That’s What She Said
Posted on January 6, 2012
A post from Nat’s blog about our experience in Koh Phi Phi …I couldn’t have said It better myself.
It started out like any other day. Any other day in Phi Phi that is. In hindsight it was a day that locals might deem ‘same same…but different.’ The roosters still crowed at 5:30 AM and continued to let us know they were awake until 8AM (not sure if the natural alarm clock was included in our $50 per night price tag??). The price was high given the location and lack of amenities. One month in SE Asia and I had quickly realized that I was trading in my western ways and price tags for Asian living. That is until I arrived in Phi Phi with throngs of tourists during the island’s peak week following New Year’s day.
There are usually 2 classes of western tourists – the newbies on holiday wearing pasty pale shades enhanced by fluorescent lighting and the seasoned travelers (insert backpackers) who usually sport a bronze glow. The red ones (of which there are plenty to choose from) proudly show off their confrontation with the sun and can fall in either group which is why a second criteria is needed – the haves and the have- nots. These groups are segregated by geography upon arrival in Phi Phi. The backpackers disembark and immediately swarm the streets and guesthouses of Ton Sai village, a small strip joining the larger halves of Phi Phi Don, while those with disposable incomes veer east to the numerous resorts dotting the coast. The coastal resorts are only accessible by water taxi which helps keep the borders well defined.
Not to whinge, but I had forgotten how hectic and disappointing traveling at peak season can be. Finding a place to stay can be difficult to impossible – especially if sleeping on the beach is not allowed (FYI Phi Phi prohibits it – I checked). Prices are also inflated to 2-3x their normal rate. Still inexpensive by western standards, it’s a shock to the system for someone coming from cheap as chips Vietnam and Cambodia. Fortunately, my haggling, ahem bargaining skills, have been sharpened through recent practice. UNfortunateley, on an island full of tourists at the height of the season vendors are less willing to compromise and the dollar doesn’t stretch as far as other places. Thanks to Elizabeth we at least had accommodation on the island before arriving, key for our sanity and keeping stress levels down. The Banana Resort was also within budget. Although we were prepared for basic living and a bit of a hike due to the reviews on trip advisor, we weren’t prepared for the fresh water/sewage pool a block from our hotel, wafting its scent towards our room. So after Day 1 of crowded beaches and hanging with backpackers we decided to see how the other half lived. The Beach was filmed here. We knew there had to be more than pizza joints and neon lit bars with fire dancers at night. Which brings me back to the present – the rooster crowing on Day 2 of Koh Phi Phi.
E. graciously took one for the team by scheduling a massage at a posh 5 star hotel, so we could make full use of the pool and amenities and finally realize some relaxation. We talked to a few drivers before jumping on board a water taxi and set off for the secluded and pristine Laem Tong beach on the north side of the island. This was the Phi Phi we had envisioned! White sand beaches, scattered palm trees for shade, and a tenth of the people we had encountered on Ton Sai. The place was totally serene – a dramatic change from the spring break 2012 scene in Ton Sai. I fear I am starting to sound old. Before I age myself further, let me point out that we did return to spring break PP style and fully embraced the nightlife but not without some hurdles.
While we were tempted to stay for dinner on Laem Tong, we had waited too late and our window for getting back to our hotel for the night was closing. Luck was on our side it seemed. We found only one driver willing to take us in his long tail boat – basically a canoe with a lawnmower motor on the back. Once we got in the boat, we found out why. The strong winds at night and way the boats are parked makes it challenging to get out much less navigate to the other side of the island. Within minutes the boat rocked onto its side with each new wave, and I tried to judge how far the swim to shore would be if the boat capsized. With white knuckles, E. put on her life jacket and I quickly followed suit. We used delirious laughter to overcome our panic and nearly kissed the ground once setting foot on the beach. We were so relieved that E. tipped our boat driver a third of the price, rendering all my negotiating before the trip void.
What a day. Fast forward to pizza and fire dancers on the beach and a return walk to the banana to sleep. So we thought. Still awash with the sun’s afterglow from our wonderful day, we were less deflated going back to our basic bungalow on the hill. We unlocked the padlock on the front of our band-aided door. And then we saw it – a solo shoe in our room. A bit dusty and cheaply made, and nearly my size. It was missing a mate…and its owner. The door to our hut was slightly askew towards the bottom, enough for us to surmise that we had been broken into and this was the culprit’s exit. Further clues – an open window and some missing bracelets – didn’t take a crime scene unit to piece together that we had been robbed. But it was the lone shoe, that tangible piece of evidence, that made me most unsettled. The questions leaped out. Obviously they had left Ina hurry. Were they interrupted by something outside? Did they act alone? And who was this person walking the streets of Ton Sai with one bare foot and wearing Elizabeth’s bracelets? As these thoughts filled my head, the serenity of the day faded. We packed our bags anticipating an early move the next morning. I slept very little, kept alert by our predicament. The irony that Phi Phi has transformed from a paradise into a capitalist haven struck me and I couldn’t help wondering why I didn’t get here earlier, before Phi Phi lost its sole.