I try to spend my birthday out of town (and if I’m lucky, out of the country). Organizing a party brings more pain than pleasure and I prefer to avoid the stress of it all. I spent my 28th birthday in China/India and my 30th in Peru, but turning 33 in Thailand will be almost impossible to top.
After a few days in Singapore (see Singapore and More Singapore posts), we flew out to Phuket to spend my birthday island hopping with our friend, Sara.
PATONG BEACH, PHUKET
Phuket did not impress me, mostly because the area we stayed in, Patong Beach, was a dirty, tourist-crazed, party town. Since we only had one night in Phuket, I can only speak to the small strip of beach and nightlife we experienced.
Having been away from the ocean for longer than I’m accustomed to, my first order of business was to get barefoot on the beach and test the waters. The ocean is my sacred soul place where I feel the most content and at peace. Despite the crowded beach overtaken by parasailing tourists and European bros in banana hammocks, I closed my eyes and allowed the warm seawater to reestablish my connection to nature.
Revitalized and ravished by hunger, we strolled through town in search of my favorite fare, SEAFOOD! It took a little searching, but eventually we found the alley with a bunch of restaurants (all the same same but different). Each place had at least one staff member who’s job was to lure customers in with the same catchline, “hey bro, eat here!”. We chose the place with the least presumptuous pusher. The food was fittingly underwhelming, especially in comparison to what we ate in Chiang Mai and Singapore.
With only one night in Patong, we fought the fatigue and got pumped to party. The main street leading straight to Patong Beach was reminiscent of a Bangkok Redlight District. Bar after bar serving nothing but booze and featuring shows that were “all about the pus$$y” – don’t ask, I did and was left with only more questions. We took down some shots, drank a bunch of beer, listened to live music, danced a bit, took photos with ladyboys, and topped the night off with some greasy Micky D’s. The weekend was off to a great start.
KOH PHI PHI
After one night of partying in Patong Beach, we hopped on a ferry to Koh Phi Phi, one of the major party islands of Thailand. There are no cars on the island, only hoards of young tourists drinking at all hours of the day. The beautiful beaches are littered with beer bottles and different colored straws – battle scars from endless days and nights of raging. Nonetheless, the sand is soft, the water warm, and the western food choices are plentiful.
We stayed at a hostel up in the hills, further away from the beach and the ruckus. It was a bit of a trek, there was a blood stain on the wall, and a cesspool of mosquitos in the empty reservoir outside our door, but it was worth the peaceful night of sleep.
Our day was spent on the beach, laying out, drinking beer, and eating. It was looking to be a successful relaxation day, until I made the one of the worst decisions of our entire trip – tuna pizza. I didn’t actually order the tuna pizza but I also didn’t complain when it wasn’t pepperoni. I ate the entire thing and regret it still to this day. From that point on, I was ruined. We were playing pool at an empty rock and roll bar when one of the owners opened a can of tuna for dinner. One whiff was all it took. I ran as fast as I could to the toilet and lost it. Nothing compares to the upchuck of tuna, nothing.
I easily could have crawled back to our hostel but instead attempted to rally and headed to the beach to check out the party scene. It was still early, but we managed to catch a fire show, listen to some EDM, and watch drunk guys trying to hang from a pull-up bar for as long as they could.
MAYA BAY SLEEP ABOARD
So, here is where the weekend turned around and shit got real. Maya Bay is a short boat trip away from Phi Phi. It became a popular tourist destination after the film, The Beach (starring Leonardo DiCaprio), was released in 2000. Boatloads of tourists make the day trip for the perfect photo in paradise. Its beauty is undeniable but it is easily tarnished by the heaps of boats and people overtaking the bay. Since the island is a National Park, there are no houses, stores, or hotels and tourists must depart by sundown. Thanks to Maya Bay Sleep Aboard, we were able to experience the island in the most memorable way.
We met at the pier in the afternoon and happily departed Phi Phi. The first stop was the Phi Ley Bay for snorkeling, kayaking, and jumping off the top of the boat. The water was cool, clear and immediately healed all traces of my tuna pizza hangover.
Eventually we arrived at Maya Bay where we took a dip in the water, did a little trekking, and waited for all of the day-trippers to leave. By sundown, our group of 17-20 people were the only ones left on the island. We enjoyed a BBQ dinner on the beach accompanied by buckets of alcohol. The Sleep Aboard staff were the lives of the party – real professional party animals. Coco Loco and Jumbo, the two main guides, initiated a game Kings Cup and forced the timid tourists out of their shells. Free shots were passed out to everyone in the group after Sean mentioned it was my birthday. We sang, drank, ate, and drank some more.
With a decent buzz in tact, we were taken back to the main boat in the middle of the bay where we strapped on our life vests in preparation for the plankton light show. Bobbing in the middle of the pitch black ocean with a bunch of strangers brought on flashbacks of Jack and Rose after the Titanic sunk. Despite the eeriness, there was also something otherworldly about floating in the deep, dark, sea. I dunked my head underwater, swaying my arms as legs as quickly as I could, watching as the lights from the glowing plankton followed the path of my limbs. At this point, a new believer of magic, I was convinced that this birthday was as good as it gets.
I’d be lying if I said the night was all rainbows and butterflies. Our ignorant asses thought it would be a good idea to sleep on the top of the boat. Staring up at the stars as the boat rocked side to side – what could go wrong? RAIN. We got drenched and our bags with all of our clothes were out of reach, tucked in a corner surrounded by sleeping bodies. All of the geniuses that wanted to sleep under the stars huddled at the bottom of the boat while the rain poured down. Our miserable mood began to shift when a member of the boat crew pulled out an acoustic guitar and started to play. Minutes later everyone was singing in unison and passing around a bucket of alcohol. The rain eventually stopped and we headed back to our sleeping spots on the top of the boat – staring up at the stars as the boat rocked back and forth. I laid there and reflected on how lucky I was to experience such amazing adventures. It might have been the worst night of sleep EVER, but it was also a night I will always remember.
Party islands are great if you are single and in your twenties but they will make you feel like an old fart if you are 33 and married. After 3 nights of partying on the beach and on the boat, we were all ready for some much needed R&R and Koh Lanta was exactly that.
We took a rough and rainy ferry ride from Phi Phi and stumbled to a restaurant to hydrate and search for a place to stay. We decided to shell out more money (than usual) to stay at a nice resort with clean, comfortable beds, warm water, and air conditioning.
Sara was afflicted with a stiff neck as a result of sleeping without a pillow the night before and unfortunately remained bedridden with the exception of the occasional massage. Thankfully the resort provided the comfort to recover.
Sean and I spent our last two days motorbiking up and down the coast, scoping out different beaches, sunbathing on the sand, drinking, watching the sunset, and getting massages. It was, by far, the most relaxing two days of our trip thus far. With at least two months left on our trip, we were convinced that this would not be our only visit to the island of Lanta.