Melbourne-based writer and journalist. Purveyor of finally crafted radio plays. A Muppet of a man.
Phi Phi Island lies about fifty kilometres west from Phuket, and the trip takes about an hour across choppy waters by speed boat. Boat tours leave first thing in the morning from the west side of Phuket, in a long wagon train of speedboats.
The island has experienced a tourist boom, but as recent as the late nineties only the hardiest adventure travellers made it to the shores. Much of this increase can be owed to (or blamed on) a Leonardo DiCaprio film called The Beach. I’ve never seen it, but given the idyllic surroundings of Phi Phi I can guess at the contents – sweeping vistas, blue waters, white beaches, much like what is there today, minus the swarm of tourists.
After an hour of salt and sun, it was with a bit of relief to finally tumble off the boats onto solid land at the first stop, a small island slightly north of Phi Phi.
We’d found something which you can’t find in Phuket – a relatively quiet beach where we could relax. Sure, the waters might contain small jellyfish (a fact I discovered a bit too late), but there was room to actually move, and it wasn’t overly crowded with deck chairs. As boat after boat arrived and divulged cargo of pale, sweaty tourists, the beach slowly filled up with grumbling people who couldn’t go in the water despite the heat, and resigned themselves instead to baking on the sand.
The 2004 tsunami had a disastrous effect on the Phi Phi area, much as it did on Phuket. It had bounced back, helped along by a solid boom of hotels and services to cope with the demand of tourists. The smaller island of our first stop fared little better, and nearby was a marker showing how high the water reached – it had washed over the entire island.
After a buffet lunch at a hotel we boarded the boat again and took a scenic trip around the island. While most of it is harsh limestone rock jutting out of the blue water, there’s the occasional stretch of sand to break it up, including where we beached next, on an isolated place dubbed Monkey Beach.
It was a few metres wide bordered by thick trees and rock, and less than a hundred metres long. Every spare inch was crowded by a mob of tourists. And, of course, some rather bemused monkeys.
The monkeys, we were carefully instructed, were used to humans but weren’t tame. You can look but you can’t touch. Just stand back, give the primate some room, and let them masturbate in peace. That’s pretty much what most of us did, until one loudmouth who thought she knew better (and unfortunately let the team down by being Australian) proclaimed that the monkey was cute and was going to pat him.
The monkey reacted quickly – it bared its teeth, tried to scratch her arm, stole her floppy hat and scampered up a tree. She yelled at it and called it stupid, and amazingly, tried to throw sand at it. The monkey didn’t seem fussed, and was probably smarter than her – it hadn’t travelled to a far flung island to watch a monkey masturbate on the beach.
Leaving the beach and their primates to their joyful activities, our boat took us past the Viking Cave and over to the famous beach, first discovered by the explorer DiCaprio. It was small, and now so dense with tourists that you couldn’t see the sand. The waters were blue, and the sand soft like white silt. It was nice. I just hope everyone else enjoyed it too.