Ko Phi Phi Phi Phi Phi

Ko Phi Phi is an island off the west coast of southern Thailand, and it is seemingly such an exemplar of tropical paradise that the guidebooks get a little resentful describing it. “Ko Phi Phi could win all the best-beach competitions, and knows it,” Lonely Planet says, rather cuttingly. Sold!

We decided to spend our first few days relaxing, in possibly undeserved recovery from the past month’s spring of planning and organizing. So, assorted planes to get to Phuket, long taxi ride to the ferry, 90-minute ferry ride to Ko Phi Phi, and a long-tail wooden boat to this hotel, called Zeavola, where we’ll spend five nights. Door to door the trip took maybe 28 hours, and when we made it to 9 p.m. local time on the night we arrived we high fived each other before crashing to the ground.

Now that we’re awake, the teeming equatorial-jungle fertility is just astonishing to sit in the middle of. Flowers just casually blooming everywhere, birdsong and cicada cacophony all the time, all colors of butterflies bumbling obliviously into our heads, a starfruit tree outside our door, snails with glossy shells and bodies as long as a Twix. On the beach, little translucent crabs pinwheel down the sand and into the water without any loss of momentum, and there’s the occasional huge jellyfish, like an opalescent cowpat.

Ko Phi Phi was especially hard-hit by the 2004 tsunami, so Lonely Planet’s jibes seem weirdly like a good sign of recovery. The island does appear to be doing well – not that we’ve ever been here before, but it’s doing enough tourist trade to seem pretty prosperous, while remaining fairly undeveloped and livable-seeming for locals. Yesterday we hiked through the jungle to a nearly deserted beach, and at one point a couple of local speedboat operators pulled into the bay and dropped anchor, and then climbed into some hammocks at the beach’s edge and just chilled out. (Chartering a speedboat is crazy expensive and also popular with tourists, so I think their relaxation was a sign of good work-life balance rather than underemployment, though it might also be both.)

For us, this place is pretty excellent. Our room is a big open-air hut on stilts, surrounded by hibiscus bushes. (There’s a glassed-in room with air conditioning for sleeping.) The water of the Andaman Sea is like a huge salty bathtub the color of an aquamarine. And we’re eating curry three meals a day.

Of course there are also tiny biting things: no-see-ums, sand fleas, flies, ants — and mosquitoes whose subtle stings occur without my noticing, but that leave behind nearly cystic red-and-white knots. I haven’t counted my bites, but I’d estimate the number at somewhere north of 50. The itching is sometimes so intense that it feels almost hallucinogenic. But these are basically uptown problems, like sand in one’s sunscreen.

A few days ago we went snorkeling off of some nearby uninhabited islands (Bamboo Island and the less promisingly named Mosquito Island), among schools of unfazed fish. To me it all looked awesomely ‘80s. The fish are all color coordinated in the style of Full House or The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air: electric pink and blue, turquoise and orange and cobalt, dark brown with perfectly round aqua and white dots. And the sharp, delicate black and white sea urchins look really graphic, like they could be jazzing up a power suit with huge shoulder pads.

There are also assorted five-pound mollusks, each of which seemed to resemble some unmentionable human orifice or other, except they’re purple or mauve or jade green. I’m not sure how these fit into my tropical ‘80s thesis, but I’m sure someone has a political joke that will help it all make sense. (Andy, are you reading this?)

Kevin loves snorkeling, whereas I more like tolerate it – I’m enthralled for ten minutes and then I realize I am not so much engaging in what I’m seeing as singing songs from the Little Mermaid in my head. To counteract this I sometimes describe the scene in my mind, as if to an absent friend. So I very much appreciate your submitting to all these adjectives. Wish you were here!

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