Tuesday, 9 March 2010

Thailand - The first film set

Hello everyone!

Myself and Kelly weren't seeing eye to eye on Saturday morning. To be precise, mine were staying shut, whereas she was imploring me to get up. As I hadn't got back until after 3am, I felt like squeezing out as much sleep as possible. Besides, we didn't have to leave until 8, so why was she demanding I get up at 7.15?

Turns out there was a decent reason, actually. At 8am we were indeed leaving - leaving Ko Lanta. Which meant we had to get to the port at the top of the island. We were being picked up from the bungalow at 7.30, something I had not accepted in my mind. I was soon persuaded to get up. We almost missed it anyway because we had a very special driver who insisted on stopping at various points along the way to talk to people, but we were soon on our way.

Our destination, at least for a few hours, was Ko Phi Phi. Phi Phi is two islands - Phi Phi Don, where people stay and party; and Phi Phi Leh, where people go on a day trip to gorge on the scenery. We arrived and immediately set about finding a way of getting to the latter. Our ferry for Phuket, our next destination, was to leave at 2pm, so we had just over four hours to explore and enjoy the delights of Phi Phi. We got talking to a tour guide, who offered us our own longtail and driver for 1500. I thought we could get it for cheaper, but time wasn't exactly on our side to find a better deal, so we snapped it up and were soon off to Phi Phi Leh.

What an island it is. The physical aspects of it are incredible. Large, steep cliffs protect pockets of small beaches and caves and lagoons. Palm trees dot the inner areas of the island. The colours of the sea, sand and shrubbery are vivid and inspiring. It was a jaw-dropping sight, and probably the most spectacularly beautiful of all of our destinations. It was as if a team from Hollywood had built it from scratch.

Phi Phi Leh is a film set in its own right. It was the setting for The Beach. The only thing I know about that film is that Leo Di Caprio is in it, and it involves a beach. What a beach, though. Even though it was digitally enhanced by editors as it was deemed too small, and even though it was packed full of longtails, larger ships and tourists, it was still a fantastic backdrop. You can see why they filmed here. We were given an hour by our guide to explore, so we wandered around, mouths wide open.

It is a great island, and better for the fact that you can't build on it. The beach was picturesque, even with the tourists, and the cliffs were magnificent. Even so, we couldn't stick around, and headed back to Phi Phi Don. We decided to try to reach the tsunami evacuation point, up the top of a hill. Yet again, our perspective failed us, and we were left cursing why we were putting ourselves through so much exertion and not even halfway to the top. The fact that this was the hottest day we experienced, 38'C, didn't help the cause.

We made it to the top, towering almost 200 metres above the shore. It is amazing how they have rebuilt this place after the tsunami. You can see from the pictures that most people and buildings are congregated on the small strip of land in the middle. Ko Phi Phi got attacked by waves from both sides within a 5 minute period, cutting the island in two and destroying anything on the strip. It's mind-blowing to think that someone may have been up here that morning, and all of a sudden seen a giant wave speeding towards the island, feeling helpless and scared. Definitely worth the hike up.

After another pad thai session we got on our boat to Phuket. Phuket is arguably the most famous of the Thai islands. Or infamous, depending on how you look at it. We weren't in that part of Phuket, however: we had opted to stay in Phuket Town, not really near the beaches. We'd seen rather a lot of the beach, and I was quite happy for my enduring image of Thai beaches to come from Ko Lanta.

After our minibus driver, a Liverpool fan who knew where Wales was due to his love of Ian Rush, had dropped us at our hostel, we started chatting to two guys sitting outside our room. They were both English, which at least made a change from Scandinavian. One of them told me he was on a gap year. Aah, same age as me then, I assume. Oh no. No, this guy is on a gap year BEFORE going to university. I felt quite old at that moment. Nonetheless they were cool guys, and we went to get some dinner before going to a place that a lot of people recommended; Phuket Town market.

It's a night market that only exists on weekends. It was similar to the market in Bangkok's Chinatown, although not quite as busy. There were bands, breakdancers, lots of food stalls, lots of colour and vibrancy - and even a Volkswagen anniversary show. We got some snowcones, which were very nice and quite a contrast to the heat, which was still prevalent even in the wee hours. We stayed out for a while and had a few drinks, and then the lack of sleep from the previous few days finally wore me down, and we headed back.

On Sunday, our final day, Kelly went to church. We agreed to meet up at 12, as the bus for the airport left the bus terminal at 1. I thus had time to kill, and ended up walking around the town with a Canadian girl called Cybil. What a name. She was really interesting, as she had actually visited Korea! She had also taught in Japan for two years on a scheme similar to the GEPIK one I'm on, so it was fascinating to compare how we felt about the two countries. We didn't actually realise that we had gotten lost for a long time, though I wasn't too bothered - I needed to burn my face to get rid of the shocking tanline across my forehead.

We got back sometime after 12, and waited for Kelly to bail. It never crossed my mind that she could have left without me, as I had a trump card - her passport. She duly came back, very worried that she couldn't find it. Saviour? I think so. I got a final pad thai and we headed for the station, at which point I realised I didn't have any tools to eat my food with. I got off the bus, found a nearby restaurant and offered to buy cutlery off them. I paid the princely sum of 1 baht for two plastic spoons. Awesome.

Phuket's airport was full of foreigners, which I wasn't a great fan of. As I've said before, I quite like being the oddity, the stranger who people stare at. We checked in, but were not allowed to avoid check-in at Bangkok as both tickets were in Kelly's name. We made sure that our bags were going to be passed through, and were given a receipt to show in the capital's airport. Our flight was fine and we moved on to Bangkok, where we went for a final beer in a cafe as we had a 5 hour layover. We then went to check in, and pulled out our passports, flight details and...umm...where is that receipt for the bags? It had been in my pocket, I was sure. We asked her if we really needed, and she responded with an emphatic yes. Uh oh. This would not be good. I kind wanted my clothes and souvenirs to get to Korea with me. We had a think, and split up to look. I went back to the cafe and asked the manager about it. Every member of staff was set on the case, even those busy serving customers. A minute or so later, a cheer from the kitchen! An A4 piece of paper had duly been found, with our receipt - and lots of disposed food. Lovely.

Still, problem averted. The flight was decent, apart from their refusal to let me use the bathroom twice as the turbulence sign turned on whilst I was at the front of the queue, and we were soon back in Korea. Our Thai adventure was over.

What a holiday. What a country. Whether I deserved a vacation was debatable, but it was a fantastic adventure, full of fun and tall tales. Surely one of the highlights of my year, and any time I feel down in school I'm sure I can just scroll through the photos and remember that the money I'm earning is going towards trips like this. Fantastic.

Love you all


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