My back was stiff from almost 15 hours of sitting in the plastic chairs of university desks. My mind was functioning only as fast as caffeine could drench my neurons. The small group of literary nerds with our eyes following along as Dr. Stallard read the final passages of a marathon reading of John Milton’s Paradise Lost. This epic poem helped shape my Bachelor’s degree in English but it wasn’t until the tiny hours of that morning that I began to question my definition of paradise. While now I believe that there are as many descriptions of paradise as there are people on this planet; if you were to ask me for my own definition I would say that it’s a place where I can begin to picture divine creation. Some place so beautiful that it may just question my belief that landscapes were merely created out of chaos and the sheer will of nature. I have only seen three places in my life that I would consider worthy of this definition. The first is a sunset at the Grand Canyon that seemed to turn the world to gold. The second was during my six months in Scotland when paradise was the snow-capped hills and steel blue lochs of the Highlands. After arriving by ferry to Koh Phi Phi Thailand, I am lucky enough to have seen paradise for a third time.
The sheer rock faces covered in lush green trees appeared as I approached the island. The first night of the trip had been rather uneventful as I got into to Aonang Beach in Krabi at about 10 at night. I opted to finish my book and stay in after a full day of teaching and then about 5 hours of travel. I got up early to walk down the beach only to see a storm a few miles off the coast. I could tell that it was coming in quickly, meaning that I would have to schedule a later ferry or brave a choppy ride. Unfortunately, escaping work didn’t mean escaping monsoon season. As I finished my booking for a later ferry the sky itself seemed pour down. A fish out of water is the same as a tourist at the beach when it rains. So, I decided to treat myself to a massage. For the price of about $8 USD I was in a state of complete relaxation for an hour and a half. As I wander back the few yards to my accommodation I was greeted with a blue sky and great luck that followed me all the way to Phi Phi about 40 kilometers off the coast.
As we made it off the boat we were asked to pay a small fee to the island authorities to keep it clean. While I believe that travel should be more accessible, I felt this was a great way to stave off environmental damage due to tourism. Recently, some of the islands and alcoves such as Maya Bay had to make the controversial decision to shut down tourism to preserve the environment. This seemed to strike a balance and may prevent the same thing from happening to Koh Phi Phi.
When arriving, I had not realized in all my research that there are hardly any motorized vehicles on Phi Phi. It came as quite the shock as the man from the Maiyada Resort was standing on the dock waiting to take my luggage to discover that it was just going in a cart and that we would be walking. The Maiyada Resort was a terrific place to stay, far enough from the noise of any crowds but close to the beach. It’s situated on a sandy alley and when looking to the end you can see a sliver of beach. Absolutely beautiful. The room itself was fantastic as I opted for one of the double bungalows. The only fault I could find is that they are close together so you must keep your blinds drawn or you will be looking right into someone else’s bungalow. The staff was incredibly friendly, polite and even gave me a good deal when I decided to stay an extra night.
From the very beginning of the trip I had called it unexpected. It even became a private joke that the group of us had. The first impression of the island’s beauty, the lack of motorized vehicles, and my already sunburnt thighs were already unexpected.
After check in and getting myself directly into my bathing suit I ran head first for the beach. I was meeting friends that had taken the earlier ferry. I walked along the low tide and tried to avoid the coral that was hidden in the churned-up water. We celebrated our arrival and splashed around in a coral free zone.
Later, I went for dinner by myself since I hadn’t eaten since that morning and it seemed that most of the group wanted Italian or had already ate while I just wanted to know how fresh the seafood was on the island. I sat under a canopy of fairy lights with the water right next to me. The grey blue of the sky contrasted by the fairy lights made the ocean sparkle. I drank a glass of white wine while happily gazing at my surroundings until something furry twined between my legs. I looked down to see one of the island’s many resident cats becoming familiar with my legs. I was thinking that while I knew I was getting dinner by myself I hadn’t become a cat lady… yet.
After a delicious meal of shrimp with stir fried vegetables and rice I prepared myself for a night out; hopefully one that would be unexpected. I had made plans with Ikra, the other teacher who came with me to Ko Si Chang, Hannah, Amy and Jonathon to pre-drink with them before meeting up with the larger group at the bar. Ikra did my hair and makeup and we were about ready to leave after coming up with the marvelous concoction of vodka, sprite and apple juice. I would like to say that I was an adult that night with wisdom and responsibility. Responsible adults put their drinks in plastic sippy cups so it doesn’t spill when you jump on the hotel beds, right?
We finally made our way to the beach as it was our quickest route to the bar. A quick walk down the sand and it would cut a good 10 minutes off our journey. That was until we realized far too late that the tide was too high to do anything but wade. We thought we would make it as I broke into a mad sprint and that was the moment the wave hit the sea wall covering us all in sand and ocean water. Hair that had been coiffed now sat flat against scalps and mascara ran down our faces in black rivulets. We were too busy to do anything but laugh. While the group tried to decide if it was worth going back and getting changed I sat my things over the wall where they wouldn’t get wet and marched directly into the warm water. That night the full moon saw my birthday suit.
The next morning, we met for a full English breakfast and I finally got a chance to explore some more of the corridors of this island. Granted, it’s very small and it would not be the last time I saw the footpaths lined with vendors and other regalia. It seemed sleepy in the morning as if such a thing as the Island Time actually existed. There were two groups after breakfast; the group determined to go to the viewpoint and a second who wanted a more relaxing start with foot scrubs and back massages. I will let you guess which I was a part of. By 1 o’clock, 4 of us stumbled out of the massage parlor with glowing skin and a deeper appreciation for vacation. Maybe too much appreciation as we were all led astray by the glowing sign of the tattoo studio. They did traditional bamboo tattoos as a lot of shops on the island do but this place seemed cleaner and had all the certifications up on the wall. Georgia and Marie were both sitting in the chair within 20 minutes with gorgeous stencils ready for ink.
Hannah and I decided that we would conquer the viewpoint at sunset, think about the tattoo and come back. So by the time 6:00 rolled around with only 30 minutes until complete blackness we were on our way. We started walking, looked at the clock and re-strategized but neither of us could be angry at giggling at the pool for an hour longer than planned. It seemed the more we drank the better the conversation grew about our families and religion. Time moves unexpectedly fast when on vacation.
The new plan involved a cheap dinner at McDonalds. Yes, those golden arches have reached a small island in the Andaman Sea. I refuse to feel guilty for the sins of vacation. I guess that brings me to the next step of the new plan. There are two places I shouldn’t go into without a clear reason; animal shelters and tattoo shops. I leafed through the binders of plastic covered drawings as I had that afternoon. I view my tattoos as representations of meaningful times or people in my life. I didn’t want to sacrifice that but when he said that we could make them our own I was sold. We had checked online that afternoon and the shop checked out with good ratings but Hannah wasn’t so sure. However, as soon as the stencil of my dainty lotus was on she got the nerve.
We walked out of the shop, going the wrong way I might add, looked at each other and said, “Unexpected”.
After getting ready we met up with the rest of the group in a bar called Treehouse. Aptly named for the giant tree that it is built around, officially it is two floors but unofficially its three. As you walk through what seems like a small music venue you go through the back door walk up steep steps only to enter another bar except this one has a loft. A literal treehouse. The drinks were strong which is the only excuse I have for walking into the club next door when Treehouse closed. The group of us weren’t ready to go home so when the promoter walked up and asked us to go in with no cover charge we practically stumble sprinted to the door.
The strangely comforting thing about clubs is that they are all, for the most part, the same. No lights except for colorful strobes, badly mixed drinks, heat, and the faint smell of body odor just lingering under the surface of mingling perfume. The music drowned out any conversation and the lights prevented the possibility of communication so we all just danced. It was the music of my high school years; horrible songs made lovely because they are wrapped so tightly in nostalgia. That was until the power blipped out of existence, one minute everyone was dancing and the next complete black silence. Then the crowd began to chant and a minute later the lights came on. It felt so gradual as if it was purposeful somehow because then the music flooded the club and delight appeared on everyone’s faces. I sang the YMCA all the way down the beach on our walk home.
The following day was our long-tail boat tour of the surrounding islands. We began the day at the hostel our friend had booked at all standing around the beach bar. There was a sign with what seemed to have been one hundred tallies at least all broken up my country. Above it was words that read, “Take a shot for your country.” So we all did and it wasn’t the last one that day.
The colorful tail of our boat bobbed in the rough current as we made our way across the harbor to the neighboring island. I had gone with Ikra, Hannah, and but we made friends with a group of guys. They all laughed at there was shrieking as we crested the waves only to fall back into another valley. The first place we stopped was Monkey Beach. Pretty self-explanatory. A large troop of macaque monkeys gathered on a pristine white sand beach. There is something playfully human lurking in their eyes. We observed and interacted for about 15 minutes and by interacted, I mean, we were only slightly concerned about Ikra contracting rabies.
The rest of the day was spent in my favorite place the ocean. We swam and snorkeled. There were fish colored with hues I hadn’t even seen in my 100-count crayon box. The quiet of underwater is so peaceful but feels contradictory because there is so much life. Unfortunately, it wasn’t until much later that the sky blanketed us in clouds blocking our chance for a sunset. The boat journey back could only be described as an amusement park ride missing too many screws.
The final night on Koh Phi Phi brought us back to the bar where I won America at least another 3 tallies. Let me tell you how disorienting it is to walk into a normal bar bathroom and walk out to a black light party. The black light murals glowing in fluorescent glory. Hannah and I walked back to the hotel leaving the others behind because we both wanted to wake up and make it to the viewpoint.
We didn’t. The only thing my solo walk to the head of the viewpoint stairs accomplished was an outdoor shower. The wind picked up and I decided it would be just too miserable to do so I meandered back. Final days of vacation are hard especially when you have found so much joy among the people you are with. We ate breakfast and took last pictures by the ocean but mostly it was a day of strategically packing wet clothes. We checked out of the hotel and I said goodbye to the sliver of ocean you could see at the end of the path and with it a promise that if I ever returned it just wouldn’t be the same.
With Love and Wanderlust,
The Exuberant Traveler