Monday, August 01, 2005

Return to Phi Phi Island

Just got back from our trip to Phuket. Amazing sums up this experience. We didn't spend much time on Phuket, which was OK because Phi Phi Island was our primary destination. Phi Phi is located just about 40km away from Phuket and is this incredible backpackers' paradise struggling to recover from the tsunami.

On our ferry ride over we met Paul, a Scotsman that originally came to Phuket for two weeks in December, a trip that has now turned into many months, as he's helped Phi Phi set up their medical clinic. He introduced us to Dive Camp, the group that we volunteered our Saturday with as beach cleanup and snorkel patrol. At this point, a lot of what remains is debris, both massive and small on shore and in the bay. Many people are still missing and presumed dead from the big wave, but all the divers and snorkelers are finding now is bones and the occasional wallet or personal artifact. We didn't come across anything like that, as Jeff and I mainly helped dig out and move big pieces of reinforced concrete from the bungalows and hotels that were destroyed.

From what we saw the volunteer effort and spirit of the Thai people have made tremendous strides in rebuilding Phi Phi. Since the disaster, 200 businesses have reopened and this month the volunteer effort will be tapering off. After our manual labor on Saturday, we were famished and had food vouchers for sandwiches at the Garden Restaurant, an establishment built entirely by the HiPhiPhi volunteers (shown in the pictures behind me) and now run by local Thais.

At breakfast here on Sunday, we met Deang a local longtail boat captain who offered to tour us around Phi Phi Ley, the next island over. Phi Phi Ley is also home to Maya Bay, the setting for the movie The Beach.

To get to Maya Bay, Deang guided the boat to a small opening in the rockface. As it was low tide, Jeff and I could swim up to the hole and then clamber over sharp, vivid-colored rocks to get to the other side. From there, it was a short hike through tropical forest to get to Maya Bay, which is so secluded it's a wonder humans ever found it at all. We would have loved to spend all day there, swimming and playing on that perfect beach, but Deang had warned us the tide was rising and we needed to be back soon. I'm glad I've been faithfully doing the swim workouts my brother makes up for me, because it was very difficult (not to mention dangerous) swimming against the tide, trying to avoid the sharp coral and rocks. But we both made it back safely and off we went to see the bird caves.

These caves are home to the birds that create the famous birds' nest soup, an expensive Chinese delicacy believed to have great medicinal properties. Men climb and retrieve these nests from tiny crevices and then clean them up to sell. I've never tried bird's nest, but perhaps the taste of bird spit is good — who knows?

Next, Deang wanted to show us Monkey Beach, where wild monkeys pimp themselves out to farangs for food. I'm not crazy about feeding wild animals, as it teaches them very bad manners among other things, but Deang wanted me to feed them bread. So, picture this: Here I am, judiciously trying to throw pieces of day-old baguette from the side of the boat to a pack of wild monkeys. In a split second, one of the senior monkey males has jumped aboard and lunged at me, ripping the remaining hunks of bread out of my hand! Scared me witless.

After that, we had to hightail it to the return ferry to Phuket. Just got back to Singapore this morning and finished packing for my flight to Chicago tomorrow morning. Can't wait to see all you lovely people soon!