I’ve wanted to see the crystal clear waters of the Phi Phi Islands ever since I watched that Leonardo di Caprio film, The Beach. I was sure the water colour was Photoshopped and that there was no way this part of Thailand could be so beautiful. But today I would discover how wrong I was. The water really is this clear and the islands really are this beautiful. I should caveat this with a note that it took a lot of work to take photos that didn’t have hoards of tourists and tour boats in them. This is not a wilderness area. It is said to be the most touristed place in the world. But don’t let that put you off seeing and experiencing what all the fuss is about.
Mum and Dad bought us a speed boat Phi Phi Islands day trip for Christmas. It was the best Christmas present. Our boat took us across the seas to Monkey Bay where we watched monkeys swimming in the sea (after they had been shooed off the boats). The boat stopped nearby to let us go snorkelling. Small fish came to the boat for the bread that people were throwing off. While there are signs everywhere to say not to feed the fish, the tour operators all sell bread for feeding of the fish. The snorkelling at Phi Phi was average with a lot of dead and damaged coral from over-tourism and tour operators just dropping anchor. But I still couldn’t help but feel excited to be here swimming in this place that I never believed to be real. The water was so clear and the cliffs rose around the bay.
We stopped for lunch at the main resort of Phi Phi Island. The food was terrible (think the worst buffet at your local food court Chinese takeaway) but I guess the tour operator has to cater to the lowest common denominator, which is tourists who don’t like this or don’t eat that. After lunch we went across to Phi Phi Don where we drifted through a big lagoon. This would be an amazing place to swim. Many tours and privately-hired longboats were stopped here for that purpose. Just floating through was stunning and I can see why people might spend hours swimming here.
And then we went there. To the place where The Beach was filmed. And I got to swim there. It was fantastic. The water was cool and clear and impossibly blue. Tour speed boats moved in and out of one side of the bay dropping off hundreds of passengers. On the other side of the bay, privately-hired long boats bobbed picturesquely. And right in the middle was the a large roped off swimming zone. I swam way out deep into the bay and luxuriated in the moment.
Our final stop for the day was a tiny beach just 15 minutes from the Phuket harbour. I think every tour boat operating in the area uses this as their final stop. I had my first experience hiring a beach umbrella and chair. This is not something we do in Australia but the Europeans on our tour seemed quite comfortable with paying 150 baht each for the privilege. The good thing about this system of beach use is that you aren’t left sitting in the blazing sun on hot white sand like you are on many Australian beaches. It made it comfortable and easy to watch the goings on. I found the behaviour of some men and women from northern Asia particularly interesting: they were covering their skin in sand and burying themselves in it. It almost seemed as though this might have been their first time to a sand beach. I imagine people who live in places where it snows have a similar chuckle when I get excited about the cold white stuff.
It was an amazing day and I feel like I experienced something amazing.