Tuesday, January 26, 2010

I’ve been here for almost a week and I still woke up at like 4 a.m. and couldn’t go back to sleep.  Ugh.  It has been 6 days now and my body just does not want to sleep through the night.  I laid there in bed for a bit and took the chance to finish “The Pillars of the Earth.”  This book is by Ken Follett and one of my favorites I’ve read.  Definitely take the time to read it if you get the chance.  It’s a monster book, but worth it. 

I finally got up around 7 to and packed up to leave.  Joe/England, Andre/Germany, and myself were headed to Ko Phi Phi, an island just a couple hours off the coast from Phuket.  Our minibus to the port picked us up at 7:30 for the short drive to the port.  I was surprised to see how crowded the docks were...there must have been 7 or 8 huge boats there along with several smaller outfits.  A few of the boats were ferries, but it seemed most were there to wisk the wealthy Patong tourists around the area on day trips.  We fought through the chaos and boarded our boat...I was very surprised by how nice it was.  It reminded me of the good old Buquebus ferry that goes from Argentina to Uraguay.  I took this short video of the boat just after we left the pier.  It was a beautiful day and I could already feel it was only going to get better.

The boat ride was nice and it even included a free breakfast of muffins and tea.  We had a nice chat about how great it is to travel and meet people.  Andre/Germany was about my age but had only started traveling recently.  Joe/England was only 22, but already grabbing the world by the balls.  We were 3 guys from three very different places and backgrounds, brought together by a love of travel and desire to experience.  Andre spoke a lot about how much his approach to life has changed since he started traveling.  Man, I am so happy to be back in this world.  No more arguing about broken coffee machines, promotions, and titles.  Out here, the conversations focus on life, and experience...where you’ve been and what you’ve seen, and joys of meeting people and seeing the world.  It’s so great to be back where I belong.

The boat ride itself was not without spectacular views.  We took tons of pictures of small islands during the 1.5 hour ride.

Island like this, with large sheer rock walls sparsely decorated the sea as we approached Ko Phi Phi.  I love cliffs and big rocks and these were some of the most beautiful I had seen.   I was definitely happy with my choice to go to Ko Phi Phi and I hadn’t even gotten there yet.  As we approached the island, the excitement started to build.  Here is a picture from the bay as we approached.

At the dock there were people and boats everywhere, along with many people trying to get us to stay in their hotels.  It is impossible to fathom that this island was completely wiped out by the tsunami back in 2005.  We walked past all the chaos and put our things down on the main road.  We grabbed a crude map, got our bearings and started walking.  After walking just 50 meters, we all agreed that the decision to come here was the right one.  The place had a vibe and atmosphere that felt exactly right...possibly 100 times better than Patong could ever be.

Back in Phuket, we had heard there were only a couple of hostels on the island and most accommodation was rather expensive.  We went in search of a place called “The Rock” that we knew was a good cheap option.  We were very lucky to get the last room they had available and it was just 600 baht (USD $18).  It was a double room with two twin beds but there were 3 of us.  When I saw the room, I told the guy that...he said he would “bring another” in pretty broken English.  Much to my chagrin, he meant he would bring another pillow, not another mattress.  Luckily, Joe/England graciously volunteered to sleep on the cement floor.  Nothing but the best in the backpacking world.

After we settled into our tiny little room, we got changed and went in search of the three basic needs of Ko Phi Phi...beach, food, and beer.  On the way, we stopped in a dive shop to ask about prices and we met Travis/Australia who worked there.  We hit it off right away and we almost immediately decided to dive there.  It was 2500 baht (about USD $70) which was not cheap, but about what I expected.

We left the shop, basically with a verbal commitment, but we wanted to think on it a little more.  We headed around the corner to the beach and WOW!  When I said this was better than Patong, that was an understatement.  The beaches here were topless as well, but the ratio was the exact reverse!  It was 95% good and about 5% bad.  I have never seen that on any topless beach I’ve ever been too, but I certainly wasn’t disappointed:)  Somehow, we immediately forgot about food and spent most of the next hour strolling along the beach.  Besides taking some pictures of the “scenery”, we also took several pictures of ourselves on the beach.


Finally, we got back on track to search for food.  We turned down a road and we were very surprised to run into Will/England!  When we left Phuket that morning, he wasn’t awake and the night before said he wasn’t coming.  I guess he missed his boys when he got up so he grabbed the next ferry.  We gave him some tips on where to look for rooms, but we had seen many backpackers wandering back and forth.  Things fill up fast here.  We made plans to meet up on the beach an hour later.

It took awhile to find a cheap place to eat and it was still 80 baht.  At lunch, there were a couple of American guys sitting next to us.  They were from California on a short 2 week vacation.  Talk about same planet, different worlds.  At least they were there.  We spoke a little about traveling long term and how great it was, but the conversation was slightly stalled by both these guys checking their Blackberrys and sending texts every 2 minutes.  Poor bastards.

After we ate, we headed back down to the beach to find poor Will sitting there with his pack.

He hadn’t been able to find a place to stay.  We suggested going back to the dive shop to ask Travis...he seemed to know the island well and might be able to help, plus we wanted to book for the next day.

Back at the dive shop, we got signed up for dives, including Will, and Travis showed him one of the only slightly cheaper options for a place to stay near the dive shop.  We also found out that it was Australia day...which became Will’s pick up line for the rest of the afternoon.  Who would have ever thought “Are you from Australia?” could be parlayed into such a crazy evening.

With everyone with a place to rest their heads, it was time to go back out to the beach.  Here in Ko Phi Phi, they sell what they call Thai Whiskey buckets.  You can get a big bucket, with an entire bottle of Samson (the Thai Whiskey), a two liter of soda to mix it with, a couple cans of redbull (more on this in a minute) and a bag of ice.  They give it to you, bucket and all for 180 baht, and off to the beach you go.

With bucket in hand, and already a few beers into the day, this was the official beginning of the end now that I look back on it.  Out at the water we went for a swim first.  The main beach in Phi Phi is not that particularly impressive from a swimming standpoint, although the backdrop is spectacular.

The water is very shallow and the tide goes way out.  If wanted to be in water deep enough to swim in, you’d have to go about 300 meters out.  That isn’t really possible because there is a lot of coral just off the coast.  The good news is, you can sit down in knee high water, and chill in the calm pools that form.  It is very hot down here so having the water as a cool refuge is critical.

After a swim, I was a little hungry and discovered that while proper meals here are expensive, you can get a great chicken sandwich on the beach for next to nothing.  I had my first of what would be many for the week and then we started in on the bucket.  It wasn’t long before Will was asking every female passerby if they were Australian.  This is how we met Sally/Australia, and later met her friends.  I won’t say much more about them, but this worked out very good for Will.

By 5:00, we were all pretty much in the bag already.  I knew we were in for a long night.  The spot on the beach where we were sitting, was just next to a place called Ibiza Bar.  They were starting to set up for the party at night...digging holes for bamboo torches.  Will started helping them and just like that they brought us 2 free whiskey buckets!  They were a smaller version of what we had earlier, but still a decent size.  A bit later, he helped them set up the tables and chairs and we got a couple more free buckets.  Good times.

Somewhere around 8, Joe and I ran back to the hostel to shower up...he was also meeting up with a couple Welsh girls that he knew so we sat and had a bite with them at the hostel restaurant.  Somewhere during our conversation, we began to talk about accents...I couldn’t figure out the Welsch accent...it doesn’t sound the same as an English accent.  Most Americans can’t even distinguish between an Australian and an English accent (which seems very funny to me because they are not even close).  People know this and they make fun of us for it.  It goes right along with the stereotype that we’re idiots and don’t really travel, so we know nothing about the world outside of our country (this is true far too often).  I’ve been around and then some, so I’m pretty quick with picking up where people are from...and can even distinguish accents of people who grew up speaking English no matter what country they are from.  You don’t meet tons of Welsch travelers so the accent threw me a little.  I made a comment it being different...sort of more sing-songy...maybe closer to Australian than English.  Well, I’ll be damned if that wasn’t the insult of all insults to these girls.  It bugged me a little because they rolled their eyes with the, “stupid Americans don’t know anything” look.  As an American who has probably spent more than twice the amount of time traveling as most backpackers, I am constantly trying to breakdown these stereotypes.  It sucked that in this case, I had done exactly the opposite and there wasn’t a thing I could do about it.

On the way back to the beach we made the final critical mistake on the night and we bought another large Thai whiskey bucket.  We found the others on the beach and grabbed at seat at the Ibiza bar.  By that time, Sally/Australia had come back with a bunch of her friends, and also Travis/Australia from the dive shop showed up with a few of his crew.  We sat watching the fire show at Ibiza bar which was cool.  They actually got the crowd involved by lighting a huge rope on fire and twirling it like a jump rope.  Drunken bystanders would run in and jump a few times, but as soon as they did, the guys turning the rope would start going faster and faster.  Andre/Germany got some pretty cool long exposure shots of this.

There is no one jumping in the above picture, but the burning rope spinning looks cool.  Anyway, we saw several people trip on the rope and get slightly singed, proving the old adage once again, fire and alcohol do not mix.

It turned out Will’s jumping skills were pretty good, because he was one of the best ones out there.  He went time and time again, with the guys twirling as fast as they could...even to the point that the fire went out.  I guess white men CAN jump:)  This lead to us getting our hands on several more free whiskey buckets, which would have been awesome if we didn’t have to dive the next day.  We stayed out on the beach partying until about 2.  We had signed up for the afternoon dive, so we didn’t have to be at the dive shop until 1:00 the next day.  That should be plenty of time to recover right?  Uh...No.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Even with the late night, I was up kind of early around 6.  Luckily I managed to fall asleep again.  It Could be awhile before I can sleep all the way through the night.  Initially, when I got up, I wasn’t feeling too hungover.  Joe, on the otherhand, could not say the same.  He was in bad shape.  We had some  breakfast at the hostel restaurant, but Joe could barely eat...he even looked a little green.  Finally he couldn’t take it any longer and went to the altar of the porcelain gods.  I’m not sure if it was the sun, or the food, or what, but about 10 minutes later, it hit me pretty hard too.  I got the sweats and my stomach was turning circles.  I came very, very close to ending my vomit streak, which I thought was 6 years at the time, but was later reminded by Jodi of a small incident in Vegas in 2007:)

It was already 11:45 by then and we were supposed to meet at the dive shop at 1.  In my current condition, I did not think I was going to be able to dive.  I tried to lay down for a bit, but I still felt super ill.  We walked down to the shop and I was in misery.  When we got there and saw Travis/Australia, he was hurting too and said he had already puked a few times.  Ugh.  I decided to force the issue.  If the porcelain Gods were calling me, who am I to defy them?  Truth be told, I just didn’t want to dive in such a state.  I felt much better after, despite the shame of the vomit streak coming to an end.

We headed out to the dive boat.  It was big and I hadn’t expected that.  It was big enough for like 40 people.  When we dove in Central America, we were on small motor boats that fit about 12 people and usually we were with groups of 6 or 8.  I would learn throughout the day that things are done much differently on this side of the world when it comes to diving.

It took about 30 minutes to get out to the dive site.  By then I was feeling a little queasy again but okay.  It had been almost 2 years since my last dive...hooking up my equipment was a little tricky but figured it out quick.  My group was Andre/Germany, Will/England and Travis was our dive master.  Joe didn’t have a PADI certification so he did a discover dive in a different group.  We geared up and jumped in.

It was a good dive...less visibility than Central America but we could still see a good 25 feet clearly.  There were a lot of the same fish but not near as many and they are much smaller here.  I did see some cool new puffer fish and some new Angel fish.  The down side of the dive was that Travis moved around way too fast and didn’t really stop to point anything out.  Over in Honduras and Belize, the dive masters really take their time and try to find cool things for you.  I was accustomed to being led around slowly.  If you move fast in the ocean, you miss a lot.  This was more like a swim meet and I even struggled a little to keep up, so I couldn’t concentrate on looking for things.

Towards the end of the dive, I started to feel a litte queasy again.  Back on the boat, I was in horrible shape.  I couldn’t even talk or eat my lunch and thought for sure I would be sick again.  Wasn’t even sure if I would be able to do second dive...it was that bad.  What a huge mistake it was to drink all those whiskey buckets!  Travis was in even worse shape and was still vomiting.

Finally we went for our second dive.  About 5 minutes into it, my hangover broke and I felt just fine again.  It’s weird how that happens and you know exactly the moment when it’s all past.  I had asked Travis to slow it down for the second dive and he did a much better job taking it easy.  The dive site was also better than the first.  We saw a leopard shark, which is an absolutely gorgeous animal.  It was just lazily lying on the ocean floor...we swam right up to it and it didn’t even stir until Travis reached out and touched it.  I think it is my favorite thing I’ve seen on any of my dives.

Back on the boat was feeling much more like my normal self...I was even ready to eat again.  I definitely learned my lesson.  I will, NEVER again be hung over for a dive.  It tainted a great experience.  Out of the 5 of us drinking those buckets, 3 of us were paying the price dearly.  If you ever find yourself in Ko Phi Phi, watch out for those things!!

Back at hostel we cleaned up and just lounged.  We spent a few hours talking to the other people at the hostel.  Eventually, Andre, Will and Joe went out but I decided to stay in.  I needed the day off after last night and I wanted to just be alone for awhile.  I wanted to get some rest and work on journals.  With the room to myself I cranked up my ipod and got quite a bit done.  I dozed off for a couple hours and around 11, the guys all came back carrying buckets of course and everybody was fired up again.  That’s the nature of the game.  It was tempting...I almost went out with them again, but I stayed in.  I had a fitful night of sleep but that was okay.  They all sort of showed up at different times with, but the night definitely raged on for them!

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Again I was up way too early, around 5, but I worked on journals and pictures most of the time and wrote a bunch of emails.  I got completely caught up which felt great.  I also ran down to use the internet quickly...it’s very expensive on the island and we were busy, so I hadn’t even checked since we arrived.  When others woke up they recounted all the crazy tales from the previous night for me.  Good stuff.

Joe and I went to get food around 12...ended up having a nice pizza but expensive 150 baht pizza (USD $5).  Thailand is not near as cheap as I expected.  Of course, we are on an island and islands are always a little more expensive, but even in Bangkok there was not many meals to be had for less than 80 baht. It’s been just a week, so I need to adjust to thinking in local currency, but I thought it would be closer to South America prices over here.

After we ate, we went to sort out the bus/train back to Bangkok.  Jodi will arrive on Monday so I need to get back up there.  I got to thinking I may as well stay here until Sunday and just bus it back to Bangkok overnight.  There is a huge full moon party on Saturday in Ko Pha Ngan, an island that is on the way back to Bangkok, but I’ve heard from many that you need to get there several days before hand if you want to find accommodation.   The best I would be able to do would be getting there on Saturday morning so I didn’t want to deal with it.  I was sure there would be a party here anyway and I like it here just fine.

Back at the room we got changed up for the beach, Will had gone snorkeling with Amy with a Y and Andre had his second day of the Advanced diving course.  Joe and I were on our own but that was cool.  We went to the beach to scope out the scene.  We were thinking of going out to Bamboo island, but getting a boat was way too expensive.  Instead, we rented a little kayak and decided to stay nearby. It was WAY worth it in the end.  We paddled around for about 30 minutes and eventually went to monkey bay.  It was a great beach with perfect sand and it got its namesake for the many primates who call this beach home.

Joe and chilled in the water and had a great chat about traveling again.  We got to chatting about how beautiful it is here.  We almost feel bad for the folks who come to southern Thailand and go no farther than Patong.  Almost.   Joe was happy to be headed home after 8 months and we talked about it being his last day and how he felt about going home.  He was ready, he said.  He felt like he had seen and done enough for now and was ready for the comforts of the same bed every day and seeing all his friends for awhile.   Being on the road is fantastic, but after months on end, there are a few things that get to you after awhile.  When you reach that point, it’s a good idea to either stop and live in one place for a bit of time, or just head home for awhile.  I’ve seen many people reach that point...hell, it’s even happened to me a couple times so I understand.  But I also know what happens after you rest for awhile.  You start to get itchy feet.  Joe knew it already too.  He knew there was more traveling for him in the future and it made it fine for him to go home.  For a guy who was just 22, he had a very good handle on life and who he was.  Life on the road had taught him some things that made wise beyond his years.

We stayed there on the beach for about 1.5 hours chatting and had a couple beers.


Finally, we paddled back to the main beach.  Walking back to the hostel, I found the perfect beach hat to buy.  I had been looking for one for the past couple days.  We grabbed a couple beers and went back down to the beach and sat out by the water and watched Thai guys playing a strange version of hacky sack with a giant wicker ball.  All and all, we had a pretty awesome day.  Partying is always cool, but just being out enjoying the island is more important for this old time traveler these days.  Not that I’m not happy to check out the scenery at these topless beaches though:)

We met the others back at the hostel around 6.  We met Zach and George/USA who had moved in next door.  You don’t see too many Americans down here...atleast not in the hostels.  I had a good chat with them about being American and traveling.  It was the first trip for both of them and they have just 5 weeks, but it’s enough that it has been an eye opening experience.  One of the first things they said was how they thought 5 weeks was this super long vacation and how they’d be traveling longer than everyone.  They had no idea this world existed where people traveled for months on end.  I remember the first time I experienced this world and it was very interesting to see them going through all those same emotions.  Since you rarely meet someone from the US that has done it, they had a lot of questions for me.  They knew that I understood how different it is from our way of life back home and I knew they understood how hard it was for me to make the leap.

We all went to dinner and had some delicious Thai food.  We were signed up to dive the next day, so there was no way in the world I would be getting a bunch of buckets again.  We stayed out and went to the bars, but I took it very easy had just a few drinks.

After dinner, we had down to the beach to check out the scene...here’s a great pic of Joe, myself, Zach, and Andre on our way down there.

After the beach, we went to roof top place called Banana bar.  What an awesome bar!  It was empty when we first got there so we had control of the music.  Zach is a DJ back home and is into hip-hop, so we played some tunes and danced  a bunch.  I had just a couple beers all night but here’s a picture of my enjoying one of them

We had a blast and took a TON of pictures.  I almost left around 11:00 but then Joe came back with Amy with a Y and they convinced me to go back inside.  We ended up dancing there for a couple more hours.  Here’s a picture of our core crew...Joe, Will, myself, and Andre.


Towards the end of the night before the bar closed, Will got everyone in the bar together for a huge group picture.  That guy really knew how to keep the party going.  I’m glad he decided to follow us to Phi Phi...and I’m sure he is too:)

 Andre and I finally headed home around 1:30 or 2 since we had to be at the dive shop at 8 a.m.  The others headed out to the beach for a pretty crazy night.

Friday, January 29, 2010

I didn’t sleep so great yet again but we were up and ready to go down to the shop by 7:45.  There was still no sign of Joe or Will.  I was just happy not to be hungover:)

We didn’t see that much but had a good first dive.  We had a different dive master, Timos/Greece and he was much better.  He went slow and pointed out anything interesting that he saw.  I was hoping to see another leopard shark but had no such luck.  It was one of beautiful days though...when the beauty above the surface was almost as good as the beauty below.  Here’s the island near where we dove.

After the first dive we went and parked in Maya Bay.  For those that don’t know, this is beach where the movie “The Beach” with Leonardo DiCaprio was filmed.  There were quite a few boats there as this a stop for many tours that operate in the area.  We didn’t get off and go to the beach, but swam around in the area a little.  At some point, we saw all the Japanese tourists pull up on a huge boat.  Every single one of them was wearing life vests.  It was quite a funny sight.  The tour operators basically force them all to get in the water.  They all just bob up and down, cackling very loudly and splashing about uncontrollably.  It was very reminiscent of that scene in Titanic after the boat sinks and there is chaos in the water.  Wow, not one, but two DiCaprio movie references in the same paragraph!

It turned out we did our second dive right from that spot. 

It was possibly the most beautiful dive I have done!  Not for the fish, which were good but less than spectacular, but for the coral in this area.  We swam through several little coral tunnels and it was pretty shallow so we were under for almost an hour.

We got back at the hostel too late to say goodbye to Joe.  Will recounted their night for us and it was crazy enough that no details should be repeated in a public forum.  We rested for awhile and then went down to the beach around 2:30.  Not much happening and the tide was WAY out so we didn’t stay that long.

Later that night, we all went for an awesome all you can eat buffet dinner.  It was pricey, but it was probably my first good solid meal since last Sunday in Bangkok.  After, we went to the beach and had a drink and watched the fire show at Ibiza bar.  Will’s jumping skills finally tapered off a little and he burned his foot.  No matter when you’ve got the ocean right there to soothe what ails you.

Eventually we hit Banana bar again...good times once again!  Tons of pictures and dancing.  When the bar closed we hit the beach again for about an hour, where the party was still going on strong.  I ran out of steam around 2:00 so I headed back, but looked like things were going okay for the other guys if you know what I mean:)

Saturday, January 30, 2010

Finally it was my last day in Phi Phi.  It seems like I’ve been here for ages and it’s only been 5 days!  I spent the morning doing the usual...working on journals.  We were originally going to go kayaking again but then Zach/USA and George/USA had the idea of hiking up to the viewpoint that overlooks the island and then down to the beach on the other side.  I was game for some exercise and I wanted to see the viewpoint so the plan was set.

We had quick lunch and then off we went to the edge of town and then turned up the stairs to start the climb.  Whew...my lack of exercise was apparent after about 9 stairs.  Sadly, there were another 500 or so after that.  I started to get flashbacks of the Lost City trek in Colombia!  Up at the top we were rewarded however with spectacular views of the Ko Phi Phi isand.

The hike down the mountain on the other side was tough with sandals, but the approach reminded me of Praia de Sonho a little.  The one hour hike was totally worth it because beach was absolutely gorgeous on the other side.  We all were more than ready to cool off in the water for a bit.  I also went out and snorkeled and played for about an hour with the giant clams that are abundant in this region.  We had an awesome afternoon lounging on the beach. 

Late in the afternoon, Andre and I caught a boat back to the main pier while the others all decided to hike back.  I didn’t mind the boat ride...it went the long way around the island and it gave me a great look at the rest of the island.  There were a couple more remote beaches that could only be reached by boat.  They had bungalows there...it would be the perfect getaway if you wanted to escape it all.  Ko Phi Phi has something for everyone!

Back in the hostel we got cleaned up, rested, and exchanged all the pictures.  We had a few drinks and ordered food to the room from the hostel restaurant.  I don’t think I’ll be getting sick of Thai food anytime soon.  We were having such a great time and didn’t leave the hostel until almost 11.  Down at the beach, the full moon party was in full swing.  We danced in the sand for a couple hours until I was completely exhausted.  I headed back to the hostel, ending my final night and an amazing time on Phi Phi.  I smiled to myself on the way home.  I am so happy to be doing this again, I just can’t express it.  The last week has made me realize how suffocated I had become back home.  I was having a good time back in Boston...mostly because I was doing work that I enjoy so much, but I think I was getting just a little too comfortable with my situation.  I was losing a little of that fire in me that keeps life exciting.  I had not just physically removed myself from the travel world, but also mentally.  I feel so content now though.  Maybe I was born for a life on the road because it’s at times like this where I couldn’t be any happier.  Just before I left Boston, my boss made a comment that he wasn’t sure if I was traveling to take a break from work or working to take a break from traveling.  Maybe I’m not so sure either.



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