“Sawadee ka”, which is a polite way of greeting in Thailand, the tour guide greeted me as he put his two palms together as if in prayer as I boarded the speedboat. I bowed to him to reciprocate the polite greeting and said “Thank you”. I took my seat in the front of the speedboat where there is no shade, to feel the cruise and see the upcoming views firsthand. When our group of about 25 people was finally seated and our speedboat started to pull away from the docks, the tour guide took the lead up front.
“Welcome to Kho Phi Phi Island tour! My name is Ap and I will be your tour guide today.” He pointed his pointing finger up while introducing himself. We laughed because he’s implying that his name is synonymous with the “up” direction. He continued, “Our boat number is triple 7! Do not forget, 7, 7, 7! OK?”
The group replied back, “777, OK.”
I joined a Kho Phi Phi tour offered by one of the many tours and travel kiosks here in Railay Beach, in the southern part of Thailand. The tour will start around 9AM and bring me back to this main land around 4PM later in the afternoon. The brochure says that for 1400baht, the tour includes island hopping tour, free use of snorkel masks, buffet lunch, water and fruits and does not include park fees. It’s one of the day tours that you must do here in Railay Beach or anywhere in the Krabi region so here I am packed with other tourists in a 3 engine speedboat cruising off the turquoise waters of Southern Thailand under the hot blinding sun.
Ap was a short guy of maybe around 4 feet tall, his dark skin showing signs of how long he have been a tour guide and he got a cute smiling face, much like a comic guy on sitcom TV. He was strict like a high school teacher. You can not stand around while the speedboat is sailing, not even just reaching for the cooler to get some water. Everyone must wear their life jackets even if it is just a few minutes trip to the next island. I whispered to the Japanese solo traveller beside me, “Our teacher is very strict.” He laughed.
“There is water in the blue box there.”, he said while pointing to the cooler, “We will have our buffet lunch at 1PM and we will serve fruits for breaktime.” He continued on, “We also have snorkeling mask here, use for free. Do not lose it, we will charge 1800baht if you lose it.”
After a pause, he continued on, “Today we will first stop at Bamboo Island, there you can swim for 50 minutes.”, pronouncing the word “fifty” like “feefteen”.
“But first you will pay 400 baht for the park fee. Do you have questions?” He looked around, waiting for someone to ask or raise their hand or something.
Some of us looked at each other and pretty much have the same question, “Fifteen minutes? One, Five?”
“No. No. Fifty, five, zero.” He replied back with a gentle laugh. He repeated “Five. Zero. OK?”
“Is the 400baht one time fee? Is it for the whole tour?” I asked.
“Yes. You pay only one time. For the whole tour. Thank you.” He replied.
“Thank you.” I replied. When no one else had questions, Ap took his seat as one of the co-captain for the speedboat, and gave some instructions in Thai to our captain.
We reached the first island, the Bamboo Island in a matter of 30 minutes. It was a small round island, white sand and turquoise clear water. You can actually see school of fishes and coral formations underwater. After I paid the park fee, I went back to the beach to check where I can lay my beach towel for some sun bathing. This is life! The sound of the steady lapping of the waves, birds flying overhead and some kids’ laughter from afar. Bliss defined.
After about some time, I saw Ap walking around, gathering his flock of tourists and announcing that we should get ready to leave. I packed my stuff and headed back to our speedboat.
Before we headed for our next stop, we passed by at a cluster of limestone cliffs for some photos. Every towering cliff that you see in this southern part of Thailand seems to be pushed up from underneath the sea. They stand mighty proud showing off their jagged structures and different layers of limestones on them. Still rotating ever so beautiful after a million years of being formed. For more readings on coral reefs and limestone formation, here is a good read.
Next stop, the Ma Ya beach, the island made famous by Leonardo in the movie “The Beach”. Upon setting my foot on the powdery sand, I sat where he sat on the beach, though his ass print is no longer there, and breath in this amazing view in front of me. The water was actually white and it gets greener as the water gets deeper. And the sun was really at its hottest, because we docked there around 11AM and it was a cloudless blue sky all morning. Ap shared with the group that there is another body water behind this Ma Ya beach, the Lo Sa Ma Bay, about 5 minute walk into the island, but we need to make sure we really know how to swim and can look out for ourself because it is more of a cliff where you can jump off into the deeper end of the bay.
We had our 30-minute snorkel time from the side of the limestone cliffs still in the area of Ma Ya Beach. The water was just perfect, still crystal clear no matter how deep it gets, not too cool, not too warm. It was about 10-15 meter deep approximately and I took my own sweet time to snorkel and play with the school of fishes that seem attracted to all the noise and the paddles the entire group was making.
When we all went back up aboard the speedboat, Ap announced, “For the next stop, we will have our buffet lunch in Kho Phi Phi island and after that you can swim. We will stay only for 1 hour there.” Then he went on to explain a bit about the Kho Phi Phi island, that it is also another tourist destination and attached to a smaller island forming a letter H, and that there is a direct ferry from Kho Phi Phi to anywhere in Southern Thailand.
As we are approaching the Monkey Beach Island, our last stop for the tour, Ap stood up to face the group and announced, “This is the Monkey Beach Island. There are small monkeys in the island. Small like me.” He laughed. “You can take pictures around the island. You can swim or snorkel over there.” He said, pointing to the other end of the beach. “You can stay for 30 minutes, three zero. OK?” Then we took our turns getting off the speedboat.
I swam and snorkelled for about 15 minutes. The burning pain on my shoulder and on my back is like an oven timer telling me that I’m done and baked. I got out of the water and left the blinding beach and walked over to the shade where Ap was seated, watching over our group.
He looked up to me and said, “You don’t like it anymore? You still have 15 minutes.”
“Oh no, I’m fine, I’m already full baked. I think I have sunburned my back and shoulders.” I replied while towelling myself off.
“You speak English well, Ap.” I sat on the rocks next to him, trying to make a conversation. He smiled and was kind of shy, maybe thinking if he should reply to me or what.
“I learned well from other foreigners, they teach me. Like you teach me, fifty and fifteen.” We had this confusion earlier, when he said we had fifteen minutes of free time at the Bamboo Island. The rest of the group asked him in unison and surprised, “Fifteen minutes?”. So I taught him that it is fif-ty, stress on the first syllable, not fif-teen, stress on the last syllable.
He continued on to say, “I want to learn more English. Because sometimes other foreigners ask me but I don’t understand them. I cannot answer.”
“That’s good. Learning is good. But now, you are our teacher. You are teaching us, about the islands, about the life here.” He look surprised that I think of him that way. Maybe to him this is just a job. A way to earn money and put food on the table. But to me, he is my teacher and lifeguard here in Thailand. I mean who else would I turn to if I have problems during the tour?
“So you teach us, we teach you. Exchange.” His face gleamed at the thought, like he never thought of it that way.
“Ok, thank you.” He put his thumb-up sign like closing a deal with me.
And our time on the Monkey Beach Island is up. Ap stood up and called in the rest of the group to start heading for our speedboat. He explained something about getting to the main island on time before the low tide hits us and cause problems for our captain navigating and avoid hitting the corals. After cruising for about 40 minutes, we reached the main island of Railay West. I bid farewells and happy travels to my new friends, a japanese yuppie solo traveller, an american solo traveller who kept reminding us of her age, that golden half century milestone, and a japanese couple that now resides in China.
When it was my turn to get off the boat, Ap said to me, bowing “Kob Kun Kaa”.
I said. “Kob Kun Krab. I learned a lot to thank you for.”
Krabi has its own Krabi International Airport which you can fly into if you are coming from Bangkok, Singapore or even from Darwin. For more information on airlines and flights, here is the website. If you are coming in from an international route like US or Europe, you can fly into Bangkok or Phuket and take a bus to Krabi. There is a new bus line in Phuket offering comfortable rides for a good price. Here is their website. I met some Germans along the way to Krabi who took this route and flew off from Phuket.
Before arriving Krabi, I used the website KrabiShuttle.com to book my taxi transfer from the airport to Kong Kha Pier, where I took the longtail boat ride to Railay East. The longtail boat fare is 150baht.
To get around Krabi, you can easily flag down a taxi and the normal fare range is around 50-100 baht. Local buses, or songthaew, can take you around Krabi Town and you can just hop on and hop off without much fuss.
Also it is a must that you have cash on hand with you. In Krabi and in Railay, almost all stores and food shops transact only in cash.
For more guides on Krabi, visit http://www.yourkrabi.com.