Heaven on Earth
Trip Start Mar 17, 2011
11Trip End Apr 20, 2011
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After getting settled in I headed over to the Sunflower to grab some grub. After ordering panang chicken, I started talking to a woman on sabbatical studying the stray cat and dog population of Phi Phi and how they interacted with humans...nice place to be doing research huh. After dinner I walked along the beach looking forward to a beautiful sunset. I just than realized the sun would be setting well behind the huge rocky tree lined cliffs that surrounded the bay. I wanted to watch the sun dip and disappear into the ocean horizon but that would be impossible from this vantage point. After asking a few locals, the general consensus was I needed to hike up to Viewpoint National Park but they said I better hurry ! I made tracks and ran all the way up a seemingly never ending stairway I coined 'Stairway to Heaven'. Once I arrived on the top of the mountain, I was greeted to an absolutely breathtaking scenery. A beautiful garden adjoining a rocky formation where visitors would gather to watch the magnificent views of the sunset. It was an astonishing view high above the point where both bays almost touched one another, separated by a thin strand of beach where most of the hotels and restaurants were located
I barely made it up in time to see the sunset - incredible hues of orange and red lit up the sky. I remember hearing soft murmurs of a variety of languages waffling through the warm evening breeze praising the striking views. By the time dusk had firmly set in, I realized there were only a few people still remaining at the park. Most had already made their way down the steep and sometimes treacherous stairway while there was still some light out. Suddenly someone struck up a conversation with me, it was one of the few groups that remained on the hilltop after sunset. I learned they were a family of three from Washington state that had been traveling for over a year together, the epitome of the family globe trotters. After we talked for awhile, well after the sun had set, they made a thoughtful gesture of inviting me to join them for dinner. After our hike down and a quick rinse, I picked them up at their bungalow. I was greeted at the door with a gift. Rachel, the daughter had just finished reading 'The Beach' and offered it to me. I had seen the movie which initially inspired my travels to Southeast Asia. It was a very serendipitous and I was quite thankful for this timely gift. We than walked to a quaint restaurant and enjoyed some authentic Thai food. The bar next door had a special, two for the price of one booze buckets. We agreed to indulge in this potent Thai favorite
The next day I went on a snorkeling and kayaking tour at Phi Phi Leh, the little brother of Phi Phi Don. This is the remote island the movie 'The Beach' was filmed. They have a tour where you could participate in an overnight camping trip in the exact spot that they shot the footage and reenact the movie if you so chose to. The camping trips are for only one night, there are no permanent inhabitants and no buildings aside from the restrooms on this island. Along the steep rocky cliffs that met the sea, there were large caves where thousands of swallows would nest. They harvest these nests for bird nest soup. Some of these caves were so high up in the cliffs that they needed elaborate climbing apparatus for the workers to reach the harvesting areas hundreds of feet up the jagged rock. They now have strict guidelines on when the nests can be harvested because the population of the birds were on a dramatic decline.
When I returned that afternoon, I ran into a Canadian couple from Ottawa that I had met at Viewpoint during sunset a few nights prior. They invited me to join them around 10 o'clock at Stoned bar to watch the fire dancers
It was well past 3:00 AM and all I wanted was my cozy bed to sleep in. I was feeling pretty good and intoxicated as I tried to force entry into my room. My Irish neighbor came out to check on what the hell was going on outside her door. After some careful consideration of my situation, she encouraged me to continue to bust down my door. Amid her laughter at my bouncing off in every failed attempt, I soon came to the sorrowful conclusion that the door was impenetrable. I decided to take a walk around to see if I could find anyone that worked in one of the surrounding bars or hotels. As I headed towards the beach I literally almost walked right over a British couple that were trying to have sex on the beach. I quickly apologized for interrupting their escapades but the girl interjected sarcastically saying her boyfriend wasn't able to 'get it up' anyway. At that moment our conversation was punctuated by a faint voice
He invited me down to a couple lounge chairs situated right along the bays edge. We talked for awhile and he told me his story. Ben was living in Phi Phi when the 2004 tsunamis struck and was one of the few survivors. He lost 18 family members, including his wife and two daughters
The following afternoon, I passed by a small massage parlor on my way back down from my now daily hike up to Viewpoint. My back was killing me so I decided to get my first Thai massage...I'm not sure why I waited so long. After a full body massage, my masseuse stood on my back and used her toes to dig into my sore areas, most notably my lower back. Whatever her technique, it worked like a gem. Their staff invited me to come out to the beach parties later that evening. I met them back at their salon and we all strolled down to the evening activities. Most all people in Thailand have a pretty good command of the English language, much more than if I were to cross the border from San Diego into Tijuana
The following day I was watching one sole speedboat pulling a para-sail around in the bay all morning from the hammock in front of my bungalow. I finally decided to set my fear of heights aside and go for it, it looked like they knew what they were doing. I walked down the beach and got there just in time because low tide was about to set in. I was a little apprehensive at first, but the crew seemed pretty confident in what they were doing which put me at ease. They had me strapped up in no time and suddenly I was staring down at the beautiful turquoise shallow waters below. It only lasted above 10-15 minutes but during that brief time I literally and figuratively felt like I was on the top of the world.
After seeing the bay from high above and being able to look down through the crystal clear waters at the coals beneath, I knew I was well past my time for some SCUBA diving
Immediately following the dive, the evening ferries were about to depart and I had to quickly decide my next destination
It was really hard to leave Phi Phi but I made a promise to myself that I would return some day. I would certainly be remiss if I didn't mention daydreaming about a less complicated lifestyle with more of a natural environment albeit with less creature comforts in place like Phi Phi. There's good demand for those who have good command of the English language in Southeast Asia. Whether it be an English or SCUBA instructor, a tour guide, or even a bartender in a tiny tiki hut along the beach, it was fun to fantasize about making this island my part time home some day. Ya never know, sometimes dreaming manifests reality.