The astute reader will note that there have been eight or so months since my last Thailand post. That’s because in the meantime I returned to Australia, commenced full-time work and, discovering my workplace required me to take my annual leave and not roll it over, promptly decided to return to Thailand for a relatively cheap and amazing trip again in August when I saw some Jetstar sale fares in February (for almost a third of what I paid over New Year’s). After all, I certainly felt like I had unfinished business when I left Koh Tao.
And dear reader, I can assure you that far from regretting this second jaunt within the space of eight months, I had an even better time the second time round. Indeed, the experience has solidified Thailand as probably my favourite place in the world to visit.
After a harrowing 17 hour door to door journey to Phuket Town – I don’t think I’d fully comprehended the four hour layover in Singapore, or how tiring such a long journey is compared with the direct nine or so hour flight – I finally got to Phuket Town and easily found my delightful guesthouse, with the reception man waiting. Happily, my room was great value at AUD$20 or so, as it had effective air conditioning, a great little bathroom with hot shower and a somewhat pointless TV.
I just had time to find the nearest 7 Eleven and overcome a slight language barrier topping up the Thai sim I had got for free when I disembarked at the airport – Phuket Town is not a tourist place, so the 7 Eleven was full of Thais instead of Westerners – and scoff down a 7 Eleven sandwich and burger before turning in. Naturally I didn’t sleep terribly amazingly due to the unfamiliar room and temperature (I had just come from Australian winter) and the knowledge I had to be up at about 7am to get the ferry to Phi Phi.
In the morning I rose, got ready and after dashing to 7 Eleven to grab some microwaved breakfast I received a knock on the door of my room from a guesthouse worker alerting me that my ride to the ferry was there. I jumped in the van and headed off to the ferry, where we boarded somewhat earlier than the ferry was actually due to leave; however, this enabled me to grab a seat on the top deck and enjoy the incredible sunshine. I am sure this had not been possible when I had been in Phi Phi in April (‘hot season’): as as well as the ferry probably being full, the weather had been choppy and unpleasant. In stark contrast, this ride in the middle of rainy season was a chance for me to sunbake on the deck, listen to some tunes and annoy with conversation a friendly South American man next to whom I had immediately sat in order to borrow his sunscreen (I was travelling extremely lightly due to my determination to get on board my Jetstar flight with only 7kg carry on and so would buy all my liquids when I got to Phi Phi).
After a pleasant cruise in which everyone was able to take photos as we neared the island, I disembarked and went straight to the counter for Captain Bob’s Sailing Booze Cruise near the pier. I had already booked onto this cruise for the following day but went to confirm my reservation, as suggested. The organiser, Sunshine, strongly suggested I take the cruise that day as it was beautiful sunny weather, which was extremely random and unpredictable at this time of year (apparently it had been raining non-stop for the previous week, as one might expect during rainy season). However, I explained I had decided (through long prior deliberation) to take the chance and go on the cruise the following day, as on that day it was Sunday – the only day the Pool Party at Ibiza Pool Bar was held.
After asking her for directions to my guesthouse I thanked her and set off. I had decided to take the shortest and most easy to navigate route, which involved walking straight toward the beach and then walking all the way up the beach until I hit the guesthouse; however, I was also wielding a small suitcase, so exercised various arm muscles I don’t normally use carrying it two handed as I walked.
When I got to my accommodation it was only about 10:30am, but I was able to check directly in. Possibly because I had booked online and potentially overpaid – it was low season and it seemed you could walk in pretty much anywhere and pay not very much – I was given the room that directly overlooked the beach, and with an incredible view. It was also lovely inside, and I was very excited.
Hungry, I set off to find some food and consequently had some noodles at a nearby restaurant attached to a hostel, before buying toiletries and a towel at a nearby convenience store. On the way I also took some photos of the beautiful beach on which I was staying.
Back in my room I attempted an hour or two of sleep but to little avail: this was mainly due to my body clock still being fixed on being wide awake at this time, but I could also hear music start to drift up from bars down on the beach as people woke up from their sleep-ins and headed to the beach and the beach restaurants. At approximately 12:30pm I finally got up and got ready for the pool party. After a lunch of a cheeseburger from the restaurant belonging to Stones Bar and Hostel, the hostel next to my guesthouse (right on the beach), I walked over to the pool party at Ibiza Pool Bar.
I spent the rest of the afternoon – excepting when I ducked out to have a second lunch of carbonara pasta from the same nearby restaurant as my breakfast – milling in the pool with some friendly English lads. At about 7:30pm as the sun set the pool emptied, so I went back to my room to freshen up. I headed to the beach and struck up a conversation with some people I saw sitting outside Stones Bar, but after taking another wander around I gave in to my exhaustion and three-hours-ahead body clock and decided to grab some street food before heading to bed at 9pm (my body clock’s midnight).
I saw a guy with a table of meat that was just sitting there unrefrigerated (as usual in Thailand) and, weary of the food poisoning I presumably obtained from an unrefrigerated kebab on New Year’s Eve on Koh Phangan, asked him how he cooked the salt and pepper chicken: he proceeded to take that as permission to sell me some and dunked it directly into a vat of hot oil. I figured that deep frying it probably killed the bugs so lathered it up with some tasty sauce options (fried chicken is really good in Thailand) and headed back to the presumed sanctuary of my private room to eat my tasty chicken and head to bed.
Very unfortunately, however, I quickly realised that the reviews that had spoken of the loud noise playing at night that could be heard at my guesthouse – Apache – were far from exaggerated: I have never heard any music so loud, and my earplugs were no match at all. It sounded as though the bass was playing inside you and there was just no way to drown it out. I possibly managed to drift into an hour or so of interrupted sleep between 9pm and 1:50am, when the music blessedly cut off abruptly and I was able to sleep. Another issue was that I had somehow managed to leave my entire packet of specially purchased Hearos earplugs in the airport in Singapore, leaving me with only two pairs that had escaped into my handbag. So I knew that despite my desire not to re-use any ear plugs to maximise their effect, I had only two pairs that would have to last me the whole trip.
I slept in as best I could despite my body clock and headed off to find the meeting point for the cruise. I had somehow left it later than I intended by getting ready in a leisurely manner and so was a bit concerned I would be late for the boat, or not have enough time to eat breakfast. Luckily, food service in Thailand is so insanely fast that I was able to sit down, order and eat my eggs on toast and be out of there in about ten minutes flat before making it to the cruise check-in counter on time and being directed to the meeting point.
There was a relatively small group of us on the boat, but as one of the organisers promptly declared, the small groups are usually the best. Moreover, my gamble at having waited until that day to go on the cruise paid off: if it was possible, it was even sunnier for even longer that day. That day was very pleasant as we zoomed around in our cosy, covered speedboat (at first it was a bit alarming as we went very fast and I was not prepared), first to ‘Monkey Beach’ where we fed monkeys up close; then past the Viking cave with explanation; then to a nice lagoon/cove area where we floated around in upside down life jackets as ‘diapers’ while a couple of guys rock climbed (first having to shoo away a monkey that was right on the climbing rock and which someone must have brought there from monkey beach) and then jumped off.
We didn’t make it to Maya Bay, the famous ‘Beach’ of ‘The Beach’ fame until about 5pm when most other tourists had left, so it certainly wasn’t busy – but the tide also raced quite far out before our eyes. I sat in the shallows and chatted to a friendly Irish guy.
Back on the boat we listened to some tunes (I plugged my iPhone in after the organiser’s playlist had already repeated twice), drank some beer and enjoyed the sunset as we cruised back to Phi Phi Don (the main island).
That night I decided to head over to Dojo Bar to book myself onto the other company’s party yacht, the Shangri La Party Yacht – which I had been on in 2013 – for the next day. There I found the same older guy who had been the captain back then, and he enthusiastically booked me on when I explained I was there two years ago. I then joined the Irishman and his friend, an Englishman who had also been on that day’s cruise, and some others they had met the previous night. We went to a few different bars on the beach where we also ran into the friendly Australian host from the cruise that day, and also briefly checked out the bar at which we were meant to meet to look at the photos from the day, but most people hadn’t turned up.
The next day I had my usual eggs on toast at another inland restaurant, noting with interest that there were very cheap private rooms to be got nearby. I then made my way over to the bar at which we had to meet for the Shangri La cruise, after having to ask directions from the bar that sold me the ticket. As I waited at the outdoor Jungle Bar, which also had very nice views on this yet another beautiful sunny day, I had a tasty dish with rice and some other simple ingredients.
It took a while to board as the main boat was late, and then we had to take turns being ferried over on longboats. One poor lady who was sick with a bug threw up over the side of the longboat!
That day was meant to be the almost the same itinerary as Captain Bob’s; and indeed, when I had taken the same cruise in 2013 we followed a very similar itinerary and took our time at Monkey Beach and various other stops in the same fashion. However, this time the boat did not stop until we finally got to Maya Bay at about 5pm: the rest of the time was spent just cruising, socialising and having a few drinks on board; except for when I did once again partake in the ‘sea jacuzzi’, which involved jumping into a big net that had been dropped into the sea as the boat moved and sitting in it like a spa.
When we eventually got to Maya Bay we had to swim across and then scramble across rocks because the tide was so far out by this point, in the same way as we had had to the day before – and I had lightly grazed my arm as I was tossed forward onto rock in the current, not realising how problematic this can be in Thai water due to the risk of infection (luckily the grazes were very shallow and were ultimately fine). Moreover, we had to pay to enter Maya Beach so had had to carry 200 baht as we swam; those who had missed hearing this information could not enter and had to go back to the boat. On Bob’s cruise, the entry fee had been paid for us (and the drinks had been included in the albeit more expensive price).
A few people dove off a diving board attached to the boat and we had a very late afternoon meal of fried rice before we headed back to Phi Phi Don, again watching the sun set to music. Unfortunately, my tiredness was hitting me like a ton of bricks and it was difficult to stay awake, even on the boat. Consequently, when I got back to my accommodation after parting ways with a couple of friendly Moroccans and vowing to meet up later, I found myself surprisingly sleeping fairly solidly from 7:30pm to 10:30pm despite the loud music: I guess I was tired enough that it no longer mattered (although the music is not yet too loud at 7:30pm so I guess it is possible to fall asleep at this time).
I awoke disoriented and groggy to find some messages from the Irishman, and realising it was 10:30pm on my last night I was determined not to completely miss out (after all, I had conked out on my first night). So I gussied up and headed over to the bar we were meant to meet at to see the photos from this day’s cruise – Stockholm Syndrome. Unsurprisingly, there was no one from the day’s cruise at that bar. I grabbed some pizza and through the power of Facebook Messenger managed to meet up with both one of the Moroccans and the Irishman at Stones Bar. The Irishman and I ended up finding a fabulous little bar that had a Thai cover band and stayed there singing along until it closed at 2am. This was much more my scene than the repetitive and somewhat intense EDM playing in all the other bars, especially the beach bars!