By 5:30 am I was awake. I had a fitfull sleep, waking up many times to look out our cabin window and ensure we were still anchored in the same place. The others on the boat must have been the same because by 7 am we were pulling up the anchor and on our way to Maya Bay on Koh Phi Phi Le, which was an island just a few miles south of our current location. This is among the most popular day trips for tourists, as it has an amazing beach and was the location for several scenes from a movie called “The Beach” which is a bit of a backpacker classic. The charter agency had told us we probably wouldn’t be able to get into this bay as it was east facing and nearly always very rough during this southeast monsoon season. But when we arrived, it was a little rough, but really not too bad so we tied up to one of the many mooring balls, jumped into the dingy and cruised into the beach. The scenery in this bay was spectacular. I looked around to see that we were enclosed by towering limestone walls, much higher than the ones we’ve seen in the previous anchorages.
Though we were early, hoping to beat the crowds, there were already three or four tourist boats anchored near the beach, with tourists spilling off them. We dragged the dingy up the beach and started looking around when we were approached by a Thai guy wearing a uniform. He asked if we were the ones from the catamaran, then told us there was a national park fee we had to pay. Of course, we hadn’t brought any money, so Toddy and I hauled the dingy back into the water, started the engine then bobbed up and down across the sizeable swells back to the boat. Toddy did a flying leap back to the boat and got us tied up while I tried to hold the dingy steady. He grabbed some cash while I changed into my swimming shorts, then we jumped back into the dingy, but I couldn’t get the engine started. After several minutes I finally realized the kill switch had popped off, so I reattached, got it going and we took off across the water. Halfway back I realized I had forgotten my camera, so we turned it around, returned to the boat, Toddy did another flying leap, retrieved my camera, and we surfed our way back into the beach, and only after we had hauled the dingy up on the sand did I realize I had forgotten to grab the bottle of water that Stella had asked for.
We followed the crowd onto a well worn path which went through the jungle and led to the other side of the island. We expected to find something amazing, but the path just ended at a small cliff overlooking a snorkeling bay. I’m not sure what we were expecting, but we didn’t recognize much of anything from “The Beach” movie, except maybe for the small group of stoned backpackers on the beach. We found out later that scenes of the perfect beach and lagoon in that movie were all CGI, so that explained it.
We spent a while walking around the gorgeous beach and went for a swim while the kids built two cool sand castles. We took a picture of the Olson family feet (something we’ve been meaning to do for a very long time…but always seem to forget!) and one of Toddy doing a handstand. With our digital mementos, we got back in the dingy, returned to the Happy Eva which was bouncing merrily on the waves, and somehow managed to get everybody back on board without an injury.
We did a full circuit around the rest of the island, along the way nearly getting crushed by a giant, hulking, rusted dive boat, and then returned to Monkey Beach and were happy to see that the mooring ball was now free so we tied up, had a quick brunch, and loaded up what we needed for a day trip to explore Phi Phi town. But first, we had to go and finally meet the monkeys.
We dingyed (yes, that is a perfectly acceptable boater verb, screw you spellchecker!) to the beach and found only six boats there with maybe 80 tourists – a slow morning. The monkeys were out in full force, at least twenty or thirty of them, including some babies. They were all professional snatch and grab primates and nothing was safe around them. Magnus made the mistake of pulling some peanuts out of his pocket and within seconds he had six monkeys in front of him grabbing the peanuts - one of them even digging into his pocket trying to get the rest of them. One monkey snatched somebody’s camera. Another got a bottle of sunscreen. Some were simply rooting through the trash on the beach, and we saw one clever fellow clutching a can of Chang beer, trying to get the remaining drops out. Excellent, I thought, if Chang is good enough for monkeys it is good enough for me.
One of the tourists had a big bag of rambutan fruits which was immediately stolen by the biggest monkey on the beach, who was surely the leader, as he sported giant testicles, a huge red scar on his back and a face that said, “Just try me.” We watched him pulled a fruit out of the plastic bag and expertly peel it in about half a second, then pop the juicy nugget into his mouth and toss the spiny, red peels on the beach. Some of the other monkeys noticed he had made off with the mother load so three of them confronted him, demanding him to share. Well, a monkey scrap ensued and they fought and clawed at each other until all four of them rolled into the ocean, which cooled them off a bit and stopped the battle. All this while, several of the tourists had enticed monkeys to jump on their heads or shoulders and were doing selfies (or perhaps those would better be called “dualies”) on the beach. There was a hot Italian chick wearing a skimpy bikini who was caught in the middle of the frenzy, getting swarmed by grabby monkeys. Several men, hoping to get a prize shot, were waiting with their cameras at the ready, hoping for a monkey to relieve her of her bottoms.
This was all a hell of a lot of fun, especially with the potential for injury, but when we saw a giant boat with at least two hundred tourists on board arrive and start to back into the beach, we gathered the kiddies and escaped in our dingy to the relative safety of the crazy bay. We zigged and zagged around the boats and made our way onto the main beach, then hauled the dingy up as far as we could get it and went off to explore the town.
I read that the 2004 tsunami had devastated this island and basically wiped out everything that was there, but there was little indication of that now, besides the construction of a giant resort and some repairs being done to the walkways. The crowd was overwhelmingly young and backpackerish and the majority of the businesses on the island looked to be bars and restaurants, plus a couple 7-11’s of course!
We walked across the sandspit to Lohdalum Bay, which was much more peaceful than the other side and had a lovely beach. Lining the top of the beach were a series of bars, including the Woody Bar and the Slinky Bar which, charmingly, had a giant sculpture of a penis directly in front of it, either repelling customers or drawing them in, depending on the demographic. We then wandered through the labyrinth of narrow walking streets and found a nice little restaurant to stop for lunch. This was the first meal we had eaten off the boat and, to be honest, it was probably the worst. Or maybe we had just gotten used to our own cooking. Or maybe being back in a busy place, crowded with people, jostling for space just fouled the food. Other than the food, it was a good lunch because we were able to relax and watch the hundreds of people passing by, including one chubby man who was pushing his wife around on a trolley as she videotaped him and ordered him where to go. It was very difficult to understand how this could possibly be the low season as every restaurant was full and there were people everywhere, but I guess that just speaks to the popularity of this little island.
We walked back to our landing point and were relieved to find our dingy still there, though less than an hour of rising tide away from being drawn out to sea. We motored back to Happy Eva and finding her safe and sound, pulled up the anchor and head off to find an anchorage for the night, which was definitely not going to be anywhere close to the madness in this place. As we rounded the south end of Ko Phi Phi and headed northwest we found a steady, strong breeze between 16 and 20 knots so we put the sails up, cut the engines and let the boat show us what she could do. We were able to maintain a speed of over 7 knots and enjoyed fastest and most exciting sail yet across 20 miles of open water to the southeast coast of Ko Yao Yai island.
Our bible for the trip was the Southeast Asia Pilot guide, which is the definitive guide for cruising in this region of the world. The anchorage we chose for the night was called “Captain Ed’s Spot” and was one of the ones recommended by the book, but at first glance it was hard to see what was good about it. It wasn’t in a secluded bay, nor were there any spectacular sights or towns nearby. We arrived, anchored easily in 20 feet of water, and then sat down for a happy hour drink and to evaluate our surroundings. The best part was that we were the only boat there, and after the madhouse at Phi Phi, that was a huge plus. The water was very calm and the shoreline offered secluded coconut groves, some rocky spots full of birds and a nice looking beach a bit further down. As we enjoyed our drinks, we looked out across the bay to see fishing boats slowly trolling up and down the water, a backdrop of island silhouettes, the distant lights of Krabi, and this strange, green, alien glow coming from many different locations in the distance, which we later discovered were lights from squid boats that they use to attract the creatures. We could also hear the muezzin doing the call to prayer from a nearby mosque, which must have been from a Muslim village on the island. It was a beautiful way to cap off a day of sailing and I felt very fortunate to be there, at that exact place and exact time, with my family and our friend. And I could definitely see why Captain Ed loved this anchorage.
As Ana and I started preparing dinner, Toddy grabbed a fishing rod and started some bottom fishing. I had caught a single, small fish when we had first arrived, but he added to the count with at least four more bottom dwelling, bug eyed beauties! They were admittedly small, but hey, a fish is a fish and I’ve always said a fish caught is worth ten fish bought. It so happened that evening I did grill up the fish bought a few days prior to this at Tesco, and they turned out just lovely.
Ana, Todd and I stayed up after the kids went to bed and had another lovely chat, a few more drinks, and enjoyed another magical evening by ourselves on this vessel, which was starting to feel very much like our own.