Koh Phi Phi: Beauty is a burden

Against all what we had heard about Koh Phi Phi (super busy and touristy), we still wanted to see it and spend a few nights there. So we took the one hour ferry from Lanta and arrived mid-day at the very busy Phi-phi pier.imageWe walked into town dragging our luggage through the maze of streets filled with bars, restaurants, shops, tour agencies and tatoo parlors.imageThe heat was sweltering and we were a bit lost. After asking for directions (we had reserved a room a bit outside of the main drags because of noise), we headed up the hill and even found a luggage porter from another hotel who wanted to make a bit of money on the side and carried our suitcases 2/3 of the way. After a cooling shower, we walked around town and booked a snorkeling tour around Koh Phi Phi Don and Koh Phi Phi Leh for the next day that included a stop at the famous Maya Bay before sunset (where the movie “The Beach”was filmed starring Leornado Di Caprio), and a private long-tail boat for the morning of the day after. Surprisingly, many tour booking outfits hardly gave us the time of day when we stopped in, or quickly lost interest if we asked too many questions. We quickly left these shops and moved on to the next one (business must be good??).Koh Phi Phi just like Koh Lanta had many kitties running around or attached to a store or restaurant- all very irresistible. So we petted them any chance we could.image image imageOn the first night, around 7:30pm we were on our way back to our hotel from having dinner when we spotted a black cat playing with a gecko. It had a bit of an odd behavior and was meowing strangely…we thought may be it was because we interrupted its hunt or play time. Sylvie ignored “the signs”and tried to pet the cat anyway which earned her an immediate paw swing and scratch on the finger. We didn’t think anything of it at first and proceeded back to the hotel. After a few minutes relaxing in the room, it started to sink in….there is rabies in Thailand, monkeys, bats are all carriers…and the cat did have an odd behavior. But you can’t get rabies from a scratch, right? We started browsing  the internet for more information and some forums on Koh phi phi. If the cat had rabies and licked its paws before clawing, then rabies could be transmitted through the scratch. OK we thought it was a pretty long shot and the likeliness pretty low, but rabies is fatal so we wanted to be sure and went downtown to get a medical opinion. Koh Phi phi has a nice small international clinic, called Siam, where an English- speaking doctor could see us right away. He explained to us that this was a category II risk, category I being the lowest risk factor and not needing rabies shots, category III being the highest risk (from a bite for example), needing rabies and immunoglobulin shots, and category II, in Sylvie’s case, needing rabies shots.imageAbove: the consultation

S….T! Not 1 shot, nor 2 or 3 but 5 over a month!! Sylvie hates shots but even though the risk was low as the doctor explained, they still recommended we do it. With rabies, you usually don’t get a second chance once you develop clinical symptoms. So after Sylvie telling the nurse over and over to take it easy and slow, Sylvie got her first rabies shot painlessly! We were a bit concerned about potential pain the next day as we had to go snorkeling but it ended up being fine.image

The next morning we met up with a guy that led us to the area on the beach where the speed boat was waiting. We boarded with about 15 other tourists and were on our way. The first stop was at Monkey Beach where monkeys are unfortunately fed by all the tour companies and thus have become quite aggressive toward anyone who steps on shore. We had one girl on our boat who fed them and got her skirt pulled which freaked her out. We watched other tour boats arrive where nobody got out, but still threw fruits out for the monkeys. Too bad.
We made several snorkeling stops where each one got less stellar than the previous one with dead corals, less fish, and poor visibility. We finally managed to find an eel in shallow water.
Each snorkeling stop, we also witnessed all tour boats empty bags of bread into the water. One operator was even allowing passengers to capture fish in their bread bags (to take home?).  We were a bit disgusted to say the least. Sylvie even caught one tourist in the act and smashed his bag, therefore preventing a capture, and told him he was committing a crime – wasn’t this a marine park?!
On our way to Bamboo island, we passed a few scenic bays and rock formations, but unfortunately there was litter in the water and on the beaches. What this place must have looked like 20 (?) years ago when it wasn’t over-crowded with tourists and boats polluting the area!
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Next stop – Bamboo island (we’ll let the picture below speak for itself)
We hiked away from the crowds and found a quieter corner after waiting for a few boats to leave with their passengers.
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Final stop was famous Maya Bay/Maya Beach. It was very picturesque, but again, over-loved by tourists. We used our imagination of what it must have been like years ago. We ended the tour finally on a positive note with a cool coconut drink and a great sunset on the way back.
That evening, we had some drinks and fun time with some French people we met on the boat.
Above: view from Maya beach before sunset
Our final day on Phi-phi was memorable. We had hired a private long-tail boat for 3 hours with a departure time of 7am to go tour at will and go see Maya Bay early (therefore with fewer crowds). Our boat driver was on time, the boat started, and we were off to Phi Phi Leh with a first stop in mind of Maya Beach…well, so far, so good. The seas were a bit rough till we reached the shelter of the island and then smoothed out.
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Above: Koh Phi Phi Leh
 When we got to Maya Beach, there were certainly fewer boats than the previous day, but the bay and beach were not illuminated by the sun yet.
We thought we would go around the other side (not far) where there were two other bays with the sun at a better angle. This is where our “private” tour went sour. Our hired driver thought it would be best to stay at Maya beach and swim, snorkel, or walk on the beach. We explained to him we had done all that the previous day and we just wanted to snap pictures of the island without all the tourists around. He was clearly not happy with our decision, and argued with us.  He kept saying, “no good for me”, and wouldn’t move. We tried to understand why (although we had our theories of course: lazy and/or didn’t want to use fuel), but he wouldn’t explain. So we finally firmly told him we hired him and his boat for 3 hours and he needed to go where we wanted to.The argument got even more heated and he reluctantly started the boat and left Maya Bay. We couldn’t believe it! We entered another bay where the lighting was better, took a few pictures, and then told him to continue to the next bay. This started the arguing all over again, and again, he reluctantly left the bay. As we left the shelter of the island, the seas got rough and we heard and felt the boat speed up, making the bow pound the swells even harder. He was mad and this was his way to get back at us? This action of course sent spray into the boat so we asked him to slow down, which he reluctantly did.
Above: not a happy camper – can you tell?
 When we reached the next bay, we were able to take a few pictures before the anticipated argument resumed. He told us (besides not good for him) that in all his years, we were the only tourists who wanted to go around the island, to which we replied, “so?”. We reminded him we hired him and he needed to do as we desired – it wasn’t his decision. It’s not like we were asking him to go to a different island or very far so we were really frustrated with his reluctance to move anywhere. We circled the island and came back into Maya Bay. He never once asked us where we wanted to anchor for picture-taking, and bee-lined for a buoy and tied the boat up. After arguing again, we got him to move to a better vantage point as the sun started to filter into the bay.
Next 3 pictures below: Maya beach/bay as the morning sun trickled in
After tying up the boat to the new spot, he put on some loud music.  At this point, we were ready to toss him over and pilot the boat ourselves.  We told him to shut the music down to which he replied “no to everything with you!” Without saying a word, he donned his snorkel  gear and disappeared over the side of the boat and swam away. Whose tour was this? The temptation to try to start the boat and leave was almost too great. We filmed the event with us sitting alone in the  boat with our operator nowhere in sight. Then we filmed him when he finally made his way back to the boat.
Above: should we laugh or cry?
imageAbove: our boat operator back from his snorkeling tour
While we were pissed at this guy, at the same time we were happy to not have to listen or look at his face for the 20 minutes or so he was snorkeling around. We were SO ready to leave and get this “tour” over with. We told him to go back by the other bays on the way to the pier, which of course started another round of arguing. We told him to not talk anymore and just get going and head back to the main pier. We were SO done. Halfway around the island, we noticed he wasn’t intending to go back to the pier. We reiterated to him to just take us back (even though we still had an hour on the meter). Of course NOW he didn’t want to go back because he knew we were going to complain and was NOW willing to keep circling the island. At this point, we were yelling at him to just take us back, to which he refused because he was afraid we would complain. This situation was out of control and we wondered what his plans were for us.  After much yelling/arguing, he headed back. We hardly waited for the boat to stop moving when we reached the shore and jumped out and quickly went into town with him on our tail. When we saw he wasn’t behind us anymore, we went to the tour company counter to complain. Well, the same woman who booked our private tour for us claimed she didn’t remember us and that we weren’t her clients. Sylvie lost it with her and the woman flung every nasty insult she knew. We left completely disgusted and wanted nothing more than to get off the island. That evening, we tried to relax by taking a hike to the island’s viewpoint around sunset. It was crowded but we had a nice conversation with a young couple from Israel.
Koh Phi Phi was a huge disappointment for us (and we had been warned): overcrowded and polluted, over-built, littered seas, dead corals, very few fish varieties, and the rudest Thai people we have met so far. A good example of a once beautiful island over-loved and ruined by mass tourism. We were told that things dramatically changed after the 2004 tsunami when the re-building went out of control. Too bad, it must have once been a paradise in its Muslim fishing village days!
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4 Responses to Koh Phi Phi: Beauty is a burden

  1. Terrea says:

    So sorry to hear about your unfortunate time in the PhiPhi islands….when I visited Thailand in the early 90s it was still a fairly sleepy, delightful place, where people went who wanted to just sit and enjoy the stillness. Your description of your experience can be a warning for everyone else that might be planning a visit there. I hope the next leg of your travels is FABULOUS!!!
    Love and hugs to you…

  2. Roman Gabriel says:

    Bonjour James et Sylvie,il vous arrive plein d’aventure!!!Nous sommes allez en Thailande en 2011 avec Annette et sa a bien changer depuis mon premier voyage en 1991,surtout Koh Pee Pee et Maya Bay!!!.Nous suivons toujour votre fabuleux voyage et on somme heureux d’entendre de vos nouvelles et vos belles photos.Nous avons repris le train train habituel:boulot-dodo!!Cette hiver en enrope on a pas connu de grand froid,mais il y a assez de neige pour skier,par contre il fait rarrement beau le week-end.Roman est partit une semaine à Teneriff pour voler en parapente.Avez-vous une adresse e-mail,pour vous envoyez quelque photo?
    Prenez soins de vous et au plaisir de vous entendre.
    Roman et Annette

    • speters14 says:

      Hello Roman, Annette

      Oui en effet, il se passe toujours quelque chose d ínteressant! Content d’avoir de vos nouvelles. Koh Phi Phi a surement beaucoup change et la Thailande en general je crois aussi. Nous partons pour le Laos demain par autobus apres avoir passe un mois en Thailande. Il nous tarde.
      De la neige! Sounds so good right now, it’s so hot here. Nos addresses email sont: sylvie_peters@yahoo.com et j_e_bennett@yahoo.com. A bientot.

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