Even Better in Real Life

The island closest to Koh Phi Phi, is Koh Phi Leh where the “The Beach” was filmed. Koh Phi Leh is a national park and the only way to visit is with a tour.  There are tons of tours offered daily and we shopped around till we found the best deal which also included a night swim in glowing plankton, so our tour started in the afternoon.  Most tours take guests to the island on a traditional wooden long boat, with a very noisy and powerful motor on the end.   These boats can easily fit 20-25 people and are pretty sturdy boats, even in bumpy waves.  Though I’d rather not test one in a storm…

I hadn’t seen “The Beach” in quite a few years, so I failed to realize that the tour was literally taking us to reenact highlights from the film.   We kicked off at Monkey beach on Koh Phi Phi where everyone had the opportunity to cliff jump.  After a steep, rocky climb to the top of the cliff James was the first to jump and set the bar “Mr. Koh Phi Phi” style with a black-flip (see the video in the last post!).  Kelsey jumped an impressive two times so I could get both an Instagram and take video.  Then we were off to Koh Phi Leh and on the way we got to know our guide Jimmy.  It’s funny on tours the guides learn James name “Jame” (the s is always dropped) and Kelsey’s.  While the rest of us are just directed as a group, “Jame” and Kelsey are always called out by name.  Although as “Jame” wife/girlfriend/fiancé I am more specifically acknowledged than most. 

Once we reached the island the boat stopped at the Viking cave.  The opening was covered by bamboo scaffolding, which was not very scenic!  Jimmy explained that Swiftlet birds made their nests from their own saliva in the cave.  Strangely these nests are incredibly valuable and as a result hunted to use in 'Birds Nest' soup and drinks..  The nests are believed to have healing properties and act as a aphrodisiac.  Finally we had clarity on the Birds Nest flavor drinks we’d seen all over SE Asia – we thought it was just a really strange translation!  Though it’s illegal to take the nests out of the cave now because of the harm it was doing to the cave, people continue to do so because the payoff is so high.

Past the cave we entered a narrow opening between the limestone mountains, into Pi Ley the most beautiful green/blue lagoon.  We got out of the boat to snorkel but the visibility wasn’t great (there wasn’t direct sun since it was the late afternoon) and we didn’t see many fish or coral.   We got back in the boat and went deeper into the lagoon until the mountains were almost enclosed in a circle.  It was one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever seen in my life.  I swam around and floated looking up at the mountains, listening to our voices bounce off the rocks.  I may have been the last one to get back in the boat.

To get on the island the boat went around to a new bay, where the boat was anchored behind many other longboats and we swam to a rope ladder, which was more like the rope “spider webs” you climb as a kid.  The ladder went up the rocks and through a narrow opening where there was a platform and stairs to the ground.  There is a small campsite where the island caretakers live and out the other side is Maya beach (star of "the Beach).  We were lucky enough to arrive when most tour boats were headed back, so our first steps on this incredible beach were shared with only a few other people.  Seeing how amazingly beautiful it was, I felt a tinge of regret that we hadn’t opted for an overnight trip on the island.  Each night a group of 8-12 people camp out under the stars with a tour group.   After a quick swim on Maya beach we hung out on the beach with Jimmy and just soaked it all up.

The sun set as we left the island and it was a brilliant pink fire show, as if to compete with all of our oos and aahhs back at Koh Phi Leh.  The final stop was in darkness closer to Koh Phi Phi, where we got into the water and thrashed around to light up the plankton.  It was pretty cool to watch the light bubbles trail your hands and feet.  Let's just say they probably used special effects in the film.

Before our visit I’d read a lot of negative reviews about tours to Koh Phi Leh, that it was overcrowded with tourists and ruined with garbage.  I’m sure it helped us that it wasn't high season and that our tour was in the afternoon, certainly a less popular time, but I was so thankful that we went.  There are a million factors that can affect your experience somewhere; weather, people, health, holidays, your mood.  You never really know which places will turn out to be amazing or hellish, you just gotta go and see for yourself.