Fire, Buckets and Boxing

We reunited with Kelsey in Phuket and after a VERY short stay there, we took the ferry to Koh Phi Phi.  All of us had heard mixed reviews from fellow travelers, some who hated it and cited it as one of the worst experiences on their trip and others who enjoyed it.  Ultimately we were enticed by amazing pictures of the island and decided if we hated it we’d bolt to Koh Lanta or Koh Samui.  The island was breathtaking, a tiny strip of land between limestone/mountainous peaks and gorgeous blue bays on either side.   That evening we had our first taste of Koh Phi Phi partying on the rooftop of the Banana Bar.  We partook in the bucket tradition (a plastic pail filled with a cocktail with more liquor than mixer) and by midnight (1am?) we were herding one another back to our room.

Most commonly daytime on Koh Phi Phi is a recuperation period from the late night revelry.  We moved guesthouses (better deal, closer to the beach, etc) and across the road we found Grand PP Arcade.  The owner is beloved by tourists and locals alike and we quickly realized why: delicious food (Thai and western), great service and the most amazing coconut shakes that basically saved our lives on multiple occasions.  One morning she added a brownie (free) to my order – she said I needed it… LOVE. 

After having already suffered the consequences of a bucket-fueled night, we pretty much steered clear from then on, preferring to enjoy the antics of others on their bucket-fueled adventures instead.  And oohhh the antics. 

There is a timeline each night that most visitors find themselves following.  After dinner most people head to the beach where bars host a fire show.  We preferred Slinky’s show as it wasn’t the most crowded and the performers had the best style: black jeggings, converse, punk belt, black tank or shirtless and always with a cigarette dangling out of their mouth.  The fire shows are actually very good, with talented guys spinning, blowing, twirling and throwing fire but they are definitely getting burnt here/there.  They love throwing burning spears to one another and every so often they miss, a little scary as the burning spear land inches from your feet.  As the show progresses it becomes more interactive, starting with fire jump rope, than fire double dutch, then fire limbo and finally a ring of fire.  They encourage audience participation by rewarding with shots, buckets and bottles of liquor.  All the better to help your coordination as you attempt to walk under or jump over fire!  Inevitably there were always guys who were the first to jump in and they got progressively more competitive with one another, these guys we called Mr. Koh Phi Phi. 

After conquering fire Mr. Koh Phi Phi heads to the Reggae bar for Muay Thai boxing.  The ring is in the center of the bar and every night there are 2-3 authentic Muay Thai boxing matches and in between tourists volunteer to jump into the ring to fight each other and of course the winner gets a free bucket!  The same two Muay Thai boxers fight each other nightly and they are VERY talented but some of the dramatic moves are more WWF than actual Muay Thai and they take turns “winning”.  Most patrons are more interested in watching the drunken tourists box and it is fun.  One person jumps into the ring and is paraded around until someone wants to fight them (guys fight guys and girls fight girls).   We saw quite a few good fights, thanks (I think) to a lot of aspiring MMA fighters!  

Once the fighting gets old or it’s a lame night and no one’s willing to fight, it’s back to the beach.  The fire shows have now devolved into sloppy dance parties with new drunken feats: mechanical bull riding and stand on the 9 ft log.  Yes, an ongoing source of entertainment is an upright log that Mr. Koh Phi Phi climbs up to stand at the top of before jumping into the arms of “trust” below.  It’s a real ‘bro’ moment and not something that I ever fully understood – I mean it’s a log (!) and once someone does it, how is it interesting to watch 30 more people do it?

In between the partying people are getting tattoos with a traditional bamboo stick and ink, at one of the many tattoo shops.  After much deliberation and several design proposals, Kelsey selected a shop to get hers.  The design process was a lot lengthier than the time it took them to tattoo her wrist with a ‘happy’ cloud (the cloud is common in ancient SE Asian art) and her brother’s initials.  A beautiful and lasting reminder of this journey.

After 24 hours on Koh Phi Phi it was easy to understand how some people hate their experience here, while others love it. Going to Koh Phi Phi in December or for NYE?  I can imagine it’s unbearable.  Hundreds of drunken people: entertaining, Thousands (virtually lawless): terrifying.  We were fortunate to go just as the high season is starting, prices were low and it never felt crowded.