On to Ko Phi Phi, Thailand and the drunken Thai Boxers

Day 23 – Round the World 2008

And on we went to Ko Phi Phi. Although we almost didn’t when I went off to get some cash and the ferry transfer bus came and went in the meantime. Not to fear though, some pleading with the hotel staff ensued and the bus came a circle back to pick us up.

The ferry was amazing compared to our previous water-borne exploits – the water was flat calm and we sat outside on the deck sunning ourselves as the islands passed by. There were dozens of little rock spires sticking up out of the sea, similar to the ones we had seen before on the land, and it created an amazing seascape as we cruised on into the sunshine.

At first sight Ko Phi Phi looked amazing – you could see the crystal clear water and white sand beaches from a mile off and the view only got better as the ferry turned into a small harbour totally enclosed by towering cliffs on one side and tree lined rocks on the other.

I have to admit I was pretty surprised at how busy the place was though when we stepped off the ferry. I had expected an idyllic island paradise, but we were greeted by a hoaching little town perched between two beaches. I guess any idyllic island paradise doesn’t remain idyllic for long though as soon as the word gets out. Off the ferry we traipsed and within 20 steps I had a thick layer of sweat running separating me from my backpack – walking and 35 degree heat really don’t mix. We wandered down the main street, which was actually just a pretty skinny alleyway between endless rows of diving companies, and marvelled at the return of the touts. At first we thought they were being nice of course as this time they were often Americans or brits offering us directions to accomodation. But obviously the end of the directions led to, “So what are you doing while you’re here then? Bit of diving perhaps…?” After putting up with a few pitches in exchange for directions we got our India heads back on and blanked every living thing within 50m while we trudged on through the village/oven.

A few bits of the village still looks pretty wrecked after the Tsunami and we walked past tons of building works to get to the cheap end of town. After the marble-clad entranceways dwindled away we started to ask in hotels and only then realized how much steeper Phi Phi was going to be. In Ko tao it was easy to get a bungalow for under 500 bhat – here we were struggling to get a windowless room for under 800. In the end, after endless wanderings through the rabbit warrens they call streets the heat forced us into a little place nearly opposite ‘The Rock’, Phi Phi’s only hostel. It had no window, but it was clean and only 700 bhat, so we put up with it and planned to take a further wander tomorrow for somewhere better.

After that adventure it was around mid-afternoon so we thought we’d go out for a little explore and see just how amazing these beaches were. To be fair, they were pretty amazing, but significantly disadvataged by the fact that every cockney and his aunt had also heard this and arrived at the same time. The bay was perfect – cliff enclosed, roasting water, long tail boats drifting on their anchors – but the fat white-skinned whale in the guise of a man floating in the middle of that slightly spoiled the image. No matter, we were knackered and lay down for a wee rest.

The rest of the day passed in a pretty normal fashion – cocktails at the beach bar, back to the room to change, awesome Thai curry at one of the 100s of identical options, more cocktails and Big Changs – but then things got a little stranger when we came accross a Thai boxing bar down a little alleyway. The place was open to the street, no walls or windows, and resembled a huge warehouse full of tables and chairs more than a bar. The focal point, though, was a full sized boxing ring right in the centre. Intrigued, we entered and sat down at the bar giving us a good view of the ring. Sure enough, within about 5 minutes two guys came out in their boxing gear and proceeded to strut and stretch their way around the ring to everyones hoots and cheers. The announced spouted out a stream of gibberish and as quick as that they guys were going mental, swinging wild kicks and punches all over the place. It became pretty obvious that it was all a show, the guys were just going crazy with no attempt to block, and a few times they dropped their arms and took a punch or a kick full in the face whereupon they would fall straight legged, tree style flat on their backs. 2 minutes later though they were back up again, swinging like crazy. Show or not, if they were pulling the punches much I couldn’t see it and it must have hurt like hell so they got a huge cheer when it was all over.

That was just the appetizer though and the best was yet to come. The announcer then switched to english and bellowed out to the crowd, “Ok, now we want new fighters. You come up to fight! Whoever fight will win one bucket!” He then held up a hand painted sign saying, “Fighter = 1 Bucket” and started walking around the ring shaking at everyone he could see. I thought at first that he was asking for volunteers to fight the previous guys that had been on, to which I said a quiet, “F*ck that!” But 10 minutes later two girls came on and were given a pair of thai boxing shorts, gloves and a helmet to put on. Genius! The bar made it’s living out of pursuading drunken westerners to knock each other’s brains out with the temptation of more booze! The girls proceeded to have-at-it in a pretty enthusiastic but completely haphazard fashion and pretty hefty punches to the face mingled with comedy moments as just-too-large helmets slid over eyes and well-used gloves flew off slippery hands and at the ref. They weren’t messing around though and the fighters earned a fair few OOOHs! as they landed a good one amongst all the wayward fists.

A number of pairings followed and showed us that the guys were no less haphazard, probably more so in fact as they tried to prove how tough they were, swinging and kicking wildly. There were a few good ones though as the contestants became drunker and drunker but soon it decended into farce, people hitting the canvas more often through missing a wild punch than actually getting hit. The number of drunken fools willing to exchange pain for free cheap liquor started to dwindle at that point anyway so Cat and I relunctantly left out seats in search of our bed. I walked home with the strong suspicion that we’d probably be returning pretty soon anyway…

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