Heaven on Earth

Trip Start Mar 17, 2011
Trip End Apr 20, 2011

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Where I stayed
Sunflower Bar - Don's Bungalows
What I did
Parasailing, beach parties,

Flag of Thailand  , Krabi,
Wednesday, April 6, 2011

More than I could ever imagine - this place matches my style perfectly, more so than any other place I've ever been to.  No motorbikes are allowed on this island - so numerous and annoying in almost every other place I've visited in Southeast Asia.  Its so much more serene without the sight and sounds of these 'motor between the legs of every man, woman and child' as they appeared to me.  I had no idea where I was going, and with no other locomotion besides the occasional pedal bike, I walked away from the main pier in an unknown direction.  I kept walking and every now and than I'd ask if there were any vacancies.  There were a few resorts along the way but I wanted to continue on my quest to find a basic little bungalow, similar to what the locals would live in, this is where I was most comfortable at.  Eventually I made my way to the northern most part of the island without finding any rooms available along the way.  I asked one more time before turning back to the more developed areas and luck have it, I found a nice little room overlooking the bay for a mere 500 bahts.   A clean simple room in a somewhat remote enough area to give the feel of being in the middle of the jungle but close enough to the beach that hosted all the night time parties and right behind a unique restaurant in the shape of a ship called 'The Sunflower'.

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.  We than headed down to the beach parties and had an absolute blast dancing the night away along the sandy beach.  What a great and fun little family they were !

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.  Later that evening I spotted Laura at the bar.  She invited me back to where her boyfriend Dustin was sitting on the beach in front of the fire dancing stage.  As the fire dancers neared completion they invited me down the beach a ways to a place named Slinky, a club that would go off well into the night.  We joined a soft spoken french girl, a rowdy Irish lad as well as another Canadian girl we met along the way.  We sat along the beach in some comfy lounge chairs and eventually a few Brits sat down in our growing circle of friends, followed by a couple Israel guys.  We were all feeling pretty good by than as we shot the breeze. It was interesting to hear everyone's perspective on global events that our respective countries were all currently involved in.  At the end of the evening I walked the French girl home to her cottage to make sure she arrived safely.  When I returned to my bungalow, low and behold, I had locked myself out...

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.  As I strained my ears as I heard someone repeat in broken English to come on over.  As I walked towards the voice I noticed their were a couple locals sitting up in a bamboo loft with a thatched roof overlooking the bay.  They invited me up as they laughed jokingly at the couple they were watching.  Than they invited me to take a toke of their 3' bamboo bong.  I was in no position to add anything more to my system after the booze buckets that evening so I politely declined their offer.  I tried to explained that I had been locked out of my room, but they insisted again that I take a toke as if it was some ritual passage or peace pipe offering.  I didn't want to offend anyone so I finally gave.  Soon thereafter I found this was the owner of the Sunflower Bar, the main establishment in my general area, as well as a tourist police.  He than finally let me explain my situation, but it was apparent that he already knew that I locked myself out.  He told me that the owner of my bungalow was away on a mission to get supplies but he knew the woman who was looking after my bungalow.  However, before retrieving my key, I could tell he wanted to chat some more.

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.  He had inherited the resort and remarried an Aussie woman and had a new daughter, but he continued to say he has two wives and three children because he felt they would always be with him.  I mentioned that it seemed tsunamis and earthquakes seem to be occurring more frequently.  His theory was the earth's mantle was being disrupted when vast amounts of substances (oil) were being drilled from its surface, eventually leaving a void where the plates could move more freely.  He views are that every action that humans create on their natural environment cause unforeseeable events such as earthquakes with greater intensity which of course cause tsunamis.  We talked for several hours until the sun rose, than he went and found my key.  I was happy to have had the chance to talk with him.

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.  I was particularly impressed and amused with how well they sang all the American songs the DJs played.  They belted out the lyrics perfectly, seemingly without any accents, sounding like they grew up right in middle America.  I didn't see a lot of American products with the exception of Coke & Sprite during my travels but I realized our specialty was exporting entertainment - music, movies, our culture in general for better or for worse.  We had a blast dancing the night away in the sand, they were very polite and gracious as were almost all the people I encountered in Thailand.

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.  That night I met the crew of Blue View Divers at the Sunflower Bar and booked my trip for the following morning.  To me, diving is the closest experience to being on a different planet.  Everything is muted with the exception of the constant soothing sounds of your bubbles.  Most of the time you feel weightlessness.  Once you enter a underwater current, you float above a completely foreign and exotic landscape with cruise along the current with very little effort at all.  I was up early and excited for an adventure the next morning.   We set off around 10:00 am and headed back towards Phi Phi Leh.  During this dive I saw; leopard shark, banded boxer shrimp, banded sea snake, giant moray eel, trumpet fish, and hawk billed sea turtles.  During lunch on the beach, I was impressed that they crew picked up all the accumulated trash that comes ashore each day, there was a lot of it.   We had only eight divers on board our long-tail boat, as this tour group tailors towards smaller groups to avoid getting in each others way during your dive.  During my second dive I saw a black tip reef shark cruising around at the end of my dive as well as a seahorse, piper fish, manta rays, puffer fish, disco fish, and  barracudas.  All I can say is Magnificent, I would highly recommend Blue View Divers !

Immediately following the dive, the evening ferries were about to depart and I had to quickly decide my next destination.  A quiet nearby island of Koh Lanta had been suggested to me.  This island was mainly inhabited by local fisher families and entrenched with traditional culture.   My travels were drawing to a close however, so I decided to head back to Phuket.  This is where I soon needed to catch my flight back to Bangkok.  Phuket also offered a good place to go elephant trekking and I thought it would be a more lively place to celebrate the beginning of their new year water festival called Songkran.  Literally last minute I decided to head directly to Phuket.  I guess I will have to go fishing in Koh Lanta another day. 

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.

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Claudine on

What beautiful pictures!

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