I’d never seen the movie The Beach when I went to Thailand last January. I’d heard about it and knew the general storyline about some carefree travelers making their way to an isolated island with the most beautiful beach on earth. I knew that things somehow go terribly wrong, but other than that I was in the dark, but then my own journey to southern Thailand almost went a little bit wrong as well.
When I landed in Bangkok I had a twelve-hour lay over. With little interest in seeing that city, I spent the night at a nearby airport hotel. The next morning I caught a shuttle back to the airport an hour and a half before my next flight was due to depart.
“What airline are you traveling on?” asked the shuttle driver as we pulled up to the terminal.
“Air Asia,” I replied.
“Air Asia doesn’t fly from this airport!” he shouted.
“They don’t?” My brain struggled to take in this information. “What airport do they fly from? How far away is it?”
“Don Muang Airport is one hour away, if there is no traffic!”
Now I knew I was in big trouble. I grabbed my bag and jumped out of the shuttle. I ran to an information counter and was directed to a free airport bus. I hopped onboard and waited. Ten minutes later we were on our way. Slowly we inched across the megalopolis that is Bankgok. If I missed my flight, I’d miss my ferry connection to the beautiful island of Koh Phi Phi as well. The clock was ticking.
After three months of living and writing in wintery Budapest, I was ready for the warm sea and some sand between my toes. I’d come to Thailand on a one-way ticket. I had no idea how long I’d stick around or where I’d head after. All I knew was that I was going to swim, scuba dive, write and generally try to enjoy my first visit to this part of the world as much as possible.
Arriving finally at Don Muang Airport, I had 20 minutes before my plane departed. I ran into the terminal and checked my bag, then sprinted to the gate. I strolled right onto the plane and found my seat. I’d made it! I could hardly believe my luck. Next stop, the island of Phuket and the ferry to Phi Phi.
By that evening I was gliding into Phi Phi harbor and marveling at towering limestone cliffs covered with verdant green jungle. The water was a luminous blue, the sandy beaches a blinding white. It was indeed a paradise on earth. Apparently I wasn’t the only one who thought so.
As I exited the ferry, I walked up the dock and straight into a crowded maze of alleyways full of vendors of all kinds, restaurants, dive shops and touts hawking accommodation options. This may have been a paradise, but it certainly wasn’t undiscovered. I’d booked ahead at a hostel on a quieter stretch of the island called Long Beach. By the time I’d walked there with my pack on my back I was exhausted.
Whatever expectations I’d had, this “resort” certainly didn’t meet them. I was shown to a dark, dismal room in a small building surrounded by an active construction site. I almost had to laugh, but hey, I was in paradise, right? The beach was just a few steps away, after all.
I’d learned already that Koh Phi Phi is probably the most impacted tourist destination in all of Thailand. Prices are twice as high as anywhere else in the country, yet it is still packed with visitors from all over the world. From the beach in front of my hostel, I could see some distance across the water was another smaller island, built of the same jagged limestone peaks.
“That’s Phi Phi Ley,” one of my hostel-mates told me. “It’s small Phi Phi. They filmed The Beach there. You know, with Leonardo DiCaprio?”
“I’ve never seen it.”
Belen was from Argentina and traveling alone. She suggested that I accompany her the next day on a tour of islands in the area. “The last stop on the tour is Maya Beach. That’s the beach from the movie.”
“Well, ok.” I decided to come along to check it out. Why not? The next morning we were up early, with snorkel gear, towels and sunscreen at the ready. We hopped on a tour boat with 20 other people and were off.
This tour really was a full-day event. We snorkeled in the clear blue waters off Phi Phi, then went to a perfect little atoll called Bamboo Island for swimming and lunch. We stopped at a few other breathtaking spots along the way before finally working ourselves up to the grand finale. Everyone on the boat was excited as we motored close to Phi Phi Ley. It seemed that I was the only one on board who hadn’t seen the movie.
Phi Phi Ley is a protected preserve, which means that there are no permanent structures on the island, just one small campground. We landed on a rugged shoreline and climbed over jagged rocks and through a small tunnel, emerging in a narrow canyon. After trekking a short distance through the jungle, we emerged onto a silky smooth beach surrounded by a perfectly round bay carved out of those same towering limestone cliffs. It was stunning indeed.
I knew that in the movie this was a secret beach, known only to a very few. Perhaps that was true once, but by now the secret is out. The bay was full of water taxis and other crafts of all kinds. On the beach itself were several hundred tourists frolicking and taking photos. It was still a magnificent place to be.
In all I spent six weeks in Thailand and Cambodia before returning back to Budapest. I’m not sure any day was lovelier than that one, my first in this tropical paradise. The night before my flight out of Thailand I stayed in another airport hotel and with some time to kill before bed I perused the cable TV lineup. As I flipped through a few TV channels, I found a movie in English that was just coming on. The Beach, starring Leonardo DiCaprio. I could hardly believe my luck as I settled in to finally watch this tale of paradise lost, which was for me a sentimental reminder of a fabulous trip.
Kenneth Rosenberg is a California writer whose work has appeared in the Los Angeles Times, Surfer Magazine and other publications. Kenneth attended UCLA where he received a Bachelor of Arts degree in English Literature. When he is not writing, he spends his time surfing, snowboarding and traveling the world on a shoestring. Kenneth’s first novel, ‘No Cure for the Broken Hearted’, was a top 10 bestseller on Amazon UK. His second novel, ‘Tinseltown Blues’, was a bestselling romantic comedy. His third novel is the suspense-thriller, ‘Natalia’.
Visit Kenneth at his website: www.kennethrosenberg.com
Check out his blog: A Writer’s Life
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