Sunday, January 29, 2012
Monday, January 23, 2012
It is early morning and, incredibly, we are on the only longboat in Pilah Lagoon on Ko Phi Phi Leh. We smile at our driver (Captain? Skipper?) in thanks. He pilots the boat to the end of the lagoon and cuts the motor. Three hundred metre high cliffs surround us. Despite the sun not reaching here yet, the water is so clear we can see the sandy bottom and sections of coral. I estimate it's ten metres deep, but I'm too scared to find out. Fish swim languidly by. I secure the ladder over the side of the boat and step in. Cathie follows. It's eerily quiet, except for our excited giggles when a fish swims too close. The skipper smiles at our enthusiasm.
Back on the boat, we chug out of the lagoon and head to Loh Samah Bay. Cathie reminds me that on Gilligans Island, they too were only on a three-hour cruise. She wants to be Ginger, not Mary-anne. I guess that means I'm Gilligan. At the next stop, there is another longboat with two snorkellers slowly drifting along under the cliffs. I've never used snorkel equipment before. I tentatively fit the mask and the breathy-thingy. Cathie laughs and takes a photo. I look ridiculous. But I jump over the side anyway. Splutter. Cough. Help, I'm drowning in paradise.
The Skipper tosses bread into the water and I'm immediately surrounded by a feeding frenzy of tropical fish. It's like walking past a Myer Store during a Boxing Day sale. I stick my head under the water. Sorry, I mean, I submerge gracefully, like a bald merman, and move dolphin-like towards the bread sale. Me and one hundred fish look at each other from a distance of thirty centimetres. They pout, disapprovingly. I try not to giggle underwater. Despite the technicolour overload, my favourite fish is the smoky maroon-brown variety. They look like cool Newtown types among all the Benetton wannabes.
While Cathie is enjoying her snorkel, the Skipper tosses even more bread overboard. I sit on deck and contemplate the dietary requirements of tropical fish. Do they need so much fibre? And wholegrain? I'm pleased to see it's brown bread we're offering. I hope they can find some protein after we leave.
Which is right now as a big cruise boat makes it way into the bay. A quick circuit of the south cliffs and we are approaching the famed entry to Ao Maya. And right in camera shot is a huge ocean-going cruise boat. The type owned by millionaire wankers who hang out in casinos and wear linen trousers. I'm sure it's owned by a Russian. I swear in Australian.
We putter slowly past and I wonder if my worthy Skipper has a paint-bomb in his drybag. Once inside the bay, we can ignore the Russian cruiser and admire the Russian bruisers. Cadres of them stand on the sand, legs-akimbo, swimming costumes slung low, facing the sun as if it has magic powers. And the men are even worse!
We walk along the white sand dodging Japanese photographers taking one shot of the bay entrance and another shot of the semi-naked Russians. It's all too much. Leonardo DiCaprio has a lot to answer for. Fancy setting a movie on Phi Phi about a bunch of foreigners wanting to keep paradise for themselves!
I know I'm just as much to blame as the next person for this population overload on Phi Phi, but I prefer my Shangri-LA without the overwhelming scent of coconut suntan oil and cigarette smoke. We ask the Skipper to take us back to the lagoon. Thirty minutes later, we join twenty-one other longboats in the shallow water. I jump overboard, hoping the fish will choose me instead of the other interlopers. We are fresh out of bread. The Skipper valiantly throws a potato crisp into the water. It floats past my nose, untouched. I swim around the boat and head to the cliffs, looking up until all I can see is rock and sky. It's paradise. Back on the boat, the Skipper taps his watch. Our time is up. We didn't get shipwrecked. But we had a lot of fun feeding the fish.
On the way back to our bungalow, we pass a secluded beach where monkeys play in the sand. They've never heard of Leonardo DeCaprio.
Saturday, January 21, 2012
We were one the first groups on board the ferry to Phi Phi Island. We chose our seats on the first deck carefully, near the back door, under the air-conditioner. We handed our luggage to the young man who added them to the pile beside the door. Fair enough, I thought, easy to get to when we disembark. For the next forty-five minutes, this young chap stacked luggage as people clambered aboard. All the passenger seats on our deck were full, the lower deck was overflowing. People were climbing onto the top deck where there were no chairs. Still the overworked young man stacked until the luggage mountain covered the entire back section of the ferry.
"You know, if we sink, that luggage is going to cover the exit,' my wife surmised.
The departure time had passed, people and suitcases were still crowding on. I ventured through the mass to the rear open section of the ferry. More people, more luggage piles.
Reassuringly, wrapped around each chair was a life jacket. Except there were far more people than chairs on board.
Finally, the ferry left the dock. Many people clapped. I wasn't so sure. I removed the life jacket from the back of my chair and did the same for Cathie. The Russian man behind me smiled.
'It is overcrowded, yes,' he said.
'Very,' I responded.
He looked at the window we sat near. 'Maybe we can make this open,' he suggested.
I didn't like our chances. Cathie and I stood up and took ourselves and our life jackets out to the rear deck, struggling past people to the back where there was a vacant space to sit beside the baggage handler. He was no older than fifteen. I smiled and sat on my life jacket. It made a soft seat.
The ferry didn't sink.
Maybe I was too cautious.
But, as the two hour journey passed, we enjoyed the wind in our faces and the view of the Phi Phi islands looming large upon us. When we were ten minutes from our destination, people scrambled onto the back deck to take photos of Ko Phi Phi Leh. The baggage handler ate his noodles out of a plastic container and when finished, tossed it overboard. He rolled himself a cigarette. Sunburnt Russians and Eastern Europeans shot videos of the gothic cliffs of Phi Phi Leh.
We docked at noisy Tonsai Pier. Workers scurried aboard to unload the supplies for the town shops. Everything, including water has be ferried across from Phuket. The tourists were left to locate their own bags with the help of the long-suffering single handler. He tossed bags wherever he was directed. Cathie and I leaned against the railing and enjoyed the mayhem. Our bags were at the bottom. We weren't going anywhere soon. Surprisingly, the ferry unloaded quickly. People helped each other to remove bags. I finally made my way back into the cabin and picked up our bags. We walked onto the pier and were met by a longboat driver who took us to our resort. White sand, low trees providing shade, a hammock, clear water with tropical fish swimming below us, a view across the bay to Phi Phi Leh.
At the end of an overcrowded ferry trip.