One Day in Thailand, This Happened…
I took a rocky and wet longtail boat ride Ko Phi Phi Leh
The longtail boat in front of me is narrow and wooden, with a wide curved board sticking out of the end closest to me. Inside, ropes and random baskets lie askew under the weathered blue tarp stretched across the top part of the boat providing a small section of shade from the Ko Phi Phi sun. A few ancient looking life jackets hang from the sides of the interior of the boat.
A lanky Thai man (or maybe boy? He couldn’t have been older than 18 or 19, maybe younger) extends his hand down over the boat to me and helps me up as I step on the ladder he had flung over the side. Tom follows behind me.
I perch myself on the bench he gestures to and Tom sits across from me on the other bench under the tarp. The tarp doesn’t shade me and I’m loving the feel of the hot island sun on my shoulders. Our driver says something to us that’s indecipherable.
“Sorry?” I ask. He repeats it and I’m still at a loss. Oh, language barriers. Tom, on the other hand, somehow figures out what his hand gestures meant. “Oh! California,” he says.
Our driver smiles wide and nods. “California,” he repeats a couple times as he goes to the stern of the boat where the motor and paddles for steering are located.
“How did you understand him?” I lean forward and whisper to Tom.
He grins. “Lucky guess.”
Our attention is diverted back to our driver as he calls out to the boat next to us. Some hurried words are expressed and then the other driver begins pulling up a rope attached to an anchor. The rope had been stretched out in the waters behind our boat. Once the rope is out of the way, our driver plants his bare feet against the edges of the boat in a wide stance and heaves the long paddles backward. The boat begins sliding gracefully away from shore toward the island of Ko Phi Phi Leh, jutting up from the sea in the not so far distance.
Seeing one of these longtail boats was a definite must on my trip to Thailand, though no amount of pretty pictures prepared me for seeing one in action. Tom and I rented this boat through our hotel on Ko Phi Phi to take us to Ko Phi Phi Leh, the small island that was used during filming of the Leonardo DiCaprio movie, The Beach, to epitomize paradise. The front desk told us it would take us an hour to get there.
“An hour?” I had murmured to Tom. “But it looks so close!”
I am now starting to see why it takes so long. The water, which looked so calm next to our hotel, is now rough and rocky.
I’m facing backwards, which means I have a good view of our driver, and I’m amazed that he’s not falling out of the boat.
He’s practically doing the splits in his effort to keep his feet firmly cemented and balanced against the edges of the boat and he heaves his body backward and forward as he digs each paddle into the waves, which are battling for control of the boat. His face is determined and his muscles taught. He appears to be winning the battle.
We get closer to the island and I stop worrying that our driver is going to fall in and start worrying that all of us are going to fall in. Waves are splashing Tom and me from every direction and Tom is hiding his camera under a towel so it doesn’t get wet. The sky has become partly cloudy, but the air is still hot and humid so I’m actually enjoying the cool waves splashing on me. However, that definitely does not mean I want to kerplunk my entire body (and Tom’s camera, which at this point in the trip is more important to me than my own well-being) into it.
I clutch the sides of the bench and laugh as another wave hits me. As long as we don’t capsize, this is kind of like a fun roller coaster ride.
We’re curving around the side of the island now, which is one big rock formation extending upward, birds flying around the top.
As we get closer to the opening into the bay of Ko Phi Phi Leh, the waters get calmer again and then with a few more paddle strokes by our driver we’re gliding into the bay toward paradise and the first half of our longtail boat ride to Ko Phi Phi Leh is almost over.
Well, that is if paradise includes a lot of other boats and people. The over-crowdedness, however, can’t take away from the glorious details Mother Nature applied to this part of the world. Two pieces of mountain curve around the bay like a Burgundy wine glass, their sides etched in heavy, green foliage. Cave like formations dot the bottom of the mountains, providing a secret haven underneath their rocky overhangs. The teal and turquoise swirls of the bay water laps around us against the boat and extends toward the narrow strip of sand in the distance.
I close my eyes for just a second and imagine what it must have been like to have discovered this island centuries ago, when it was uncluttered of people and boats and it was just the explorers and the water and the land. Then I open them again to take in the magnificent scene before me.