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They Paved Paradise and put up a Parking Lot OR Paradise Lost. Pick your favorite cliche and apply it most appropriately to Ko Phi Phi.

We knew something was amiss when the minibus pulled into the ferry carpark, dropping off the nine of us. Dozens of similar minivans and some fifteen large touring buses were busy disgorging pockets of stunned-looking tourists. Several uniformed attendants armed with piercing whistles shepherded the crowd unto a trio of waiting boats. We were distributed according to the color of the stickers we’d been given and off we went.

A swell was running in from the south-west, which made the ship lurch to and fro quite uncomfortably and soon plastic sick bags were being handed around. I don’t get scared too easily on the water, but the seemingly uncontrollable rolling, which sent the unsecured luggage flying around the bottom deck, combined with a total lack of safety measures – we counted eight life vests for 300 hundred odd people on board, which were mysteriously being dumped down the stairwell, perhaps to cushion the suitcases – put the fright in me. Oh yeah, and one of these sank a few years ago.

After an hour and a half of sweaty palms, only enlivened by the highly entertaining auto translated subtitles to the onboard movie,  ‘Very abundantly please”, Ko Phi Phi Leh, the group’s smallest island, came into view. An astoundingly beautiful sight. Sheer limestone cliffs rising vertically from an azure sea, covered in lush green tropical forest, and at the bottom, appearing as if a mirage, the most perfect crescent of clear white sand. Maya Bay.

And then you get closer. And you realise that this is the beach, that beach, from the eponymous movie. How do you know? Well, those twenty odd boats and two hundred people on that beach kinda give it away. We admired the view for a few minutes and the boat pulled away and rounded the island, passing secluded inlets and caves carved out by the slow-pounding surf. Everywhere it was the same. A fleet of speed and longboats ferrying brown-baked foreigners and locals alike to experience the marvelous beauty in a crowd usually reserved for football stadiums.

From Leh we made our way over to Don, the big island, which gave much the same picture. What once must have been the most perfect ishtmus of sparkling sand connecting forming two placid bays, now lay chock-a-block with hotels, souvenir shops and other concrete outcrops, hardly a speck of sand left untouched.

Tourism here is trying to imagine what the tourists before you saw. Those first ones to whom the island was a deserted tropical paradise, uninhabited only twenty years ago.

Today it’s off to the mainland where we’ll be making our way up to Bangkok. (Need to catch up Malaysia still, I know)

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