Standard Bank on 'The Beach'

Trip Start Jul 16, 2012
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Friday, March 22, 2013

After a short stop in Bangkok it was time to head back down south to the Islands to meet up with Sharon again and also Alan another ex-Standard Banker. Having been in Thailand for 2 months becoming a Muay Thai Ninja we finally managed to arrange to meet up in Koh Phi Phi.  Being the home of Maya bay where the beach was filmed you think that Phi Phi is going to be a paradise island, sadly this is not quite the case and the main town is filled to bursting point with drunk teenage backpackers (who have probably told their parents they are visiting temples and looking after elephants in Thailand in their gap year).  So what better to do on our first night than to join them.  We started with our very own beer pump and worked our way closer to the beach for a fire show and buckets of sangsom.  Amazingly we managed to keep up with the young'uns and headed home when the music had stopped and the party had died.

Don’t get me wrong Phi Phi is not all terrible, Long Beach which is a little way along from the main town is stunning, with white sand and no teenagers making a racket.  So us oldies hired a longtail to take us over to get over our hangovers and try to get Alan a tan.  We seemed to pick a slightly insane longtail driver who put on a motorbike helmet to drive the boat, he also gave us a bag of bananas as he had not had any tourists go to monkey island that morning, very odd?!  Despite having a lovely relaxed day in the sun eating bananas sadly things did not go quite to plan and very quickly Alan had sunburnt feet and a very red left shoulder, at least there was hope of him having a partial tan to take home. 

We knew that there was a viewpoint in Phi Phi which is great to climb to watch the sun set, and when I say climb I mean it.  We had read that it was pretty hard, so clad in our trainers and best walking gear we set off with water in one hand and our cameras in the other ready for the ascent.  There is no joke when they say this is a bit tough, especially in 40 degree sun. We started on a road, then moved onto a mud track, which just went on, and on and on. There were signs here and there along the way to assure us we were going the right way, but strangely the signs seemed to change their mind between viewpoint 1, 2 and 3 on a regular basis and we are still not entirely sure how many viewpoints there are?  We did however make it to a viewpoint, which was impressively packed with other hot looking people, most of whom had not worn sensible walking shoes for the climb and were looking a bit dejected at the prospect of the walk down in flip flops.  Our timing was perfect, the sun was beginning to set, the sky was changing colour and the view looked stunning.  But with our sensible shoes and sensible heads on we decided to head back down the cliff before the sun set.  As it was the descent was not that bad as it was entirely made of cement stairs, still I would not fancy doing it in flip flops or in the dark.

The main event and the reason that we chose to convene in Koh Phi Phi was that Tim and I had discovered a pretty cool tour.  The Maya Bay Sleepaboard.  Maya Bay the home of 'The Beach’ is only open to day trippers and this one company has the exclusive right to moor a boat in the bay for the night.  The website makes it sound amazing, you get a mattress and duvet and sleep on the roof of the boat under the stars after an afternoon of snorkelling, a BBQ dinner on the beach and a night snorkel with Bioluminescence.  What is not to like?!  Our biggest fear in booking this tour was that it would be jam packed full of the aforementioned drunk and annoying teenage backpackers, so we kept everything crossed that the price would put them off.  So the day came and we headed over to the pier and initially began to panic as the boat was rammed full of people, fortunately we quickly realised that there was another tour on the boat that would be going home after dinner so there were just 22 of us sleeping on the boat.  The group seemed to be pretty cool, none of the obvious teenagers in their day glow ‘Same Same’ t-shirts and fisherman pants so it looked like our luck was in, we made a few friends, but on the whole it quickly became apparent that we were the noisy annoying ones on the boat and seemingly we were being given a wide birth.  As if we cared, we were quite happy to have our buckets of sangsom, play in the sea in the dark and keep ourselves entertained.  It is amazing how much fun you can have jumping out of the sea in the dark when you have a couple of buckets of Sangsom in you and a waterproof camera.  Before we knew it, it was time to head back to the boat as we have to be off the beach by 10pm and somehow we managed to be at the back of the queue to get to the boat.  There were two options to get there, wait for the tiny little blue plastic boat or swim.  Sharon, Al and I opted for option 1, Tim was lame and took option 2.  Sharon and I did shriek and squawk the whole swim but it was pretty cool.  We got to the boat to discover that there were seemingly far too many people for the boat and in fact there are 4 beds on top of the bridge which have a perfect view of the night sky, the rest of us are inside, on a slope or propping ourselves anywhere there is a space.  As we were the last on the boat and therefore actually had no beds we decided that buying more buckets of Sangsom, night snorkelling, night swimming and night jumping off the boat was our only option.  The bioluminescence was out in force, unfortunately the moon was also full so this made it a bit too bright to fully appreciate the sparks flying off our fingers, but the fact that it was so bright we could see the bottom of the ocean it was just as special.  This was probably much to the disgust of the folks that had got to the boat first and reserved the best beds and therefore tucked themselves in for the night at 11pm.  We on the other hand finally admitted defeat when the boat had no more booze at 3am.  Sharon and I managed to find empty mats on the bow of the boat so could do some stargazing in between our trying to sleep, my mat looked much more comfortable than it was with the anchor wheel underneath my head giving me about 4feet of room to lie flat and did I mention everywhere on the boat was on a slope?!  Needless to say none of us had the best sleep, but waking up (opening our eyes from an attempt at sleep) to the sound of the bats returning to their roost and the sun coming up in the beautiful lagoon of Lo Sama Bay made it all worth it.  It would have been a much more pleasurable experience if I wasn’t hungover/drunk and sleep deprived but the night before had been so much fun it didn’t matter.  We had one more trip to Maya Bay, whereby we all collapsed in the sand and watched the tourists arrive by the boatload, oddly there was also a photoshoot for a wedding going on which provided all the entertainment we needed before we had a group photo, like in The Beach.  The odd thing was that there were people in the photo we had never seen so who knows where they had been the night before?! Back to Phi Phi and it was time to bid Sharon and Al farewell as they were moving islands.  Back to just the two of us and time for some R&R around the pool and head underwater for some more scuba.

Strangely Lyn and Gary who trained us on Koh Mook told us that they were headed to Phi Phi to look for work as Koh Mook had shut down for the season and unbelievably as we were stood outside the dive shop they walked past and tapped us on the shoulder, sadly they were not up and running soon enough for us to dive with them again but we did go with another company and had an amazing dive.  Our first Scuba knowing that we were not going to be tested at the bottom of the sea and we could just enjoy the ocean around us.  The islands and reef around Phi Phi are part of a national park and are protected so they are in very good condition, leading to some great diving.  Next to Koh Tao Phi Phi is probably the most popular place to dive with a whole host of different sites.  We went first to Koh Bida Nok.  Here we did have to learn one more scuba skill, the long stride, having only ever dived from a longtail suddenly we were being spoilt on a big boat.  Long stride, done. Koh Bida Nok has a phenomenal wall of reef, I have never seen so many big blue starfish, but for me the highlight of this dive was seeing a box fish.  I have seen these in pictures and they are adorable little yellow fish like a mini puffa.  The thing that I didn’t realise is just how small they are, they are pretty much the size of a stamp.  Just perfect.  Swimming along the reef it was a little disorientating knowing which way was up, but with such a view I didn’t care so long as I had air in my tank.  Before we knew it our air and time were running out so we surfaced for lunch.

Our second dive was at a site called Palong and this is renowned for seeing white tip reef sharks and turtles.  The problem was that our dive started at 5pm, so light was fading fast, the sea was stirring and the visibility was reduced to about 5 meters.  Which is not really what you want when there is a chance you might come face to face with a shark (albeit a non bity reef shark).  I was not really enjoying this dive particularly and was getting through my air at a rate of knots.  There were fish to see, huge shoals of little silver fish that darted in every direction if you flicked your fingers towards them, giant puffa fish hiding in rocks, shrimps lurking in the crevaces, even a stunning lion fish just hovering underneath us.  Then our dive master Jamie pointed to something and I filled my mask with water by breaking out a huge smile.  There was a massive turtle just a few feet from us just happily nibbling on the rocks.  Suddenly the lack of visibility was meaningless and this became one of my favourite dives yet, thanks Mr Turtle, you were awesome.  If only our underwater camera was scuba proof, so sad that we can’t share our underwater sights with you.  Time to resurface and what a change in conditions, waves bashing us around and crashing over us, thankfully the boat threw us a tow line to get us out quick.  As we made our way back to Phi Phi the sun was setting on another perfect day.

Our last couple of days in Phi Phi we chilled around our pool and made the most of our lilos, it is back on the proper backpacker route and touring from here so we recharged our batteries and enjoyed the amazing western food on Phi Phi.  I found a shop that sold cheese and pickle baguettes and basically ate nothing else for  4 days, bliss.

One of my favourite things about Phi Phi is the cats, as the locals are nearly all Muslim they have cats rather than dogs and there are cats literally everywhere.  Our hotel had some awesome cats, one that must have weighed half a stone, a lovely old black girl who used to hang out with me at the pool and my favourite a porky white and tabby who used to hang out on our balcony and would lie in the doorway like a doormat.  I brought him into our room one night and he curled up with me and watched a film, gotta love a hotel that comes with a free cat.

Next stop Bangkok (again) then northwards and onto Laos.  Bye Bye Andaman Sea, we will see you soon hopefully! 
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