Wrapped in towels under the cover of large umbrellas, we barely noticed the rain.
Alex had kindly used up a bunch of hotel points to get us all into a hotel that was beyond anything the likes of which Meg and I have seen for quite some time — if it had to rain at all, now was the time. We had snuck a bottle of vodka down to the pool and were augmenting ice cold fresh young coconut drinks with it, as the afternoon passed in a flurry of rain showers and dips in the pool. For two days we took it easy, most of it spent at and around the hotel. We did make it into Ao Nang one night for dinner, rain pouring the entire time, creating a fun game of hugging the sidewalk stores, avoiding puddles, dropping into alleyway stalls pretending to be interested while shaking off like a wet dog, then jumping into the next stall. On the third day, the sun presented itself and we saw, for the first time since Koh Rong, the wondrous greens, blues, and dark coral shadows of Thai waters.
Drawn to such waters in greater variety and even more striking arrays, we headed for Koh Phi Phi, where Alex and I had been about five years previously. Arriving at the island, it was interesting to see the development that’s taken place in the intervening years: pedestrian streets have been smoothed and fixed, electricity is now reliable, wifi pervasive, restaurants have upped the quality of their food (and of course their prices), and along with these improvements we found the inevitable onslaught of tacky amusements, neon lights, foldaway stands selling fake watches and luminous clothing with various pronouncements on full moon partying, and a dangerous overabundance of inbred feral cats occupying every perch, nook, cranny and storefront they can find. It was to this environment that we gave ourselves for the next four days and nights: lazy days on the beach spent gazing at longtail boats bobbing in the shallows, bright ribbons on mastheads pitching and rolling above coral beds. Tied to heavy ropes — parallel lines on the shore that move with the tides and swells of the Andaman Sea, rising and flapping down onto crisp white sands — the boats, with their propellered tails jutting out above the water’s surface, foreground the views of the otherworldly Koh Phi Phi Leh. Nights in restaurants and bars, glimpses of Muay Thai fighting and fluorescent youth, glowing, readying themselves for long, loud nights of partying on the beach.
On a day trip out to Koh Phi Phi Leh on one of the longtail boats (“hello! boat-boat! taxi-boat yes?”) we snorkeled and swam and leapt off the boat and climbed back on it and swam again; a carefree day of aquatic bliss. Caves and coves, limestone karsts that tower up out of the sea, chalky cliffs, radiant fish, sunny skies, clear waters, small beaches, tropical trees. There are few places on the planet as eye-squintingly pleasing as Koh Phi Phi Leh.
(If the video above doesn’t work, click here to view.)
Later that night, a dinner at a reputable Thai cooking school set Megan and me taking turns kneeling down to heave into the toilet bowl, and some other food — perhaps that meal, perhaps something eaten the next morning — put me in bed for the better part of the next two days. So perhaps the quality of the food was, as it turns out, just like the old days. During this time, Alex and Renee went diving; Meg alternated between relaxing on the beach and playing nurse to a dehydrated and feverishly ill husband.
Eventually I was back in action, able to enjoy something of the beauty of the Phi Phi islands again, but all too briefly before the departure of the Schardts back to Krabi, and onwards to Bangkok, then Tokyo, and finally their home in California. It had been great to see them again! So much fun. For Meg and me too, our time in Phi Phi was drawing to a close — we would shortly be on a ferry headed to the bigger, quieter island of Lanta.