Whoa! It isn’t there!
I’ve just jumped off the ferry, and turned hard left towards the far western end of Ton Sai beach where sand and water is unexpectedly nice for Rock Climbing Bungalows - a simple trad-style place which appeared beachside not too long after the tsumami. But the joint is gone! There are now about 4 outfits down near the cliffs, mostly flashpacker. I ask around for cheap rooms and they direct me back 100m to the first joint Phi Phi Sand Sea View Resort which has some budget bungalows back from the beach.
The front row bungalows are more midrange but there are about 4 rows behind with fairly closely packed flash-packer and budget rooms. I got one of the latter at 400b (800 high season) - big spacious very well built (which is often not the case even into mid-range) and well provisioned. Fan only but hot water. Slightly more exxy rooms have fridge and TV. The place was less than a year old and paths and landscaping needed to be put in. The seafront restaurant with nice views has good food at average budget restaurant prices, is bigger than number of bungalows would suggest - maybe they expect a fair crowd of visitors from other areas in high season. This was certainly the case for this part of the beach in the old days.
I stow my gear, have a quick swim and take off to get myself up to date on the island.
I walk across to Loh Dalum - the sand spit which makes up Ton Sai-Loh Dalum is at its widest at this western end - probably about 400m across. About 100m in I see someone has rebuilt old budget favourite Chong Khao Bungalows in roughly the same position as the original. There are a fair few other changes from 07, mainly new locals’ housing, and this western end if far from built out.
I walk down to Viewpoint Resort - ask lowest bungalow price (600 - not bad but remember this is low-low season). I reckon if I wanted to stay flashpacker/lower midrange, ol' Viewpoint would be hard to beat. Quiet, real scenic, but close to the action of town.
After that I wander inland from the beach and find the town/bay to viewpoint path - this leads up thru the higher parts of town with quite a few good budget places to stay and then gets REAL steep with multiple steps.
I hit the first viewpoint in maybe 10 minutes - nice little restaurant here, but the panoramic photos you see are from the second viewpoint which is maybe another 10 not so steep minutes away.
Not too many people make it to the 3rd, the highest viewpoint - keep walking up the track and start to follow signs for TOP VIEW RESTAURANT/BAR. There are 360 degree views here and a nice little raised timber deck place to have a snack or drink (and from memory they have some rooms - hell of a place to lug some bags!)
They are working on some repairs when I call in so I don‘t interrupt their efforts.
So now something new. I’ve walked down to Ao Toh Koh before but never taken the rainforest track down the steep eastern side of the island to Ao Phak Nam/Relax Bay. So I retrace the Top Viewpoint track about 500m to where there is kinda an intersection and take the signposted side track off to the left to Ao Phak Nam/Relax Resort. This involves about 25 minutes of sometimes steep descent thru nice rainforest.
Relax Bay is a sweet beach with a nice resort although they ignore me when I go in the restaurant. Serves me right for looking like a bum. So I head on northwards. I have rock-hopped along the shore to Loh Bakeo before and it’s a fair distance so I’m happy to spot a track heading up into the bush which kinda cuts across the reverse L shape of the coast.
Loh Bakeao is probably the nicest beach on the island and is dominated by the luxury Phi Phi Island Village. But there are a few budget-oriented places on its northern fringe although the price of beer in one of their restaurants makes me think they are pricing for the rich tourist walk-ins from the flash resort rather than their budget guests.
A road runs along the coast from Loh Bakeo to Laem Tong maybe 3km north. It’s pretty hot going so so I head for the cool elevated headland bar at the far northern end where there is a live singer doing some bluesy stuff. But the beers are a bit exxy so I retreat to the little shop run by the locals on the beach where I raid the cooler for a reasonable priced Chang. Followed by a nice swim. And another Chang.
Fans of Laem Tong reckon it's a better beach than Loh Bakeo. Certainly got more life with a small local village and several resorts. I heard the villagers have recently put in a few reasonably priced huts, but I forget to check these out. Duh.
I’ve walked approx 4 hours by this stage and my knees, never too good after overtraining in my triathlon days, are feeling a bit dicky. They particularly dislike steep descents - and there are several hundred super-steep steps going down into Ton Sai from the viewpoints. So I try to bargain a long tail with the local longtail mafia.
900 baht!! - tell them they’re dreaming. It becomes 700 which I later find is standard price - I wave 300 at them (show ‘em the money!!), tell them that’s all I have. They wave me (away). So I walk. After 100m they call me back.
Now this turns out to be one long trip - the equal to which I take several times at other islands this trip at 700 or near. I reckon this guy must have wanted to get some beer in town and figures my 300 would help.
It’s 1630 when I get back to Sand Sea View and realising I haven’t eaten I grab a Massaman curry - all these places down here are Muslim so a good Massaman is guaranteed. After this I grab a beer (like a lot of Muslim joints, the restaurant does not sell it, but the guy in the little reception booth adjacent does) and go 15m to the beach, have a swim, sun it out on the deck chairs with the umrellas. Sweet.
I get a bit hungry again around 2100 so I walk up town, find a food hawker on the beach path over the small headland to the east and have a real nice chicken-rice/beer sitting on the sea wall listening to cool music from one of those little beach bars with the candles in the sand.
Okay, day 2 is a similar trek to check out Viking Beach, Long Beach, Loh Modee, Ao Toh Koh and the new dam.
Half the day is pouring rain and this coupled with the fact I have to wade in the ocean most of the way between Loh Modee and Toh Koh means I get pretty wet. But I get the updated info and pix I'm after.
Next morning I’m on the early ferry for Krabi. Okay, 48 hours only on Phi Phi, but the idea was a whistle-stop tour to see and snap the changes. As I later do for Ao Nang/Ton Sai/Railay, Ko Muk and Ko Kradan. It’s only when I hit the nicer weather on the southern Gulf side I slow down and spend more time on each island.
- The new second pier has at last been built - it is closer to the main pier than pre-tsunami - virtually adjacent and joined by a dogleg so that all arrivals hit land at the start of the main pier where the porters, longtail drivers and touts from the resorts are waiting.
- There is now a rubbish levy for incoming visitors. This is payable at the pier, forget how much but pretty reasonable. I got the impression day-trippers were not paying it but I may be wrong. Question is - if not, WHY NOT?
- No cake shop! Hey, big change in town - the old Phi Phi Cake Shop which has been there since very early days has gone! Dunno what has replaced it because I can’t remember exactly where it was.
- Lower ferry prices. Travel forums were talking of 500-600b from Phuket just before I left Oz. I got a combined van shuttle to Phuket pier (normal) plus ferry ticket from Phuket Backpackers' for 400. Gets better - despite news-forums reporting govt approval of PP-Krabi fares going to 400 at least 2 years ago, I got a 250b fare from one of the places along the main drag in Ton Sai town. Other places were 300-350 as were afternoon transfers and Ao Nang/Railay trips at the place I used. Competition or impact of low season/economic-political crises?