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Thursday, May 24, 2007

The Phi Phi Sojourn


With a PADI Open Water SCUBA license and more than a couple of good Thai friends made from the sunny island.

Two reasons enough to say that the trip was a great one. Too short even, because once we got into the relaxed, kampung way of life, it was hard to say goodbye. And personally, I could have done with a few more dives. Was just getting into the groove of things.

Well when people say Krabi, more often than not they are referring to the main town/capital proper, a nondescript hodge-podge of provision shops, guest-houses, dive/climbing shops and eateries. More accurately, the province of Krabi also includes the town of Ao Nang about 20mins away by taxi plus the island of Ko Phi Phi, 1.5hrs away by fast ferry and halfway point to the island province of Phuket across the Andaman Sea.

Russ, Jack and me touched down in Krabi late Wednesday evening and made our way to Ao Nang almost immediately. The town itself is not fantastic, getting quite dead by about 11pm. And nothing gets started till about 9am the next morning. Most people use Ao Nang to make day trips to the surrounding islands. Almost every shop will try to sell you either a 4 or 5-island hop on a longtail boat. Just be aware that the islands visited are different on both tours. On Thursday, we opted for the 4-island tour which brought us to Phra Nang Bay, Ko Poda, Chicken Island (abit of snorkeling) and a lovely sandbar on Ko Tup with magnificent azure waters.

By Friday morning we had seen, by and large, most of Ao Nang and were quite happy to leave it behind on a ferry to Ko Phi Phi. Jack has been to Ko Phi Phi 6 times before and got us checked into a nice and clean guesthouse called Cheap Charlies in the Tourist Village of Ton Sai.

Don't let the name Tourist Village scare you. Yes, there are tonnes of farangs running around but somehow, the whole place doesn't seem as shamelessly touristy as say Patong in Phuket or Pattaya. Dive shops abound here, so do watering holes and souvenir shops. But the place takes on a more relaxed 'big family' feel instead. Perhaps that's because the entire village only has one A-go-go bar. And even that is new, having only opened 2 months ago and tucked in an obscure corner of town. After 4 days in the village, you sort of recognise everyone and can tell who are the newcomers. Life is slow, with most visitors diving, snorkeling or sunbathing in the day and then chilling out at one of the many bars or eateries till the wee hours.

If you didn't know that Ko Phi Phi, especially the village of Ton Sai where most of the islanders live, was badly affected by the 2004 Tsunami, you would be hard-pressed to find any evidence of the Giant Wave's destruction. Rebuilding is being carried out at an astonishing pace and most bad memories have been reduced to photographs on the walls of restaurants or guesthouses. But you can tell, from talking to the village folk, that most still remember with a shudder, the events of 24th December very vividly in their hearts. Of running up to the hills when the waters came or perhaps losing a loved one. More than 2000 perished but only about 900 bodies were recovered.

Just a stone's throw away from our triple-share room on the 2nd floor, was Viking Divers. The place Russ and me reported to every morning at 0745hrs on Saturday, Sunday and Monday for our Open Water SCUBA course. We were fortunate to have a really good Divemaster/Instructor in Per Svensson, a 42 year old Swede from Malmo. Russ says he looks abit like that Plumber guy from Desperate Housewives. I say that is taking it a little too far although Per is handsome and has a body that would put most men half his age to shame.

Well Per is a 2500-dive veteran and has about reached the highest levels of PADI certification. He's one helluva funny guy on land but once we hit the water, he's dead serious. No screw ups and monkeying around for sure. On more than one occasion, Per grabbed me by my Buoyancy Control Device (BCD vest) and rapped my mask with his knuckles underwater to make sure I understood what he was trying to tell me. Can't blame him really, our safety is in his hands.

But he's a good teacher. So much so that by Monday, we were diving around at 15m depth and swimming around like bulky mermaids =)) And oh yes we also aced our theory exams =P

On Monday, our underwater antics were also filmed for Viking's promotional video. And we both also bought a copy of the DVD for keepsake. Well that's something I realised I really want to take up, underwater photography and videography.

Across from where we lived, there was a tattoo shop where we spent most our nights after diving just chilling out, watching TV and knocking back a couple of Singhas. This was Jack's 6th trip to Phi Phi and the resident Tattooists were like family. They treated us like brothers too and in turn, we also helped them canvass for business, sometimes even serving as interpreters for the endless stream of caucasian customers wanting a traditional, bamboo-method tattoo affixed to their body parts. Fun!

Opposite the tattoo place was a Thai Massage shop whose masseurs we also got to know fairly well. Especially a young 20 year old girl named Tak whose intelligence and flair for languages can put some of our materialistic Singaporean undergraduates to shame. Talking to Tak, you realise how we sometimes take our education opportunities here for granted. This girl obviously has the ability to go far but is limited by poverty. Pity really.

So we picked up a new skill and made loads of new friends. I'd say one of my more meaningful trips. And a place I would surely go back to renew these bonds in the not so distant future...



Blogger Zoe said...

is this Ko Tup?

I went there with a few thai friends but never knew the name!

And i know what you mean. I was in "krabi" 3 times from 2004-2006 and loved it. (well, u can tell just by how often i went back!) I made a few friends - one of whom taught me climbing. They have this impressive optimism and they made the most of what they're given. Hardly known to complain and complain like we do.

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