Phi Phi Island, Thailand
My current view of the world depends on how I tilt my head as I lay on the beach in Phi Phi island…
When I tilt it to my right, I see the lush tropical hill where small monkeys run down from the trees, looking for food and whatever mischief they can get into.
Some of the locals tame these monkeys.
They dress them up in cute little kids’ outfits, wrap them with diapers, and offer the tourists photo opportunities to take home.
Jules told me that he read that the monkeys are not really tame, and that every years dozens of tourists get bitten by monkeys and have to get a series of four rabies shots over time…. Does not sound so cute any more…. And now I give those monkeys a wide berth as I pass them on the streets.
When I tilt my head to the left, I see the many diving boats, the rusty fishing boats and the many wooden long-tail boats anchored in Tonsai Bay.
I can see the pier, where a dizzying array of activities is centered on the island.
Ferries unload or upload tourists and day trippers, coming from Krabi or Phuket.
Locals offer taxi-boats or accommodation for the night.
Many of the young backpackers come to stay here for many months.
Booking accommodations are often done with pre-internet methods.
You simply show up and you can start organizing your accommodation right at the pier.
At the end of the pier there are sheds with walls that are filled with glued laminated photos of all the accommodations on the island, from the cheapest hostels to the most pricy resorts.
Each photo has the prices of the different rooms posted next to it.
Locals greet you and ask if you are looking for a room.
Surprisingly enough, they can often get you better prices than are available on the internet, since they are giving you “walk in” discount rates.
In Morocco, traveling with no reservations, we often got these walk-in rates, which were better than all the internet rates we were able to get.
Here in Thailand, we unfortunately pre-booked all of our accommodations.
There is something for everyone at every budget on Phi Phi island.
You can rent different beachfront bungalows ranging in price, that will only differ slightly, based on the decor and the availability of air conditioning.
The cheaper ones will be more basic, with smaller towels, with no flat screen TV and no air conditioning; instead they will most likely be equipped with mosquito netting and a fan.
There are a few beaches around Koh Phi Phi where I would choose to stay if I came here again.
The very end of ‘Long Beach’ beyond the rocks, is one such quieter area.
North of Tonsai bay, on Loh Dalum bay, the beach has white fluffy sand, but it is also the party side of the island, with many bars buzzing with people and thumping with the sound of techno music until the wee hours of the night.
But not all tourists here come for the Rave beach parties, the cheap alcohol, the budget accommodations or to get painstaking tattoos made with non mechanized traditional hand tools.
The Thai culture is very easy going and open minded.
The locals are happy to have the tourists, who enable them to make a good living from tourism.
They do not seem to be judgmental or care if the tourists go naked, smoke, drink too much, are rowdy or drunk, or even if the tourists stain their bedsheets with tattoo ink mixed with blood (as long as the tourists pay for new bedsheets.)
The locals do not even seem to have any preferences as to what kind of tourists they prefer.
The Russians are big spenders, but even the most frugal Backpackers still spend money on the island, buying garlic toasts or banana-nuttella pancakes.
The average income for an electrician or an air conditioning technician on the islands is about 15,000 Thai Baht ($460 USD) per month.
This means that every level of spending that comes from the tourists is welcomed by the locals, who often take second and third jobs to supplement their income.
Many tourists come here for the diving and snorkeling, for the abundance of great Thai food or simply to rest by the shores.
Unlike anywhere else in the world, here you can get your open water diving certificate in only two days and at a bargain price.
I went diving with a small operator called ‘Blue View Diving’ which uses small long boats, and dives in very small groups.
I saw the large diving boats with more than fifty divers per group, and I knew that I would not like it….too many people flipping their fins in your face, aimlessly flapping around banging into each other….. Not my idea of a good dive.
Visibility was low on the day that I dived, but still the coral and the tropical fish were beautiful.
When I look straight ahead, I can see the jagged tall cliff called Tonsai Tower; towering over 500 feet, where rock climbers come daily to practice or teach tourists how to climb rocks.
For 1000 Baht, (about $33) you can rent the equipment, and they will literally take you through the ropes.
Phi Phi Don is no doubt the ultimate backpackers’ paradise.
At lunch in one of the many small restaurants, I overheard backpackers talk about spending months on Phi Phi island during the high season, and maybe heading to Brazil after the weather in Thailand gets too wet.
One backpacker said that he has a friend with beach huts on the shores of Brazil which is where he was heading next.
There are no cars or motorized vehicles on Phi Phi Don. (Pronounced Pi Pi)
The packed ferries drop people a few times per day onto the main Tonsai pier, cheerfully decorated with flags, where they are greeted by a somewhat incomprehensible announcement in “Thainglish” saying:
You must pay by yourself (fee apply to each person)
The fact that they do not tell you ahead that you have to pay an entrance fee to the island, creates a big traffic jam at the pier, of people with huge backpacks and heavy suitcases, fumbling through their luggage to get their wallets.
The narrow streets are full of pulley carts, carrying diving tanks, delivering tourists’ luggage, or supplies to the many restaurants, bars and shops.
There are many places to get a massage, buy island style clothing, places to eat, to get a freshly made fruit shake, to get huge and elaborate tattoos and there are many… many… many bars where 350 Baht, ($10) buys one a plastic beach BUCKET full of alcohol.
At night, the many bars are buzzing continuously with drunk young Scandinavians, Europeans, Israelis, Brits, Russians and Australian kids.
The electronic techno music fills the air and the tattoo parlors are open way past midnight.
I saw some kids bleeding with the raw flesh of freshly made tattoos, and I imagine that after a few buckets of alcohol, the tattoos that they always wanted to get, but did not have the courage or enough money to get, now stretch all across their bodies from their ankles to their ears.
I felt grateful that by a pure stroke of good luck, we were staying on the quiet side of Tonsai bay under the big rock cliff, and thus away from the bars and the thumping of the techno music.
We had many good smoothies where the proprietors spoke enough English to customize our fruit smoothies and to make them with fresh coconut water and no sugar.
We found a few places to eat some delicious vegetarian Thai food around town.
“Calamaro Resto” served us a delicious veg fried rice loaded with fresh veg.
They also make a great veg yellow, red, green and Massaman curries and stir fried basil leaves with veg.
“Lemongrass restaurant” has spartan decor, but it is owned by a small family, and the smiling women made us a delicious veg clear noodle soup, a yummy red or green veg curry, and a superb Massaman Potato curry.
“The Garlic restaurant” is also family owned, and they make a superb potato Rosti.
Rosti is a Swiss dish of pan fried shredded potato that is very fluffy and served with toppings.
The mother distributes Thai language pamphlets with essential phrases like:
“Where is the toilet? ”
“Please make it less spicy” and “I do not understand.”
She also gave me a printout page with a recipe for her delicious tangy Papaya salad.
Sometimes we ate a progressive dinner, eating our favorite dish at every restaurant until we were full.
Many say that Phi Phi island is not the remote paradise it used to be.
I even heard people say that it is more like the Jersey Shore than a beautiful Thai island…
My own opinion is that I like to see places as they are today.
It is useless to travel the world with preconceived ideas in one’s mind.
Things are not what they used to be all over the world, and the only reality is that everything constantly changes.
Thailand is a predominantly a Buddhist country, and it was the Buddha who said:
“Nothing is permanent, things come and they go away…”
“The things that are liked and disliked just appear, exist for a moment and then expire…”
“Detachment from all things is the only way to relax….”