Two of the six of us here in Phuket are snorkeling fanatics, so today our group will split and have different itineraries. At dinner, we can catch up on our various adventures.
Tuesday, February 19, 2019
I offered Geneva choices of snorkel tours to various islands, and she insisted that I make the final call. Ultimately, I settled on a day trip to the Phi Phi islands with Offspray Leisure, which has excellent reviews on TripAdvisor, and whose schedule didn’t have too much “beach time.”
A van picked us up just down the sidewalk from the hotel at 7:30AM for the hour-long drive to the pier. We ended up with about six in our van after navigating down the West coast of Phuket through Patong Beach to Karon, and then Eastward to Chalong pier. Just outside a convenience store, Giles Howle, the owner of the company, welcomed us enthusiastically and pointed us toward coffee and bathrooms. Soon our entire group was together and Giles introduced us to our on-boat guide Chris, a friendly Texan with several years of experience around Phi Phi.
Because the tide was high, we only had a short walk down the pier before we reached our speedboat. As we left the pier, we looked back and spotted the Big Buddha on the hill, a good landmark to find our way back to the harbor (in the unlikely event that any of us needs to drive the boat). As we reached the open ocean, unfortunately, despite the calm winds, the ride was pretty bouncy and my perch was a bit uncomfortable. A couple opposite me had the same issue of being gradually jiggled down the bench toward the back of the boat. We did our best not to fall on anyone.
After about 30 minutes we reached our first stop, a protected cove on the West side of Mai Thon island (Ko Maiton). In a way, it was a practice spot to fit and get comfortable with our equipment, especially for those who were using Offspray’s mask, snorkel, or fins. The corals here looked quite beat up, but there were plenty of fish. We had about a half hour in the water before getting back on board, which was a reasonable amount of time to explore this spot.
On the way to Koh Phi Phi Le, in the middle of nowhere, we made a bathroom stop. If you are familiar with a “marine head” you know that whatever you put in the bowl goes into the ocean, so no paper products are allowed, and it’s only appropriate to use in deep water. Considering how boats rock in three dimensions, it’s preferable never to need the bathroom, but it’s nice to know there is one on board in case of necessity.
Our first stop was a “shelf” on the Western side of the smaller of the main islands, Phi Phi Le. The main attraction is black-tip reef sharks. Chris joined us in the water and when he spotted sharks, dived down and pointed them out to us. I don’t think I ever stopped here before, and I managed to get a couple pictures in focus; it’s challenging because the sharks blend into the background. The jellyfish were much easier as they were enormous and pink and bobbing around near the surface. I also saw an elusive Oriental Sweetlips, so this was a very productive spot.
On the way to lunch, we pulled into a cove where long-tail macaque monkeys appear to be living on the steep limestone walls and overhanging trees. A young monkey climbed down to the water and retrieved what looked like a wedge of pineapple. Maybe the monkeys don’t really live here, but have learned that they can obtain food from tour boats here? Hmm.
Because the tide was still high, we ended up having lunch at a Tiki bar on Tonsai beach instead of having a picnic on the sand in a secluded bay. That’s fine with me. Sun Shine Bar was very hospitable with plenty of comfortable seating. Our spread included salmon maki, cheese sticks, deli meats (turkey, ham, and prosciutto), fried noodles, fried rice, pasta with tomato sauce, potato salad, green salad, and bread. Good enough for seconds.
After lunch, we headed back to Phi Phi Le, and paused in front of the Viking Cave, where swiftlets make nests with their saliva that are harvested for bird’s nest soup. Sometimes it’s possible to go inside, but thankfully, instead of hiking in a humid cave, we will be snorkeling today. This last spot is quite shallow, and known for juvenile sharks (yes, I am avoiding that “ear worm”). There were a good number of fish to photograph as well. Around 2:45, we were all back on board, ready to head for home. We cruised around the island and into Maya Bay, home to “The Beach”, for a quick peek (the park has closed the part of the bay near the beach for restoration, but snorkeling and diving are permitted in the outer part of the bay).
The waves had died down, and we had a much easier ride back to Chalong Pier. However, since the tide had gone out, we disembarked way at the end of the pier, and waited for a bus to drive us back to our original meeting point. We certainly could have made it on foot, but it was hot out, and shared transport is always an adventure. After some chit-chat and a restroom stop, we said our farewells and boarded our van back to the villa.
For dinner, our house manager and cook prepared a stir-fry of chicken with green beans, massaman chicken curry, stir-fried morning glories, and green papaya salad. We also had grilled chicken, which might have been from a local stand or shop, as I didn’t notice a grill on the premises. And they provided prik nam plah on the side for those who like the heat.
Meanwhile, I learned that our friends who didn’t come to Phi Phi spent the day exploring the pool and getting another massage, which didn’t require even leaving the main level of the villa. But that changes tomorrow: we are heading to Phuket Town for a street food tour.