A tourist orgy something parallel to a perverse blend of Vegas, Surfers Paradise Australia, and Kuta Bali. From feeling the nerves before fighting in a ring to scuba diving, competitive ping-pong, beautiful sites, amazing people, beer pong, boat trips, falling down drunk and everything in between; this was my Ko Phi Phi experience.
Inappropriately dressed is an understatement as I landed in Thailand from my trip to Nepal. An instant purchase of a boat ticket to the notorious island of Ko Phi Phi and I was ready to go.
The fan on full blast was barely enough to keep me cool through out the night as I awoke as if it were Christmas morning full of excitement to head to the island and visit one of my best friends and awesome person of the world Chris Eyres. I arrived on the dock to what I expected, a bustling array of eager tourists looking to get crazy. A quick hour and a half boat ride through clear blue seas and skies and I had arrived. Although I came to Thailand to train Muay Thai and MMA my friend Chris has had the fortunate opportunity to live on the island for the last two years working as a scuba dive instructor. I was in great anticipation to catch up with him, party and have a great time before heading toward grueling training. I arrived at Aquanauts Chris’s place of work and in true PP fashion he was hurting from a couple nights of debauchery and drinking.
One learns quickly that the island has many things to offer and the most abundant and apparent is catering to people who want to get hammered and party. Buckets of cheap booze, beer pong, fire shows, are teeming all over the island. It is possible that my 20-year-old self would think differently but the everyday aura of the place made me kind of sad. It is the paradise for young drunkards unable to see any beauty of the island or surrounding area since their eyes are filtered with liters of Sam Seng Whiskey and Chang beer.
There are many things to do on KPP such as snorkeling, hiking, boat trips, and of course scuba diving. I took advantage of my time and enjoyed a variety of delightful activities. The first was a trip to the viewpoint, it was only a quick 20-minute walk up and after trekking Everest, clearly it would be no sweat. When you reach the top you are rewarded with views of many uniquely shaped islands and spectacularly Blue Ocean as far as you can see. I gazed from a rock high above the shore and contemplated the beauty and hectic nature of the island.
Next on the list was a half-day boat trip, 15 people packed in a wooden long boat anticipating a great time. The first stop featured cliff jumping from several challenging heights and then off to feed some monkeys pineapple. Snorkeling in Maya Bay proceeded where I saw some sharks and many different types of fish I’ve never seen. The water was warm and the sea clear as I jovially viewed the vast life under the sea. Some fish were more vibrant than viewing electric neon lights high on ‘e’ at a full moon party. The boat trip ended with a BBQ on the beach, all the other boat tours come to the same spot so the tourists can mingle, eat, drink, and enjoy a fire show.
Days of nerves plagued me as I thought of the next thing on my to do list, which was to compete in an amateur Thai Boxing match at the legendary Reggae Bar. This establishment is as entertaining as it is famous since the simple and ingenious premise of the bar is that if you sign up to fight, you get a free bucket of booze. I was excited at the chance to have a bout since it’s relatively safe with big gloves, helmets and shin pads, however your opponent is unknown and so is their skill level. Since I have fighting experience I figured I’d be fine but if I wanted to play the honesty game I haven’t trained or fought in months, furthermore before that I was teaching for the last two years and only sparring beginners to intermediate fighters so I was a little nervous. I sat at the bar anxiously awaiting my opponent who turned out to be a heavily tattooed 6 ’3’ American, thankfully he was on the skinny side of things and since I am just under 5 ‘9’ I was hoping what he had in reach I would make up for in skill. Finally it’s time to fight, I’m in the blue corner, with friends’ Chris and Serge there to cheer me on, the bell rings and everything disappears except the huge guy in red standing in front of me. I decide to feel him out and see where his skill level is, normally I fight on the outside but since he was so tall I decided I’d probably have to get inside and use my boxing. The first round was slightly competitive but thankfully he couldn’t hit me without the punches being blocked and in no time I began landing clean shots and sent him running. I Headed back to my corner far more tired than I should have been, huge smile on my face, as my corner guys offer good advice before the beginning of the second round. We start out strong and fast but now I’m clearly getting the better of him, I avoid his punches easily and wait until I can get inside and hit him, I fought quite sloppily to be honest but when I finally got him cornered I hit him with a full power uppercut, which almost put him out, then two left hooks and he was down, round ends. I walk back to the corner for some water and guidance before entering the third. I instantly connect with a hard uppercut and this round I’m connecting with almost all my punches, the ref could see he was being outclassed despite his massive size advantage so he gave him a break from the beating. With only 10 seconds left and a restart I hit him with two over hand rights and it was all over, my hand is raised and I’m victorious! I returned to my corner and received hugs and cheers from my friends, the fight was a blast and now it was time to enjoy my free bucket of booze! That night we celebrated like I had just won a UFC championship and Chris made sure everyone knew it. I am happy I won but his lack of training in boxing was evident and he was simply a bar fighter. Getting too excited about the win would be like a ping-pong aficionado beating an average Joe it is to be expected. I ran into him the next day and he confirmed to his friends I had him out on his feet and held back at the right times to display sportsmanship to which he was grateful for. It was during this discussion I realized how much bigger he actually was so I didn’t feel to bad for beating him up a little bit.
Dates and times became unknown and irrelevant as consistent 30-degree temperatures and beautiful clear skies made our daily ping-pong competitions at the Banana Bar feel like we were training for triathlons. The nights we’d spend kicking some serious butt at beer pong and enjoying their leisurely rules on natural growing plants government officials deem illegal for no good reason.
The clock read 7:00 AM and it was time for Scuba. Chris and I had been instructors in Whistler for several years teaching snowboarding and he has recently made a life teaching scuba diving. The activity has never really grabbed my interest but since Chris has a similar mentality and I value his opinion I figured there must be something to it. After some safety instruction and a boat ride we are in the ocean. When descending underwater the most shocking part is the incredible magnitude of life and adaptation underwater, unexplainable existence that seems to grow and work together in perfect harmony. You have a feeling of calm relaxation as you effortlessly move under the oceans surface to a maximum depth for newbie’s of 12 meters. Fish, eels, turtles, sharks, you name it and they are there. There is also an eerie feeling of being in space and the realization of the size of the ocean and it’s depths, as at a measly 12 meters’ looking up causes your rational mind to ponder what the hell you’re doing there. A feeling of insignificance is constant when you’re not in simple awe of everything you see. It was at the end of the dive I broke a major rule to mess with my friend because he’s such a practical joker or simply a dick at times he deserved it. I floated contentedly beside the beautiful coral to my right and waited for Chris to turn around and just before he did I took out my regulator and acted as if I needed help, as soon as he saw he motioned for me to put it back in and swam over quickly with a face of concern. After a few seconds I easily put my regulator back in and received a punch in the head underwater in exchange for a giggle. I truly enjoyed my time in the ocean and gained a new appreciation for the inconceivable size and magnificence of the ocean.
Ko Phi Phi is an island of many faces and experiences. I found that the true beauty of the island for me lied with the local scuba dive instructors who were there for so much more than mindless drinking and partying (although they did that in copious amounts as well J), they were pursuing a passion and way of life. They had a love for diving that translated into a positive glow about them. A look of genuine happiness, excitement, and wonder always filled the scuba shop even among seasoned veterans. It is the heart-breaking and unfortunate truth that this quality is one of the rarest among human beings in the world, in that I mean a passion for life, existence, or even sincere happiness. Their company was always filled with laughter and joy. When humans are able to achieve that there is an unmistakable look that fills their eyes and it’s beautiful to witness. It is for this quality I admire my friend Chris since he has never compromised and pursued his passions and his heart, which at times can take more courage than most people know. To lose one’s love for life is a catastrophic tragedy. It was easy to identify what my friend saw in this place, a way of living, an authentic way of experiencing the world, all in an environment that heavily promotes love, excitement, enthusiasm, and zest for life, what more can one ask for?