Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Koi Phi Phi

When planning our trip to Thailand I knew I wanted to go to the beaches which could be either accessed by another plane ride from bangkok or a bus ride (to Phuket, Koi Samui is not accessible by bus). Seeing as a bus ride would have taken 13 hours and upon researching, sounded a little sketchy I decided to buy plane tickets. I had basically two choices for islands either Phuket or Koi Samui. I chose Phuket because Koi Samui is more well known it seemed and I thought Phuket would be less discovered. When´╝ęstarted telling a few people where we were going those that had been to Phuket said that the Phi Phi Islands were a must to see. I started researching and found out they are only about an hour and a half ferry ride away and there were plenty of hotels on the island to stay at. This meant we would be staying on the Adaman Sea side which apparently has bigger waves and is "colder" water than the Gulf of Thailand but I honestly thought it was perfect.
We flew into Phuket on Tuesday afternoon and had plans to go straight to the Phi Phi Islands but when I booked our hotel on Phi Phi the booking agent told me that the last ferry left at 2 and seeing as our flight got in at 1:40 it wouldn't be possible to make it. I booked the Bay View Resort which had a sister hotel in Phuket called the Tropical Resort so they let us stay there for the night and it ended up being the nicest hotel we stayed in the whole trip. Originally when booking with Bay View they told me they could arrange all our transportation for us and it would cost about 1950 baht per person or about $45. I had checked my email in bangkok at the Bangkok airways lounge computers and found out that our transportation wasn't confirmed because the hotel wanted credit card info. I had no way to email them back in time so I was just going to hope for the best in Phuket. When you arrive in phuket you are bombarded with taxi drivers and tourist travel companies wanting you to book tickets with them. I decided to book our ferry to the phi phi islands on a whim because the agent was right there and I didn't know if we had our original transportation or not since I hadn't paid for it yet. As it turns out there was a guy from the hotel waiting for us but after telling him we only needed the ride to and from the hotel and the ferry dock he didn't want to do it so we were left to take a taxi. This really made the hotel mad (they tried to get me to pay them anyway which I refused to do) BUT the good news is we saved about $60 total taking transportation separately. So Lesson learned if you go to phuket just book all your transportation when you get there because you will get a better deal at a more competitive rate.
I am glad we spent most of our time on the Phi Phi Island because the island itself is very easy to get around and it's more rustic and less urban than Phuket. There are no cars on the island so you can either walk where you are going or hire a long boat to take you wherever you want to go surrounding the island. There were actually some bungalows on private beaches that we saw that I think you can only take a long boat to and from but this alienates you from the main part of the island where all the shops and restaurants are. There are two Islands that make up Ko Phi Phi which are Phi Phi Leh and Phi Phi Don. Phi Phi Leh isn't inhabitable but for the people who live in the viking cave from where there is a thriving bird's nest soup industry. If you take a snorkling tour (about $15) you will visit viking cave, and Maya Bay which is where the 1995 movie "The Beach" was filmed.
(picture: us at maya bay) And another snorkling site in a cove off Phi Phi Leh. If you take the long boat tour however, it's not easy to get to Maya bay. The boat parks in the water and you have to swim to a ladder which has ropes tied to it to hold on to so you don't get pummeled into the rocks as the waves crash about. Then you have to climb up this wooden ladder and down another (one at a time) where you will be in a shallow lagoon which is filled with sharp rocks that really hurt your bare feet. Then you have to walk to the other side of the island (which isn't far) to Maya Bay. I noticed there were lots of speed boats on this side but no long boats. Also the beach itself was filled with tourists as the boat tours just keep pulling in. It's gorgeous but I don't know how it would be in the on season because we went during the low season and it was just insane.
(picture: on monkey beach) The last leg of our snorkling tour took us to monkey beach which is another popular tourist site which is actually on a beach off of Phi Phi Don that is only accessible by boat. All that live on the beach are monkeys and there are hundreds of banana peels and fruit rinds from tourists visiting and feeding them. We didn't have any food for them so they weren't interested in us but I did notice they really liked peanuts and dried fruit people had. So if you visit and want to have a lot of monkeys eating from your hand be sure to bring those items for them! It was so surreal being so close to the monkeys (I even stepped on one's tail!) and they are totally un-phased by humans.
The reason we didn't spend as much time at Ko Phi Phi as we would have liked (only 3 nights) was because of all the places this is the most expensive to stay. The Bay View was pretty rustic (the shower water smelled like sewage) but had free breakfast every morning and a great view of the ocean from our 4th level bungalow (quite a hike though up and down the hill everyday!) I think if you stay here you are in for spending a little more money than anywhere else because there simply aren't tons of places to stay. The whole island was pretty much wiped clean by the tsunami so they are still rebuilding and adding new hotels etc. The great thing about the island is they have the freshest seafood you can get and pretty great prices if you don't want lobster, and all the beach bars have fire shows at night. Beer is cheap but liquor is expensive unless you buy their famous buckets of alcohol (the best deal for your money but still about 500baht) and wine is about $30 a bottle so don't even bother. Going during the low season meant plenty of great deals as everyplace wants your money so bars and restaurants always have specials. You could get a pizza for 2 for about 250 baht or about $5. Fruit shakes are really cheap, about a dollar and very refreshing. Also note no place takes credit cards so you'll have to pay with baht the whole time. You can't drink the water but every place serves bottled and our hotel stocked the fridge with liters of free water every day for us so you really don't have to buy any when you are out.
(picture: at the viewpoint) On our last night we climbed to the viewpoint we had heard about and followed signs too. we were warned to go at sunrise or sunset because it's a tough uphill climb and it's simply too hot during the day to make the trek. So we went at sunset and caught the tail end of the sun by the time we reached the top dripping in sweat. There is a little snack bar on top and some toilets you can pay to use but that's about it which makes it really nice and peaceful (besides everyone else who hiked there) Probably the most interesting part is the hike itself because it winds you through houses where the locals live and up steep staircases and through the jungle. It's not lit up at all so make sure you leave before the sun actually goes down unless you have a flash light. From the view point you can see both bays and the town in the middle. It's really quite an amazing sight and I'm glad we didn't leave before seeing it because it's not well advertised how to get there. (we used a free map then followed signs)
One thing we learned quick about island life during the rainy season is that, well it rains every day nearly and at random times for random periods of time. The hotel had free umbrellas to use (I'm pretty sure they all do in the rooms because both our hotels in phuket had them as well) so even if you feel stupid carrying it during the day you will probably use it at some point. Everyone on the island was very friendly and eager to give you a good deal whether it be on sunglasses or food. I only wish we could have spent more time there.
Oh and make sure and take plenty of dramamine with you because the ferry ride is a bit rough, and be prepared to watch people be sick from the sea. Not a pleasant sight!

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