It takes five trains, three boats and four planes to get from Totnes to Thailand and back. In Phuket, the power lines hang down low over the streets like charred spaghetti. Their guitar string coils hang hopefully expectant from telegraph poles.
Mr. Manop weaves in and out of slower vehicles, assiduously sticking to above the speed limit in his air-conditioned taxi. Things are cheaper here than out on the Krabi Islands.
It takes one hour and four Honda 250cc engines to get over to Phi Phi on a speed boat. The islands are inhabited by 4700 people and the population gets three thousand times bigger than that over the course of a year when the (mostly young twenty-something) back-packers arrive. They come for the warm climate, water play and abundant weed stores. Imagine my surprise when virtually the first thing we come across on arrival is a sign for a pizza restaurant surrounded by some pot plants on the street to remind them where to go when they get the munchies. The boat tour of the islands takes in sea caves, the James Bond island (from “The Man With the Golden Gun”), Maya beach, Monkey Island, some damn fine cliffs and equally damn fine snorkelling of the reefs.
Some places get crowded, especially when the day-trippers arrive from Phuket. But if you choose the back way up to the view point it is quiet. There is a ‘bar’ in the jungle on the climb up and it’s empty. When you get up there to the view point, it is far from empty. The bar owner laments his crash since the pandemic. But the crowds don’t deter the keen adders-of-photos-to-social-media who can still make it look like a deserted idyllic beach and point their phones at 90 degrees from the crowds and out to sea away from the rammed beach just next to them. It is chilling to think of the 2004 Boxing Day Tsunami that hit the islands from both sides and killed an estimated 227,898 people in 14 countries. I think of that when the ladies are off for a swim and I go back to the room for a shower. Afterwards, whilst waiting for them to return, I enjoy the mosque-call drifting through the trees and notice the Tsunami warning siren of the roof of the hotel.
Sheer cliffs, cocktails and breakfast views of perfect turquoise water. Even a vegan/vege restaurant. A school where you don’t have to warn your children to watch out crossing the road. There are no cars on Phi Phi anyway and the cart-pushers shout “beep-beep” to warn you if you are in their way. The school gates give out straight onto the the beach and after school some of the children hang out by the long-tailed boats to see what’s going on.
I liked Phi Phi, when you could escape to somewhere quiet.
A night in Singapore on the way back. Fabulous views from the top of Sands Sky Park, the impressive Gardens by the Bay and lots of excessive fines’ notices for smoking in the wrong place, crossing the road in the wrong place, littering, and pretty much anything you could think of… breathing out too much CO2, not shopping in the malls enough, bringing in chewing gum or nicotine-replacement products, looking like you have just come from Thailand, eating or drinking on the subway. Or you could be thrown in jail, or birched for some of the aforementioned offences (most of which are true). But it is clean, modern, Garden City-ey, with an airport so efficient we didn’t have to queue even once (Heathrow take note, with the army doing the immigration officers’ jobs nowadays) even for the Butterfly Garden in Terminal 2. Think of a Germany or Switzerland of Asia (things work and are prosperous, efficient and clean). I think I’m a bit too dirty and crusty for Singapore, but my daughter wants to live there because all of those rules made her feel secure and the indoor fountains, tropical trees and designer shops in the malls hit the spot for her.
So there you have it. Five trains, three boats and four planes for a ten-day 50th birthday trip (Tash’s) and to chase away this hard winter and the seasonally affected disorder we all suffer from. Just ten days? It seemed a lot longer than that and it will take a lot longer than that to pay off the credit card. Worth it? Well, hell yeh! After all, ‘You Only Live Twice’.
Slideshow of all photos (includes ones not already shown above):