A thin strip of land separated two bays. The tide was out, and people played a game of soccer where we had dipped our feet in the water earlier. We looked across the action to green hills rising sharply from the sea, the other end of the barbell-shaped island. A monkey ate a snack next to us atop rocky cliffs while tourists snapped photo after photo. This was our first night on Phi Phi Don, Thailand, a small island in the Andaman Sea. We had climbed to a viewpoint for sunset, and the island’s beauty certainly warranted all the attention.
The ferry from Phuket was filled with families, couples, and friends making the Southeast Asia rounds. A few young guys were drinking so much cheap beer I couldn’t help but keep an eye on them in case they fell overboard. Thankfully, it never happened. They did epitomize my perception of most visitors to the island, though. That perception had made it hard for Kathryn and I to be totally committed to stopping there. We knew it would be beautiful, but all we had read and heard about was the crowds of partiers, which isn’t our scene these days. So, we compromised and scheduled three nights – enough to take in the sights, but not too much if it was indeed overflowing with people.
A Day of Kayaking
We set out early on our first morning to rent kayaks. The plan was to head north to the other side of the island where we knew several beaches dotted the coast. Our excitement was high as the cliffs slid by all around us. The bay’s calm waters lapped behind us as we approached the open water. Soon, waves were crashing into the vertical rock walls. We didn’t say it then, but I think we all wondered what we had gotten ourselves into.
Around the corner sat several small islands jutting out of the water. A small bay curved away from us and a white sand beach was visible on the far side. We headed towards it for a quick swim break.
Now the waves were coming from behind us. They would push us up and forwards, and we imagined how that would help us land the kayak. Thunderous crashes filled our ears from the beach. The swells that helped us along were exploding against the rocks and sand that was our destination. Visions of crash landing along with a heavy plastic boat were not encouraging. Tessa and Kyle were thinking the same thing, so we all turned around to live another day.
The thing with ocean kayaking is that you start full of excitement, “Yeah! We are going kayaking around this island! It’s so beautiful!” And it is! Time goes by, though, and you’re still paddling. You can see things that are far away, but it takes a while to arrive, since, you know, you’re paddling to them. At least, that’s how it is for me. I occasionally view it more as a mode of transportation than a fun-filled activity. I made this transition in perspective around the time we rounded the corner to the other side of the island.
As we approached the northern point the chop eased a bit and the water turned turquoise. We skimmed over coral reefs, tropical fish, and seagrasses. It all looked incredibly inviting to our sweaty bodies, but with only jagged rocks nearby (that our boats would inevitably be pushed into) we skipped taking a dip.
Thankfully, we were close to a beach break. We pulled the kayaks onto the white sand with no one around and took advantage of the shade under a tree. Within 90 seconds, a crowd of people arrived at our peaceful spot, splashing and posing for the cameras. Apparently, this was also when the tour boat day-trippers arrive!
While swimming, we decided to return the way we came instead of going all the way around the island. The time left for our rental wouldn’t exactly allow it, and although we were confident the beach hut wasn’t too strict with their return times, we didn’t want to be too late.
It was now around midday, and the sun was beating down. Sooner than we all wanted, we climbed aboard and pushed offshore.
This time was even more of a slog to me. We had already seen all these sights, but now it was much hotter. Paddle, paddle, paddle…I could no longer be bothered.
Monkey Beach was on the way back. It was no more than two minutes of extra paddling, but Kathryn and I decided to swim where we were and wait for Tessa and Kyle to visit it. They returned with tales of pretty fish and an immediate friend – as soon as they landed, a monkey ran for the bag with food! It sounded like a worthwhile destination, so Kathryn and I discussed visiting the next day once the tide was low.
While we waited, we both jumped into the clear green water. We took turns diving to the bottom to grab sand and watch the fish swimming. The water felt so cool and refreshing we smiled at one another, happy to be sharing this impromptu tropical experience. When Tessa and Kyle returned we caught up to our drifting kayak and climbed back in. Well, we attempted to climb back in, capsized, grabbed our things, and then climbed back in.
We passed the rest of the day lazily. Tessa and Kyle lounged on the beach in the afternoon. Close to sunset, we received an invitation and joined them. Kyle had joined the beach soccer match, and I joined as well. Kathryn and Tessa relaxed as the sky turned purple, a peaceful ending to a fun day.
Zack’s Grand Adventure
Hiking to the viewpoint and kayaking were our two main activities. Those were already done, so our last day was another relaxing one. For me, it was relaxing until I got an idea.
The beaches south of the one we stopped at while kayaking were supposed to be the best on the island. I grew restless and decided to run to some of them. It was about two miles one way, so it would be a good way to pass the time and exercise before going to lunch.
I put on my shoes and realized I was a bit thirsty, but the hotel required guests to remove their shoes before going upstairs. I skipped the drink, a bit too lazy to go get it. The run wouldn’t be that long, anyway.
The directions seemed easy enough. A few missed turns later, I got to the main turn across the island. I think it was a wrong turn, too. Up and up I went, steeper and steeper, until I started to walk. Eventually, I could see the beach at the bottom, a beckoning sight.
Longboats lined the beach, tourists splashed and snapped photos. I went up and over the hill to the other side. Waves crashed against the concrete pier, longboats bobbed in the water. This was the point I had planned to turn around, but a viewpoint sign convinced me to keep going.
The signs led me on a route I began to doubt – through construction sites, neighborhoods, and always up. I wasn’t sure how long this would take, and it was the middle of the day. I began to walk in the shade and run between it to conserve energy and reduce time in the sun. Finally, a deck required me to take off my shoes. A lovely breeze cooled me down and the entire island spread out below me. The signs were true!
Encouraged by the views and being at least halfway done, I sped down the trail. The ticket shop for the viewpoint we visited our first night informed me it didn’t matter I was just going down after being at the top, it needed money. I had none, and turned away, a bit sad – I would have to go the long way around.
Certain there must be a way the locals avoid paying the fee, I asked someone. They pointed to a trail between two houses. Before I could feel odd running through their yards, I took off.
Kathryn was a bit surprised when I walked through the door – it had been two hours! I’m not sure how far it was, but I drank a lot of water!
Another Grand Adventure
While at lunch we discussed going to Monkey Beach. Kathryn wasn’t too interested, but I was still curious. A couple hours later I set off.
The beach was right around a corner in the bay. Low tide exposed so much sand, the idea was it would be easy to walk as far as I could, then swim the rest of the way. It was easy enough to dodge coral, rocks, urchins, and anchors, and soon I was a couple hundred meters into the bay in only waist deep water.
One hundred meters short of the corner, I had to start swimming. I’m not the best swimmer, so after several stroke switches, I was ready to arrive. The fish were beautiful, and I tried to enjoy them between labored breaths. Once I got to the beach, I waited for the monkeys to hug me. They never came, and I ironically longed to be the person who had the kayak that was sitting on the sand.
In the end, Phi Phi was definitely worth the visit. Thankfully, the crowds we dreaded were not there – the town is very small, so we could only imagine how it would be packed with people. The low season must really make a huge difference.
Our time was a perfect amount to do all we wanted without growing weary of the lack of options. We embarked on the ferry ready and excited to see another part of Thailand.
Check out our video for more scenes from the trip!
© Cheers Life Partners 2017