Tuesday, October 07, 2008

Can't Take Phi Phi

It's supposed to be paradise, right? But it's more like a backpacker's Disneyland, with the tiny rabbit warren of main streets packed with dive shops, internet cafes, travel agencies, restaurants, minimarts, guest houses (or stores with back rooms to rent), massage parlors and bars. Koh Phi Phi, a tiny island off the Southern Andaman coast that was devastated by the 2006 tsunami, has been reconstructed as a faux paradise, tourism modeled after a vision of endless 7-11's.

The fact that I'm probably the oldest person on the island doesn't help. An endless chain of backpack-toting 20-somethings parade down the paved pedestrian thoroughfares. There are neither cars nor tuk tuks, and the only transportation is by bicycle (which wheel dangerously in and out of traffic). Porters carry bags by wheelbarrow from the boats to their owners' accommodation. The isthmus between the two beaches, Ao Ton Sai and Ao Lo Dalam,which was flattened by the big wave, is now packed with new one and two-story buildings. The beach at Ton Sai is fouled by a flotilla of boats, and the beach at Lo Dalam at low tide last night revealed a cornocopia of trash.

Yeah, I know, bitch, bitch, bitch. But some of my friends have complained about my sunny disposition. I suppose this holiday might have improved with company. The visitors here seem to travel in clumps, and I've never been very gregarious with strangers. I did have an enjoyable conversation on the boat from Krabi yesterday with a young law student from Israel. He told me he thought the law was humanity's only hope. We shared our mutual love for philosophy and he wondered why people did not seem to recognize the authority of rigorous thinking. This morning he said hello to me at the Pee Pee Bakery and then rushed off for a day of diving. I didn't get a chance to tell him my objections to religious states and how I thought Israel should become a multi-cultural nation, a true democracy.

I booked a bungalow at Chunut House based on LP's recommendation: "On a quiet path away from the bazaar of the tourist village, this place is refreshingly tranquil." It's a hefty hike away from the action, up a steep hill (a giant must have designed the steps). Quiet, yes, but mosquitoes kept me awake and when I did finally fall asleep the chickens scratching outside my window woke me back up. A black kitten with white paws meowed at my door and kept my company while I got dressed. The room is oh too quaint, with bamboo walls, and the tiled bathroom is picturesque, but could use hot water for the shower. The design is remarkably like Eric's bungalows at Indiana Cottages in Pai.

When the fireworks went off last night at one of the Ton Sai bars, I was in bed watching an episode of "30 Rock." They throw Half Moon parties here (tonight, I think) and feature fire twirlers like those we saw on Koh Samet. The typical bar decor features Rastafarian colors and peace signs. One of the bigger watering holes is called Hippies. The only wildlife I've seen is a monkey riding in a basket on a woman's bike. When I took their photo, she frowned at me. Although the walkways are packed with pedestrians, the beaches seem relatively empty. I suspect that the resorts, hotels and guest houses are less than half full. I can't understand the current construction boom.

In many of the shops in the village, TVs are tuned to ASTV and the PAD rally in Bangkok. Apparently things are heating up. According to The Nation website this morning, police teargassed demonstrators trying to prevent the opening of Parliament and PM Somchai's policy speech. Dozens were injured. Over the weekend, two of PAD's leaders were arrested, including Chamlong the spiritual center of the anti-government protest. On the TV screen are the words in English: "Final Showdown." PAD has been attempting to provoke a military coup for months and this may be their big play.

Now I have to decide my next move. Billboards all over town advertise package day trips to beaches and caves, with snorkling and food provided. I did that in Hawaii years ago and am now motivated to repeat it on my own alone. Dare I go swimming in the muck and trask? I have work I could do on my next English class, and books to read. This should be a time to chill, not make big decisions. I could change rooms, find a place with A/C, a hot shower, TV and maybe even wireless (I'm writing this in a bookshop cafe, one of the few places advertising free wireless.). The mosquitos continue to nibble through the faux repellent I bought last night.

The boat to Koh Lanta leaves at 11:30 every morning. But I may find the same paradise in trouble on that island as well. The LP tells me that I can still find "old-school hippyish Lanta charm on the southwest beaches but inthe north every spot of beach and murky little back road has bungalows popping up like pimples on an adolescent's chin." Charming. There are more clouds today and maybe a monsoon storm might eclipse my choices.

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