Soak up some sun

Soak up some sun

sailing through Traditional long tail boats dot the islands. photos by author

Crystal clear waters hemmed by gentle limestone cliffs verdant with foliage is the first sight that met our eyes and made us gasp at its sheer beauty. With the waters changing colour every few meters, from azure blue to sapphire green, the Ko Phi Phi (pronounced Ko pee pee) islands are singularly stunning. They beckon with a distinctive impression of an earthly Shangri-la where only good times can roll and absolutely nothing could go wrong. This idyllic haven however, was shattered by the Tsunami in December 2004. Restoration works through both volunteer and government organisations have now restored the island once again to a veritable paradise.

Water sports

Comprising six islands off the coast of Phuket, on the Andaman Sea, the journey by ferry from Phuket takes about an hour and 20 minutes. The two larger islands, Phi Phi Don and Phi Phi Ley are connected by a fairly wide isthmus that makes up the village of Ton Sai. Ton Sai is the only heavily inhabited part of Ko Phi Phi. Phi Phi Don is the only island that has permanent inhabitants. Touted as one of the world’s more beautiful islands, it is a tad more expensive than the rest of Thailand, but is gorgeous enough to be well worth the price. Hidden nooks of breathtaking beauty abound, while some can be explored by foot, many are accessible only by boat.

For the scuba diving enthusiast the islands are a sun drenched treasure trove, with spectacular coral reefs and varied species of fish. At certain points, especially if you dive around the shark point also called Hin Loh, you can catch sight of gracious black tip sharks. Some diving schools go as far as having a money back guarantee if you don’t spot one! Ko Phi Phi may not be the cheapest place to get a PADI (Professional Association of Diving Instructors) certification, but with the islands reefs teeming with abundant life, its one of the more popular places to  get one.

All over Phi Phi, diving schools churn them out in prodigious numbers. There is no real need to scout around for the best price as schools have standardised their pricing. An advanced open water certification (2 day) costs about 10,400 Baht and an open water certification (3 day) will set you back by around 12,900 baht. There’s even exciting taster single and two dive packages (around 3,400 baht for 2 dives) for the uninitiated. Local dives cost lesser than the ones at the more exotic locales of Hin Daeng and Hin Muang.

Try your hand at snorkelling. Various shops all over the island offer full and half-day snorkelling combined with sightseeing trips in and around the islands. Spic white motor boats neatly skip through the water, but it’s the more traditional long tail boats that lend the already picturesque islands even more charm.

Soak in the sun lazing on the bow of one of these in between dunking into the water for a gentle swim or an enjoyable snorkel. Explore isolated   such as on Maya beach, made famous by the movie ‘The Beach’ starring Leonardo Di Caprio.

A word of caution — while swimming, beware of scrapping yourself on the deceptively innocuous looking rocks in shallow waters. The boat also stops at places like Yong Gasem bay or better known as Monkey beach where groups of monkeys now inured to the presence of humans, amuse tourists with their antics, very often trying to steal food or drink from the boats. Other stops include Viking cave (which is famous for farming birds’ nest that is used to make soup and other drinks) and Bamboo island.

Choose either early mornings or late evenings to wander into the Muslim fishing village or the sea gypsy village. You can still see the effects of the Tsunami here. Photographs are put up on rocks and trees as a reminder of the devastation nature can cause.
Alternately, you can hike up to the view points up the Tonsai cliffs. Between these viewpoints are a few pit stops where locals sell coconut water and beer to thirsty travellers. There are three viewpoints on the same path with more or less the same view but at different vantage points. On either side of the path lie orchards full of cashew trees laden with rich red or yellow fruit that leaves the air thick with its heady fragrance. We couldn’t resist it, occasionally stopping to break off the heavy fruit and savour its lush pulp.

The night life

And if you are in search of elusive virgin beaches untouched by the masses, you still won’t be disappointed. With a little exploration, it is still possible to find certain beaches tucked away in remote corners. Some of these might require slightly arduous treks them. We clambered down one such steep path to Runtee beach, which forked off from the viewpoint path. There was hardly a soul on the golden sands of Runtee, apart from an occasional fisherman’s lazy long tail boat.

Finally one other thing that you shouldn’t miss out on, is delightful shopping at Ton Sai. Wander through the meandering streets to buy anything from well-cut swim wear to the must have Thai sarongs to exquisite handmade jewellery at throw away prices. All the gastronomes should stop and indulge at the numerous restaurants serving  all kinds of cuisine alongside authentic Thai dishes.

Round off the meal with Thai pancakes sold at pancake stalls that are concentrated close to the pier. These are unlike any pancakes made in the West, more like an Indian ‘chapatti’ topped with either your choice of fruits with honey or chocolate syrup or an assortment of vegetables and/or meat with cheese. And a thoroughly satisfying day doesn’t just end there. It continues into the night with pubs, bars and their theme parties. Ko Phi Phi it must be said, has is where you can experience your perfect holiday.

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