This post came out somewhat long, but it is the shortest I could make it without compromising on the fun of getting from Bangkok to my destination Long Beach on Koh Phi Phi island.
I got from Bangkok to Phuket flying AirAsia.com (a low-cost airline carrier operating in several South Asian countries). Essentially, this flight was my giving up on my intention to only travel by land after arriving in Asia. It only took me a week to change my mind on that one. Reason: the recent experience with taking the bus from Bangkok to Chiangmai and all the other minor traveling issues.. The airplane ticket cost under $100, and the journey would only take a couple of hours (with the airport wait). And taking a bus? 14 to 16 hours (not counting other possible problems).
How was my flying? Excellent. The airplanes were all new, the service – good, the prices – reasonable (especially if you buy at least a week in advance, an art that I never seem able to master). Booking online had been fast and easy – no broken English, no last-minute surprises, no additional expenses.
Round one: me – 1, friendly tourist agents – 0.
Now there I was at Phuket Airport, with little clue how to get to neighboring island Koh Phi Phi’s Long Beach. I knew that I needed to get from the airport to the boat pier somehow, take a ferry to Koh Phi Phi from there, and – once at Koh Phi Phi – take a so-called water-taxi to the Long Beach area itself. Three separate rides meant at least three chances to get ripped off. Now, bear with me and you will learn how successful I was navigating my way through those treacherous waters.
I collected my luggage and entered a hall where scores of tourist agencies had set up kiosks. All arriving tourists – many of them first-timers to Thailand – would go through this area. If I were a tourist agent in Thailand, this was clearly the spot to die for (or, more precisely, pay the right people for).
Having had my share of “baptism by rip-off” during the past week, I approached a kiosk and asked about getting to the boat pier. The friendly, English-speaking girl told me that the best way to get there was taking a shuttle. Next second – she is holding a shuttle ticket for B150. Here, take it.
I already knew better than that and asked when the next shuttle was. She answered that shuttles left when full and there was no fixed schedule. No, thank you. I decided to go outside and explore what was going on before I bought any tickets. If I was to travel by shuttle, I’d rather pick up one that was almost full and about ready to leave.
Round two: me – 1, friendly tourist kiosk officer – 0.
But the tourist agency officer would not let go of me so easily – especially now that she knew where I was headed. She pitched me with a second offer – buying a boat ticket to Koh Phi Phi from her and not at the pier. She claimed that buying it here would cost me Bt 500, and Bt 600 at the pier. She was adamant that she was telling the truth…
…and I decided to trust her. After all, Bt 100 was not a loss to lament even if her claim proved wrong. So I gave her Bt 500 (and not Bt 1000 – for the return-trip ticket that she immediately tried to pitch me instead of the one-way). My ferry boat was the last boat for today, leaving at 1pm. It was already 11am now, and I knew I needed to hurry up.
Round three: undecided (yet) – to be seen at the pier
I got out of arrivals and was immediately surrounded (invaded?) by helpful taxi drivers and friendly shuttle touts promoting their respective services.
Phuket Taxi Drivers Courting a Customer
Courtesy: a blog that does not exist anymore
Another group just a couple of meters on the side had surrounded another tourist. Ignoring everyone else around me, I went over to the guy and asked whether he was going to the pier. He confirmed, adding that he already had a ferry ticket for the 12 am boat. I had been told that it took about an hour to get to the pier, so he had no time to waste. But we could try taking a taxi and splitting the price in two. He quickly agreed.
Then he added that it was his first time in Thailand. Need not have said that – I could see the same look in his eyes that I had upon my own arrival one week ago.
I am talking about this look
We are talking about this look
Next, I asked the friendly touts offering cheap rides to the pier. “Taxi with meter, OK?” The enthusiasm died off in an instant. “No meter, no meter”.
“No meter – no taxi”. Period. At that very instant another couple approached us – a guy and a girl of some yet unknown European nationality. Same story: just landed, first time in Thailand, going to Koh Phi Phi, spotted our discussion with the touts and drivers, wanted to join us.
So it was four of us now. If some other poor soul came around we would not even be able to fit in a single car anymore. Looking around, trying to penetrate through the bodies that surrounded us, I noticed a booth about twenty meters away from us with a big sign “METER TAXI.” The four of us headed towards it to the chagrin of the locals who now had to search for other pray.
The officer at the taxi booth told us that getting to the pier would cost us approximately Bt 400. That would be a 100 each – a better deal compared to the shuttle. Better yet – we would not need to wait for the vehicle to fill up, and would be able to get to the pier in time for the guy to catch his noon boat (I’d bought a ticket for the 1am boat, while the other couple had decided to not buy a ticket in advance from the airport at all – and none of us knew who had made the best decision). We wasted no time and got on a taxi (three in the back, me in the front, some bags between our legs as the trunk was not big enough to fit all our stuff). We still knew nothing about each other – neither our names, nor where each of us came from. But we were all clearly happy with how we’d escaped the taxi & shuttle crowd. So as the taxi was taking us to the pier we had the time to catch up – the guy was German, and the young couple were French.
Round 4 – us: 1, friendly rip-off drivers: 0
The taxi delivered us to the Phuket pier on time for the noon boat. The French couple bought tickets for the same boat – and those indeed cost 600 a piece. The girl at the airport had not lied – and I gave her credit for that in my thoughts. So, round 3 of the never-ending battle for avoiding rip-offs seemed a tie: half victory for her and half for me.
On the way to Koh Phi Phi
But I will fast forward a bit and tell you that I marked this round as me – 1, friendly airport tourist kiosk officer – 0. But why so? She had told the truth about tickets being more expensive at the pier. But do you remember that she had also tried to sell me a round-trip boat ticket for Bt 1000? Well, what is wrong with that? After all, a round trip at the pier cost more than that – I cannot recall now whether it was Bt 1100 or Bt 1200.
Now comes the surprise – on Koh Phi Phi a one-way ticket back to Phuket cost only Bt 250 (or Bt 350 – if you needed a water taxi to transport you to the main boat pier). Do not ask me how this was possible and what kind of economic logic it was based on. I am simply stating the facts. So, if I’d bought the round-trip ticket from the airport, I would have paid more.
Round 5: me – 1, friendly airport tourist kiosk officer – 0.
The boat to Koh Phi Phi could transport a couple of hundred passengers – most sat inside, but as it got completely full some people had to travel outside on the deck (I am not sure whether this is in fact legal or not). This was no problem as the weather was absolutely beautiful – mirror-smooth ocean and the occasional white cloud in the sky. As we got farther into the ocean, small islands rising above the water began to appear along the way offering gorgeous views. Many of those were tiny and uninhabited. As a matter of fact, right next to Koh Phi Phi is the uninhabited Ko Phi Phi Lee where “The Beach”, starring Mr. DiCaprio was shot.
The Beach - movie version
OMG, really? You mean the beach, like, in The Beach? And you could even book a tour and spend the night right there? OMG!!! Spending the night at the secluded beach in the company of a hundred or so young and drunken Brits – OMG!!! A memorable experience indeed – so I was told by people who went for it . They also got some free extras – as the Lee island is uninhabited the Beach is not regularly cleaned. Cheers, mates!
Another island right next off Koh Phi Phi is the so-called Monkey Island – also uninhabited. It is a reserve where monkeys roam free and have grown up so spoiled by tourist feeding them and taking photos with them that they even attack them (monkeys attacking tourists, not the other way round).
Monkey Island as seen from Koh Phi Phi
As for Koh Phi Phi itself, I will be writing about it a lot in the next posts, For now it suffices to say that it was one of the islands that suffered extensive damage during the 2004 deadly tsunami but all has long been completely rebuilt.
After a smooth one-hour ride, our boat docked at the Koh Phi Phi pier and we got off. Welcome… and please pay Bt 20 – an entry tax to the island. As usual – no one told you about it in advance, and up to this day I am not sure whether it was legal at all. Honestly, I very much doubt that it was.
Round 6: us – 0, friendly Koh Phi Phi entry tax collectors: 1.
To our final destination on the island – known as Long Beach (a very poetic name, isn’t it?) – we needed one more transport – a water-taxi.
Water Taxis (shot in the evening)
For a ten-minute ride the water-taxi price per person was Bt 100 (Bt 150 at night) – and it was non-negotiable. The water-taxi operators would not bargain at all. Someone said one could get to Long Beach on foot following a path along the ocean shore. But with all the luggage, it was probably not a good idea So we duly paid. (On a side note, the only other time I took a water taxi was when I was leaving back for Phuket – the path was much more enjoyable and we encountered a lot of interesting things that we would have otherwise completely missed)
Round 7: a tie
In the water taxi we were joined by two easy-going British girls who were staying at Long Beach. They were like a gift from the gods (when travelling in Thailand, information is God). We wasted no time and asked them what they were renting and how much they were paying. A side note: neither one of us four had made any booking beforehand (Remember my arrival to Thailand? I am not the only person who does that after all). The British girls were renting a bungalow for Bt 1300 per night. I was in fact expecting higher prices – so, Bt 1300 made us all very happy (Note: these were the low season prices. During the high season, the prices are perhaps double that.) So we decided to check those out.
We checked out the bungalows and liked what we saw. Then, with some talking (I would not call it bargaining, because it was not), we even got the price down to Bt 1200. The German (Robert) and I rented one bungalow and the French couple – Charles and Adeline rented the neighboring one.
Round 8: good deal for all (Thai owner and us, guests)
On the path from Long Beach to Koh Phi Phi Town
Final score: saved several hundred baht – enough to compensate the money I overpaid for the bus ticket from Bangkok to Chiang Mai.