Ha Long Bay 2: Electric Boogaloo

My cold seems to have definitely gotten worse this morning and, given how many other people around us were sniffling at breakfast something, seems to be going around. Lynn, luckily, has gotten better though so it shouldn’t be too much longer for me either. Regardless, the trip must go on!

We met our shuttle driver at 7.30 after an early breakfast at the hotel and headed off for today’s adventure – a speed boat tour of the Phi Phi Islands. We drove seemingly all over puhket, gathering other tourists as we went for the next hour and a half before finally arriving at the run down marina. We disembarked, were waved into a waiting room, paid our balance , and officially joined Team Blue String by having, you guessed it, a blue string tied around our wrists to make sure we stayed with the right boat throughout the day. All told, we were probably 30 strong and I was a little concerned how packed we were going to be on this boat.

At this point we were given a briefing of the day by our tour guide and offered free motion sickness pills that we were heavily encouraged to take. Lynn had planned ahead and taken one before we even got on the shuttle earlier that day, but I obliged and took one now. Freshly dosed with 50 mg of dimenhydrinate each, Team Blue String climbed aboard the boat. We had been told during the briefing that only 8 people could ride up front, and not wanting to be stuck with a bad view inside the boat I pulled Lynn up with me and claimed spots five and six, joined shortly by a very tan French couple as seven and eight. The other four were occupied by possibliest the unhealthiest looking Arab men we have ever met, spraying each other down with sunscreen. Throughout the day whenever they weren’t chain smoking or pounding soda, they were asking our guide for the best place to get a beer at whatever our next stop would be.

We headed out into the Andaman Sea and quickly found ourselves crashing through the wakes of large ferry boats as we raced the other speed boat tours to be the first to Monkey Beach. As we went Lynn and I both noted that it looked like Ha Long Bay in Vietnam, but with much fewer limestone islands jutting out of the water.

We made it to Monkey Beach just before high tide completely covered it and went ashore with the toursists from three or four other boats to gawk at the monkeys and feed them bananas. The whole thing felt very weird and it was clear the monkeys were maybe too used to the tourists based on how readily they grabbed food out of your hand or even jumped aboard the boats. Our ten minutes on shore passed quickly before we loaded back up and shipped off to make room for other speedboats coming in.

Monkeys!  It's not onsen monkeys but still monkeys nonetheless.
Monkeys! It’s not onsen monkeys but still monkeys nonetheless.
Monkeys and the speedboats.
Monkeys and the speedboats.

From here we moved maybe 200 yards down the coast where we had 45 minutes for snorkeling in some pretty dead reef before going ashore for lunch. Despite the lack of coral there were plenty of brightly colored fish to admire and we spent quite a while watching them and being careful to not touch any of the sea urchin laying on the floor between bright blue and purple giant clams.

Lynn snorkeling with some fish behind her.
Lynn snorkeling with some fish behind her.

Ready for lunch, we climbed back aboard the boat and headed into the larger of the two Phi Phi Islands where we had a buffet lunch waiting for us. The food was okay, about what you would expect from a buffet but we were both hungry from the mornings activities and quickly ate our fill before heading out to see what the rest of the island offered before we had to be back on the boat. Along the way we admired the beautiful beaches and the sheer limestone cliffs covered in bright green trees, as well as stopped for ice cream, of course. Nestled amidst the beautiful scenery was what you would expect from a resort island: lots of hotels, tourist shops, and bars blasting top 40 hits.

A line of long boats on Phi Phi island.  You can see the Ha Long Bay lookalike cliffs in the background.
A line of long boats on Phi Phi island. You can see the Ha Long Bay lookalike cliffs in the background.

Back on the boat, we sped off (because its a speedboat) towards the smaller Phi Phi island where we had a few stops planned. As we headed towards it we couldn’t help but notice that we were also headed towards some rather large thunderclouds and here we were sitting uncovered on the front of the boat because I had insisted on it. Poor Lynn. The rain held off long enough for us to see Viking Cave, so called because there are supposedly ancient cave paintings of Viking ships in it. I say supposedly because we aren’t actually allowed in. It seems that the local fisherman use the cave to harvest swift nests for making birds nest soup and so don’t let tourists in to keep the birds and their nests protected.  Birds nest soup seems like the ultimate snake oil.  Our guide says it will cure anything that is wrong with you from cancer to heart disease to indigestion.

Viking cave and its birds nest soup nests.  The bamboo poles are for locals to access the nests.
Viking cave and its birds nest soup nests. The bamboo poles are for locals to access the nests.

We cruised through a pretty cove before arriving at the beach made famous by Leonardo DiCaprio and the movie of the same name just as the rain opened up. Not ones to let that ruin us seeing this beach that everyone was so excited about we threw our backpacks under the covered part of the boat and headed ashore. Neither of us have ever seen the movie The Beach so we didn’t really understand why everyone was so excited, but we did enjoy that it was a beautiful beach in a beautiful cove set against a tropical jungle. We also appreciated being able to ride out the rainstorm in the ocean where being wet is a little less uncomfortable.

Selfie time on the beach.  No Leo to be found.
Selfie time on the beach. No Leo to be found.

After about ten minutes we noticed a path that cut through the jungle and we followed it past a bathroom and a beer stand (where our Arab friends had parked) to a small bay on the other side of the island. Since the tide was on its way out though, there was a bit of a drop off to get into some fairly rough surf that we both wisely decided was not for us today. We headed back to the beach and got there just in time to be blinded by the sun reflecting off the water and white sand. It seems neither of us had thought about grabbing sunglasses when we disembarked from the boat in the cover of rainclouds and now were paying the price for that. We hid in the shade of some cliffs for a bit, laughing at the number of girls posing in the surf for their boyfriends or relatives capturing endless instagram pictures for them. It seems sports illustrated swimsuit edition has had a profound effect on how (mostly) European women take their vacation pictures.

Wonderful beach posing.
Wonderful beach posing.
Lynn doing her best impression of the surf modeling.
Lynn doing her best impression of the surf modeling.

Just as we were getting to the point where we were keeping our eyes closed for extended lengths of time to avoid the sun, the boat returned to pick us up. We gratefully climbed aboard and both retrieved our sunglasses before rejoining our not so favorite people at the front of the boat. From here we headed towards Khai island for some beach lounging and possibly more snorkeling.

This island is the most stereotypical tourist trap you could possibly imagine. Rising maybe only 10 ft out of the ocean, it’s 200 yards wide and 500 yards long with a large dilapidated wood and palm frond lodge in the center of it where the pay toilets, bar (and our Arab friends) are housed. Every other inch of sand is covered in chairs that you have to pay to rent or huts selling banana boat ride, jet ski rentals, and parasailing trips. Since the tide was low there was thankfully some free sand available where we could set up our borrowed hotel beach towels without having to pay anything.

We spent the next hour and a half saying no to people trying to sell us overpriced drinks and swimming in the ocean and getting stung by the remnants of jellyfish that had broken up in the surf. It wasn’t all bad though, our boat had fresh pineapple and watermelon cut up for us and we really did enjoy the view as well as the girls still hilariously posing in the surf.

This creepy guy in a full ski mask was hanging out in the surf for a while.  We never saw him go in or come out of the water.  Maybe he was a Navy SEAL?
This creepy guy in a full ski mask was hanging out in the surf for a while. We never saw him go in or come out of the water. Maybe he was a Navy SEAL?

Called back to our boat it was time to say goodbye to the sea and headed back to port uneventfully over calm water while being pitched a DVD featuring pictures of the days activities. Lynn and I both decided we were okay without one and got back in the van for a car sickness inducing hour and a half back to the hotel. It seems her dramamine had worn off by this point.

Back at the hotel, Lynn rested in the room while I went to a travel agent downstairs and booked a minibus to the airport for tomorrow. I also happened upon a hat without a douchey flat bill for only 200 baht and after spending all day in the sun without a hat, gladly made the purchase.

Lynn rejoined me at this point, feeling better, and we went out for some Thai food at a place we had found on Trip Advisor. On the way there Lynn accidentally stepped in some wet concrete, so if you ever are in Kata, Thailand and see a flip flop print in the sidewalk outside of a Family Mart you can know it was Lynn. The food was pretty standard Thai fare and we headed home to make sure we got up in time for our early bus ride to the airport the next day.

Daily Walking Miles : 4

Fun Facts:

  • Phi Phi is pronounced pee pee which made for some great jokes.
  • The are four traditional condiments at every Thai meal: spicy fish sauce, spicy vinegar, sugar, and crushed roasted peanuts.
  • While people will say the Andaman sea is like Ha Long Bay, you should know Ha Long Bay is way better, albeit with murkier water.
  • All over Phuket there are shops selling gasoline in used vodka bottles for motorbikes.
Gasoline for motorbikes is sold everywhere in used vodka bottles.
Gasoline for motorbikes is sold everywhere in used vodka bottles.

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