Where it all starts again

Friday, 21 May 2010

The Island of Phi Phi Don

The first thing I notice is the water, and how it changes color. It goes from the “sea blue” we all know to this incredible, pasty azure as we approach the Thai island of Phi Phi. It seems to lose its property as water and turns into a bay full of a calming shade of green.

Then, seemingly out of nowhere, the cliffs of Phi Phi Don island appear.

Steve is passed out a few rows up, and Brandon and I are chilling, listening to music, and taking a break from catching up. From the lower deck, I look out the window to my left and Boom! Out of nowhere this cliff appears. It’s incredible, and the bright sunlight in the air gives this dreamy impression on everything I see.

Coming from Phuket, we arrive from the west, and cruise along the coast southwards until we turn into the inlet that holds Phi Phi’s main pier. When you arrive, you’re smack bang in the middle of the tourist zone, and find yourself on these narrow alleys lined with restaurants, gift shops and dive centers. We are immediately accosted by twenty taxi boat guys, their rides lining the coast for a mile on either side of the pier. After grabbing a quick bite to eat, Steve directs us to Long Beach, having been told by a friend that it’s the best part of the island to stay on. It’s a 3 minute taxi boat ride to the southern section of the island, where our beach awaits us.

Upon arrival, Brandon and I have only one thing to say to Steve. Score! Long Beach is incredible, quieter and much more pristine than the main strip of beach back at the pier. It’s Steve’s job to find us the best deal for the best room, so he heads off while Brandon and I sit on a swinging bench on the beach and look outwards, dumbfounded by the view of the island of Phi Phi Lay in the distance. Warm, clear seawater crashes onto the crisp white sand beach, a select few people about occasionally jump into the ocean to cool down, and here we are, swinging away, breathing slowly and deeply, unblinking, absorbed by a landscape that resembles a dream you wish you had.

Steve comes back with two options. We visit the first one, and not knowing what to expect, take it on board, albeit apprehensively. Then we visit the second option, with a few dollars in price difference, and it’s unbelievable. Big and spacious with stunning decor, and with a balcony looking out to the beach 5 feet away, we walk in and simply say “we’ll take it”.

As soon as we’ve unpacked and settled in, we head straight to Long Beach Dive Shop to get information about becoming certified divers. We meet Trevor, the manager, and find out from him that diving is pretty much syndicated throughout Phi Phi. That being said, Trevor is a good salesman, and is quick to point out his advantages. First, they time the dives to NOT coincide with the other shops, so when we dive there aren’t many other divers around. Also, once you’ve sorted your gear and spare tanks, all you have to do is carry it a few feet to the boat; The other centers make you walk, sometimes for up to a mile, before you get to your boat. We get to have our lunch in Maya Bay, where the shot the movie The Beach And last but not least, training starts on the coast of Long Beach, in clean, quiet undisturbed waters, as opposed to under boats and ferries and taxis by the busy pier with the other shops. We later find out that other trainee divers did their first shallow dive near the sewage pipes, so after very little debate we sign up with Trevor to become Open Water divers, and meet our instructor Pascal - or Paco - a legend that since has become a very good friend of ours.

Becoming an Open Water diver takes three days, and involves watching 5 educational videos. Wanting to get the time-consuming videos out of the way, we decide to crack into the first two videos that night, and head to bed early, so as to be fresh and lively for our first dive in the morning.

The next day brings surprises, dangerous sea creatures, and the start to our awesome underwater adventure : )

Tuesday, 11 May 2010

Remember the time Steve...

Many sentences regarding the indestructible force that is Steve Swim, or "Truck" as I now call him, start with these words.
As Brandon passes out from sheer exhaustion, Steve and I power on, fueled by significant amounts of warm beer. Quick shower, change, and a 2-second conversation about how we should really be going to bed go by, and we're off.
In true SE Asian tradition, we start with a massage. Finding one is simple, but expressing our desire for simplicity and no cheek-clicking is not. To explain, the girls in Phuket will give you a little flick on the cheek, their way of asking you if you would like anything on the side. You can spend your entire afternoon outside the massage place saying "I only want a massage" and they'll still harass you. Don't be fooled, though, you will get a good massage. Steve and I walk out totally relaxed, very happy to be hanging out with each other once again, in this new and strange land. The bar-hopping starts.
In the space of around 4 hours, Steve and I manage to walk most of the main Patong town, drink a beer in every bar, and meet a weird German-American who guides us to the good spots. Regardless to say, Steve and I are absolutely baloobas by this point and manage to take moto-taxis at random, for no reason, even if we don't need to go anywhere. After a brief stint to a completely empty - but actually really cool looking - karaoke bar someway out of town, we lose each other. I get a few more beers into me, realise I've drunk my weight in liquor, and head back to the hotel.
One hour passes and there's a knock on the door; I open to the door to Steve and one of the security guys from the hotel. Steve proceeds to mumble something about a roof, saying he was trying to get to the room, and he'll see us in 6 months. "I love you guys, I dunno, the roof man, I'll see you in 6 months, I'll see you. BAAAh! Yeah, I see you. Boom." I convince the guy to leave Steve with us until the morning. We head to bed.
Next morning we find out what happened; Steve, the eternally lovable guy that he is, really didn't want to wake us, so out of pure respect for his friends, he decided to climb into the hotel room through the balcony. The problem here was that Steve was actually already in the hotel, and had proceeded to climb over some fiberglass roofing at the other end of the hotel and try to reach THE WRONG ROOM. Not only the wrong room, but the wrong hotel. Then, as Steve crushed the paper-thin roofing about half-way through, he fell two and a half stories, bouncing off walls and air-conditioning units.
No broken bones, no permanent damage, no facial disfiguration. Steve fell the height of my house and got a scrape on his back and a little, albeit painful, hole in his shin. Like I said, the man is indestructible. I would go to war with the man. With him in front of me, to be specific.
So, after starting the trip on the right note, we rest up for a day on the beach (which results in all three of us being impressively sunburnt, even Steve... who spent the entire time under his umbrella) and get up nice and early on Day 3 of our trip, heading to the ferry out of seedy Phuket and onto the majestic island of Phi Phi Don.
From a travel guide point of view, Phuket is simply a tourist trap. I had a hard time picking up my jaw when we walked out onto Patong beach, but this is Thailand. You'll find phenomenal views, incredible landscapes and pristine, heavenly beaches to be plentiful in this country. The tourism-oriented business and over-pricing of the Patong area really takes away the beauty of where you are, so if you haven't been to Thailand before I suggest giving it a miss and looking more at Phi Phi, Koh Tao, or Chang Mai.
A quick drive to the pier and we're on our boat, eagerly awaiting departure for the reputed paradise of beaches, cheap restaurants, world-class dive spots and hammocks galore. Despite the pictures I've seen, and the research I've done on the place before coming, nothing prepares me for the truly magnificent sight that appears before you as you near this unbelievable island.

Monday, 10 May 2010

Welcome to South East Asia.

One of my biggest dreams comes true on April 2nd, 2010 as I land in Bangkok. I've dreamt of coming to SE Asia for so long, and my adventure finally starts with a trip through Thailand with two of my closest friends, Steve and Brandon. I arrive a few hours early from Abu Dhabi, a city that holds very little of interest, as it turns out.Having to wait a few hours before Steve and Brandon arrive from Taipei, I decide to wonder around, speak to the tourist office, and walk outside the airport. I am instantly met with an unabashedly powerful blast of hot air which almost floors me. I love the heat, and thrive in such conditions, but nothing can prepare you for this humidity, especially when your last home is Brussels. I come back in, sit down, and put together one of the best playlists I have ever made, powered by the pure bliss of the impending story of a lifetime.
When the boys arrive, it's just incredible to see them both again. We've done this a few times now, with their visit to me in 2005, our intertwined travels in 2007 through Denmark, Belgium, Spain, France... But this is the first time we start together and finish together, a bone fide adventure we'll reminisce over for years to come. We head onto our next flight to Phuket, ready to face theunknown, and the many beers, and the fiberglass rooftops. I'll explain that in a second.
As it turns out, there's a massive lightning storm above Phuket as we arrive, so we can't land. Brandon and I decide this is a great time to fall asleep, so as we twirls above the city, Steve is left to contemplate the possibility of death by lightning at 20,000 feet by himself. The shock of the landing gear hitting the tarmac awakens Brandon and I, and we turn around to see Steve clutching a crumpled can of Singha, whiter the ever, in awe at our slumber. We give him another beer and he's soon right as rain. Pun intended.
We are cordially met by our driver, who is actually waiting for "Mr. Marcy Rousseau". This spelling error makes us laugh to tears, and I’m named Marcy for the majority of the trip.
We arrive at Patong Beach, infamous for it’s debauchery and late night bars. Brandon chooses the wiser path of recharging after a 48 hour traveling stint, but Steve and I decide to head out and hit the town, intent on getting hammered and partying with the local barangs.
The epic disaster that ensues deserves its own chapter, so stay tuned for Steve and the roof, our awed arrival to Phi Phi Don, and diving adventure galore : )