Love and Fear on Ko Phi Phi

“Don’t ask yourself what the world needs. Ask yourself what makes you come alive and then go do that. Because what the world needs is people who have come alive.”

~ Howard Thurman

An hour and a half by ferry from Phuket Town is a small island widely known to tourists everywhere. It was all but obliterated in the tsunami of 2004, but has recovered remarkably. There are no cars here – just bikes – and lots of them (I would know; I nearly lost limbs to them on at least 36 seperate occassions).

The cobblestone alleyways wind around shallow shops and the thick scent of Indian dishes spill out of the checked-tablecloth restaurants on either side, plastered with signs in English advertising Western food, spicy curries, and Pad Thai for 70 Baht.

The foreigner outside the pub invites you in with an Australian accent and a 2-for-1 Redbull-and-Vodka Bucket special. Over the deep thrum of island beats, English can be heard everywhere, while the unmistakable stripes of 7-Eleven entice you to even cheaper bottles of Singha under the fluorescent lights.

The nightlife here is one reminiscent of Thailand’s famous full-moon parties, but on a much smaller scale. The bright lights and disco balls of beach-side bars illuminate the otherwise turquoise ocean waters, and party-goers dance the night away on white sand and and a stage under the starry sky. Firedancers enter the bars and throw their burning sticks around much too nonchalantly, and far too close for comfort, thank you very much.And what do you call these hats? They came out of the woodwork with the fire and the crazy man with the gun.

Daybreak, and a Thai leathersmith from a neigbouring island opens shop in a small alleyway outfit. Perusing his goods, we make an offer on a pair of Obnoxious Orange Sunglasses. His first customer of the day, he must make a sale or risk succumbing to the Thai superstition that the rest of the day will turn him no profit. After bartering to the last Baht, he agrees to sell the sunglasses to me for a horribly cheap price. I walk away feeling like I ripped HIM off. I turn back and bring him more Baht. I’m quite happy to spend $3 on these Bright Orange Awful Things, thank you very much, and no, I’m not asking your opinion.

The Leathersmith smiles a big thank you and continues work on one of his many purses, which he creates from scratch… Long story short, Melis and I both bought purses from him, and Joanne bought her boyfriend a couple shirts and a pair of Less Obnoxious But Matching Blue Sunglasses. I guess making the Obnoxious Orange sale paid off for him, after all. ;)

A trip to Ko Phi Phi would not be complete without a Long Boat excursion to Maya Bay, the famous beach from, well, The Beach. So, well, we went. Sitting on the bow of the boat, bouncing around and catching air as the waves hit us from all sides. Jo and I had a great time, but I think Melissa probably wanted to die.

Anyway, Maya Bay and Phi Phi Leh were beautiful. Turquoise waters, burgeoning cliffs and giant limestone stalactites overhanging the white sand. The island is uninhabited, so the jungle is thick, the air is clean, and there were probably monkeys hiding in the shrubbery. There was also an overwhelming amount of garbage in the bay – stop throwing your crap in the water, peoples!

We also did some of the most apalling “snorkeling” of our lives here. It involved jumping off the longboat with a mask, swiming for a bit, and then being the unsuspecting target of Bread Toss from the local longboat drivers…. the result of which was an entire wall of fish amassing around us, a wall so thick that any movement was, come hell or high water (or both!), conclusively impossible without touching four-billion slimy green and yellow gaping-mouth-things with every single part of our exposed flesh. The fish went mental, jumping out of the water and squirming in such a dense mass that we couldn’t even see the ocean for the fish in it. It was terrifying. Terrifying! And we wanted to die.

Speaking of wanting to die, two French men from France (I know, unbelievable right?) invited Melis and I over for a game of pool one night, despite the fact that we were clearly seated and conversing with two other guys. Whatever, pool is more fun than other guys anyway, so we got up to play. Now I don’t know about you, but I’m no French Language Aficionado. Melissa, on the contrary, is. Being Language Dumb seemed to work for me, and I played pool, oblivious to whatever conversation was happening, while Melissa chatted with the Frenchies. Half an hour and zero balls sunk later, and Melissa pulls me aside, “I have a weird feeling about these guys.”

Apparently I’m not only Language Dumb, I’m also Just Plain Dumb,

because over the course of sinking zero balls, I’d somehow communicated to one of the French guys – let’s call him Creepo of Four Years (because he’s lived on Ko Phi Phi for 4 years, who does that, anyway not for me to judge) – exactly (not just remotely, EXACTLY) where we were staying on the island. It was just casual conversation – I never really thought it was a problem – the problem inherently is the Just Plain Dumb part – anyway, we left. And what had creeped Melissa out was the other guy, let’s call him Creepo With the Bad Shirt (because it really was a bad shirt), had started talking to Melis about his work, and how his job enables him 8 months of time off every year, with a beachside home, and tons of travel options, blah blah blah, and when she asked him what kind of work he did, he dodged the question and said “I’m in The Market.” Proding a little further; he wouldn’t give her a response (but rest assured it was something illegal)- “it’s my own thing.” And then, suggestively, “it’s a good deal.” Melis was quiet, and then he said “I’m always doing research. Always looking for female sellers.” Anyway, it was odd. And we spent the rest of the night freaking out about worst-case scenarios, like what if we’re playing pool and then all of a sudden, we’re in a van…. haha. I won’t admit it, but we might have woken up several times in the middle of the night gasping for air and grabbing for each others’ arms in the darkness.

Believe it or not, we survived til morning. And the following evening, we were approached on the street by the server from the restaurant where we’d met Creepo of Four Years and Creepo With the Bad Shirt. She had this odd look in her eyes, “I have to tell you something.” We waited for her to tell us. We waited longer. And then, “I can’t tell you.” What? Is this whole island crazy? And then, “I need to tell you.” Back and forth like this for 3 minutes, and then she took her strange eyes elsewhere, and we never found out what she needed to tell us. Odd though, right?

More thoughts of ending up in a van. Ha! We slept with our door bolted shut.

We contemplated catching a ferry far, far away (maybe Madagascar) the next morning, just to get away from the insanity of the island (and the now Resident Cockroach living under a glass cup in our bathroom), but instead decided to venture to another part of the island, away from Creepos One and Two, Crazy Eyes, and Resident Cockroach. Melis brought her guitar, Joanne and I our books, and we ventured out to find the fabled Long Beach. Thirty minutes and a scenic hike along the shore and through the jungle later,

and we find ourselves at the Beach that is Long. Gorgeous views of Phi Phi Leh, long stretches of white sand, and flower-adorned long boats everywhere. Best of all, no Creepos, Crazies, or Cockroaches. And lots of yummy pineapples on a stick. :)

We stayed until the sun went down, and reluctantly walked back into Crazy Town along the shoreline (the tide was out by now). If we go back to Ko Phi Phi, this is where we will stay, without shadow of a doubt. It is where you should stay, too, unless human trafficing is your thing. ;) Creepy!

Phi Phi was an experience, to say the least. We left the following day with backpacks full of dirty laundry (we’re now 16 days in and haven’t done a load yet… shhh), and, erm… interesting memories. And we DID end up in a van…

A minivan. ;)