Koh Phi Phi: A tainted paradise

I had low expectations of Koh Phi Phi because it doesn’t boast a very good reputation for being a tranquil, Thai island. People had warned us against visiting, saying it was overpriced and commercial. These things are true, but Koh Phi Phi remains a visually beautiful island, that impressed me, even after almost a month of being overloaded with pretty Thai islands and beaches.

We arrived on a ferry from Koh Lanta, and our eyes were immediately drawn to the crystalline, emerald water, and luscious green forests. The pier dotted with tour boats was secondary to the initial beauty. We hadn’t booked accommodation, and I was feeling extremely nauseous, and had actually just puked several times on the ferry, so we were grateful of the host of accommodations being advertised at the end of the pier. I had only one request – aircon. A fan will usually suffice for me, but because I felt so sick I needed to be in a cool room, relieved of sweating for once. We chose the cheapest dormitory available, Lemongrass, and it was a short walk from there. I collapsed straight onto my bed, which was as crisp as the amazingly icy air in that dormitory.

I was really disappointed that I was too sick from my food poisoning to leave the dormitory until the next day because we were only going to be on Koh Phi Phi for 2 days. But there was nothing I could do about it, so I sent Norman off with the camera to go and explore, and bring back some visuals to me. The only thing I could do was make sure we jam-packed as much into the following day as possible.

Feeling better, albeit still fragile, I kitted myself out with sunglasses and popped a few pills before braving the so called crazy island of Koh Phi Phi. We booked a tour to go to Koh Phi Phi Ley (we were on the inhabited island, Koh Phi Phi Don) to see the apparently beautiful beaches and snorkel there. The highlight for me was that after watching the sunset, we were going to swim with glowing plankton. The island trips were widely available and offered by so many companies, but we decided on ours because it was one of only 2 that offered the plankton attraction. It was surprisingly cheap – 450 baht – because we went on a long tail boat and not a speed boat.

The tour started off average, and continued along that path for the rest of the day. The tour guide didn’t explain anything to us, and the snorkelling was average. The water was amazing clear, but the coral was mostly dead, and there were just cute fish to see. I didn’t mind this, though, because it was the only way we were going to experience that place in one day, and it did allow us to see the amazing lime stone wall faces, and the rest of Koh Phi Phi’s beauty. The boat obviously stopped at the famed Maya Bay, the beach where ‘The Beach’ was filmed, but it really is the same as most of the other beaches, except that you have to pay an entrance fee. Slightly annoyed at the exploiting of the beach and just general commercialism, Norman and I opted to avoid the fee and stay on the boat.

I had my suspicions, but it was near the end of the trip that I was quite certain we were on the wrong tour. No one knew anything about swimming with any plankton, and it wasn’t living up to its good Trip Advisor reviews. It was impossible to try and question or communicate with either the guide or other passengers because of our language barriers, so we just kept quiet.

I didn’t want to be rude to the tour guide when we arrived back over an hour early from our tour, because he was a sweet guy and it wasn’t his fault, so I sort of stormed to the office where we enquired about and booked the tour. The lady working there laughed and admitted that she sent us to the wrong boat by mistake, but didn’t look remorseful. In fact, she thought the whole thing was humorous. I wouldn’t have minded so much if we had a long stay on Koh Phi Phi, but we were leaving the following day so we had wasted a lot of time. Norman walked away as I started to get annoyed with her and demand my money back, and it was probably for the best because I got angry. She was so rude and unprofessional, shouting and swearing, that she put a right dampener on my day. I can be a very persistent person though, and I ended up with a refund. Due to her extremely illogical reasoning however, although Norman and I had one ticket and paid together, only I got a refund and not him. Only if he declared “Yes, this was the worst trip of my entire life”, words which she made up, would he get one. It obviously wasn’t and he said that, so she refused him a refund.

I wasn’t ready to give up on Koh Phi Phi yet, and we wandered the alleyways that pattern the island like a maze. That night we walked to the beach to witness the craziest fire shows yet, and get a feel for the party scene. I was still quite sick so I wasn’t up to partying, but it was still nice to experience the vibe and craziness that Koh Phi Phi is so famous for.

 

My short experience there made me feel that 50 years ago, this island could easily have been the most beautiful in Thailand, but lack of infrastructure and being over populated has left it with bad sewerage and garbage problems. Its beauty has been fully exploited, and you can’t walk 2 meters without being offered some sort of tour or service 5 times. I still found it a very beautiful place, and was actually amazed that it’s waters were still so clean. Thank goodness for the terrain of the rest of Koh Phi Phi Ley, because it has left it largely uninhabited and unspoilt.

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