KoPhiPhi

Click Pic for Ko Phi Phi – Locals and Lobsters Gallery

KoPhiPhi

Remember when I said we were basically the only tourists on Ko Jum and we were looking at the handful of other tourists we ran into after 48hrs in awe and excitement? Like they were creatures in a zoo, about to be extinct?
Well, welcome to Ko Phi Phi in low season.

When you get off the ship on arrival, the first thing you see are Thai people on a narrow pier, with signs in their hands, shouting at you where you are going. Shouting from left and right.

It feels a bit like running the gauntlet, but ultimately these people are here to help you to either get you to your hotel or, if you are homeless, to get you into a home.
Still, it can be a bit overwhelming when you just stepped off a ship, still a bit shaky, don’t know left from right yet and you find yourself having to respond to 12 people at once, shouting questions at you. Triple this feeling when you come from a deserted Island like Ko Jum.

Apart from tons of Westerners, it seems Ko Phi Phi is one of the places to go to if you are rich and Chinese. And there are lots of them. In fact, 9 million Chinese have visited Thailand in 2016 and for a couple of years now, the Chinese have had a very bad reputation amongst the Thai population, mainly for being rude and supposedly not knowing how to behave in general.
But the real reasons seem deeper as this article shows. Rather than just picking on the Chinese for instances of bad behaviour that frankly aren’t so different from instances of travellers from other countries, the article suggests there is underlying, historically rooted tension between the Thai and Chinese involved.

Anyway, we have seen tons of Chinese people on Ko Phi Phi and I can’t say I have seen any misbehaviour whatsoever. Quite the opposite. The people who were roaming the streets shirtless, drunk and loud at night, did look and sound pretty Anglo-Saxon to us.

Ko Phi Phi is a very black and white Island. There are only two groups of people walking its streets and beaches. Either you belong to the tourist crowd, or you belong to the people who make the tourist crowd happy.
There is very little grey area here. Tons of Thai jobs are attached to the tourism industry on Ko Phi Phi. Actually, I can’t remember seeing any Thai doing anything at all that wasn’t tourism related.
From giving a massage, to preparing food for the masses. From any kind of hotel related work, to re-stocking plastic buckets with alcohol.
When they weren’t working, they were lying exhausted from work in some corner or stared absent minded into their mobile phones. This is especially true for the area on Ko Phi Phi where you arrive by ship.

This part of Ko Phi Phi is not Thailand at all. It’s an Island that happens to be part of Thailand, just like Mallorca or Ibiza happens to be part of Spain, but then it really isn’t. Alcohol rules on this Island big time and it has driven all the signs and symbols that make Thailand to what it is to the side, rendering them to be footnotes at best.
You want to see signs and symbols of Buddhism? They are there, but you need to make an effort to find them, often hidden behind some bar, resort or massage parlour.
You want to find the famous Thai smile? Exhausted looking Thais have it, but see how long it lasts.
A good test to see how genuine a smile is no matter where you are is to

  • Exchange a smile like you would normally do when you interact with people in a friendly manner.
  • Walk away 3 meters then turn around and see if the smile is still there.

You will find that on Ko Phi Phi the smile fades away very quickly, whereas on Ko Jum you can drive 20 meters away on your scooter, then turn around and what will you find? Not only is the Thai still smiling, but so are you.

Ko Jum isn’t exhausted from tourism but Ko Phi Phi is.
On Ko Jum you are not a walking wallet in the eyes of the locals but you sure are on Ko Phi Phi.

Having said this, I can’t emphasise enough how friendly and respectful the Thais are on this Island. No one is trying to fool you, no one is trying to trick you and you only feel a little less safe, when groups of drunk Russians, Brits or Germans are nearby (yes, in this order).
What you see is generally what you get and the price you see is the price you pay.

With the masses of tourists arriving every day on this Island you can’t expect to be treated like you are some kind of Prince. You are one of many, many people from one of many, many countries.
You leave tomorrow? Don’t worry, you will be replaced by two others, who are already inbound on the next ship and look just like you. You are really just one number out of many. It’s a bit like when you work for Electronic Arts.

The Island is all people driven. People who are here today and gone tomorrow, and people who try their best to give them a good time. The more you look at the Thai’s faces however, the more you think, those are the people who would really need a holiday.

They probably need a holiday much more than the people behind the Gucci glasses and Hollister swimming trunks. Or the people with the beer bellies wearing tank tops that say “Six pack is coming soon” on its front.

It’s the people who are almost invisible that keeps the machinery going. Invisible in the sense that no one pays attention to them. They are just expected to be there and to function and once this is confirmed, we all look the other way.

The people who wheel the heavy suitcases from the ships to whatever hotel in the relentless heat could probably do with a break. Or the people who peel the prawns for hours and hours behind these same hotels, or in some side street, but generally out of sight. The people in the resorts, who seem to genuinely care when they ask “How long do you stay in Thailand?”, or “Where do you go next?”, but couldn’t care less, because these are questions they have to ask a million times a day and the answers are as exchangeable as the tourists who give them.

Eva and I had already anticipated roughly this picture before we arrived on the Island. It is Ko Phi Phi after all and as mentioned, we came here because Ko Phi Phi was able to offer us what Ko Jum couldn’t: Beach time, with clean beaches.

We were happy to accept the hordes of tourists in exchange for getting the beaches and actually we had a lot of fun going along with it and pretending to be twenty again. Because what it really comes down to is two options:
You either go along with the “fun”, or you go and drown yourself depressed in the sea.
We decided to go along and bought one of the famous buckets for 220 baht (€5). This consisted of a bottle of Thai rum, Thai ice cubes, American Coke and 2 straws probably made in China just like the bucket itself.

Properly armed, we went to the beach, which has turned into one long party mile, with fire shows, electro music and blonde people.
And we behaved like we were twenty again and it was great.
In the middle of a beach disco, surrounded by youths that know no limits, Eva tried to bend over backwards to get underneath a low hanging pole without landing on her back and failed.
I spent 200 baht to try and win two bottles of Jack Daniels by just hanging from a pole for 1 minute and 30 seconds.
I didn’t last 30 seconds and I’m saying 30 seconds because I’m too embarrassed to admit that it was just over 20.

After having worked our way through most of our bucket, we stripped down to our underwear and jumped into the sea.

Alcohol is magic in its ability to get you off your moral high ground pretty quickly and you do notice while it is happening, but you don’t care. You smile while the alcohol leads you down a foggy, blurry path until you reach the level of the people that you have so despised 2hrs earlier when you arrived at the place.

Alcohol has a tendency to turn anyone sooner or later into a hypocrite and there is no shame in admitting it. The shame would be if you didn’t.
Just go to any pub in Britain, sit down with open ears and you will find that years of indoctrinated political correctness will crumble and evaporate soon after the second pint.
It’s the same when going to the Oktoberfest in Munich. Usually, you arrive sober. You see the people that are already drunk and you think “#OMG!”.
You think “#OMG!”, because it’s cool to think in hashtags and acronyms nowadays.
So you think “#OMG!”, I’m never gonna be like this. But once you are into your second beer, you find yourself singing along with them, dancing along with them and in the case of Ko Phi Phi swimming along with them in your underwear. Alcohol and its magic formula.
It has been some time that I had so much fun.

Next day I went to “Thai Boxing” which is located in the middle of the “fun area”. Another interesting experience. I only had a small beer, so I’m riding comfortably on the moral high road again and give you my experience from this perspective.
The “Thai Box” ring is placed in a drinking palace and it is usually not Thai people who box there, but tourists who get a free bucket when they sign up and kick the script out of each other. A free bucket for entertaining the masses and getting them to drink and cheer.

An English couple not only didn’t see a problem taking their 5-year-old boy to this place, but also let him fight against a 7-year-old, spurred on by the masses of drunk, sun-burnt lobsters while the parents were filming everything.

Get that free bucket for daddy: A five year old is fighting a seven year old, while the parents film and cheer him on.

This was followed by tipsy adults fighting each other and when the bar couldn’t find any tourist that wanted to fight, they dragged out two 50-year-old Thais from somewhere, filling the gap while desperately recruiting new victims.

But even hell has a place where it is less hot and Eva found a quiet, secluded, absolutely beautiful beach with a nearby resort far, far away from the bucket crowd. A place on the same Island that you can only reach by boat. No parties, no buckets, no Irish pubs and no singalong bands, playing the same Oasis songs every single night.

Picture taken by Eva. Thanks hon’!

Because the fun and loss of moral high ground lasts only as long as the alcohol does. Soon the statement We need to get outta here carries more weight than any bucket ever could.

Ko Phi Phi is beautiful in many ways. That’s why the people are coming. The sea, the rocks, the beaches, the canoeing that Eva and I did and that I haven’t even mentioned, but was really great – Beautiful.
The Thais are beautiful people and their never-ending patience with us tourists is to be admired on a daily basis. They lift and push and pack and cook and please and still manage to tell you to “Enjoy your holidays” and make it sound true. It’s crazy. Somehow they manage and honestly, I don’t know how they do it.
And you can find beautiful, quiet places. They do exist on Ko Phi Phi. It just takes a bit of effort to get there but it’s so worth it. And maybe that is the best part about this Island. You can sure find party if you want to party, but you can also find the quiet places, the calm ones, the places that more resemble Thailand when you think of “classic” Thailand.

Since this Island is so people driven, I decided to start with a people gallery first and will add a separate gallery about everything else we found on Ko Phi Phi at some point later on. The pics are just of random people that you can expect to bump into should you visit. Locals as well as Lobsters. We met some good, interesting, sometimes overworked and often funny characters in our time there and I hope you can enjoy them a little, just like we did.

Let me take you back.