On December 26, 2004, Koh Phi Phi, Thailand was devastated by the tsunami that roared through the Indian Ocean as a result of the second largest underwater earthquake in history. Around 4,000 people on the island are believed to have died. Property loss was massive with over 90% of the island’s structures destroyed or severely damaged. Since the economy of Koh Phi Phi was and is dependent on tourism, the government and private investors were quick to move to rebuild the destroyed infrastructure and businesses. However, my observation on visiting the island is that this was done with little or no zoning requirements and few restrictions. The result is a claustrophobic rabbit warren of winding narrow pathways and businesses jammed together with no space between. Outside of the area immediately next to the beach, there is no greenery in the town to be seen. The restricting roads are barely wide enough for a small cart to navigate. Due to this, there are no taxis. When you arrive at the port you are greeted by a huge statue of Ronald McDonald emblematic of the crass commercialism and poor taste of this rebuilt village. A porter approaches and offers to take your luggage to your hotel in a hand cart. After piling all your bags in the cart he takes off at great speed through the maze of paths. You are forced to run to keep up or risk losing sight of your belongings.
My wife and I had booked a room in the Orange Tree hotel. We had envisioned a hotel surrounded by an orange grove. Instead the Orange Tree is stuck in a small alley with two other hotels within 10 feet of each other. The reception is a small desk and stool outside of the front door of the hotel. I don’t mean to imply that there are no nice hotels on the island. There are, but at prices far greater than we had budgeted for the days we were to spend in Koh Phi Phi. Besides we had prepaid for the time there. Lesson learned. In fairness, the room, though cramped, had a king size bed, a private bathroom with hot water, and was clean.
After settling in, we decided to explore. The businesses consist primarily of souvenir shops, bars, restaurants, tattoo parlors, and massage parlors. Only some of these last give actual massages. You can quickly tell which are which. The “ happy ending” massage parlors are staffed by very sexy looking Thai women while the others look like their mothers. Everywhere there are announcements for full moon parties, mushroom parties with body painting, and assorted bacchanalia. In particular, I wanted to find an Italian restaurant I had read about. It was owned by an expat before the tsunami and I was interested to see if it still existed. We eventually found the spot where it had been but, it was now a discotheque dance bar. In the center of the dance floor was a sculpture of a 6-foot penis. I could only imagine what went on here in the evening after a few drinks!
That covers the bad and the ugly. I left the good for last.
The beaches were beautiful! We spent most of our time on Loh Dalum beach and Tonsai bay. Tonsai bay has tides that are dramatic. At low tide you can almost walk to the entrance of the bay, while at high tide the water comes within a few yards of the beach chairs. It’s like two different beaches! A few trees close to the beach provide welcome shade. One of the upscale hotels faces the beach and has a couple of beachside cafes for a snack or light lunch.
I had one of the best snorkeling experiences of my life at another beach only a short boat ride away near a spot called shark point. As our longboat approached the beach the orange and green coral was visible through some of the clearest water I’ve seen anywhere. You could see parrot fish nibbling on the coral and other colorful fish darting in and out all over the reef. We claimed a spot at a beach restaurant while I hurried to the hotel front desk to rent some snorkeling gear for my adventure. Marie doesn’t snorkel, so she stayed and made friends with a couple of ladies from Madagascar. I couldn’t wait to plunge into the submarine world. Close to the beach was mostly a sand bottom, but as you swim further out the reef becomes more and more complex and gorgeous. A giant clam beckoned to be inspected. I dove down and cautiously tipped the end of my flipper into its opened mouth. No quick snap imprisoned my flipper as I had feared but I swam on unwilling to risk more. Soon some ten to twelve feet below me I spotted four black tip reef sharks swimming leisurely along. Shark point wasn’t just a name. There was good reason for calling it that. They seemed so peaceful. They were just out for an afternoon saunter. I followed them for a few minutes until they got into deeper water and disappeared.
Returning to the beach, I was ecstatic about my experience, and Marie was equally excited about visiting Madagascar on one of our next travel adventures. I’m sure we will.