Leaving Koh Phi Phi, you can’t help glancing at the towering limestone rocks that are bunched together shoulder to shoulder. The sight of those giants at Ton Sai Bay is simply too mesmerizing to ignore.
Just below is a sea of moored longtail boats that looks so visually Thai, it makes you dream of the old Thailand.
Staring at it, I was lost in thought and imagined what this island was like 20 years ago before the movie The Beach was released. Envisioning Thailand without mass tourism, I traipsed along Koh Phi Phi’s teeming pier absent-mindedly, but not very long.
“FWEEEET!” The ear-deafening sound of a whistle broke my reverie with a jolt. As if that hadn’t been enough of an alarm, the small Thai man clad in tattered jeans and some uniform shouted at the top of his voice, “KRABI THIS WAY!”
Blowing his whistle time and again, the conscientious guy evidently loved his job.
While I appreciated this buddy’s valuable efforts to point in the direction where all ships were, I was in need of somebody who could give me my ticket to Krabi.
I’d booked my Standard Ferry by Chureang Travel from Koh Phi Phi to Krabi online, which was hassle-free and cost me only $11.77. Now I was hoping that check-in would go just as smoothly, because I was thrilled to go on a boat trip across a fairytale archipelago.
Finding my ferry
The Krabi region is historic – and for good reason. With its maze of sea caves and coves, the group of islands in the Andaman Sea were the perfect shelter for pirates who used to skulk here thousands of years ago.
Today was another time. Standing in the shade under a parasol was a contemporary who looked at my voucher suspiciously. I was about to fidget, but he took a picture of my voucher eventually, passed me a brightly colored sticker I had to stick on my tee, and issued a ticket by hand.
Holding that ticket in my hand, I walked those 50 meters to the two ships that were about to shove off, and was grateful there had been some dude shouting, “KRABI THIS WAY!” As there were two piers – one each for the arriving and leaving boats – I’d never have been able to figure out which way to go without that dutiful guy’s help.
The conspicuous blue coat of paint disguised the boat’s age, but the faded color of the life preserver rings gave it away. Besides, I spotted a missing part at the gunwales that had chipped off, and rust at the railing that must’ve formed over time.
By all means, I’m not moaning; most boats in Thailand have probably been in their heydays already, and who wants to shell out for a luxurious yacht trip anyway? Go with the flow, I thought to myself, and boarded the ferry.
To get on the ship, I had to walk across a proper gangplank that had a railing. Don’t take that for granted in Thailand; on many previous trips, there weren’t even gangways.
I was glad I’d made my reservation online. Quite obviously, tickets were in high demand. Suitcases were piled up at the back of the vessel like a heap of car tires, which indicated that the ferry was jam-packed. I wasn’t surprised; January was a month in Thailand’s high season after all.
Peeping inside the room in the upper deck that was crammed full, I decided it was a better idea to look for a seat in the lower deck. From my previous ferry rides across the Andaman Sea, I knew that this would be a better place to linger anyway because that’s where the air conditioning had usually been reliable.
I was right. The ac was working well in the lower deck and the guys hadn’t taken it to the extreme; I didn’t need a hoodie. Most seats had already been taken, so I asked some 14-year old Thai youngster in the last row, “Excuse me, can I sit here?”
There were four seats in each row, and I intended to sit in the middle between the farang who’d managed to get hold of a window seat and the Thai boy lounging on the aisle seat.
Playing on his cell phone, captured also by the accompanying jingle of some life-changing game, that Thai teenager didn’t bother to look up. Well, knowing a few words in Thai does wonders. Asking “Nang tee nee, dai mai kap?” (Can I sit here, is it okay?) broke the spell of that simple little ditty.
The boy stood up, and a sheepish smile passed fleetingly across his face. I took a seat minutes before 1:30pm, the ferry’s scheduled departure time, and waited for the boat to leave.
On the trail of the Krabi pirates – or at least Leonardo DiCaprio
There were hardly any kids on the ship; most travelers were young people. That’s not to say there wasn’t life on the boat, on the contrary. Instead of yelling babies, there were hungover millennials in their mid-twenties. They were coughing, sneezing and laughing, and some of them were just sleeping and snoring. Quite a few of them had the stringy thing on their heads – the dreadlocks that some backpackers are into – while others preferred to sport Leonardo’s wavy hairstyle.
I caught the scent of decent girlie perfume that was mixed with the smell of three-day-old sweat. This was the youth, an exuberant bunch of hedonists. Nothing wrong with that; I used to be one myself.
The creature comforts were acceptable; the seats were comfy in the lower deck and there was a restroom and a small snack bar on board.
At 2:15pm, the ferry still hadn’t left, which is why I went upstairs to get some snacks.
Stuffing my face, I noticed that the sight of pier poles didn’t enrapture my seatmate. Understandably, he looked rather bored; the boat was delayed more than an hour.
“Do you want some?” I said to my seatmate at the window, offering him some crisps.
He smiled and struck up a conversation with me, talking about Ao Nang, a lively seaside strip in the Krabi region. He also mentioned the famous Railay Beach with its distinctive limestone rock the shape of a giant stalagmite. Showing me a map on his mobile, pointing to an area just south of Railay Beach, he said to me, “Around here, snorkeling and kayaking is really nice.”
At 2:36pm, the boat put out from Koh Phi Phi’s main port, producing sounds not much different to that of a truck’s. The engines were revving up, billowing black clouds of diesel exhaust that looked even darker under the patchy blanket of grey-black clouds.
The skies had turned gloomy within an hour, but both of us didn’t mind. We enjoyed talking about our experiences in Thailand, and I told him I also have that three lines tattoo from the movie The Beach. He was on the edge of his seat when I explained to him, “To me, this tattoo doesn’t only represent the love for Koh Phi Phi, but also the paths I’ve taken in my life.”
Chatting for too long, I’d totally forgotten about the labyrinthine archipelago we were about to reach. Rather than keep shooting the breeze, I was desperate to shoot a few photographs. I told him I had to dash and repaired outside to feel the wind in my hair and smell the salty scent of the invigorating sea.
One of the joys of traveling is that you get to meet cool peeps, so it’s easy to forget the time, more so when the ride is as smooth as this one had been.
While the ship was putting in at Krabi’s port at 3:35pm, I admired the view of the limestone range on the horizon, safe in the knowledge that this trip had been something fabulous to write home about.