By Marie Moon
There we were the twenty of us, wrapped in pearly green ponchos,
speeding away from the storm that was threatening to ruin our adventure.
Every face was now framed by the gathered green hoods; sunglasses,
smeary from suncream and beading with rain, wisps of salty wet hair
flickering in squinted eyes. One man straddled portside as the wind
launched his poncho up around his ears. As he tried to force it
down Marilyn Monroe style, with the palm of his free hand, a few
of us were struck by a fit of the giggles. It was one of those special
moments when a group of total strangers bond in circumstanced camaraderie.
The sociability of travel is what many people value as the highlight
of the experience, but it is not something that casually happens.
These moments are carefully orchestrated by some unknown power,
through a series of positive and negative experiences and there
is a fine balance imposed on the depth of these experiences. Our
Phi-Phi Island day-trip with Phuket Adventures was perfectly orchestrated
through a combination of excellent service, exquisite natural locations,
fun, drama and heavenly intervention.
The day had been clear and sunny since 6:00am when I awoke with
excitement about my Phi-Phi adventure. By 8:45, as I met with Phuket
Adventures Director of Sales, Dave Chang, I appreciated the complimentary
tea, coffee and juices offered in the reception area. Dave is a
very personable and enthusiastic team member and his monthly excursions
on the adventures help him to observe and improve his product as
much as possible. During the conversation, I learned that the heart
of the tourism trade has changed, thankfully, from mass-capacity
tour-boats churning up the waters to smaller scale experiences that
are more personal, by mode of speedboat. Dave explained that while
"only one or two of these companies are still operating, large
boats are not granted access into protected marine areas, forcing
the market to adapt. Phuket Adventures is the Pioneer and Original"
he said, quoting the company slogan with some pride, "We have
been in operation for seven years, we invented this kind of day
trip!" He then produced two A4 pages displaying 27 different
reasons why Phuket Adventures is the market-leader.
At 9:00am it was time to board our 36ft speedboat powered by twin
200Hp engines. Sleek but spacious, the vessel easily accommodates
groups up to twenty plus crew. As we cruised out of the Boat Lagoon,
it was time for Khun Chai, our guide, to officially introduce himself
and explain the day’s itinerary. Chai was an excellent tourguide
and contributed a lot to the fun aspect of the day through his quick-witted
jokes and anecdotes. He was very charismatic and confident but not
brash. His knowledge of the areas was great and he spoke English,
German and quite a bit of Russian. A graduate of Rajabhat Institute
Phuket, he was very impressive indeed!
We sped across the mildly choppy Phuket Sea for just over an hour
until reaching our first destination. What a way to start the day!
Maya Bay is a site of immense natural splendor to which my words
cannot do justice. The site gained international attention after
the motion picture "The Beach" with heart-throb Leonardo
di Caprio, was partially filmed here on location. Since, the emerald
green waters, pure white sands and striking cliffs forming the bay
have been photographed perhaps more times than Leonardo himself!
I was disappointed to have only a brief stop here, the place is
so extremely spectacular, I could easily have spent the whole day
floating atop that crystal clear water. I soon understood why our
early departure was necessary, as during the half-hour the stream
of speedboats in and out of Maya Bay was non-stop. To avoid over-crowding
in the National Park, tour companies try to rotate through the famous
sites for the benefit of all their guests.
Back on board we journeyed around the Phi Phi Lei islands to Loh
Samah, literally sparkling in local Yawi language, where we would
spend the next hour snorkelling amongst curious, vividly coloured
tropical fish. The coral reef has unfortunately seen better days;
the coral is mostly brown except for some bright purple clusters
but it supports a wealth of marine life that enchants snorkellers
from all over the world. Meanwhile the crew were busily carving
fruit and splashing cool drinks into tall cups for its hungry adventurers.
Throughout the day, there was an abundance of fresh fruit and icy
cold softdrinks available. I was also impressed with the offer of
a fresh water rinse after the swims, as the high salt content of
these tropical waters can get a bit crusty on the skin.
We cruised around to Phi Lei Cove, a tranquil niche across which
lays the entire spectrum of blue. "Look at the colours! Wow!
This is unbelievable!" were my dumbfounded comments, even though
I am lucky enough to have lived and played in the Phuket waters
for many years. The group was disappointed that the tide was too
low for us to stop and explore the area submarine, but Chai assured
us that we still had a lot to see and we were thus appeased.
We glided into Ton Sai Bay on Phi Phi Don, the largest and only
developed area of the Phi Phi Islands, for a quick look around.
In the six years since I last visited, the island has evolved into
a true tourist hub, boasting a 7-Eleven, ATMs, numerous gift and
souvenir shops and seemingly too many hotels. This side of the Islands
seemed so distant from what we had seen just ten minutes before,
but the stop served as a nice break from the sun and wind and offered
the luxury of a five-star toilet at the Phi Phi Cabana Hotel. Much
The walk along Ton Sai Bay lead through enticing aromas wafting
from the many restaurants in the area. For us, it was approaching
lunchtime, and the promise of an International buffet on a private
beach saw everyone leaping back into the boat with perhaps a little
too much resolve, leading to the drama of our day. Despite the frequent
warnings imparted by the crew regarding the care one should take
when stepping down into the deck of the boat, one unlucky young
Russian woman lost her balance (as well as a little dignity, I’m
sure) and came crashing down, twisting her ankle as she fell. The
response from the crew was immediate and their interim treatment
was effective. While we enjoyed a very satisfactory lunch buffet,
Chai and the Captain administered first aid to a bitterly disappointed
adventurer. The drama had everyone talking and I believe each guest
felt equal proportions of sincere pity for her misfortune and relief
that it wasn’t them!
After lunch had settled we gingerly crawled back onboard and jetted
back toward Phuket for our final stop at Kai Nok Island. The tiny
island itself is very aesthetic but the rows of umbrellas and deckchairs
are not. Thankfully, there is enough space left on the sand to escape
them and the waters around the island are inhabited by schools of
inquisitive fish so snorkelling is encouraged. This was to be our
longest stop, an hour and a half at leisure, but Mother Nature had
other plans. A thick band of dense grey cloud was approaching with
threatening speed and sound. The air before the storm seemed liquid,
the sky was pink and I was silenced by the feats of nature I had
witnessed today; towering cliffs encircling pristine lagoons, sand
so white and fine it feels like powder between the toes, fish of
every colour of the rainbow and now a moody sky defiant of our vocal
wishes for it to turn blue again.
The storm imminent, we abandoned the beach in light rain and sped
away from the squall dressed in the rain ponchos provided by Phuket
Adventures. As comical as the scene was to my fellow adventurers
and I, the fact that the ponchos where available and distributed
so readily spoke volumes about the quality of professional service
and facilities we had enjoyed all day.