"After a week, I was ready to leave sleepy Koh Lanta and wake to the busier traffic of Phi Phi. I woke up from a Dramamine daze in the ferry to the soaring limestone cliffs of Phi Phi, which look like they've had a dramatic ascent from the sea. The cluster of islands facing the Andaman sea have no gentle sloping hills; the cliffs composing these islands really encapsulate the uninhibited aesthetics of Thailand. Surrounding these islands are blankets of powdery white sand (forget about SNOW when you see this kind of sand) and crystal clear chalcedony and emerald water.
Lonely Planet (again, my travel bible) describes Phi Phi as heartbreakingly beautiful, and it is, for a variety of reasons. Its natural wonder eludes definition, and because I cannot aptly describe it, it will remain Romantic to me (paying homage to "Vicky Christina Barcelona"). Unfortunately, its beauty is nullified and tarnished by the hordes of party oriented backpackers, who arrive Thailand with purely hedonistic and bacchanalian interests--enough to sway me to a TS Eliot kind of arrogant cynicism.. Keep in mind that with any sort of social commentary I will be writing, I am fully aware of my complicit participations in such activities. I really wouldn't mind all the partying in Phi Phi so much if its visitors were responsible tourists and behaved in ways that upheld sustainable tourism. Why should it be acceptable here, to leave your garbage on the beach while it's perfectly illegal to do so where these gap-years are from?
The garbage, the vomit, and urine marred the beautiful beach and as it were, Phi Phi's tarnish largely rests on its misbehaving visitors.
Despite all of this, however, I look back and will always remember that Phi Phi encapsulates what I imagined an island paradise would be. I went snorkeling for the first time, overcoming the initial fear of depths in Phi Phi Leh, infamous for being the centerstage of that famous Leo DiCaprio movie. Snorkeling was perfect for this island, since the water was so incredibly clear that you can see the marine life in full bloom. We embarked on a gorgeous lagoon first to get our snorkeling bearings. Our guide was so wonderful; he was a respectable English expatriate, with a soft spot for baked beans and quelling a neurotic's fear of deep water.
One of the highlights of this trip was exploring Maya Bay. Our entrance to this beach was so dramatic, and climactic. We parked our longtail boat behind Maya, and had to ascend wooden stairs wedged between two towering cliffs, as if to serve a gateway. The walk into the enclosing jungle held a somewhat cinematic suspense--the air was still, but pierced every now and then by ocean swallows, the flora dreamy, the forest floor enveloped in white sand. Suddenly, after promenading through the brief labyrinth of bushes, we walked into a panoramic view of heaven. We beheld Maya, cradled by a wall of limestone cliffs, its water the clearest turquoise, its sand titanium white--not just off-white or eggshell--this was legit white.
If I could have just physically photoshopped out the tourists there it would have been the apex of the idyllic, and I really would have thought that I had died and gone to heaven.
A little more snorkeling concluded this trip, and the sunset signaled our return trip back to Phi Phi Don."
I learned slowly but surely from this trip, that living here in Thailand has given me the benefit of viewing my travels with a unique lens. Living in the Isan region, where tourist activity is incredibly scarce, I have come to define what Thailand is to me based on my local and idiosyncratic experiences. It was a shock to see how different the South was--it was as if the steady stream of tourism, the concomitant "Western" business and cultural interests completely reshaped and redefined the landscape. I was indignant, and insisted that none of these travelers really knew Thailand. But what it really is, is that none of them know what Thailand is to me. The suspension of these conflicting and colliding perceptions of Thailand is hard to accept sometimes, even when you feel like your intentions are pure and you're just emotionally troubled by the callous treatment of foreigners to the local communities, and to the harsh realities of packaged cultural enterprises. What do these people really know, when they have no desires of being open to cultural exchange, and all they're really exposed to are these manufactured cultural commodities that are far divorced from what I know Thailand to be like, living here, even as a foreigner? But to qualify this pedantic entry, I have no right whatsoever being the definer of what Thailand is, or what it means. My definition arises out of the limits of my experience. Tourism is part of Thailand. Maybe not its best part :)
I know the movement from travel writing to diatribe may have been surprising. But given that these unresolved questions manifested so unexpectedly, I think the symmetry is agreeable. But oh boy, I started out Romantic and then darn, I did dip into Eliotian (thatta word??) cynicism.
And on that note, I am going to bed.