Oh, yes! I know I’m back in the tourist zone! The bus from Pangnga arrived in the central city (amphur muang) and you are immediately assaulted by agressive taxi drivers. They have established a 350 baht ($11.00) price to go the 15 kilometers to Patong Beach, where I am staying. I refused to pay it, and figured if I got out of that area, I could find a cheaper taxi. Sure enough, one of the drivers followed me and offered to take me for a more reasonable price. “Just because you speak Thai,” he explained with a broad smile. I smirked in English, “Yeah right.” “But if another taxi driver asks you, you say you paid 400 baht, OK?” he said. I responded that if any of the taxi drivers asked me, I’d tell them it was none of their business what I paid.
Got to the Royal Paradise Hotel, in short order. I was given a 15th story room with an amazing view of the bay. The changing sunlight filtered through the thin cloud layers played with the water and transformed it to all shades of green and blue. I just sat there for about a half hour to rest and take it all in. As in most places, there are an array of support services in the area– laundry, cheap long-distance Internet phones, restaurants, and the like. With the time remaining of the day, I walked the beach (beautiful) and met a guy from New Zealand named Dan, traveling through. We chatted as we walked and decided to have dinner together. Nice guy, but boy, was his accent hard to decipher! However, as with many people I meet from New Zealand and Australia, he was very pleasant company and more than amusing. He was going to go out snorkeling the next day, but I already made plans to explore the east end of the island.
The next day, took off for a cave near Pangnga on a cheap tour. We explored the caves that were dark and full of bats. Could see them twitching away hanging upsidedown from the cave ceiling. Good thing we didn’t disturb them! We also made a return visit to Panyee Island! A few of the people remembered me from the other day and said hi as they passed. Went back to the school and watched a soccer game. One forlorn little boy asked me if I’d play too so the teams would be even and he could play as well! Unfortunately, I couldn’t oblige him as we were due to depart 10 minutes later.
No sooner did we leave the island, when the boat lost a propeller! Managed to get a tow from one of the other boats plying the waters nearby. When we got back to Phuket, I made plans to take the trip to the Phi Phi Islands the next day. As luck would have it, I met a driver and his wife near the hotel who were drumming up some touring business. I negotiated for them to take me back to Suratthani on Friday for 350 baht! This is a four-hour trip– and it will pay for itself as all the taxis here want that price just to go back to the provincial capital! As we chatted, I discovered that they were from, of all places, Bang Phlii Noi, about two kilometers from my old Peace Corps site! What are the odds? They lived there when I was there, and have lived in Phuket for 20 years now.
The next day we were off to the Phi Phi Islands. The first stop was at Maya Bay, where Leonardo DiCaprio’s movie, “The Beach,” was filmed. The movie made enough of an impact to put it on the tourist list! Spectacularly green-blue water! Try as I did, I could not get a true picture of that water’s color! Went in the water to see the thousands of tropical fish swimming about. With a handful of bread, you’d make friends with hundreds of little tiger fish! Didn’t go to the beach itself as it was taken over by a slew of monkeys. The next stop was Phi Phi Don (the big island). There is a small tourist village here. Has some conveniences, but seems pretty comfortable. It is worth the walk to the end of the village to go to the beach. It is breaktaking! White sands, incredibly blue water, limestone karsks framing the beach. I couldn’t resist going in the water– warm, yet refreshing. It was a long rough trip back to Phuket. The weather was OK, but for some reason, the water was pretty choppy. Nice day, however!
PHI PHI ISLAND
Woke up early the next day to catch the trip back to Surrathani. Was uneventful enough, but at a stop over ran into Dan, the guy from New Zealand. He was on his way to Samui Island. He hadn’t been feeling well, and looked really drawn, so I got him some bottled water. Not a good way to travel! Had to wait 5 hours for the train in Surrathani. In a boring town, five hours is like twenty! In addition, the mosquitoes were out in force. Dreadful! Lucked out, however, as I was the only one in my first class compartment. Woke up in the morning as we were passing Prajuab Kirikan, the “sleepy little town” where I had my Peace Corps phase one training. Sleepy no longer! It is really big. It used to be about one main road with shops and the beach!
The train is slow making its progress as it approaches Bangkok. We are over an hour late getting into Hualongpong, the central station. Somehow it doesn’t matter. “Mai ben rai, khrap!” (No big deal!)