Wednesday, August 16, 2006

Paradise Islands

Back in Bangkok, a city that is really growing on me, and more specifically back in Sawasdee House, a place that has become like a second home during 6 weeks in the region. Bonus – Dave eventually found Arron having a few drinks with a bunch of randoms on the Khao San Road, and Double Bonus – Dan (university mate who set up a bar in Cambodia) and his lovely girlfriend Sokha were around. I was meant to meet them in Phnom Pehn but as circumstances had it would have missed them had it not been for Dave’s illness. So, despite Dave’s continued ailment and me feeling like shit after catching some bug in the hospital, we had a very pleasant night out on the giraffes. The only bad news was a ridiculous decision by the embassy to deny Sokha her tourist visa for England. I will not go into details but a disgrace.

Dan and Sokha

We woke up the next morning rather late and discovered that all the bus/boat tickets to Ko Phi Phi were sold out – bummer – only 8 days left and something is trying to stop us getting to a beach. What to do? Full moon party – no, not what I need. Flight - yes, no money left but with a bit of help from Arron we were at the airport within a couple of hours jumping on a flight to Phuket. Why not – go with the flow. We landed in package holiday central Phuket, dumped our stuff and despite relative knackeredness decided that as it was about to tick past midnight onto Dave’s 24th bday we had to do something. Phuket town was a ghost town, so the only option was the infamous (if it not infamous it should be) Patong. Problem – the only way to get there was with a rather inebriated looking man in his beamer. Solution - pay him to put the whisky and coke down and kiss the St Christopher's. A stupid decision as he was an absolute nutter, but we got there in the end and had a very interesting night. It was one of those occasions where you feel more of an observer than a participant.

In a rather small nutshell, Patong resembles one of those ghastly towns on the south coast of Spain invaded by hordes of Brits and Germans. Just add a much nicer beach and thousands of prostitutes. There are bars after bars, after strip-clubs after nightclubs of prostitutes, lady-boys, dirty old men and other tourists interested to have a look. It is rather strange to see quite a large number of foreign women revelling in all this debauchery, but simply disgusting to see how some of the men act.

Now, the concept of prostitution does not shock me and I do see arguments for not entirely condemning the practice. I have also realised as I have got older that the only thing that makes a dirty old man any dirtier then a younger man is his age. Society simply does not accept the same thoughts and attitudes from people of different age brackets. BUT, the way some of these men act is unforgiveable.

One man in particular was treating the girls so badly that I had this incredibly strong urge to smack him. Anybody who knows me knows I am not a violent person, but just the sight of this shit of a human made my blood boil. In the end I decided not to hit him but rather take pictures and publish them. Below is one fellow paying off the girls. I have other photos that I am trying to find an appropriate place to publish. Unfortunately I just missed the worst guy and I am ashamed to say that he was a fellow Brit.

So we had an interesting night, not all of it blood boiling (one incident with a conspicuous bulge in a ‘ladies’ pants and a seemingly unknowing customer was hilarious) and after very little sleep and a rip-off scam were on a boat cruising across the Andaman sea to the famed Ko Phi Phi.


This place hit the spot. An absolutely perfect final week to this nearly half a year in Asia and year travelling. All the ingredients of some great diving, hammocks, buckets, boxing ring, fiesta de carpe diem, cricket, sunshine, good company and incomparable scenery brewed together just right.

Aaron and I dived every other day, seeing leopard sharks, sea snakes, moray eels, rays, nudi branches, lion-fish, crown-of-thorns, barracuda, wonderful corals and numerous other wonderful things. The icing on the cake was Simon, a slightly crazy Dutch guy who led most of our dives. For one reason or another he had confidence in our diving and so we were able to do some rather exciting things such as entering into 3m swells, night dives, coping with massive currents and doing a great swim-through. It was all awesome and to cap it all off when you surface you have the astounding beauty of Phi Phi Leh or the Bida islands soaring in front of you.

When not diving, days were spent on the stunning beaches, sleeping (in Dave and Steve’s case) or chilling in hammocks. It is a real paradise. However many times I have seen people's pictures of these green clad limestone cliffs rising out of perfectly turquoise water and blessed with glittering golden sand beaches, and however good their pictures were, it did did not fully prepare me for what is definitely one of the most beautiful places I have had the privilege to enjoy.

Night times were just messy. Long periods spent on our balcony occasionally visited by random passers by were eventually broken by trips to Apaches, Hippies, Reggae Bar and Carpe Diem for inevitable buckets and the even more inevitable silliness that follows them. Below are a few appropriate photos (Dave you can thank me for leaving out the Gnome pictures - never mix antibiotics with buckets):

And also evidence of a certain second round knock out that was not in Dave’s favour:

Who wouldn’t agree to box in the middle of a bar for a couple of buckets. Pure hilarity and I have most of it on film. Personally I would like to dedicate the victory to my coach Arron and henceforth retire from boxing with an undefeated unanimous knockout record…….hmmmm.

A highlight of the week was a cruise to Phi Phi Leh on the final day. Despite Arron being hit by a long boat while snorkeling (seriously dangerous) and me smashing against the rocks trying to get to the beach (yes, there is a nutty hole in the cliffs that you scramble through to see the beach from ‘The Beach’) it was quite brilliant. The beach itself all but bought a tear to my eye and will be one of those special places locked in my brain. Amazingly the bay on the other side is equally magnificent and our last half an hour there messing about in the rain after most of the other boats had run on home was a perfect end to this trip.

The place is simply magical. Rather than further describe it I just recommend you go there.

This account has to include something that still hangs over the islands and will do for a long time to come. This paradise was devastated by the Tsunami of late 2004 and many lives were lost. The accounts you hear and effects you see and feel can not but affect you and your experience on the island. Many people complain about the direction the island is being lead by the mafia type people who run it, but as far as I was concerned it was still a very special place and the recent troubles are all the more reason to support it. The wave showed that nature still emphatically has the power to destroy us, but, I fear, we equally have the power to destroy nature. We have been given pretty damn close to heaven on earth – just don’t ruin it.

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