“Don’t look further – Phi Phi Island is the most beautiful place on earth, but it’s not a secret,” read an article I came across ages ago.
After Alex Garland’s “The Beach”, this news didn’t come as a surprise, and the observation still holds true today – people keep flocking to the never-never-land that Koh Phi Phi undoubtedly is. The massive, jungle-swathed limestone rocks with the unique features, the transparent, green-tinted waters and the fine white-sand beaches. Alas, I could go on and on.
Well, the never-ending stream of tourists coupled with the fact that I’d experienced the ethereal beauty of this island many times before, made me decide to skip Phi Phi this time.
Instead, I opted to continue my journey from Ao Nang to Koh Lanta on the same day. Koh Lanta – another island in the Andaman Sea that’s rumored to be quieter than Koh Phi Phi – had piqued my curiosity.
I booked the connecting ferry from Koh Phi Phi to Koh Lanta, and making a reservation online for $12.10 was hassle-free.
I was all set for the boat ride with the “Standard Ferry by Chureang Travel” and headed for the pier.
Getting hold of my ticket to Koh Lanta
“Lanta!” shouted a Thai amid the teeming dock.
While this guy did catch my attention, I was looking for the three headscarved women I’d talked to earlier today when I arrived in Koh Phi Phi. I’d missed the connection by ten minutes because the boat from Ao Nang to Koh Phi Phi was delayed, and they were so kind to offer me the afternoon ferry ride – for free.
Since I couldn’t see them anywhere now, I asked some other staff who were apparently not working for Chureang Travel. Checking my ticket, they told me to approach a guy who was sitting idly behind a desk. This dude, barely looking up from his table, couldn’t be bothered to lift a finger. He was like, “No, not me,” and pointed indifferently to the woman who’d just sent me here.
Rather than being upset, I was looking on the bright side and thanked him for his services. The heat must’ve wearied the poor guy who had to sit there all day, while I was about to feel the invigorating wind in my hair in the middle of the Andaman Sea.
Feeling thirsty, I looked around, but nobody sold any drinks. Leaving Koh Phi Phi, you’ll need to buy your snacks and drinks on the boat, at 7Eleven or from a street vendor that you’ll find close to the pier, not on the pier. Considering the number of arriving and leaving travelers and the small size of what I call a jetty, there’s hardly any space for street stalls.
A while later, I spotted one of the three women I’d been looking for. She took a picture of my voucher, gave me a brightly colored sticker that I had to stick on my tee, and motioned for me to go to the boat.
Diving into another world Thailand has to offer
To board the ship to Koh Lanta, I first had to get on another boat and then walk across a flat chunk of wood between the two ferries. Needless to say, that piece of wood didn’t have a railing to hold on to. While this is not a problem for us young people, it might be an issue for the elderly or handicapped – or those with large, heavy suitcases.
The boat looked a bit old, and in the upper deck, there was no air conditioning. Mind you, to help passengers stand the heat there, this room was modernly equipped with exterior wind apertures and the oscillating, state-of-the-art air-distribution system.
Sweat was oozing out of my pores, and since the upper deck with its brown, ‘ridden-out’ seats also failed to make me feel as though sitting in first class, I repaired to the lower deck, climbing down some adventurous stairs.
Taking a seat there, I felt the cool air instantly and relaxed. This deck did come with an air-conditioner, and the seats were comfier than upstairs.
Also on board was a small snack bar in the upper deck and a restroom in the lower deck.
Rather than a hole in the ground that sadly is not uncommon in many Thai homes, there was a bowl as well as a bog roll, both of which were reminiscent of a western toilet.
But to flush, I had to scoop water from a bucket and pour it into the toilet bowl. Ironically, it was neither the lack of a proper flushing system nor the absent loo seat that I missed. What I felt the need of was the bum gun that I’d gotten used to. Believe it or not, once you’ve spent more than a few weeks in Thailand, you really start to like the bidet shower, the health faucet or put simply, the toilet hose.
There were plenty of life jackets available, piled up behind the last row of seats, and I spotted even a fire extinguisher. Close to the air-conditioner that read “26 degrees” and felt like 19 degrees (Celsius), I noticed some cracks in a window the shape of a spider that had probably occurred due to thermal gradients.
But “Mai pen rai!” (It doesn’t matter!) – as the Thais like to say to avoid a problem. It did indeed not matter much, the boat was still functioning after all. I’m not being sarcastic here, I admire the way Thais play things by ear. They know how to make life simpler.
There were scarcely any people on the boat, and I enjoyed the chugging sounds of longtail boats and the absence of boisterous tourists.
The ferry was scheduled to leave at 3pm, and at 3:20pm – I was still the only guy sitting and waiting in the lower deck – I started to wonder whether I was on the right ship. I was like, “Maybe they’d told the people to move to another boat and forgot to tell the farang in the lower deck?”
I went to check and was relieved to see some backpackers sitting happily on the floor at the back of the boat, shooting the breeze in the shade. They probably assumed there wasn’t an air-conditioner in the lower deck either and chose to sit in the open air.
By the time the boat was leaving, only two families had joined me in the lower deck. It was 4:15pm now, and the engines were revving up.
The boat ride along the shoreline felt like sitting in a car with poor shock absorbers, but the views were out of this world. The scene was only occasionally covered by salt sprays from high waves splashing against the windows as though crashing into rocks.
Koh Phi Phi Don’s Long Beach greeted me with its glittering sands to my left, the majestic limestone rocks towering behind me were speaking to my soul, and Koh Phi Phi Ley to my right was beckoning me with its unique shape.
After a ferry ride with the mainland or some unknown islands in sight, the ship arrived in Koh Lanta at 5:30pm. As if demonstrating that this was another island, the powerful wind was disheveling people’s hair.
Aside from the moaning wind, the island wasn’t noisy at all, and there were a lot fewer people than in Koh Phi Phi. I instantly noticed the laid-back feel of Koh Lanta.
Comparing what little I’d seen of Koh Lanta with Koh Phi Phi, I came to the conclusion that yes, Koh Phi Phi is the most beautiful place on earth. But after Alex Garland’s “The Beach”, it was time to uncover other secrets.