In which we discover the best way to approach a sleeping shark and my Mom and I do the limbo under a burning pole
Starring Joey the RayBan wearing boatman who didn’t want to talk about the Tsunami.
Before 1995 film ‘The Beach’ Ko Phi Phi and the its little archipelago of lovely islands were apparently a largely unknown part of Thailand. Now thanks to Leo and co there are huge numbers of tourists ferrying over from Krabi and landing at the very smart Tsunami funded pier. We managed to avoid most of it by staying slightly round the coast at Long Beach where there are reefs right off the shore frequented by black tip reef sharks.
Having carefully considered the sheer volumes of tourists we opted to pay the extra to hire our own long boat for a day of snorkelling. First stop was a floating petrol station in Ao Nang harbour and then on to Phi Phi Leh which is where the really incredible one where The Beach was filmed. The main activity here is posing by lolling about in the sand pretending you’re in some sort of swimsuit catalogue while the person taking a picture of you desperately tries to manoeuvre to try and get a shot that doesn’t include 60 other people. We went early to avoid the crowds and the beach was already lined with long boats. Apparently in the high season it’s hard to get a strip of sand to park on.
The snorkelling round here was good – great coral – but the best was much further up north between Bamboo and Mosquito Islands. There were huge fan corals, lots of anemones and we literally swam over a leopard shark sleeping on the sea floor. Our boatman, Joey, was not a keen snorkeller himself but did point out all the best bits. We asked him about the Tsunami and he said he’s been here but didn’t want to say anymore. In the harbour off the main town they’ve built an enormous underwater temple in remembrance of the victims.
I hadn’t dived for three years after having been put off by two horrible experiences in the Seychelles – the top blowing off a tank and then on the following dive the same day, my dive buddy killed an octopus I’d very excitedly pointed out by ripping it inside out. So I chose the most expensive and professional looking place I could find and it was absolutely worth it. My parents came along and were able to snorkel from the boat – seeing more than we did in fact! The diving was incredible – lots of swim throughs and caves and at least six enormous hawksbill turtles that we so unphased by our presence they didn’t stop munching on the coral. Huge morays and some of the best coral I’ve ever seen.
The hotel restaurant was right on the beach with all the tables and chairs made out of roughly hewn teak and excellent Tom Yam so no real reason to explore much further but we did manage to drag ourselves down the beach one evening for front row seats at the now ubiquitous fireshow. All over South East Asia there must be little boys telling their teachers that this is what they want to do when they grow up. This one had about four different guys all competing to outperform one another in the craziness of the antics. There was quite a kerfuffle when one guy accidentally set his hat on fire. It ended with the building of a flaming limbo pole on the beach that we were all encouraged to scoot underneath.
We also ventured into Ton Sai one evening which is the main tourist village in town a warren of pizza parlours, tattoos shops and tacky clothes stalls. We found a restaurant up some stairs away from most of the chaos where the notable item on the menu was: “The fish pours the chilli”. Decided not to risk it.
More pictures: http://www.facebook.com/media/set/?set=a.10150361263006058.354571.532581057&type=1&l=59558fedf9