“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 – in normal years, obviously. 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.
I’d never seen a quiet Koh Phi Phi before, but in times like these, I expected the famed island to be less packed than usual. In fact, I was pretty sure the lack of travelers had taken its toll. But to what extent? Had the restaurants I liked survived? And what about island hopping around Phi Phi?
There was only one way to find out. I booked a trip from Phuket to Koh Phi Phi online in a few clicks, and took a speedboat ride in the Andaman Sea. Here’s what the trip with PP Sabai Marine was like.
Checking in at Rassada Pier
Rassada Pier probably rings a bell with you. Phuket’s main dock for ferries and boats traveling to and from islands off the coast of Phuket is notoriously busy, with hundreds of island-hoppers and day-trippers keen to have their socks blown off.
This time, however, things were a bit different. For a start, the usual entrance was blocked with railings. The security guy told my cabbie in Thai that I’d have to check in at another entrance that was near the security checkpoint where cars arrive. Also, there were no tourist masses, not to mention foreign vacationers.
Tour operator PP Sabai Marine was well-organized. “Philipp, right? You booked with Bookaway…,” said a friendly woman at the entrance before I could say anything.
She checked my temperature, then led me to the check-in counter where I had to jot down my name and phone number. And the woman behind the desk said, “The boat is delayed ten minutes,” handed me my ticket and pointed to the coffee corner where bean juice, tea, toast and cookies beckoned.
I gave the calories a miss and took a seat in the waiting area. Most people were wearing facemasks and it was fairly quiet in the waiting hall. There weren’t any food stalls or snack shops to stock up on nibbly-dibblies. There was no laughter and no yackety-yack, only a few locals waiting for their boat, just like me.
Boarding the speedboat
At 9:05 am, five minutes after the scheduled departure time, people started to push round the metal arms as they went through turnstiles, heading for the speedboat. I was wondering what to insert, but PP Sabai Marine’s employee standing in front of the barriers handed me some card in exchange for the ticket before I could ask.
Their service was noticeably kind. Seeing that I was taking notes and pictures at once, a staff member offered to hold some of my stuff. I was glad she did because walking across another boat’s half-meter-wide stern to get on the speedboat headed for Phi Phi, it wouldn’t have taken much to drop my cell phone or travel notes booklet into the murky sea.
This accommodating woman also told me to wear a lifejacket and a guy poured me a cup of cool water.
Heading for Phi Phi
At 9:10 am, the engines revved up, stirring the green-tinted waters. Big waves moved the boat up and down, and though I never get seasick, I could easily imagine that the anti-vomiting Stugeron pills they’d offered at the check-in counter would’ve come in handy for sensitive people.
Just a couple of minutes later, one of the three engines stopped running, but that didn’t worry the guys much. A technician was on board and started work while the captain continued to drive the boat. I understood the word “mod” (run out) and thought this bloke would only have to exchange a spark plug, but for some reason, that didn’t work.
Then, the captain stopped the boat at 9:20 am, and the technician tried to fix the seized engine. The speedboat was rocking side to side, but the five-minute break out at sea didn’t bother me much.
“Nang loey,” one of the guys said, and “nang” means “to sit.” I got it. This was not something they could fix on the spot; we were going back to Rassada Pier to change the boat.
Approaching Koh Phi Phi
“Thueng laew” (we’ve arrived), I bantered, and the people laughed. I loved the friendly vibes.
The obliging staff extended their hands to help everyone change the boat, and at 10 am, this smaller speedboat’s engines revved up, wafting a diesel smell through the air. There were fewer and less comfy seats on this boat, but since there weren’t more than 15 travelers, nobody minded. The main thing was that the engines were running, and they were!
Everybody had to find something to hold onto; it was a bumpy ride – a boat massage, so to speak. I grabbed the bar of the captain’s seat and studied the seascape. Aside from a few islets jutting out of the sea like buoys plotting fishing spots, there wasn’t much to see.
Meanwhile, the sun reflected on the water, making it glitter like diamonds. Then, at 10:40 am, I recognized the unique shape of Koh Phi Phi Ley. The sight of this movie location evoked many memories of my Maya Bay visits, and I was wondering when I could go there again. Well-known Maya Bay is still closed to tourists but may be re-opened in mid-2021.
At 10:55 am, the captain curved into Phi Phi’s Ton Sai Bay where gigantic limestone rocks and emerald waters stunned me once more.
“Don’t look further…,” I recalled and was eager to breathe some life into Phi Phi that I never in my wildest dreams imagined seeing so deserted one day.