Monday, June 9, 2008

Koh Phi Phi

Another gorgeous day – we took our gear, checked out and picked up the ticket receipt. We walked halfway to the beach where the boat would pick us up when I decided to check my pockets because I realized I’d slid the receipt into a pocket that had a habit of working itself up my leg and heaving out the contents. Sure enough – no receipt. In a panic, I whipped around to run back. A couple came up behind me, waving the receipt – “Did you lose this?” Whew.

Out on the beach, I wasn’t quite sure how so many tourists were going to get to Koh Phi Phi. There must have been 25 of us and they started loading us into a couple of longtail boats. I was appalled – two hours in this??? This was supposed to be an “express” boat! But it turned out the longtails were taking us out to the rather large boat docked in the harbor – which would take us there. Christian and I found some space and sat on the side of the boat, our feet dangling over. I took a couple of pictures and when I reviewed them I was shattered to see the sheer amount of dust and hairs all over them. When I’d had a mysterious hair in all of my pictures from the first week or two in India, Andy (my British travel buddy) had suggested it was on my sensor and maybe give it a good cleaning. Which I had- opening it up and going to work with optical cleaner, a lens cloth and a Q-tip. So the night before we’d left for Koh Phi Phi, I’d seen another hair and, again, gone to work. But this time, there were smears and more hair and more dust when I was done. Annoyed, I’d gotten online to see if there was a better way to clean it when I was horrified: “NEVER EVER EVER TOUCH YOUR SENSOR” all the information screamed. “YOU WILL SCRATCH IT AND IT WILL COST 500 DOLLARS TO REPLACE!!!” Mortified, I looked at the sensor – were those scratches??? Had I ruined my very expensive camera – when I still had 2 months of travel left?!?!?! Why did I have NO idea I shouldn’t touch my sensor? I certainly had never tried to clean it before! Obviously one shouldn’t touch any lens etc with your fingers but I didn’t realize that the lens cloth, clean Q-tip and optical cleaner were a terrible idea as well. In an utter panic, I texted Nikola, my photographer friend, to get advice. He told me to relax: I’d probably just transferred grease from my shutter to the sensor and that he’d done it himself with his 5D and to get Eclipse swabs and “pec pads.” Oh sure. I’ll just pop over to the giant professional camera store right around from the scuba gear shop on a island one mile long. Now I’d really dusted up my sensor and I was terrified to try cleaning it again. Which meant that until I figured out how to get Eclipse swabs, I’d have pictures full of dust and hairs. This morning’s shot of blue water, blue sky with horrible scribbly hairs and giant black dots brought me to tears.

This is what my sensor looks like.

We arrived at Koh Phi Phi where we were immediately inundated by touts (a fact of life I was now well used to). We inspected the boards of guesthouses and their accompanying rates and decided to share a room again. We picked a guesthouse slightly away from the beach and up the hill. It was a little startling to walk along the path towards the guesthouse and see signs that pointed that this was the tsunami escape route. I looked over the island and it finally hit me. You could see the wide swath of missing buildings and trees.

We checked in to our rather nifty bungalow and got ready to get some lunch and hit the beach. We walked back into “town” and sat down at a café, munching sandwiches while a stray kitten weaved around our ankles. Watching our fellow “travelers” walk by, we realized it was like the Disney version of Thailand. Completely western: internet shops, bars showing movies or “Friends” or “Family Guy,” stores all selling the same “Same Same” t-shirts and sundresses, and the ubiquitous 7-11. Ugh. And everywhere –I mean EVERYWHERE – frat boys. It seems the entire western world’s frat contingent (or similar) vacations here. Off to the beach where we discovered even more evidence that this island was definitely “Ultimate Spring Break.” It was undeniably beautiful but everywhere we looked it was all young white people, sipping drinks, some with tops on, some without, music and general frivolity. Not that I minded, it’s just a strange experience after India. It stopped feeling like travel – which was nice for a day or two, but then I started feeling guilty. Like it shouldn’t be so easy. I shouldn’t be sitting on a beach. I should be working hard for my experiences. And I had absolutely no inspiration to take pictures. How many pictures of blue water and white sand can one take (that sounds like I’m complaining – I’m not, really!).
I stepped out into the water and was shocked. It was so warm it was almost uncomfortable. Like water in a baby pool that has been sitting out in the backyard for a couple of August days. I waded in and found that it was only knee-deep for probably 500 yards*. I gave up and sat down in it, looking back at the beach where it was even more clear how devastated this island was in 2005. The entire length of the beach was missing foliage and when we’d walked over, you could see the foundations of long-gone buildings. Most of the standing structures were new but there were a couple of ghostly looking abandoned motels. Now I could see that every other palm tree was either missing its head or lopped off in the middle. It felt very strange to be enjoying myself on an island where so many had died. I went back to my towel.

*I met some New Zealanders and a Brit girl in China who told me a funny story. They’d gotten rather drunk (which is pretty much the only thing to do on Koh Phi Phi it seems) and decided to skinny dip. It was late at night so they threw off their clothes and ran out into the water. And kept running. And running. They had just arrived earlier that day so they didn’t realize there was no deep water until you’d gone very, very far out. So they kept running through the knee-deep water and soon their idea no longer seemed so great. How were they supposed to get back to the beach except walk all the way back, full frontal nudity for all the people on shore to giggle at – or keep low in the one foot deep water and look entirely ridiculous. One NZer and the Brit girl stopped and sheepishly headed back but the other NZer kept running and running for deep water.

This is how far the tide goes out.

I decided to go find some new sunglasses and left Christian for a bit. Later we headed for dinner – I had a pretty delicious BLT – and then wandered around. The evening was about to get started and since I couldn’t drink, I was absolutely not interested in being around the wasted young people stumbling about with their buckets (literally) of alcohol. We got some banana shakes and decided on another evening of “House.”

At some point after kind of drifting off, I heard a strange rustling noise. It sounded like my plastic cup that had contained my banana shake was scraping across the floor. I peered blearily over the edge of the bed and saw that it had tipped over. I reached down and instantly heard something scuttle furtively away. I squealed, which woke Christian up. He flicked on the light. I saw that my cup was half under the bed and the straw was gone. I sat up and looked around – only to see a blurry shadow disappear into the bathroom! Jamming on my glasses, I ran to the door with Christian right behind me. Threw on the light just in time to see a rat face peek out from a hole in the wall and disappear again.

Next morning I was packing up a canvas bag I had been using mainly to tote random items around in like books, souvenirs, and potato chips. I noticed that someone had chewed a clean, almost perfect two inch in diameter hole in the side of the bag during the night. I guess the remnants of my banana shake were not filling enough so my Lays “New York Steak” potato chips were calling. However, since the chip bag was untouched, I’m assuming the rat filled up on canvas bag and didn’t have any room for them once he/she got through.

We had breakfast at a nearby café – playing gin rummy while we waited. Christian was instantly hooked. Afterwards, we beached for a bit until the sun was too much for me and I went to do some interneting. Over dinner, Christian and I discussed taking a snorkel trip to the beach from “The Beach” movie (which, by the way, was playing in every other bar on the island) and decided we’d wait until Sunday, which was my birthday. As we ate and talked, I looked up to see the Danish couple, Lene and Kasper, from my trek in Chiang Mai, walking past us. I called to them and they popped over. They were looking for somewhere to go for fruity drinks. They were clearly already sauced – sweating and giggling. Their trip was about to come to an end so they were making the most of it. Christian and I joined them and we checked out some of the local bars. One featured a Thai boxing ring where you could kick and punch the crap out of your friends (ah… a world without liability) in exchange for a free bucket of liquor. Nobody was there to entertain us (as it was pretty early) so we left. We ended up out on the beach, sitting in the sand. The Danes finally found their pina coladas and kept drinking as Christian and I watched, amused. When the evening tilted towards the Danes chasing each other around the beach (“Scandinavian Mating Ritual,” Christian whispered), we left for more “House” back at the ranch.
The pitter-patter of tiny feet (on the roof) woke me up the next morning. Monkeys! Monkeys everywhere!! – running across the porch roof, leaping into the trees, watching Christian shower through the bathroom window (awkward), and other general monkey business.

Sneak attack!

I disaprove of this Monkey Business.


Christian came out and we spent most of the morning watching them. There was a great deal of screaming and carrying-on when a shaggy dog showed up and wanted to get involved. He clambered up on our porch, tongue out, tail wagging, so happy to see monkeys! The monkeys were SO not happy to see him and they crept closer and closer to the porch to bare their teeth at him and scream.


A couple of monkeys even crossed the porch and came down on the other side of the roof to threaten the poor mangy, good-natured canine, who had plopped himself down to hang with us. Eventually the monkeys departed (after I took about a thousand pictures of them) and Christian and I headed back to our favorite café for breakfast and more gin rummy. This was becoming a ritual. We’d play, I’d sip my coffee and then we’d head to the beach. Koh Phi Phi was easy to get sucked into.

Today was different though. It was Friday, which meant since I’d started my antibiotics on Saturday, it was 6 days later and I could finally have that fruity cocktail on the beach! We plunked our stuff down on the sand next to a friend of Christian’s who he knew from his time in Australia. While they chatted, I headed to the bar and picked up two pina coladas for C and myself. So delicious. Now, this is what a beach is about. I took some pictures of GiRalph enjoying his pina colada and got a few strange looks.

GiRalph in Koh Phi Phi, Thailand


Eventually, I left Christian with his friends to do some interneting and get out of the sun. I saw Pulp Fiction was about to start at a nearby bar and plopped myself down. Hadn’t seen that flick in years. Eventually Christian joined me and when it was over, we went to dinner. The Danes came by on their way to dinner and said they’d meet us at the Irish pub (!!) at 9. They looked a little worse for wear after the previous night, but it was their last day, so they weren’t about to stay in. At 9, Christian and I headed to the Irish pub and upstairs to play pool. No Danes. We went downstairs at 10:30. No Danes. Eventually they appeared but none of us wanted to stay at the pub so we went back to the Thai Boxing arena. People were actually fighting this time --- in the ring and out—because the Danes seemed to get into a bit of a tiff and Kasper disappeared. Lene stayed with us for a bit and then went after him. Christian and I stopped by another terrible bar and then headed home. We passed a gaggle of young British men – all in polo shirts with popped collars, visors slightly twisted to one side, artfully mussed hair, long plaid shorts and either flip flops or sneakers with pulled up socks, all loudly calling attention to themselves both verbally and visually. “Where’s the golf tournament?” I asked. And I thought America had cornered the market on tools.

Same thing – breakfast, cards, beach, bar, movie. See what I mean? The golf tournament boys were too much to face so Christian and I booked our snorkeling trip for the next day and spent 3 bucks on a pirated movie – “Be Kind, Rewind.” As we deserved, it was a poorly made copy of someone’s trip to the cinema with a crappy camcorder. We gave up and put on more House. At the stroke of midnight (he had been watching his phone), Christian paused the DVD and gave me a big hug, wishing me “Happy Birthday!” That was sweet of him. I was looking forward to the snorkeling trip – can’t beat a birthday swimming with fishies in clear blue water on the perfect Thai beach.

Sunday – MY BIRTHDAY!!
Woke up to ominous looking clouds. Very ominous. In fact, as soon as we sat down for breakfast, the sky opened up. And it wasn’t about to stop. We played cards and drank coffee, patiently waiting. Nope. Eventually, under an umbrella, we headed towards the tourism office where we were supposed to meet the snorkeling group. Trip was cancelled. I was definitely in a funk now. Poor Christian tried as he might to cheer me up. We wandered through town and I bought myself a birthday sundress (minus the “sun” part). It was 15 bucks but I got the store clerk down to 8 dollars by showing him my driver’s license for a “birthday” discount. Then we tried to find me some cake. No luck. We stopped for lunch at a Mexican place where we had some pretty delicious fajitas. I was starting to feel a little better.

The rain was not about to let up, so Christian decided he was going to go back and read for a bit (he was in the middle of the last “Harry Potter”) and I was going to get a Thai massage. We’d meet up at the bar that showed “Pulp Fiction” because today was “Blades of Glory” and “Anchorman.”

The massage was drool-worthy. I had an oil-based massage as the dry massages tend to hurt. It cost 10 dollars for one hour. The day was definitely getting better even if the weather was not. After my massage, I picked up a lychee-flavored Bacardi breezer (yum), hit the internet and then walked to the bar. Christian hadn’t appeared yet and I was seated near a couple of young men, one of whom was wearing a Yankees hat. We got to talking which led to my revealing that it was my birthday, which meant now I wasn’t buying any more of my own beer. By the time, Christian appeared, I must admit I was feeling no pain. After the movies, we headed yet again to the Thai Boxing bar, but first, Christian bought me a birthday booze bucket.

Birthday Bucket


We got to chatting with some Canadians and eventually found ourselves in the bar. It was much more lively than I’d seen it previously (but it was also midnight or so). I look up and one of the Canadians is in the ring! He didn’t win but he was pretty good, actually. One of the other Canadians bought me some sort of horrible shot and that was it for me. No more. It was supposedly a “Black Moon” party night (the Thai islands are notorious for their “Full Moon Parties” which originated on Koh Phangan. Now they also hold these dance/rave parties on “Half Moon” and “Black Moon” --no moon-- nights) but no one really seemed to be out. The rain had finally stopped so there was one lone flame twirler. Lame. Christian led me stumbling home where I promptly fell asleep in my contacts.

Got up early to catch boat back to Krabi. I slept on the boat and felt remarkably good, considering. It was another grey and yucky day out. Next we hopped in a mini-bus which dumped us at a roadside café for 2 hours. Then a giant tourist bus picked us up to take us to the ferry to Koh Samui. They started a movie, “The Italian Job” but there was only enough time to watch ¾’s of it – which is irritating. But at least it had amazing subtitles as well.

Christian and I had made friends with some young Swiss girls at the roadside café and on the ferry we decided we were all going to the same area and we’d stick together for a bit.

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