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Mar 3, 2006 - Ko Phi Phi - Tsunami Devastation in Paradise
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Breakfast at Maprao Resort Maprao Beach Beach near Ton Sai village 

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Ko Phi Phi - Tsunami Devastation in Paradise

Sixteen months before our arrival, this small island with, gorgeous beaches, towering palms and sparkling clear waters was devastated by the tsunami killing about 1,500 people. Ko Phi Phi gained worldwide awareness due to the large number of foreigners from around the world that were amongst the dead and injured. Over a year later from this fateful event, the island is well on its way to recovering and tourism is booming once again, although not yet to the levels which the idyllic island had previously enjoyed. Although the island is on the road to recovery, the devastation is still largely visible especially between Ton Sai Bay and Loh Dalum Bay. Here the most developed section of the island sits barely above sea level and forms a tiny crescent with the Andaman Sea bordering both sides. The surging tsunami hit the island at this point coming from both sides causing mass destruction, deaths and injuries.

To date, some of the buildings have been fixed up, others rebuilt but many remain empty plots of land or construction projects in the works. Life seems to go on as it did before, however for many who lived through the tsunami, their outlook on life has changed. "You must live each day to the fullest. You never know which day may be your last." said one guesthouse owner. People are scarred forever with memories of the day of terror when they lost family, friends and loved ones in the seemingly inexplicable chaos that hit the island so fast and furious.

Notwithstanding the sadness and devastation of the tsunami, Ko Phi Phi to date has been our favourite destination in Thailand primarily for two reasons. Firstly, the sheer beauty of Ko Phi Phi and the surrounding islands and secondly the warm friendliness of the Thais that ran the resort where we stayed for four days. Ko Phi Phi is stunning even after the damage from the tsunami. Apparently pre-tsunami days it was even more beautiful with all the palms trees and no rocks on the main beach, but we loved it as it was; soaring limestone cliffs, crystal clear warm waters, white sand beaches, no roads or cars and a laid back tranquil atmosphere.

Ton Sai Village, the only town, is located on the crescent of land and is bustling with bungalows, guesthouses, shops and bars all built on top of each other. During the day the streets fill with guests and day-trippers from Krabi and Phuket. Preferring a more tranquil location, we stayed at Maprao Resort about a fifteen-minute walk from town and on it own small beach. From this low-key, simple resort we had the unsurpassed views of Ton Sai Bay and it was only a five minute walk over the hill to Long Beach, the nicest beach on the island. Best of all with our basic resort was the friendly Thais that ran it. They were warm and welcoming in such a genuine way - not like the all too often trained and phoney politeness of so many five-star hotels. We ate most of our meals here with this friendly family as they we helped them improve their English and they attempted to teach us Thai. We laughed and smiled with them as they would great us in the morning with a warm and friendly 'sawat dii kap' and then point to the beach and say 'low tide' proudly showing us what they had learned from our conversation the evening prior.

Upon the recommendation of one of the resort staff we took a day trip by long tail boat around Ko Phi Phi, to Bamboo Island and Ko Phi Phi Lae the sister island to Ko Phi Phi Don where we were staying. The day trip was outstanding as we plied the waves of the Andaman Sea stopping at many beaches for a short swim and snorkelling in the crystal clear, warm waters teaming with colourful fish and coral. The highlight of the day was Ko Phi Phi Lae where there are no developments or overnight stays allowed. Here we circled the island taking in the views, stopped at Ao Maya, the film site of the movie The Beach, and spent time in an incredible isolated cove with a glassy white sand bottom and such varying shades of green waters it left us in awe.

When it came time to leave Ko Phi Phi and our new friends at the Maprao we were sad to say goodbye. Our time on the island is sure to become a life-long memory and one of the highlights of our trip. As we marched across the sanding bay at low-tide to catch the ferry to Krabi I wondered if there is anyway it will compare to Ko Phi Phi?

Ten Travel Tips for Ko Phi Phi

1. Choose your accommodations carefully. If you are not interested in being in a busy town with a lot of people and noise then select a guesthouse or resort that is outside of Ton Sai Village. The village is small but places are built practically on top of one another in a congested way that is not favourable to many - myself included!

2. Make the effort to climb to the lookout point that gives you panoramic views of Ko Phi Phi and also Ko Phi Phi Lae off in the distance. Best to do the climb in the morning or late afternoon to avoid the heat of the day as the stairs in the beginning can be quite the climb. There is a shop at the top to buy beverages or snacks.

3. Long Beach is a beautiful beach around the bay from Ton Sai Village and worth the visit. You can get there by a long tail boat or if you prefer you can walk around the point. Low tide makes the walk much quicker and easier so you may plan to take a boat one-way and walk the other depending on the time of the tides.

4. An absolute must do is a day trip by boat around the island and to Phi Phi Lae and Bamboo Island. The snorkelling, beaches and scenery are all incredible and not to be missed. If we had stayed longer I would have considered doing the trip again!

5. If you don't enjoy doing day trips with others consider hiring a boat and driver for yourself for the day to go to the islands mentioned above.

6. If you enjoy hiking, from the top of the lookout point you can continue hiking down the other side and make your way around most of the island stopping along the way for lunch and drinks at the various little restaurants set up on the island. If you choose to do this start off early in the morning so you have time to stop and enjoy the different beaches you will pass along the way.

7. To enjoy the waters around the island at your own pace you can rent kayaks, pack a lunch and set off on your own. There are a couple places on the island where you can usually see monkeys hanging out on the beach or just use them as a different mode of transportation to reach a new beach for the day.

8. Ko Phi Phi is a divers destination. There are many dive shops in town with relatively inexpensive dive package and what are supposed to be some great dive sites.

9. There is no airport on the island so it is only accessible by ferries, which are readily available from either Phuket or Krabi on a daily basis during high season.

10. June to October is the Southwest Monsoon season and is the rainy season on the island and boat travel can be more difficult due to the rough seas. The best time to visit is from November to May when the boats run regularly.

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