Phuket and Ko Phi Phi
Patong [on Phuket island] is a party capital of Asia, with a world famous nightlife and a great beach. Mostly made up of hotels, world class restaurants, nightclubs and various tourist attractions, this is a hedonists' heaven of nightlife, with numerous entertainment complexes and countless bars clustered together in and around Bangla Road and the beach road... Just a short 45-minute journey from Phuket will transport you to the tropical paradise and famous islands of Koh Phi Phi. With a Kodak moment with every view, it's the ultimate tropical getaway in Thailand. Fine, white sandy beaches and breathtaking rock formations rising from the vivid turquoise waters that surround the islands will instantly confirm you've arrived in paradise.
Phuket and Pattaya (another resort town close to Bangkok) are the two places that came on my RADAR (yes, all caps - my geekness prevailed) when I was just starting to think about going to Thailand. I heard them mentioned in some podcasts and tourist info sites I visited and, frankly, I kept confusing the two until just a couple of weeks ago. As I started talking to people that have been to Thailand, I quickly learned that those places are nothing more than over-developed tourist traps (especially for beach-hungry Russian and, as it turned out, Scandinavian tourists). The reason I did decide to go to Phuket was because it had a convenient direct flight from Penang as well as a direct flight to Phuket, saving me heaps of time compared to ground travel. The aviation geek in me was also looking forward to trying a couple airlines I have not flown on before.
Still, I did know one thing - I did not want to be just another Russian tourist on Phuket and was hoping to catch a ferry to Ko Phi Phi island on arrival to escape the bigger island and enjoy the supposedly beautiful KPP. As we flew in around 2:30pm, I was not sure if we will be able to catch a ferry to the island that day - supposedly the last one departed at the same time, but I have also been told that there are others running every couple of hours. While getting ambushed at the airport, we found out that it was indeed the last ferry of the day unless we wanted to charter a speed boat for the low price of 9000 baht/$300. Instead, we opted out to spend a night in Phuket and catch the 8:30am ferry next morning.
On our van ride into town, we met a couple Dutch girls that were going to meet up with their friend at the bus terminal. Later, we saw them checking into our hostel so we invited them to join us in search for dinner. We ended up walking down Ranong road to the traffic circle and sitting down at place just north on the Yaowarad road. The food was good and a bit on the spicy side, but one plate was not enough for me so I went for seconds costing me a bit more. In the meantime, George was telling us about his amazing time with the Gibbon Experience in Laos, which is now on my list of things to do, but I am not sure if I will have time on this trip.
Ko Phi Phi Ferry
After dinner, we enjoyed a free welcome drink at our hostel and booked the tickets for the morning ferry. Booking through the hostel is actually cheaper than booking directly at the ferry terminal as we only had to pay 400 baht/$13 one way or 700 baht/$23 for the round trip versus 600/1000 at the ferry terminal. Also, when booking through a hostel, the transportation from and to the hostel (if buying round trip) is included in the price of the ticket - a good thing since the jetty was not a reasonable walking distance away. There are four ferries every day - at 8:30am, 11am, 1:30pm, and 2:30pm. Armed with WikiTravel knowledge, we opted out for the 8:30am ferry because the 11am one is operated by a company with a shadier reputation.
While booking the ferry, I saw that the brochure said that the pickup for 8:30am ferry is at 7:45am and asked our hostel host if that is correct. He told me that it is actually 8am and later told Dutch girls that it is 8-8:15am. Of course, the van was at our door at 7:45 the next morning. Thankfully, I just finished my breakfast and had everything packed up already. The others were not able to get anything to eat before jumping into the van. I have also checked with our host if they served complimentary food on the ferry (since WikiTravel mentioned that) and he just laughed and said 'no'. Sure enough, they did serve free crackers with coffee/tea (and maybe some fruit). While not a full breakfast, both experiences just confirmed once again that one can never trust what is being told around here.
The ship itself was pretty big and by the time we got there, the only space left was at the bottom so we did not get to see anything on the way. It took us almost two hours (45 minute journey - right...) to get to Ko Phi Phi. I split the time between catching up on some podcasts, watching some TV, and working on the blog.
Search For Ko Phi Phi Long Beach Bungalows
Once we got to the island, Scott, Norwegian girls, and the Dutch went to Rock Backpacker hostel while I decided to walk over to Long Beach area to see if Phi Phi Long Beach Bungalows place I found in Lonely Planet still had room for the night. Long Beach is located at the southern tip of the island and is supposedly the most beautiful beach there with costly accommodation except for that place. I tried to call the bungalow place a few days before, but neither the number I found in Lonely Planet, nor the different number on the Lonely Planet website, nor another number I found somewhere else worked, so I was basically winging it.
I opted out of paying 100 baht/$3.25 for a long boat ride there since many told me it is a pretty short walk. It turned out to be quite a hike (literally), especially with my backpack on. After almost an hour, I finally found the place and turned out that their cheapest 700 baht bungalows were full and the cheapest they had was 1500 baht/ $49 a night - way too expensive compared to Rock's 250 baht dorms.
I turned around and hiked back to town to go to the Rock. After almost two hours hiking in the heat, I was completely drenched in sweat and almost out of it by the time I got there. Luckily (or so I thought), I got the last dorm bed they had available, dropped all my gear, grabbed a few things, and walked back to town to go scuba diving.
A Night in Hell at the Rock
I got back just in time for dinner and met up with the rest of the gang at a place that had all Thai dishes for 95 baht/$3 and delicious half-price mojitos. That reminded me of my first scuba trip a year ago in Key Largo followed by a night in South Beach. Good times!
After dinner we headed out to the beach at Loh Dalam Bay on the north side of town. There were a bunch of beachside bars with chairs set up on the beach and live fire shows all over the place. We spent some time there enjoying the show and then I decided to head back and find a coffee shop to get online and work on the blog (and because I have been craving some decent coffee for a while). Unfortunately the couple places I found were closing down for the night, so I went back to the hostel.
Normally, I try to stay away from the cheapest and crowded party hostels, but as I found out earlier in the day, there was not much of a choice for an affordable place on the island. I have stayed in big dorms before so I figured it wouldn't be too bad (as bad as the place looked when I checked in). I was so wrong... My bed was right next to the open window and there was a bench just outside that seemed to be the hang out spot. There was a pretty large, drunk and obnoxious crowd there when I got back, but I did not think much about it as I was not ready to go to sleep just yet. After getting a few things done and downloading the pictures off my camera, I was finally ready to pass out and, luckily, the crowd outside decided to head out to the bars so it became pretty quiet.
It did not last long as about another hour or so later some even more drunk and obnoxious people came back from the beach and have been yelling, breaking glass, and just being unbelievably obnoxious for the next few hours. Combined with their cigarette smoke being conveniently being blow into my face through the window and the only fan that faced my bed not working, I was in for the night in hell. Somehow I did manage to pass out at some point (the last I remember looking at the clock it was 3:48am) just to be woken up early in the morning. The other guys stayed at another dorm that did not have a party bench next to it, but still hated the place as well (and Solveig managed to catch some bed bugs too). Never again!
Ko Phi Phi Viewpoint and the Tonsai Beach
After getting some breakfast, I decided to try to make the most out of the few hours I had left on the island and followed the signposts to a 'viewpoint'. It was a decent walk away combined with a pretty steep flight of stairs up a hill, where they set up a checkpoint to charge 20 baht/$0.65 to enter and climb some more. The first view point was on the way up and did not really have that great of a view. The second one was better, providing a nice overlook of the town, the west portion of the island and both main beaches.
After the viewpoint, I walked back to the hostel, packed up, and headed out to the Laem Hin beach for a bit - a portion of the beach separated from the main Tonsai beach and pretty secluded. The water was pretty warm and shallow and the sand was not that great. That put the last nail in the Ko Phi Phi coffin for me - I doubt I will ever go back there.
Ferry back to Phuket and the night in the city
Even though I was going to take the 2:30pm ferry to go back to Phuket, I was told that I should be at the pier by 1:30pm. Not willing to risk it, I made it there around that time and was met with confusing looks of the crew. They checked me in but as it was still an hour before the departure, I head back in town to get some ice cream and relax with some AC at the ice cream store (that was the only place around with AC from what I could tell). I got back to the pier around 2:10 and was able to grab a seat on the main level next to the window. The journey back was nothing too exciting - I caught a quick nap and then worked more on the blog.
Once we got back, we were met by a bunch of shuttle vans to take the return trippers back to our hotels. Of course, my hostel was not on any one of them, but that got sorted out pretty quickly and I was actually the first to be dropped off. Back at the hostel, I checked into a dorm room with AC just to find out that AC does not come on until 6pm. Otherwise, the dorm was pretty nice - clean, spacious, with big lockers, and plenty of showers and bathrooms. I went out to grab some food from the street vendors nearby and soon called it a night as I had to wake up early in the morning to catch a bus to the airport for my flight to Chiang Mai.
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