I still believe in paradise. But now at least I know it’s not some place you can look for. Because it’s not where you go. It’s how you feel for a moment in your life when you’re a part of something. And if you find that moment… It lasts forever.
Heaven on Earth still exists. Skillfully hidden from the hordes of tourists and all the programs designed with a sole reason – to take your money! Phi Phi islands are one of those places. I’m sure you’ve seen The Beach with Di Caprio. Well, something like that was on my mind when I came to Phi Phi.
Ko Phi Phi Don is the largest and the only inhabited island and the only place you can stay. The movie was filmed on Ko Phi Phi Leh. Up until a few years before the film was made, the island was as you’ve seen it in the movie, but the unspoiled nature was not as the producers imagined so they bulldozed beach areas to make it more “paradise-like”. This pissed off the authorities and now the island is protected by law as a national park. You can visit it on a day trip, but it’s gonna be flooded with tourists. Those of you, who like me, come to Phi Phi to find Heaven on Earth, will be unpleasantly surprised.
The only downer is, everyone’s got the same idea. We all travel thousands of miles just to watch TV and check in to somewhere with all the comforts of home, and you gotta ask yourself, what is the point of that?
Continental food. British tourists. Staggering down the streets, carrying plastic buckets filled with cocktails. You know the sand buckets we used to take with us to play on the beach when we were kids? Not exactly what I was hoping for. But OK, the smart thing for us would be to find accommodation before the night falls as we forgot to do it in advance. But, seems like everybody saw The Beach and the capacities of the island were filled to the max. After hours of wandering the streets we found a place and a beautiful Kathoey took us to our room. The sign on the door said Porn Room and as we entered, we could see some porn movies screen shots hanging on the walls. Awesome! It’s already getting interesting We left our bags and head to search for a good beach for tomorrow. As we wandered the island, at one point we realized that we were in the middle of a forest and that Google Maps screwed us up. Luckily, there was a sign not far away saying Rantee and we decided to follow it, hoping we won’t have to spend a night in the forest. The road lead down incredibly steep cliff. Slowly, holding by the roots of the trees, we continued down, towards the sound of the waves. Not exactly as in the movie, but still an adventure
You hope, and you dream. But you never believe that something’s gonna happen for you. Not like it does in the movies. And when it actually does, you want it to feel different, more visceral, more real. I was waiting for it to hit me, but it just wouldn’t happen.
We got to the Rantee eventually. Finally! A few beach huts, chill out music and two and a half tourists! How lucky were we! We booked a hut and took a water taxi back to our porn room In the morning, happy that the roaches didn’t eat us, we said goodbye to our Kathoey and once again took a water cab. The water taxi is actually a Long-tail boat and you really shouldn’t miss it if you visit the islands. They can get expensive, but if you can bargain, you can make it totally reasonable.
Enjoy the beach and cut the bullshit.
Rantee beach, still undiscovered, is almost empty and at times we thought there were more staff than the guests.
I just feel like everyone tries to do something different, but you always wind up doing the same damn thing.
We stayed at the beach hut. There was only one restaurant and it was a reception and a bar at the same time. In the evening, they would take out the tables and chairs and improvise a café, and the guys working there would become the fire artists.
Not much to do there except to enjoy, swim in the warm water and sip cocktails on the beach. Imagine the feeling of getting into the water, turn around, and realize you are the only one inside. Or, the feeling of sitting in a restaurant, eating together with the staff. Or the moment when Um, the guy who worked there, invited me to see their kitchen after he saw me taking photos of everything we were eating
Just like Leonardo said – It’s paradise.
People of Thailand are kind and welcoming. When Um took me to the kitchen, for a moment I was a bit shocked, but then a filling of being incredibly honored filled my body. There was a toad under the table. The real toad! I said: Oh! You even have a frog!, to what the cook said it was her pet and that it lived in the kitchen And really, there it was, not being afraid at all. Not even afraid of the cat hanging around. Come to think more about the situation, not even the cat cared about the toad
Pans, pots, fresh fish… all over.
The cook was the sweetest girl. With a beautiful smile she showed me how she was going to prepare the staff dinner. Chicken and coconut milk curry.
She told me how she paints in her free time and that the paintings hanging on the walls of the restaurant were her art. To this day I can’t get over the fact that we were traveling on a budget and couldn’t afford to buy one of her paintings. Then, she begun to prepare homemade coconut milk. Made with the coconuts from the beach First, they grate coconut, then pour over the water, leave to rest and finally, squeeze out the milk using hands. So, as she was collecting the milk I asked why that curry wasn’t on the menu and she said that the tourists don’t like to eat that kind of food. But no worries, tomorrow she’ll make some fish lungs curry and save some for me to try. Lucky me
Everything we ate at the restaurant was delicious. Actually, it was more than delicious. Let’s be real, there is not much people who would say that they don’t like Thai food. And as in any other place in South East Asia, there is an explosion of colors and some interesting styling on your plate.
Massaman curry is a common dish on the islands. It’s a Thai interpretation of Malay curry dishes and each one I tried was delicious, still each was different. Also, fermented tamarind sauce is often used and those dishes are, on the contrary to every other that will make you shit your pants how hot they are, sweet. People of Rantee beach make a homemade tamarind sauce from the fruits of a tree that grows in front of the restaurant.
Wanna try something we Thai people love to eat?, Um asked. Sure , I said. OK, I’m gonna send someone to bring it.
Um sent one of the staff to pick me some fresh tamarind. Big, thick green pods appeared on the table in front of me, as well as the salted shrimp paste that Um brought in the meantime. “Dip it in the paste.”
My God that was odd! The tamarind was sour beyond any reason. It had the similar astringent taste as a fresh quince does, only multiplied thousands times. And it doesn’t get any better after you dip it into the prawn paste. Not my kind of stuff.
The same evening Um brought me some fish soup with tamarind. It was OK. Made me understand why those dishes were not on the menu ;)
Another staff dinner I tried was plantain curry. Delicious, but so freaking hot! Um was shocked:
- Damn! I’ve never seen a Falang eat so hot!
I also ate that fish lungs curry. It was also good.
For dessert we always had banana fritters. Sometimes we dipped them into honey, and sometimes into melted chocolate. Once black sesame was added, other times it wasn’t. Each time it was perfect. Because bananas are sweeter on the other side.
Trust me, it’s paradise. This is where the hungry come to feed. For mine is a generation that circles the globe and searches for something we haven’t tried before. So never refuse an invitation, never resist the unfamiliar, never fail to be polite and never outstay the welcome. Just keep your mind open and suck in the experience. And if it hurts, you know what? It’s probably worth it.
Note: It was 2011. when we went to Phi Phi and they were building some brand new bungalows. It was a multi million dollars investment and a hi-tech design. Somehow, it seemed out of place, and I have to admit, I was kind of glad when I heard they stumbled somewhere and had to stop the development of the complex. I hope Rantee looks the same today. I hope beautiful paintings painted by the cook are still hanging on the walls of the restaurant… Hope the janitor still spends his working days chilling in the hammock. And I hope Um is still there… I wish I could see them again.
All the quotes are from The Beach movie.