You can fly to The Beach from APO FPO DPO
Yeah, yeah, you were stationed in Korea or Japan and visited Thailand. Wooptydo. The big deal is if you visit Thailand from Europe (yes, we still have overseas bases in Germany, they didn't shut them all down after the Cold War).
So, if you're stuck overseas and looking for a cool vacation spot - or an off-the-charts beautiful location for a wedding - The Beach - the place where they filmed the movie with Leonardo DiCaprio is waiting for you.
Otherwise known as Phi Phi Island (pronounced Pee Pee Island) is a group of islands off the coast of Thailand that is so beautiful - it makes you want to sneak off in the jungle to hide so you miss the boat home. They actually have a problem with tourists doing this.
Just do it. Anyone is welcome to read this Hub (obviously), but I'm speaking directly to Americans who are stationed or working in places like Ansbach, Hohenfels and Stuttgart - because you take way too many PX Drives (to Graf PX, Ramstein BX) and don't do enough world travel.
Some overseas families travel, of course. I met one family on Ko Phi Phi Island (larger of the two main islands) who claimed they were from Canada - except their accents were wrong.
During the same trip, I watched a guy splash around in the hotel pool loudly proclaiming that he and his family were from "South Africa." It was an inventive way to hide as an American, but I heard my first South African accent in 1975 - and he didn't have a South African accent.
You should always practice a certain amount of caution as an American while traveling abroad. Just keep in mind that hotel staff see your passport when you check in, and probably blab to the pool staff - so plan accordingly.
Flying in. The route that you take into Thailand depends on which airport you fly out of. I flew east out of Germany - with one stopover in Asia en route.
You'll probably land in Phuket, and from this point on you should pay attention to the information you receive from your travel agency, because it tells you how to catch a ride to the ferry dock - how to ride the ferry boat to Phi Phi main island (your hotel may be on one of the smaller islands) - and everything in between.
The best coconut shake on the planet awaits you on the small strip of land centered between the two bays known as Phi and Phi. My opinion on this could be tainted by partial dehydration at the time and spontaneity. It was a really cool spot on the planet to be standing. There was a fruit shake stand in the shade. I had just disembarked from the ferry boat. Not sure if it was really the best shake in the world, but it sure seemed like it at the time.
- I flew into Phuket.
- Jumped into car provided with the travel package - the driver and guide both spoke English as they drove me on the left side (yep, just like in England) of the road through Phuket to the ferry dock.
- Took a 3-hour ferry boat ride to the island. And, yes, I got a little sea sick, but it was manageable.
- I stayed 16 days because I needed the time to catch up on writing projects.
While staying on the small island where my bungalow hotel was located, I noticed that most people used the resort areas in general as stopping off points. They visited for a couple or a few days - but they always seemed to be en route to somewhere else. Whereas, I plopped down at the pool for sixteen days to get some writing done.
I saw mostly Australians, Europeans, Japanese, and a very few "Canadians," I mean Americans.
Pool vs. beach and stuff to do.
I spent most of my time at the pool with my netbook. The hotel pool snackbar had great hamburgers, fries and pizza. I also went outside the hotel area to try the local cuisine, which was great, too.
I would visit the beach daily - not the one in the movie, just the one near my hotel - go for a swim in the shallows, and maybe walk out with the low tide out to see what I could see. There were a few brave Western souls swimming laps in the deep water, but I don't recommend doing that in unknown waters because of unknown rip tides.
I also walked around the island a bit. It has trails and sidewalks in some areas, and an elaborate Tsunami alarm system with signs indicating routes and tall warning towers with loud speakers. They didn't rehearse the evacuation plan while I was there - I'll probably suggest that next time I visit. I did, though, conduct my own Tsunami rehearsal and discovered a few important things about their established routes in doing so.
Everyone was very friendly. The hotel staff was smiles all around and extremely polite. So please make sure that you are friendly when you visit. I experienced a number of near head-on pedestrian collisions while walking on sidewalks around the hotel because in addition to driving on the left side of the road - they also walk on the left side of the sidewalks and paths. Still got the smiles, though, because staff and locals are used to stupid tourist tricks.
I took the tour to The Beach film location, and of course pulled one of my usual stupid tourist tricks - flailing around and falling off a bobbing boat dock into the warm, turquoise ocean. An Indian music-video crew was filming at the time, but I don't think they were ready for me, so they didn't capture my fall on camera. I fall fast when I fall.
Everyone on The Beach got a good laugh. Plus, I've pulled tourist tricks way more stupid than that, so I was happy.
The list of things you can do on the islands is actually a pretty long one:
- Long-tail boat tours to the various islands and film locations. If you're not familiar with the term, long-tail boats have an extended drive shaft and propeller protruding from the rear of a usually covered and relatively small boat.
- Snorkeling tours. Watch out for the protruding propellers, aye.
- SCUBA certifications and tours. Fairly expensive, but worth the money.
- Rock climbing, which is relatively new to the area. Safely fall in the water if you're not very good at it. Check for underwater rocks first.
- Jet boat rides to other islands. Expensive.
- Kayak tours. Incredibly cool PT.
- Restaurants and night life. Take your pick. Off the charts.
- Shopping. Buy ties for one Euro in Phuket.
I spent one night in Phuket on my return trip. That's the place to go shopping, unless you can manage a few days in Bangkok, which of course is separate story. There are modern malls with the most expensive Asian rugs you can imagine - as well as other exotic treasures (name one, it's there).
And open air markets - where you can barter if you know how. I like the markets better than the malls.
Have a great time if you go, because you can't help but have a great time. Just don't go AWOL.
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