wrap. As we made our way to our guest house, we noticed that not many people on the island were clothed and most everyone wore bathing suites or no shirts at all for dudes. We were definitely no longer in very conservative Malaysia.
Our room (for less than $15 a night) looked out onto the ocean and bay. It was breathtaking and definitely another “pinch me” moment. Our first order of “business” was to go to a highly recommended pool party at Princess Phi Phi (to soak up the party culture, of course). When we arrived, the party was already pumping. In one corner were people doing shots and the other were people playing beer pong. There was hardly any room in the pool but we finally found a spot next to some Australians who looked our junior and a shady looking man, definitely our senior. Feeling incredibly sober for this party we thought the best plan of attack was to “bond with the locals” and buy a bucket of beer. Nat figured that we might be more approachable without our fake wedding bands so we popped them on the other hands, unfortunately we both had tan lines on our wedding fingers, so instead of looking hip, just looked like young swingers, fail.
A couple beers deep we made friends with the Australians and noticed that they all had noticeable hickies all over their necks (or they all got into fights with vacuum cleaners and lost). When we asked who and when they had gotten lucky, they told us that they had been to a “magical place” called Pattaya. We learned later that the hickies were from prostitutes and that the Thai town was known for sex tourism. Cool, we were all swimming in the same pool. Just before sunset, Ross looked down and realized that his fake ring was missing. Although these rings are not real, Nat was so perturbed about loosing it that she decided it would be a great idea to go on an underwater treasure hunt for it. After about ten minutes of underwater laps feeling the bottom of the pool from the swim up bar to the water fountains, she begrudgingly gave up hope. Less than what seemed like five minutes later and countless thoughts of the pink eye that might be developing in Nat’s eyes, Ross found it with his foot. We celebrated the victory by watching sunset (and may or may not have gotten in our first blowout travel fight, we blame the booze). After our own flight, we thought that a boxing ring was only fitting.
We read about the Reggae Thai Fighting Boxing Ring online and heard that it was mainly a tourist attraction but that during breaks for fights, they sometimes invite tourists and spectators up to fight each other. We soon found out that there were no scheduled fights, just the tourist fights. We sat in the audience and watched with our mouths wide open as one drunk tourist after another swung blindly at each other. About half way through the fight we saw one of the Australians from the pool earlier step into the ring. He didn’t last long before his nose became a waterfall of blood. Not quite sure if it was the sheer adrenaline of watching fights or liquid courage but Ross asked if he could try his hand in the ring. There was no way yes would ever have been the answer to this question. Instead, we stumbled our way back to our hostel.
Half way through the walk home, we realized that we were definitely not headed to the right side of the island (Phi Phi looks like the waist of a lady, with two mountains as the bust and bum and the populated section of the island is in the middle). We left our phones at home for the pool party so were map-less. Fortunately another tourist found us wandering aimlessly and helped us out. The three of us made our way to the beach (the right beach this time) which had transformed overnight into a giant party blaring house music and boasting fire dancers. We gravitated towards a fire show and before we knew it, we were both jumping in and out of a giant flaming jump-rope.
After realizing the time, we headed home, this time we promised not to get distracted by anything making noise or flames. We arrived back and turned on the lights to reveal a giant cockroach on our floor. We both screamed louder than anyone should be screaming at 2AM. Ross (after screaming just as hard) took charge (thank goodness!) and smashed the cockroach into a ton of tinny pieces. We decided to leave the corpse so we could tell our reception in the morning. Just as we were starting to get comfortable, we saw another black crawling figure, sure enough there was another roach – our second screams might have been heard by the fire twirlers on the beach. The tricky roach knew better than to wait around to feel the wrath of Ross’ shoe and it promptly ran underneath Nat’s stack of clothes on the floor, in a fear induced frenzy, we scattered all of Nat’s clothes across the room. The cockroach won this round, but we would be ready for round two in the morning.
The next morning we woke up in a bit of pain, but this time it was not from mosquito bites (due to our bomb-diggity mosquito net that we drilled into the wall) it was from our hangovers. However we weren’t so drunk that we forgot about the terror of the cockroach from the night before. We slowly got up to examine the corpse and were flabbergasted to find that there was no remains of the cockroach, not even a shard of its smashed legs could be seen. We assumed that A.) we had dreamed the entire thing, B.) an even bigger animal came and ate it or C.) and quite possibly the scariest of all of the possibilities, that there was a swarm of cockroaches that had cannibalized their friend. We put in a request to change rooms immediately.
Thankfully the plan for the day was to do a boat trip that began around midday so we had some time to grab Thai pancakes and Gatoraids to nurse our aching heads. After breakfast, we decided to take a “not so leisurely” stroll up to the top of Phi Phi Viewpoint, which meant sweating it out up a few hundred stairs followed by a humid and abrupt incline to the top of one of Phi Phi’s biggest hills (we would have called it a mountain instead, given the climb to reach the top). The view was breathtaking and from the top you could see the entire outline of the island itself. After a few shameless “top of the world” photos of our perspiring bodies, we decided to hike down the mountain to get ready for our boat ride.
After arriving at the beach, we hopped onto a long boat (the quintessential Thailand boat complete with flowers and ribbons on its bow) which took us to Monkey Beach (not to be confused with the Monkey Beach in Malaysia – beach names are very creative). After arriving, we soon found out why most people on the island were limping. The beach itself was covered in sharp bright white coral pieces that hurt when you stepped on them but were hard to avoid. The monkeys were ready for our visit (along with the other long boats who were already parked there). Thailand is super touristy so it looked like everyone had booked a sunset tour that day. The monkeys did as most South East Asian monkeys did and took turns stealing from the tourists and ripping water bottles out of peoples’ hands one by one. The next stop was a serene cove sheltered by giant island monoliths jutting out of the water. We stopped to snorkel and the second we jumped off the boat, we were surrounded by small turquoise and yellow fish and the bright coral.
The next stop on the trip was the famed Maya Bay, clearly the most heavily toured and the most well known beach on Koh Phi Phi. To capitalize on Leo’s famed beach (and maybe to protect it??), Thailand has decided to tax every person who even set a toe on the beach with a hearty fee of 400 Thai Baht a person (an extra $12 USD – to give you an idea, we only spent $15 USD a person on the whole tour). Before the tour, when we were deciding which tour take, we found a loop hole to avoid paying the fee – if we did get off the boat, we didn’t have to pay it. After a friendly but confusing debate with our non-English speaking boat guide, we were allowed to stay on the boat and avoid the fee. Instead we sunned and threw our own ‘boat party’ with two other English backpackers parked on the sand of Maya Bay.
After Maya, our boat sped into a lagoon surrounded by deep forest. “No snorkeling, just swimming,” our captan said, so we swam in crystal clear waters. In the distance, we could see that in between the dense forest were hidden inlets, instead of swimming around the boat, we decided to explore the deep cracks in the rock face. After what felt like a long swim (swimming has never been Nat’s strong suit – instead of looking competent, she looks more like a drowning rat) we arrived inside a hidden forest cove with small smooth pebbles at our feet and huge lush trees poking their way into the salt water. It was surreal and not to mention super sexy (think Blue Lagoon without the incest) but there was no time for that, we had to make it back to the boat before it also left us stranded. We swam as hard as we could and realized that even though we had already lost weight, we were still not very fit.
After climbing on the boat, we motored on to watch the sunset over the island. With the language barrier, our group couldn’t figure out whether our guide was asking if we wanted to see the sunset or the plankton or if he was just explaining what was happening next, after chanting PLANKTON, PLANKTON, we pulled into a dark cove after the sun dipped below the ocean horizon and waited in the water with life vests. Then we waited some more. None of us were sure what was going to happen with this mysterious little creature so we just trusted that we were in the right spot. After a good 40 minutes of floating, we heard the screams of PLANKTON, PLANKTON again. We couldn’t see any signs of the neon algae. Looking to our guide for help he motioned to the cliff face and waved his hands in the air. We had no idea what was going on – was it on the cliff, in the water, going to attack us – we had no clue. Finally we found out that if you waved your hands in the water fast enough, little neon dots would appear out of thin air. Got it – the PLANKTON had arrived. After a few minutes of wildly slapping the surface just under the water we headed back on the boat, feeling exhausted. That night we slept soundly in our air-conditioned room, free of roaches, or at least we hoped. The next morning we boarded a boat bound for Phuket.