Don’t you love that connected feeling you can get to people you hardly know? That feeling of oneness, of having something in common with people despite your nationality, religion, gender or race. That common thread I speak of is cheapness. And the cheap-ass Tripadvisor community has often steered me in the right direction when it comes to saving a few dollars (translating to many Rands of course).
I took the advice of strangers on Tripadvisor on how to go about booking a (cheap) tour of Maya Bay when you’re already staying on Phi Phi Island (the Laemtong side of Phi Phi Don to be exact). Basically, don’t pre-book. Walk down Laemtong Beach, respond to the man shouting (“TOUR! TOUR”) and negotiate a price. We arranged a morning tour for 7.30am – 12.00pm and on our guide’s insistence, we took a pic (Marwin).
That morning I cursed myself for arranging anything before 11am and made my way to breakfast. We were 5 minutes late to meet Marwin but he was an additional 10 minutes late to meet us. The ladder on the side of the longtail boat was a little difficult to get on for someone lacking arm strength like myself (I’m working on it!). Although there were lifejackets on board, Marwin did not offer us any. Marwin’s English was not that great so it was difficult trying to communicate at times (& seeing that the only other language I know is Afrikaans…).
The sky looked grey and it was far cooler than the previous day. I asked Marwin if he thought the weather will improve and he just laughed in response. Maybe it was a silly question to ask as the rainy season was kicking off. We headed off into the big vast ocean and it started to drizzle.
Being on a longboat is interesting – you are so close to the water and some of it splashes inside. Very exciting when you can see beneath the crystal clear water.
We headed down the coast towards Phi Phi Le and our first stop (Viking Cave). The rain picked up a little and my partner grabbed the hotel towel as he felt cold. I rolled my eyes – ‘Really? It’s just a bit of drizzle!’. Then the rain picked up some more. And some more. And then MORE.
Initially I was sitting right at the front of the boat but by then I was as far back as I could get to have some cover. The cover did nothing though. We were drenched! More and more, the rain stormed, the sky thundered angrily and the lightning lit up the sky. I looked back at Marwin, also completely soaked but defiantly managing this little boat in a giant ocean. I could see no land, just massive waves knocking against the boat with a lot of water coming onboard. Marwin turned the boat to meet the crashing waves head on and I realised just how skilled he was.
It really was okay at first, I felt brave, alive and adventurous. But after 30 minutes of being knocked around, I prayed the boat would not overturn. It was not an unlikely scenario seeing as the waves were huge. Marwin managed most of them but even he was no match for the very big crashing waves. He looked exhausted. I was trying to hide it but I was scared and when I say I was praying, I don’t mean figuratively!! I tried to hide my panic as I didn’t want my partner to panic too. I kept my eyes fixed on the front of the boat as the back of the boat seemed engulfed in water.
I prayed that Marwin had more experience than his youthful face let on. I placated myself that he probably has been through much worse and that if it was dangerous, he wouldn’t have taken us out. The boat was soaked inside and so were we. I kept my sunglasses on so I could keep my eyes open as so much rain was coming in. I was mad at myself for not bringing warm clothes and also for not telling anyone where we went (the hotel, nor my family). What if the boat capsized and we were never seen again? What would my family think happened? These thoughts kept popping into my mind as I tried to logically wish them away.
As soon as land came in sight, relief washed over me. I knew we would be fine. I later asked my partner if he was frightened and he said he wasn’t as he knew Marwin did this all the time. So here I was, putting on a brave face for nothing!
My advice, check the weather! Maybe don’t take your kids on one of these as they can be really scary if the weather is bad!! Oh, and take something warm with, tell the hotel where you are going and insist on wearing a life-jacket.
Anyway, after the initial scare we were on our way to explore the islands.
I may have mixed up some names but here goes nothing…
Stop 1- Viking Cave
Our first stop was Viking Cave. Apparently, so named because of cave paintings depicting foreign sailing ships.
It had some interesting limestone markings and large nesting sites for swallows.
Luckily, the rain and big waves subsided by the point that we reached the cave.
Stop 2 – Pileh Bay
There was a place to dock and we jumped out of the boat. It was a bit cold as it was still raining a little. We were the only ones there.
I could see beneath the clear water. Marwin told us there was not much fish or coral around here – a lot of the coral was apparently destroyed by the tsunami. We grabbed our snorkels and saw some fish but as Marwin said, there weren’t that many. The sun came out and on we went. Everyone was in much better spirits.
Stop 3 – Loh samah Bay
Next stop Marwin promised more fish. We dropped anchor in the middle of the water again and jumped out the boat. The water was heating up and Marwin’s promises were true – there were tons of little and not-so-little brightly coloured fish. It made me wish I had a little more of a snorkel.
Marwin watched me go into olympic swimmer mode and splash like crazy. He laughed and asked “jellyfish?”. Yes Marwin, jellyfish. Thanks for asking.
Stop 4 – The (very) famous Maya Bay
We had a bit of a communication issue with Marwin regarding Maya Bay. We didn’t understand that just to dock there meant you had to pay a conservation fee. I’m sure I had read that somewhere but I forgot and only took enough money to pay Marwin with. After some frustration on both sides, we came to an agreement. We paid up and we were left to explore the beautiful Maya Bay.
Maya Bay was of course made famous by the movie, The Beach. Like any Leo fan, that movie totally sold me on making a dream trip to Thailand. And there I was, in it’s artificial beautiful glory. I say artificial as the crew for the movie actually bulldozed some of the area and planted trees to make it look more spectacular. In fact, there was even a lawsuit going because of the damage the film crew did to the natural environment.
Anyway, the place was jam-packed with fellow tourists. We were practically elbowed out the way by people doing yoga poses to post on Instagram (how ironic).
So my tip regarding Maya Bay would be to go early!
We walked the forest-path through the island which was fascinating. We could see out to Loh samah Bay (our previous stop).
Stop 5 – Bamboo Island
The conservation fee we paid was for entrance to both Maya Bay and Bamboo Island. Far fewer people bother to check out Bamboo Island which is a pity. It’s a beautiful, secluded beach. It might not have the dramatic landscape of Maya Bay but it was far cleaner than most of the beaches I’d encountered during my trip.
Stop 6 – Mosquito Island/ Moskito Island
The unpleasantly named Mosquito Island was our last stop for the morning. I was exhausted so even though the bucket-list-ticker in me wanted to jump in (and did), I probably spent about 30 seconds in the water.
After that it was a quick trip back to Laemtong. We planned to head out to Tonsai Bay but ended up taking a long nap on the beautiful beach.
So, in summary my tip(s) would be to know what you’re getting yourself into and take safety precautions. Check the weather, we probably would have had a much nicer trip if we went out later. Also, have an idea of where you want to go so you can guide your guide. Our tour was absolutely incredible and I will remember it for years to come – but, it would have been better without the initial scare!