With our alarm set for 7AM, I thought that Dani and I could get ready, pack our stuff, and have breakfast at whatever pace we chose before being picked up at 8.30 for our Phi Phi Island adventure. When we stepped out of the lift, though, the foyer was dark and there were three men in uniform were waiting for us.
“Phi Phi?” one of them asked us.
We nodded and so we waited as they joked around in Thai, asked us where we were from, and complimented Dani’s tattoos, before we got into the minibus and jetted off to pick up the rest of the people on tour with us. As we pulled up at the next hotel, the driver turned around and asked for our ticket. I had a moment of panic. Because of how hard it had been to finally confirm our tour, and because I had been in constant communication with Destination Asia the day before, I had naively assumed that we wouldn’t need our ticket. But it was all sorted and we just had to show them our ticket when we got dropped off at the hotel that afternoon.
The amazing thing about everyone on our tour bus was that they were all Aussies. It was a little like taking a piece of home around with us, which I didn’t think I would find as reassuring as I did, but there you go. Actually, about 95% of the people who ended up at the Phi Phi Island tour office were Aussies. So many Aussie accents. And you know what? We really do sound like bogans.
We were all given coloured stickers based on which bus had dropped us off. Ours was red. As we sat on the wooden benches, with our complimentary drinks and biscuits, the room filled almost to bursting with tourists wearing different coloured stickers. Guides in long-sleeved purple shirts wove in between us all like bees collecting information and dispersing directions and seasick tablets. I had already taken three of my travel sickness pills that morning so I declined the seasick tablet.
We piled into our speedboat, fastened red life jackets to match our red stickers, and we were off. Off and bumping. What I have neglected to tell you, for narrative purposes, was that it was pouring with rain. The whole time. The clouds must have saved up about six months worth of the stuff and bombarded our boat with it. We were all saturated in about twenty minutes. And it was the roughest sea trip I have ever taken. Not that I am much of a judge, seeing as I usually avoid boats at all costs, but we slammed into the waves with enough force to cause momentary jarring of the neck muscles. Then there was the constant up and down of the ocean swell that made my centre of gravity turn upside down and my head think it was somewhere near my ankles. And my travel medication held up…for half of the trip. For the other half, well, let’s just say I have never thrown up from seasickness. Until this trip. Thank God I had only had orange juice that morning. Even though, apparently that was what made me sick in the first place.
Let me take a minute to talk about our tour guides. Besides the captain, who did a great job riding those rough waves and making sure we didn’t plunge to a watery death, the rest of the staff remained standing, while we all sat there holding onto our seats for dear life. Three of them were standing on the outside of the boat. And they were walking around, balancing on the edges amid waves and rain and wind. One of these guys was filming. Another couldn’t have been more than 12. I was impressed. Well, I would have been if I hadn’t been trying not to throw up. Then there was Mr. Bird. He was our flamboyant, gleeful, musical source of information about the islands; cracking jokes, singing snatches of show tunes, and making sure everyone had enough supplies. And he was brilliant at making sure the children were safely seated and wrapped in their tiny life jackets. I have never enjoyed learning about another place more than I did on this trip.
Our first stop was Phi Phi Don, where there were monkeys on the beach. We weren’t allowed off the boat because there were so many monkeys and so many people that Mr. Bird wouldn’t be able to keep his hawk-eyes on us. But we got to feed the monkeys from the boat and watch as they held their treasures to their mouths in both hands. I was still feeling a bit green, so I didn’t get to stand up and enjoy the whole scene. But what I did see was pretty amazing. I have never really seen monkeys in their natural habitat. They are adorable, sitting there eating their bananas and watching us with their big, shining eyes hoping for more. Because the whole time we were on deck it was sheeting down rain, we have no photos. Just imagine: monkeys. On a tropical beach. Cliffs overlooking them. Eating fruit with tiny hands.
Next was snorkelling. We crashed along for another five minutes before coming to a stop in calmer seas. I was ecstatic. Last time I went snorkelling was off the Great Barrier Reef a few years ago and my seasickness disappeared almost as soon as I donned those snorkelling goggles. But that was not meant to be today. The whole time I was enjoying the coral and the fish, my stomach was still roiling. But I stubbornly ignored my stomach and watched the neon flashes of tropical fish. I found that if I held perfectly still, some of the electric yellow fish with blue eyes and translucent edges would swim right up to my goggles and stare at me. They got so close that I reckon if I’d left my mouth open, they would have swum right in. Unfortunately, I am not an expert in tropical fish, so I couldn’t tell you how many different kinds of fish I saw. But there were green ones, blue ones, rainbow ones, neon ones, oil-slick ones, and ones I knew from Finding Nemo. I don’t care what my sister says, but I found Nemo! I was so proud of myself. I also saw stoic, rough-around-the-edges Gill, and neurotic “Bubbles! My bubbles!”. I also think I saw an electric blue sea cucumber. Not that that has anything to do with Nemo but it was still pretty impressive.
These glorious aquatic visions were marred, however, by my rebellious stomach that was just as stubborn as me. With every salt flavoured breath, my stomach spun faster and faster until I almost gave in and went back to the boat. Thank God this moment of weakness happened just as Mr. Bird was yelling and gesturing for us to return to the nest anyway.
Our next stop I only remember as being called “The Lagoon”. I have never seen anything so naturally beautiful. The water was so clear and yet simultaneously the most beautiful deep green, clear aquamarine, and royal blue.
The cliffs that surrounded us were humungous. They stood like giants from the beginning of time, watching over us. It was the only part during the entire trip that the sun shone. I think those cliffs have some sort of deal with the sun gods. I haphazardly cannonballed into the water and reveled in the stillness and peace. It was impossible to think about anything but the untouched beauty, the serenity, and the happiness exuding from everyone surrounding you. Even Dani turned to me and said that she had never felt so happy, so at peace.
Looking up at the stone giants shielding us from the worst of the rain, it was as though they were shielding us from the worst of reality as well. Everything: bills, assignments, troubled relationships, money, lost mail, untold futures were held at bay by these Titans who gifted us these few minutes of total peace so we could cope with reality when reality comes crashing back down on us,
Another ten minutes in the rock-and-roller, and we were finally at our rest stop. Lunch time! Mr. Bird was happy as a lark. He’d been rubbing his stomach and extolling the virtues of the soup that we were all looking forward to. At this point, we were shivering in our clothes that had been 100% drenched since before our first swim. Soup sounded incredible. But what I ended up with instead was just as great: fried rice, baked drumsticks, sweet and sour chicken, and bread rolls. These bread rolls were amazing. No idea where this hotel got them from, but I would live on them and only them for the rest of my life if I could.
After lunch we had time to explore. We didn’t see much, but what we did see was still incredible. The beach, with the shadows of the surrounding islands on the horizon, the tropical trees swaying in the wind, and the sand rubbing softly between our toes. It was as Dani was taking her five millionth photo that day that we saw a sign. Not one of those spiritual, wishy-washy signs. An actual sign:
It is so easy to forget the devastation that occurred in Thailand almost a decade ago. But the locals haven’t forgotten. And neither should we. Underneath the calm horizon and the crashing waves is the destructive power of an infinite ocean. We should always be prepared.
We were given the seasickness tablets that I had turned down earlier that morning. I swallowed it down with two of my own motion sickness pills. And they worked. Hallelujah. The half hour trip to our next pit stop was so rough that even the gregarious Mr. Bird had to sit down. All of us thought we got whiplash at one point or another. My abs were sore from all the clenching I was doing, trying to stay grounded. I suppose I should thank you, Mother Nature. That was the best abs workout I had had in weeks. After a bone-rattling crash into the ocean, we arrived at our final stop before the mainland. We just wandered around, taking photos of a pool we didn’t swim in and a pond that was hiding in its depths a monstrous koi.
We found some beach chairs on resting under a canopy of trees – coconut, probably – and sat there, listening to the waves, the excited cries of children, and the icy breeze. It was much too cold to sunbathe, but I still got the complete sense of peace I get from sunbathing just curled there in my chair. I didn’t realise how relaxed I was until I woke to find Mr. Bird leaning over me, telling me it was time to leave.
Five minutes on the boat later, and we were on the mainland, in our tour bus, back to the hotel. It was now that we started having actual conversations with our tourmates, exchanging information, anecdotes, and bits and pieces of our personalities as each group of tourists trudged back to their hotels. Dani had made friends with this one girl over a mutual fear that we were going to die on our boat. We talked to her and her boyfriend all the way back to their hotel and even made plans to meet up for a drink later on during our trip. But, it wasn’t until their hotel was out-of-sight that was realised we never asked for their names. The chance to have some holiday friends lay shattered on the road behind us.
Once back at the hotel it was shower, room service dinner, and then bed. I have not slept so well, or so long, in months.
- Happiness At Phi Phi Islands (thaiholidaynews.wordpress.com)
- Backpacker Thailand – Day 4 (Phi-phi Island) (nnifstory.wordpress.com)
- My Unforgettable Travel/Summer Story: Phuket Part 2! (girlinsorea.wordpress.com)
- 5 of the Best Dive Locations in Thailand (visit-chiang-mai-online.com)
- My 30th on Koh Phi Phi (nomadicbassi.wordpress.com)
- Thailand Diving Resorts (visit-chiang-mai-online.com)