Thailand is at the top end of many a traveller’s bucket list. Boasting idyllic coastlines, mouth-watering food and enthralling history all for wallet friendly prices, it’s no surprise over thirty million people wandered there last year. After cycling out of the country into neighbouring Cambodia with my mum, I headed back to meet up with some mates who were enjoying life on picturesque Phi Phi Island.
To rid me of my travel tiredness, the guys took me straight out to explore the island with the first stop being the iconic Monkey Beach. After a couple of months of travelling South East Asia my pair of guides had accrued from their experiences ingenious ways to save money on unnecessary luxuries, in this case, paying for a water taxi to escort us out of the bay to the primate inhabited section of coast. Opting instead to swim the deceptive distance to the attraction, we delved into the water and began wading our way around the bay. My plans of idly lazing in a hammock had took a rather active turn as we set out into water, beginning with the water walk- that slow, driving stride against the waves. Eventually we hit the point of near weightlessness when the water wasfinally high enough to slap us in the face with each ripple, and so the powerful march was replaced by a dainty bouncing offtoes whilst we avoided prickly sea urchins. And then came the swimming. After sticking my head into the water and furiously impersonating Michael Phelps for an eternity, I resurfaced into what seemed the same point that I left from. A few more sets of swift strokes and it still seemed I was close enough to the beach to order a beer, but we persisted. Armadas of groups in kayaks glided effortlessly past, moons came and went, and civilisations rose and fell as we bobbed in the current. I’d stop regularly on a suitable rock for a break, occasionally considering towage behind the pompous paddlers only to have the question drowned out by another slap of water finding its way down my throat, leaving me as a coughing, debilitated castaway, rather ignored by my potential saviours.
Exhausted we arrived onto the white sand, collapsing onto dry land before being reminded why we made the effort. The sheer noise of the troop on the beach was staggering, frantically running around, screeching and howling as the monkeys chased them, the group of girls already there were quite the spectacle as they raced across the sea front, closely pursued by the territorial primates. Performing a rhythmicaldance between the sanctuary of the sea and the tropical tundra on the other side of the idyllic but infested beach, groups of camera wielding sightseers sceptically crept towards the monkeys in hope of an Instagram worthy shot. Small groups would cunningly creep in teams no bigger than three up to an unsuspecting monkey and set up for the snap. After hiding behind boulders and trees eventually the poser would prance into position and just as the camera would click, the agitated animal would maliciously manoeuvre, scaring the optimistic imposter back into the warm ocean, successfully ruining the shot. Clan after clan attempted the feat, ignoring the failures of the others, foolishly believing that they would be the lucky ones to procure the perfect portrait.
Naturally, I believed I could procure the perfect portrait. Wielding my camera, I crept from the safety of the sea out onto the battlefield of the beach, hiding behind trees and ducking behind boulders. After spying a relaxed looking target, I darted into the open, getting into a shrewd yet safe position before setting up for the snap. As the shutter went down, the inevitable happened. With the monkey hunting me down like something from the planet of the ape’s movies, I swear it even screamed ‘No!’ as I turned for the protection of the water, frantically running around, shrieking and howling as the monkey gained ground. What was advertised by drone shot montages with a relaxing musical backdrop on Facebook was in reality, Kong Island. Defeated by the local tribe, we begrudgingly hopped in the nearest boat and cruised back around the bay to the central hub of the island.
After such a traumatic experience on the warzone beach, serious recovery was required and so after saving such riches on an unnecessary, much needed boat trip, we reinvested the reserved wealth on essential, life supporting indulgences, i.e. a bucket of booze. Such commodities are easy to find on the festive island, and for outstandingly, slightly source questioning prices. Loaded with a few bottles of genuine fake liquor and a mixer, these care packages are a fitting way to start a night on one of Thailand’s craziest islands. Committed to creating a suitable, sand–fillable vestibule through the process of indulgent ingurgitation, finally the buckets were empty, and we were appropriately merry to venture out to the beach.
Stepping out into the wilderness that is Loh Dalum Bay at night is an overwhelming assault of the senses as fire jugglers, acrobats and vomiting youths greet you onto the sand. The bar–lined beach is an extraordinary jungle of entertainment, with each hut fighting to entice you in to buy their cheap bucket filling liquors and mystery cocktails. Natives bounce on slacklines in impressive displays of athleticism, which after another bucket of leg wobbling rum seemed extra mind-bending as I wobbled past. Fire breathers toasted eye-brows as I browsed the through the range of performances which were fundamentally the same, but all equally mesmerising. Eventually, I bumbled into a beer pong table and persuaded myself into another bucket, doused equally into smaller cups, to test my inoperative coordinationwhich topped me up with the confidence for a spot of limbo. Soon my horizontally challenged, now slightly bruised, body carried onto the dance floor as the entrancing Phi Phi vibe grew into the early hours of the morning, with the whirlwind of shots, buckets and fire irresistibly luring me with it.
I woke up sore. In fact, I woke up very sore. I woke up so sore that I must’ve remained a little bit intoxicated as I agreed with the notion that kayaking was a suitable remedy for my sorry state. Apparently, there’s no better time to express an interest in an exhaustingly physical paddle sport than when you are nursing a headache, dehydration and limbo related soreness in blistering heat and humidity and I soon found myself floating on some uncomfortably shaped plastic, bobbing on the waves. My companion for this miracle treatment of sweltered suffering was a lovely American lady named Emily. Emily seemed a lovely companion for an idyllic row across the calm waters of the island to a nearby beach. As a strong, determined Texan she would easily get my anguished self to a relaxing, quiet stretch of sand where I could continue my rehabilitation.
Half way out, Emily began to panic. The misleading wave size caused trouble for the kayak and my partner grew uneasy. The uneasiness turned to fear. Tending to my exploding head, I distracted her with thoughts of the beach. At the point of tears, we turned around. It wasn’t just panic. Heading back to the main beach Emily knew she was in trouble and began to cry. I felt like joining in as my shoulders grew sore. Shaking, she screamed at me to paddle faster.Slightly sacred of her, I obeyed. Genuine fear and worry crept in for her as we had taken so long to get out of the bay, but now as her tremors grew, I had to get her back. Trying to calm her as cramp set in and she could no longer move on the front of the kayak, I continued paddling to shore. Screaming pleas for an increase of pace were ordered, to which I complied out of fear of some form of whip-based, horse-inspiredpunishment. Unsure whether it was hungover drama from a loud American or a serious issue, I had to ignore the swimmers heading for monkey beach as the waves slapped their faces. Finally, we beached onto dry land, but Emily had reached a point of paralysis and had to remain in the little boat. As a Brit I went about quietly in finding a way of contacting the hospital Emily demanded she needed. She however, beckoned the entire beach at the top of lungs, calling tourists, firebreathers, even mainlanders still in Phuket for assistance until a wheelchair appeared. As she continued as a one-woman siren clearing the beach I pushed her along, politely excusing and apologising through the crowds to the emergency centre. The diagnosis warranted her theatricalsworthwhile as it emerged her dangerously low levels of potassium could have been life changing had she been unattended much longer, a harrowing thought in a situation happily avoided.
The dangers of drinking and partying in such unruly places can be serious, as can the after effects. The combination of exhausting activities and severe dehydration can be perilous and what was meant to be a relaxing day of recuperation turned into an unexpected nightmare. Lots was learned in those few days of letting loose on that magnificently mad island, but none more important than this.
Don’t try and get a photo with a territorial monkey.