All this diving around, and living on, a dainty, tropical island is slowly taking its toll. Maybe it’s a subtle case of island fatigue, maybe I’m experiencing what the go-getting, high fliers describe as ‘burn out’ but, more likely is the case, I’m just being over dramatic and looking for an excuse to wander around a bit for a few weeks. In short, I’m taking a holiday from the current long holiday. I’m going to Penang for a curry and a Guinness.
I’ve got two weeks to return before the dive shop sends out a search party so, unless the curry happens to be about the same size as a 3 story town house in Winchester (and gets washed down with enough Guinness to fill Micheal Barrymore’s swimming pool), I’m banking on having sufficient post-curry time to visit a few other places as I wend my way back to Phi Phi. But let’s be honest here, either way I can’t lose.
So, the plan as it stands: Head straight to Penang, gorge on curry, see some stuff on the way back up to Phi Phi. And why not?
If you can remember as far back as my last post (bad blogger! Bad!), you’d know I had got as far as Phuket on my round the houses trip south through Thailand to either Koh Phi Phi or Koh Lanta.
That was a month ago, give or take a sunny day or two.
After just a couple of days in Phuket Town I upped sticks and set my sights on Koh Phi Phi. My reason for choosing Phi Phi over Koh Lanta? Purely geographical. I thought I’d stop on Ko Phi Phi for a few days and then head onward, again by boat, to check out Koh Lanta (and, among other things, Conrad’s white rabbits.)
Alas, the best laid plans of beggars and bums fell well and truly by the wayside on about day 2 in Koh Phi Phi. It’s a smashing place. Furthermore, and quite unsurprisingly, I’m still here.
A month and counting, and it’ll be a little while longer for sure – like I said, it’s a great place to drop the pack for a while.
So what the heck to you do on a small tropical island for a month? You dive. But what do you do if you’re not a diver? Well, then you get your Open Water Certification and then dive. OK OK, maybe I’m a little biased – but unspoilt coral reefs and walls absolutely teeming with marine life, awesome visibility and 30 degree water gets me going every time. In short, the diving here kicks some serious ass.
The cost of living is slightly higher than in the mainland haunts, but the Phi Phi island lifestyle and surroundings make it worth every last Baht.
Rest assured there will be a few more posts from this corner of the world (groans)…all I need to do now is stay out of the water long enough to write them. More soon!
Still sat with the Canadian couple at Phuket Town bus station, I steered the conversation away from their recent robbery (since the girl was still clearly, and quite understandably, pissed off about it.) I asked if they could recommend me a decent, cheap guesthouse.
“I don’t know about guesthouses” the girl replied, “because we stayed in a hotel, but it was only 250 Baht if you’re interested.”
Too right I was. A hotel for under 10 bucks in Phuket? Go girl, I’m all ears.
“It’s called the On On Hotel. A funny name, I know, but have you seen the film ‘The Beach’?” she asked. I feared my nodding may have appeared more impatient that eager.
“Well, apparently, that’s where they filmed the Khao San Road guesthouse scene with Leo Di Caprio and Robert Carlisle.” She continued, pointing to the spiel in their Thailand Lonely Planet.
Now, just like everybody else who’s ever lost the will to live in a backpacker cafe, I’ve seen that film but, just between you and me, I actually thoroughly enjoyed it in a perverse, dreamy, never-gonna-happen kind of way – and I clearly remember that particular scene, too.
“Oh, right…” I said, not really knowing what to think now.
Part of me wanted to stay at the On On Hotel, if just to experience a bit of Hollywood history from probably the most popular backpacking movie ever made. But the other, more rational part of my subconscious recalled the room in question as being a two-bit, cockroach infested rabbit hutch worth a damn site less than 250 Baht a night. Nevertheless, I fully appreciate the inaccurate skew Hollywood manages to put on many a real life situation. Just look at the ‘true’ story of how the first Enigma machine was captured in the WWII submarine blockbuster U-571.
I thanked the roaming Canucks for the guest house tip off, wished them safer travels on the next leg of their journey, and headed off down Thanon Phang-Nga to find the On On hotel. After all, even if the hotel was as bad as it looked in the movie, it cost nothing just to see it.
The place was easy enough to find. Walking in through the imposing, whitewashed facade and up to the counter, I checked out the room tariff. At 180 Baht for a single room with fan, or about 6 US Dollars to you and I, the price seemed (slightly) more realistic. Eventually, one of the sullen staff did me the huge favour of showing me a room. I felt eternally grateful – albeit gratitude laced with guilt for rudely interrupting their chitchat and forcing them to do what they were paid to do.
If I were to scribe for Lonely Planet (warning: bitterness alert) I’d surely describe the On On Hotel as having an ‘air of colonial elegance’, I’d no doubt swiftly follow this with a string of trite phrases including ‘crumbling charm’ and ‘former glory’. However, I don’t write for them. But it’s not because I’m not good enough, you understand, it’s more for reasons similar to the world class footballer who (or should that be whom?) plays for Dagenham and Redbridge instead of Real Madrid. It’s simply because he chooses to…
Anyhow, back to reality; for me, the reasons behind the On On Hotel’s evident popularity remain a mystery. The place was nothing but a run-down shithole managed by indifferent staff – an overpriced flophouse clearly running on Hollywood fumes. I thanked the caring, sharing staff for their efforts above and beyond the call of duty, ticked the ol’ imaginary travel box and wandered back into the sunshine.
The scenery between Surat Thani and Phuket was incredible. The six hour journey took us through Kao Sok National Park –with its glorious limestone karts and thick jungle – and then through Kao Lak, a beach resort town hit mercilessly hard by the Boxing Day Tsunami of 2004. Kao Lak looked like a newly built town – and, in truth, for the most part it probably was.
Now almost 24 hours since leaving Bangkok, we finally rolled into Phuket Town. Despite the island being regarded as package holiday hell on a stick, at that particular moment I couldn’t have cared less. I was happy just to have stopped moving. What’s more, had the ground not had an impressive covering of diesel, cigarette butts and general filth, I’d have gotten down on all fours and given it a little pope-esque kiss.
During the usual post-bus bottle-of-pop-and-cigarette ritual, I noticed a western couple sitting at a nearby table. I went over and said hello. Soon after, we got chatting. They were Canadian, they were waiting for a bus out of Phuket and, until I arrived, they were happily playing cards. These 2 roaming Canucks had also arrived from Surat Thani, but several days earlier and via one of the V.I.P. tour buses. They had very few positive things to say about it, not least of all because they’d been robbed on the way down. Not at the hands of gun-toting bandits, as I had dramatically envisaged, but (and this is by their own admission) by their tour company. Bags had dipped and rucksacks rifled, and each relieved of electrical goodies, cash, cards and, in this particular girl’s case, jewellery. They were certain it was and ‘inside job’, so to speak, and clearly felt let down by their operator. Sadly, they were also unable to prove a thing either way. You know this kind of thing goes on from time to time, but seldom do you hear about it firsthand. They just had to take it on the chin and hope their travel insurance covered it.
I’m sure the lion’s share of these tourist buses run without a glitch and that all baggage turns up intact – and I’m also sure that this could happen on any bus on a given day, be it tourist or government flavour. Events such as these can happen to any of us at any given time, we just hope above all hopes that they don’t.
But there are, I feel, some measures we can take to further reduce these already slight risks. Here and here are just two examples that I’ve had time to write about. In addition, splitting your valuables and/or travelling with more than one bag may help reduce losses, too.
If you have any other ones that you swear by, do please take the time to put them in the comments section below. If it allows even just one person to avoid this potentially avoidable scenario then you’ve not wasted you time. Thanks.