Rescripting ‘The Beach’ (Sept 3rd – 7th)

After stamping our free entry visas in the Thai immigration office of Ranong, we ate dinner at a guest house overlooking the bus station since we were waiting for the bus from Bangkok to give us a lift on its path to Phuket. When it finally came at 8pm we slipped aboard and fell asleep. At around 2am we awoke at our destination and walked down the street in search of a guest house. To my surprise and delight we stayed at On-On hotel, the exact place where the movie ‘The Beach’ had some scenes shot. It was simple, cheap, and comfortable….just perfect. While lying in the bed, I could imagine Daffy ripping open the screen above the backboard and sharing with me the story of a secret island. If I lost you, rent the movie….or just continue reading since we practically retrace the plot!

The next morning we awoke late and decided to take it chill for the day. We rented a motorbike after a delicious western breakfast and decided to hit up a movie theater showing flicks in English (Amen). ‘Rush Hour III’ wasn’t bad (I was expecting better), but ‘The Condemned’ was more up my alley! That’s right….a double feature….Oh I love the movies!

After the films, we hopped back on the bike to check out Patong. The town of Patong is a popular strip that may initially come to mind when someone mentions Phuket, Thailand. About a 20 minute drive takes you to the heart of the commotion. It reminded me of a larger scale Ko Phan Ngan, with the similar sins of go-go dancing, drugs, lady-boys, and plenty of alcohol. It’s like South Beach having an illegitimate child with the red light district of Amsterdam! Fortunately Michelle and I had no inclination to get our grove on, so we simply viewed the party from an outsider’s stance. We figured we got wild enough during the last full moon to carry us through this celebration. I was happy to see Patong, but even happier to refind our camouflaged motorbike we couldn’t pinpoint amongst the maze of streets. After a nippy late night ride back to On-On, we shimmied into our beds and dozed off. Tomorrow I planned to take Michelle into my World!!!

We woke around 10 and cruised on our motorbike (24hr lease) on a hunt to reach a lookout point before the ferry departs for Ko Phi Phi at 2pm. After referring to a useless map way too often, trusting instinct more than street signs we finally made it atop a hill surrounded by two huge beach-lined bays spotted with green cliff-rock islands. We ate a picnic lunch we brought with us (I love picnics!!), then headed back to the hotel to grab our gear. When in eyesight of On-On, a police officer decided to delay our return by pulling us over, issuing me a citation for being the driver and not wearing a helmet. I knew exactly what was going on….me being a foreigner stitches a money sign on my forehead. Although I was in the norm for riding helmetless, I was still targeted out of streets loaded with noggin exposed crotch rockets. He asked for my license and in turn I received the ticket. The orders were to go directly to the police station to pay my fee (which I couldn’t decipher how much) in order to get my license back. Figuring it would be cheaper (and less encumbersome) to just leave the country, I blew off my date with Phuket’s finest and reunited with Michelle who ran up ahead to check out of the hotel.

Now a fugitive (not really of course), we loaded into the shuttle bus that came to On-On to pick us up, then switched to a ferry bound for Ko Phi Phi at the port. Mimicking the story line of Leonardo’s best movie, we planned to camp on the same ‘Beach’ as the one in the film. See, Ko Phi Phi has two islands; Phi Phi Don which is inhabited while Phi Phi Ley (where ‘The Beach’ was filmed) is a National Park with a population of 0. The ferry takes you to Phi Phi Don, but the objective was to rent a kayak there and paddle out to Phi Phi Ley and camp obscured amongst the natural beauty.

We arrived to Phi Phi Don at 4pm (way late) with still many things to do before setting off. We first found a hotel with a baggage room to watch our gear since we only needed 1 big dry bag to take with us. Secondly, we had to find a kayak rentable for three days, and thirdly we needed to buy some supplies (snorkeling mask, lighter, food, and water).

We were successful in every avenue, however by the time of completion it was already six with the sun nearly set. We lied to the kayak outfitter about our destination (fearing they would prohibit our plans), then pushed off into the sunset unsure about several factors. We didn’t know exactly how far away Phi Phi Ley was, the currents in between the two islands, or if its waters and beaches were patrolled by rangers. Not hindered by doubt, we didn’t hesitate as we went for it head first.

We turned the corner out of our cove and saw our destination way in the distance just before darkness completely took hold. Stroke after stroke, with the seas docile in our favor, we surprisingly reached the nearest point of Phi Phi Ley in less than two hours. The giant rock cliffs acted as an impenetrable fortress, so in order to make landfall we searched for a bay we ended up finding along the back coast. Covered by darkness, we set up our hammocks and fell fast asleep all alone.

As isolated as we slept, so it was when we awoke. While admiring our gorgeous little cove, we devoured the sweetest pineapple for breakfast before breaking down camp. The water in our bay was a dark emerald green and we couldn’t resist its inviting allure. We tied up the loaded kayak to a buoy and uncovered some amazing sea life! Corals were rare, but huge anemones and clown fish were everywhere. A huge eel posed for us along with 2 enormous octopuses (octopii??…..wait, I should know this) which were probably the biggest I had ever seen! Trumpet fish, puffer fish, barracudas, and thousands of damsel fish and parrots all worked their best to get their picture taken…..What a treat!

We went into the water completely alone, but around 10 o’clock the tourist boats stormed in. As anticipated, during the day we had to share paradise, but by night we expected to have it all to ourselves! With the kayak packed, we decided to check out the bigger bay (literally ‘The Beach’). A few minutes paddle around the bend left us in a cove surrounded by gigantic walls of rock. The water inside was turquoise and the sand along the far stretch was as white as cocaine (not that I know what that looks like Mom!). This beach, which seemed computer generated was no digital creation, but rather the pinnacle example of Earth’s natural beauty. Selfishly, I was frustrated with so many tourists enjoying it at the same time, but I was confident they would evaporate as the day lingered.

After a picnic lunch of Rambutan (small, delicious fruits) on a tiny adjacent beach, we submerged ourselves in another snorkeling session. This time we spotted a vibrant sea snake along with another gigantic eel (about 6 feet long). At about 3pm we decided to return to our original beach back in the smaller bay to lesson the chance of being noticed by people. After the short kayak trip, we now had some chores to do.

Firstly, we collected some wood. Fortunately, no rain the past 2 days meant it was nice and dry. We broke plenty of pieces from fallen branches, then collected some dried palm fronds for kindling. Secondly, we set up our jungle hammocks and lastly, we cut up some veggies (carrots and this humongous cucumber thing) and tossed them in a rusted kettle we luckily found washed up amongst the line of debris.

With the fire pit ready to go, we waited for the tourists to leave before setting out to fish. However, when one boat left another would appear, so getting agitated with waiting, we paddled out of the cove and around the corner. Camping on the island probably required a permit or something, but fishing I’m sure was prohibited. Nonetheless, spear in hand with Michelle behind dragging the kayak, we went in hunt for dinner.

Fish were abundant, but my aim was off, not even getting close. For the first 40 minutes I was dry. I blame it on the fact my spear tip was crooked, slightly altering the trajectory, but I’ll take the blame directly for being horrible. Finally, when I accidentally hit a rock hard enough to break off the bent tip, I could feel the accuracy improve. I hit 2 fish that squirmed off the spear, but then put 2 good size parrots in the bag. Michelle wanted her chance to kill her first animal but fired away unsuccessfully. By the end of this trip, I’m sure she’ll get a fishy! She handed the spear back over and i got two more parrot fish. Content with our hunt, we seal-like plopped back into the boat and proceeded to paddle back.

The sky began turning bright orange, so we aimed for a further point beyond a cliff before going home. What an incredible day; two snorkeling occasions resulting in an assortment of sea animals, a drop dead gorgeous cove worthy of simply being coined ‘The Beach’ (and staring in a motion picture), hunting for our own fresh fish in a pristine tropical ocean, and now watching a stunning sunset from a kayak hovering still in a tranquil glassy sea! Can it get any better……..Yes!! After the sun changed the sky and water from pastel orange to neon pink, then to a wispy purple before fading into blackness, we began to steer calmly back to our shore. Under flashlight, we started cleaning and scaling the fish, then skewered them onto a stick. We ignited the fire and roasted the plump carcasses over the open flame. Along side, the veggies boiled as well in a mixture of fresh and salt water to add some flavor. After 15 minutes or so of cooking, Michelle had her first wild caught meal and together we enjoyed not only the food but the entire day beginning from the moment we awoke. I can’t describe how satisfying and fun days like this are, but as the fire dimmed and the stars emerged all I was left with was a humbled thanks for being able to experience such internal contentment. I was also blessed with being able to share it with a similarly, just as gratified spirit. While rocking away on a planet far from mainstream, we closed our eyes serenaded by serenity.

Crack!! The serene moment came to a halt when my hammock decided to take down the trunk of a tree. Literally the size of a coffee can, out of nowhere this tree broke away from a communal stump system leaving me crashing to the sand. In fear of being squashed by the canopy, I covered my head till the ruckus ceased. This was the first time I had ever fallen in the hammock, which definitely had me evaluating nearby trees differently as I searched for a place to retie.

Awakened by soft sunshine, we packed up for the final time and scurried back over to ‘The Beach’ to see it raw, unadulterated by the tourist’s screaming and garbage. The morning light crept down the rock faces and eventually illuminated the water to a radiating aquamarine. We took beautiful photographs of the deserted lagoon, but like clockwork the catamarans and speedboats began parading in eager to plunder our paradise. We headed back to our bay for a concluding snorkel (admiring a brilliant blue sea slug), then undertook the long paddle back to Phi Phi Don. Racing to arrive by 12pm to return the kayak and catch the ferry, we gritted our teeth and anchored our feet for the 2 hour journey across the sea. Facing no delays, we were allotted time to spare. We dropped off the kayak and collected our gear, then grabbed a delicious bite to eat (a big juicy burger) before boarding the boat destined to a port further south, Krabi.

From the comfy, air-conned seats of the passenger ferry, we gazed through memories locked in time on our camera chips, reminiscing over an unbelievable experience that left us both longing for a sequel. Well stay tuned my friends, cause ‘The Beach II’ will be coming soon!!!
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