‘Thanks Heavenly Father the terrible tsunami we were free from dangers in this area,’ announced a noticeboard at our lunch stop on Phi Phi Don island.
It made the cynic in me wonder what other areas of Phi Phi had done to offend the Heavenly Father, and why He didn’t try just a little harder to prevent thousands of tourists and locals from being fatally caught in Ton Sai Bay in 2004.
But yesterday we were glad He’d decided to spare parts of Phi Phi; the islands are certainly among His more beautiful creations.
Being both beautiful and easily accessible by speedboat from Phuket, this paradise is naturally very popular.
At Phuket Lagoon Boat Marina, under blazing sun, we shuffled along the gangplank to board a Royal Andaman cruise boat for the one hour trip out to Phi Phi. Many others, a good proportion of them Russian, were doing the same.
We haven’t yet discovered why Phuket is so much loved by Russians. They probably wonder why Thai people all look Australian.
I braced myself for a trip from hell, with the prospect of major sunburn, seasickness, dehydration and tourist hordes. But we were pleasantly surprised. Phi Phi may not be the unspoiled natural wonder it used to be, but the rocky cliffs rising straight out of the clear water are still spectacular, and the water is as blue and clear as in the travel brochures.
Our guide Dodo was friendly, informative and considerate, and we assume his Russian-speaking colleague was too. There was enough shade on the boat and on shore to keep the melanomas at bay, ample cool (and free) drinks were available on board, and despite the large numbers of identical speedboats following our route, there was room to roam about on land or sea or foam.
Experienced divers may well have scoffed that they’d seen far better coral reefs elsewhere. Those at Phi Phi were brown and silted, with no colour at all in the coral. For people like me who’ve seldom been snorkelling, there were enough exotic coloured fish and sea urchins to keep us happy for half an hour or so at each of our swimming stops.
Buffet lunch was of the expected mass-produced affair, but it was generous and fresh, with plenty of variety to satisfy eastern and western tastes.
Dodo warned us that there may not be any monkeys in attendance at the famed Monkey Beach, and as predicted, if there were any there at all they were far outnumbered by the tourists peering into the foliage in the hope of getting a glimpse of a macaque.
More pleasant were our stops at the deep lagoon and the beach at which the film The Beach was filmed.
A packed day, but a good one.
There are numerous tour companies running daily boat trips from Phuket to Phi Phi, most quoting prices of 2800-3100 baht (about USD100). This includes transfers from Phuket hotels, lunch, non-alcoholic beverages and snorkelling equipment.