Thailand. The word brought to me images of a hidden commune on an idyllic beach, where the waters were a shade of undiscovered blue, sands sparkly and fine, like mirrors ground up. After all, that’s where I’d seen Leonardo DiCaprio frolic in “The Beach”.
So when we reached Phuket, I was disappointed to say the least. We’d fallen prey to a scam hotel booking company, and then thankfully found a great last minute deal thanks to the friendly folks at Asia Web who worked even on a Sunday for us. But our resort wasn’t on the beach and when we finally took the 10 minute stroll down to the beach, the waters were grey, the beach was dirty and crowded. Apart from the fact that most tourists here wore bikinis, we felt like we were on the filthy Baga Beach, Goa, India.
My heart sank, as we trudged back to the hotel, as I replayed images of the blue waters of Mauritius in my head. We stopped by the hotel tourism desk, and picked up a few brochures on our way to the room. While walking up, we stopped in our tracks. Omigod! We have to do this, T (my best friend) and I screamed, jumping up and down while the guys stared at us. Half an hour later, all four of us were sitting on the bed, going over the brochures and comparing websites. After half an hour of laughing at T trying to communicate with the Thais trying to get us her travel agent discount, we were booked on a day tour to “Phi Phi, Maya Bay & Bamboo Islands By Speedboat Khai Island tour with Phuket Sea Island @ Royal Phuket Marina Service Guarantee Since 1997” (I swear that’s what the brochure said).
The brochure showed a young mother with a perfect body in a bikini helping her toddler walk out of a turquoise sea onto the sparkling almost white smooth sand, with two floating islands in the background. Yes. We definitely wanted to go there.
Here’s how that epic day went:
We scarfed down a light breakfast and ran just in time to catch our van pick up. We were driven to one of the massive surf shops at Royal Phuket Marina Pier. Here, we were made to sign up, pay our 2500 THB (although the brochure said 3500) and were given seasickness pills, a chance to hire/buy flippers and other equipment, although snorkels and life jackets would be available on board for free. We felt sorry for a pregnant couple that were turned away, but really, 5 months in, what was she thinking? Choppy waters on a bouncy speedboat?
We walked down the pier and boarded our speedboat along with about 10 others. Our guide, aka Lady Gaga – a loud raspy Thai with an inch of make-up that was five shades too light had already scared the hell out of me by talking about the storm coming in from Vietnam, and how she wasn’t sure if we’d get to see much that day. I looked up at the sky, and it sure did seem downcast. After a bumpy 50 minute speedboat ride (most of which I spent clutching hard at whatever surface I could find), the skies cleared up and we reached the most beautiful beach I’d ever seen. Gasp.
Bamboo Island looked like paradise. Bright turquoise waters kissing a golden beach that surrounded a national forest. Unfortunately, my stomach rumbled and I spent most of the 45 minutes we had there trekking to and from the loo. It was great to see Charles enjoying himself in the sea, showing off his newly acquired swimming skills. We frolicked in the water a while, before Lady Gaga called us back to the boat. Good news, she said. The skies seemed to like us and we’d be able to snorkel after all. Half an hour later we pulled up in the middle of nowhere and dropped anchor.
Hin Klang Coral Reef didn’t look like much from the boat, but once I did manage to get over my fears, slip on a snorkel, and lower myself into the water, it was a beautiful world down there. Colourful corals, and all sorts of underwater life. Beautiful. I looked in envy at a champ snorkeler who dove down to the sea bed to get a closer look at the corals. The corals came up pretty high in some places, and I could feel my feet kick them. Charles, who had just learned how to swim, prefered to watch from the boat. One Chinese guy on our boat came up with urchins stuck in his foot. (That’s gonna hurt a week or so, Lady Gaga told him) Poor fellow, he looked really pale. “Arrrr you hunglyy??” asked Lady Gaga as we set off in the boat once again.
Laem Tong. As we pulled into our first beach with man made structures, Lady Gaga pointed to a whole lot of private villas in the distance. Those are for celebrities, Blad Pitt come here vely often. They no like crowds. Everyone gasped, star struck, peeling their eyes trying to catch a glimpse of some celebrity. Anybody. We jumped off and ran straight into a shack where a scrumptious buffet had been laid out for us. Fish curry, fried chicken, rice, bread, stir fried vegetables, soup, salad and more. We looked around while stuffing ourselves. This really felt like a tropical island, with exotic birds, trees and smells. Charles went nuts taking photos. We avoided the cocktails, because we didn’t want to feel drained and dehydrated for the rest of the day. A few people were frolicking on the beach, and I went to take a lovely nap in the sun on the sand. Soon it was time to get going again.
Nui Bay was a beautiful sight that we took in from our boat, as we went on to something that nothing could have prepared me for. Monkey Beach was famed for it’s crazy monkey population, brought here by locals as they were causing a menace on the mainland. The monkeys seemed kind of shy that day as I noticed only a couple of them scamper up the cliff before Charles could take a picture. Maybe because it has now been forbidden to feed the monkeys and tourists seemed to have messed around with their natural food habits. But the sand. Oh the sand. It was the finest softest sand I’d ever seen. This almost clay like white sand sank into the ground every time I stepped on it. I spent the longest time just playing with the sand with my toes. I didn’t want to leave. Ever.
Phi Phi Ley was the smaller of the two islands, but by no means less insignificant. A half hour later we found ourselves at the mouth of a viking cave, which we didn’t have permissions to enter. From the outside, we could see an entire settlement of sorts in there, and were told Thailand’s bird’s nest soup industry thrives there. Moving on.
Pileh Cove was a beautiful, tiny hidden cove that had a foot long beach. We stopped at the mouth of the cove to snorkel. Here, even Charles got lucky, for we could see the clownfish from above the water’s surface as well. There were bits of trash floating about in the water, which was a little heartbreaking.
Maya Bay was the bit everyone had been looking forward to the most. The beach, filmed in the movie “The Beach.” We had all seen this place before, imagined what life might be like here, and we were really looking forward to living it, if only for an hour. Nothing could have prepared us for what awaited. Tourist hell. We pulled into the cove, banging and bumping against other boats, there was literally no more place to anchor on that once desolate beach. There was no place to swim, sit or sleep. Every imaginable surface was covered with tourists, loud, noisy music, people taking photos and videos, kids screaming and crying, people making sandcastles, searching for lost ones and more. It hurt. It really really hurt to have that bubble I’d been carrying around for so long burst like this. We also needed to pee, really bad. So we walked deeper into the island, following a foot worn path between the trees. And suddenly, realised, we were whispering to each other. Why are we whispering, we whispered. Because this place is so quiet, I wouldn’t want to disturb it. And we just stopped and looked around. Yes, this was Richard’s beach from The Beach. Quiet, uninhabited, a small rickety handmade loo ahead, and the silence of trees and cliffs in the middle of an island in the middle of nowhere. We looked up, and around. It was calm. Quiet. Unbelievable. This is what life is all about. I walked back to the beach, and sat down on a tiny piece of land. I pulled my knees close in. And looked ahead, keeping my vision high enough to block out all the people. I could see the horizon, framed between two bits of island. This is what life is all about. Not us, and our cities and our wants and our needs. This. Us, tiny, inconspicuous, and the universe, infinite, beautiful, powerful. I wanted to cry. I wasn’t sad, I was happy. Happier than I’d ever known happiness without reason could be. I got back onto the boat, and on the way back, every single one of us was quiet. Staring back out at Maya Bay, we were all thinking the same thing.
Khai Nok was an unbelievable tiny island, with a flat coral strewn beach with a couple of shacks that clearly made a lot of money from tourists. 150 THB to sit in one of their beach loungers. We paid. Another few THB for Coconut water. We paid. Our bill at the end, an unbelievable 600 THB. As Charles sat back and relaxed in the expensive chairs, I ran into the water to finally get a hang of the snorkelling equipment. Soon, it was time to return.
Tired, damp, hungry, yet satiated, we arrived at Royal Phuket Marina Pier, to a day that looked bright and sunny, completely unlike the day we left in the morning. We were deposited back to our hotels by 6:00.
The Phi Phi, Maya Bay & Bamboo Island (Speedboat Cruise) by Phuket Sea Island @ Royal Phuket Marina cost us 2500 THB per head. Transfers, Coffee/Tea, Lunch, Snorkels and Lifejackets were included.Phuket Sea Island Co. Ltd. 63/ 202, Royal Phuket Marina, Moo 2, Thepkasattri Road, Koh Kaew, Muang, Phuket 83200, Thailand. Tel: (66) 076 360880/ 1 Email: email@example.com www.phuket-seaisland.com
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