We finally stopped shitting and itching and left Railay by ferry to Koh Phi Phi. Now the last time I was here was approx 1.5 years after the tsunami so half of the island was totally wiped out and rebuilding and I remember the "beach" being not much other than debris and rocks. How times have changed (for the worse or the better?!)!
Firstly it's a bad idea to arrive to Phi Phi without accommodation booked already as the pier is super congested with people constantly at you to take you somewhere and everything after that is crowded, narrow and smelly and the temp is so hot and you're carrying your 3 bags and you're sweating through every piece of your clothing. There's 1 million little booths with pictures of all the accommodation options prices. Initially this looks like a great help until you realize it's actually a bunch of tout McGees (touts are people who essentially verbally attack you on arrival to take you to places that they get commission for taking people regardless of the quality of the place) trying to make a buck of you. Within minutes we stopped to look at one and literally it couldn't have been a more classic case of touting there ever was: the host of the booth kept pushing us towards two cheaper guesthouses (what do we look so much like hobos?!) and saying "free taxi, don't worry, I call them to see if room"-doesn't sound too bad. I asked about a recommended hostel from the guidebook, he/she (honestly I wasn't even sure which!) immediately called to ask if there was room in my place and the response was, predictably "oh it full, sorry"- classic tout trick number one. Then immediately called their options and, wait, what "only one room left!"- surprise, pressure, classic tout trick number two. Dropping beads of sweat and dreaming of a beach, we decided to just let this person hook us up with accommodation for the first night and we could move the second night but at least we'd drop our bags. Ok we agreed to go. Then, what should have been predictable but actually was a little blindsiding "ok you pay here first". Um no! I'm not giving you my money without seeing the place first! Ok see Ya later, back to hoofing our bags through the crowded, narrow, sweaty, smelly streets. Then we get directed to a bunch of accommodation options by dive shops (who obviously have stiff competition to get business as well bc then they pass you their pamphlet). We went to the first one and dying to drop our stuff, we took it even though it was way more expensive then the going rate and the room she showed us was average. Well the room we actually signed up for as it turns out was not the average room but a room with two single beds with beds so freaking hard you might as well not have a mattress and just be sleeping on the wood plank underneath-the worst I'd say I've ever had! Then the woman owner was beyond a bag of a human and chased people around all day screaming at them about one thing or another and "you pay, you pay!", she had a list in the room of about 4000 rules. So we moved to a private room in a hostel down the road...not awesome but at least nobody yelled at us while on vacation. Haha the first time I ate at the restaurant in our hostel, one side of my lip swelled up like I got punched in the mouth. So of course I'm sure I'm going into anaphylactic shock or something and, dear god, I just got here so I'm not sure where the medical facilities are located in town yet, noooo!!! But then I just waited half and hour and it went away :) Still don't know what was up there.
In my new hostel we had shared bathrooms and showers (separate units). Normally this is fine except I totally forgot at check in that I had my pain in the ass while travelling period. Again, normally fine except this trip I opted not to pack 700 tampons for my many months on the road but pack one single diva cup instead. Great idea!... Except when you have to change it in shared bathroom/showers with people around, no clean water and not a clean place on the floor to lay any of the million accessories you need to rotate a diva cup. Maybe I'll tell that story another day. The bathroom doors were a little crotchety so one day I locked the world out but as it turned out, locked myself in too! Lock was totally jammed so I cursed at it and tried it patiently for awhile until I started to get embarrassed that if anyone was around, they would know that I was a fully grown woman who locked myself in the bathroom. So I gathered all my might and slammed my fist really hard sideways against it...it worked, I was out! I kept the door closed w my foot thereafter :) haha a few days later I was sitting and wondering why my hand was so bruised and sore and then I remembered and had a laugh. You're welcome for telling that riveting story.
We finally scuba dived (dove?)! When I went diving years and years ago, mostly I just found the first dive shop that offered the cheapest rate I could find and went with it--haha now I do extreme research and carefully choose my dive shop (and walk all over the place to find that specific one if need be) by finding a shop recommended on the PADI website and then I tripadvisor it to double verify. Good thing bc there are SO many dive shops on Phi Phi and our dive instructor told us that they are not all that stellar-just the other day a dive shop (he wouldn't tell me the name) had an accident where a diver got nicked in the arm by a boat propeller bc the divemaster didn't put up the diver below flag. Turned out ok but jesus, any accident with a boat prop is playing with fire. Anyways, It had been so long since I last dove that I needed a refresher course and Bridger needed to start learning so he could get his certification so we just went in shallow water off the beach. There is no cars in Phi Phi so scuba man just loaded up the tanks and gear into a little pull trolley and pulled all the junk down to the beach by manpower. The next day Bridger did his two dives for certification and then the next day we both went for two open water dives, ironically, at the exact same sites that I originally got my open water certification in.
Totally forgot how absolutely incredible scuba diving is in the ocean(the pool always makes you forget bc its mostly just stressful)!! Our visibility that day was outstanding, we were literally surrounded by a massive school of shimmery yellow fish and saw an octopus moving about, right out in the open in addition to all the regular colors, fish, corals and sensory overload you experience on every dive. Ah, I cant wait to go again!!
Ok so let me tell you about Phi Phi...well Ton Sai town, the only part that I really saw. It's changed, and unfortunately, mostly for the worse! Ultimately The main town is actually gross with a few spatters of cool things for a few days. I couldn't believe how different it was from last time I was there (why does anybody think it won't be?!). I was there in summer 2006, about a year and a half after the tsunami that wiped it out. At that time there was not really a beach, just a messy sand patch full of debris and there was only one operating side of the island and everything inland from that was empty or being rebuilt slowly. Now the side I lived in in 2006 is the quiet dead side and the other (nonexistent side to me) is the crazy busy hotel and party beach area! The town itself has narrow dirt roads and every single square patch of land is bought up by some business so your really socked in when you walk down the street. And there's SO many people on bikes or pulling carts that need to get buy. Its quite funny because "beep beep", it turns out, is actually a very universal language...Most Thai's don't speak English except for "beep beep" and it gets the job done-all foreigners move out of the way! I go on... It smells like sewage. I think sewage (or some other unidentified water source) is regularly leaking down the road as its wet. It's expensive. So many of the Thai people are angry and unfriendly for the most part. There are stupid drunk loud annoying people everywhere. There are people with baby monkeys wandering around charging tourists to hold them and take pictures with them (seriously why are there still some people that pay for and create a market for this...it's monkey slavery people!!) Ugh, not the idyllic paradise you dream of! Had I had my time back I think I would have gone to a beach further north instead of staying in the townsite.
But there were some good things too! The beach parties were really entertaining granted you didn't stay more than a Few nights and realize it was the exact same every night. Every bar on the beach bar strip has insane loud music, fire shows, limbo competitions and giant skipping rope time. As always, I'm in love with fire shows and for the most part these performers are amazing...but not sure that I'd like to be sitting front row as they seem to throw the fire sticks a little too high, a little too far away and don't necessary catch them all the time. Haha at one point, the Thai performers bring a tourist up and then swing chains with fireballs at the end around them and in another they bring another person up, sit them in a chair with an unlit cigarette in their mouth and then rotate fire balls really quickly around their head to light the cigarette-so obviously inches from the tourists face! For the love of God you stupid drunk people, it's real fire...the performers are really really amazing at this stuff but jeez, I'm quite sure there is a great chance they are either drunk or high which increases the margin of error! The performers that do these shows are really incredible and exceptionally strong and agile though and it is something else to watch! They are able to skip with fancy footwork and do push up hops with two skipping ropes and they limbo like a rubber human. At one point, there was a really tiny thai guy and he picked up a really rather overweight man, put him on his lap and went under the limbo walking with an overweight man on his lap with his back literally inches off the ground. If I didn't see it, I wouldn't have believed this tiny man (boy actually) could have done it! And then right after that, a very topless middle aged woman came out of nowhere and took her turn in the limbo! You really never know what you're gonna get!
Haha in Phi Phi I also had everything I ever thought about room security confirmed...I'm known to lock up my bags with locks and then cable lock every bag together to something solid in the room (you'd look pretty suspicious if you were stealing my shit dragging a tangle of bags together!)inside my locked room when I leave it. Well, incident number 1: I was out and when I came back to our room the music was on. I knocked and knocked but I thought Bridger fell asleep and couldn't hear me over the music so I was cursing him while pounding on the door. Some random guy comes up and says "are you sure this is your room?" So I say "yes" and he says "I think I can help you" and literally crumples a water bottle, jams it in the door crack and rams in some direction and the door popped wide open...yikes! Ironically, Bridger was actually not in the room at the time so I learned how easy it is to break into a locked room and I also what a lunatic I am. Incident number 2: Bridger had his stuff in the room safe. The passcode didn't work but you could use the room key instead. Only when he went to use the room key, the entire cylinder where the key goes into just popped out altogether with all the stuff still inside...so Bridger put his finger in the hole and jimmied it open. Security!
I think I figured out what made me sick...pork! I realized the first time I got sick in Korea I ate pork tenderloin cutlets and the next time I got sick in Railay I ate ham pizza. AND Bridger and I split a ham pizza one night and then the next night I had a ham pizza again but Bridger had something else and the next day he was a little sick for like a day (I.e. Pork x 1) and I was sick for like 5 (I.e. Pork x 2)! So I am no longer a pork eating person. If anyone in the food preparation industry can confirm or refute this, that would be super because I'd really like to eat ham, bacon and pork on a stick again...
We went back to "Hippies", the bar I had the most wonderful epic nights of my life at back in 2006. Except this night it was super quiet...and there happened to be the most tiniest a few week old black kitten wandering around the bar by itself scavenging scraps of food. And then we stayed close and guarded it for awhile to make sure nothing happened to it and then when I realized this was not sustainable for very long time I cried..."but (sob) he's so tiny (sob) and Bridger somebody's gonna step on him (sob) what are we gonna do (sob) bc I don't want anything to happen to him (sob) because he's so tiny and he doesn't (sob) even have a mom (sob) and the drunk people might accidentally kick it or step on it bc he's so tiny and camouflaged in the night (sob sob)!". Haha granted that it was maybe a more emotionally taxing day, I definitely couldn't stop crying worrying about the teeny kitten and what might happen to it with nobody to take care of it! It the very least it made me get over the rabies fear for a few moments in time.
Bridger saw his very first cockroach ever as we were walking down the streets of Phi Phi. And of course he decided to pour water from our water bottle over top of it. I expected that it would skitter away but instead, it literally peeled directly and aggressively towards him after he did that and we jumped out of the way..unexpected and a good reminder that nature always wins!
One night we were walking down the street and were enticed by the "fish doctor" people. That means you literally sit with your feet in a fish tank as the fish nibble your dead skin away...groooooooss! First the people working there have to clean your feet and legs up to your knee with soap and water...3x...so obviously these are very delicate fish! Bridger put his feet in and was literally laughing hysterically as they grabbed hold and sucked on his legs and feet. I tried hard but I think I was expecting little nibbling fish but instead got little sucker fish that felt like spiders or crabs glued to your feet so as much as I tried I couldn't stop screaming and violently wrenching my feet out of the water. The woman who owned the place tried to coach me on how to do it but I just couldn't do it and I think she was really just nervous that I would throw the fish still stuck to my feet out of the pool and kill her business!
One day Bridger was watching sports at a pub and I decided to walk up to the viewpoint at sunset. What I thought was a leisurely walk up a hill and then a few steps was NOT! There I was, by myself, walking steady uphill through the "local" part of town, then off into the trees, through the middle of the forest and where local people live, walking, walking, finally stairs and there...a totally dirty and horribly sweaty disgusting mess. There I was, thinking I'm going on a leisurely nature walk with my cotton shirt that shows every drop of sweat that I sweat through it with my period in my khaki shorts...aweeeeesome! Anyways It was actually much more quiet and isolated than I expected as I was pretty well on my own walking through the forest so I was already a little on edge. Then...rustling in the bushes...I freeze on alert...no problem, its only a random goat in the middle of the forest. I keep going, see the lovely sunset over the pinch of sand connecting the two parts of the island, take some pics and then I leave to go back. Well, miscalculation...when you go for sunset, you should remember that there's much less light for your quiet, slightly eerie walk back. Ok no problem but hyper vigilance on. Well now its dusk so the god forsaken monkeys are back. One comes out of the grass onto the path and we scare eachother...haha he literally looked at me, grunted and then left...disaster avoided, I keep walking. Until all of a sudden there is a whole family of monkeys around me included many directly in the middle of the path in front of me who don't give a shit how much noise and movement I make at them, they don't move. Now I'm stuck on the quiet, eerie, darkening path by myself trapped by monkeys that I cant get by bc they wont move, now what?! I panic. Never mind, a man with sticks comes around the corner and scares them off, great, I get by! I get home and relax!
That night I couldn't sleep so at like 5 am I left my room to get some air. I didnt really want to walk around at 5 am by myself in PP so I just sat on the steps of my hostel facing the street minding my own business. Weirdly, there were still a handful of people wandering around. As I was sitting there a drunken or high masseuse from what must have been a 24 hr massage place came over and started chatting to me but I'm quite certain she was a dirty massage giver or straight up sex worker as the interaction was far too sleazy for my liking and I really felt like she was trying to pick me up. Then later, a Thai guy walked by, asked the usual "What's your name, where you from" questions and then turns down a narrow and pitch black alley...but pauses, turns back to me and waves me to follow him...for real?!?! In what world would that possibly work where you wave a foreign girl down a dark alley at 5:30 am and she's like "oh ya right on, looks fun, lets go"?! Things are feeling a bit too sketchy so I go back home. The end.
This may be a totally inaccurate statement, but I feel like something is happening and shifting with the sex/gender dichotomy in Thailand. There have always been the ladyboys but I feel like this time, there have been alot more almost gender neutral people and sexuality itself almost seems more neutral...not seeming to be as defined by a preference for one sex specifically but just a more open attitude towards sexuality expressed in any direction. And it seems like this is culturally normal and accepted and these more neutral people are integrated normally into communities. It's very interesting and my sincere hope is that the Thai people are just a more gracious, accepting and welcoming society and this (possibly nonexistent) theory is not an unfortunate byproduct of the sexual exploitation of people that tourist can unfortunately sometimes bring, particularly in SE Asia... Any thoughts or observations are welcomed...
So not the most interesting post as unfortunately Phi Phi was not a total highlight (except for scuba diving) but there you have it!