Sunday, July 01, 2007

Loving Ko Phi Phi's Low Season

With tourism bringing crowds to ever more remote places, low season is today's version of 'the less traveled road'. And it’s a blessing to the cash-strapped - if you don’t mind a little rain now and then, you can enjoy many beautiful parts of the world at very reasonable prices, with no crowds.

May through October marks low season on the Andaman coast. At Ko Phi Phi, we stayed at Phi Phi Erawan Palms resort, which offered double rooms for 1,800 baht (when booked through – this goes up to a whopping 4,500 baht at the height of peak season.

We had the beaches at Laem Tong and Ao Loh Ba-Kao all to ourselves.

Hin Klang Reef, Bamboo Island, and Mosquito Island were pretty much deserted when we got there – it was just us, dozens of parrotfish, and a small but menacing community of black sea urchins. Our sole human contact, other than with our boatman, was with a family of three Americans who briefly gushed "beautiful reef, beautiful fish!" before setting off... once again leaving us to the silence of the Andaman sea.

The wind was blowing too strongly for us to see Ao Maya, a magnet for day-trippers from Phuket anxious to see where The Beach was filmed. Ah, the sacrifices one must make to enjoy the low season. We swam for a while in the lagoon at Ao Pileh before distant lightning strikes and arriving day-trippers prompted us to scramble out of the water.

After crossing the inter-island swells in a tiny longtail boat, the ominous grey clouds on the horizon were enough to make us flee to our favorite rainy-day pastimes: eating and shopping. Note to self: low season water travel requires a strong stomach!

Ton Sai was backpacker central even in the off season; I can just imagine how packed it must be during peak. I stood for ten minutes on the main alley and watched wave after wave of Caucasian shoppers and backpackers walk by, with few Thais or even other Asian tourists in the mix. While cheap rooms were available in Ton Sai for a fraction of what we were paying at Erawan Palms, the hustle and bustle of "downtown" just didn't fit with our idea of a relaxing vacation.

Back at Laem Tong, we scouted around for evening activities. Even at low season prices, I can’t afford to stay at luxury resorts like Zeavola, with rates ranging from 5,500 to 11,000 baht a night. But for the price of a cold cocktail, we were able to indulge ourselves, lounging on cushioned beach beds that would otherwise go unused. Staff are at their friendliest when there’s no one else waiting to be served, and instead of rushing us at dinner they cheerfully brought us a second serving of their delicious octopus ink bread and let us soak in the relaxed ambience of their romantic beachfront restaurant. If we weren’t so perplexed by the bread’s color, I would never have guessed its ingredients included anything more exotic than toasted cheese.

The other benefit of low season is discounts on the ultimate in pampering – spa treatments. At Wana Spa at Phi Phi Island Village, we booked a two-and-a-half hour package that included a milky jacuzzi soak, a scented body scrub, and a relaxing aromatherapy massage for about 2,700 baht per person. Okay, so it was an indulgence that was over ten times more expensive than the humble Thai massage we got in Krabi town for 250 baht, but I consoled myself with the thought that the same spa package in Singapore would probably set me back at least 6,000 baht, if not more.

Tourism authorities all over the world are doing their darnedest to market rainy season tourism, quoting euphemisms like "fruit season" or "green season" to dress up the cold, wet truth. I’m half-hoping they’re unsuccessful, so that we can keep low season the exclusive province of knowing travelers with a penchant for cut-rate trips.

Low season optimists know that weather forecasts that predict a 50% chance of rain can be flipped around and read as a 50% chance of, well, no rain. Here’s hoping we continue to stay lucky.

Contact information and more detailsRead more about Ko Phi Phi
  • "swam for 45 minutes with three 15-20ft manta rays swooping around us" - Schiavoni Files
  • "tonnes of farangs running around but somehow, the whole place doesn't seem as shamelessly touristy as say Patong" - unkster
  • Rock climbing at Ton Sai tower: "At the top of the routes, you overlook Ao Ton Sai and Ao Lo Dalam, which are the two bays in the skinny part of Ko Phi Phi." - All Thai-ed Up
  • Post-tsunami cleanup report by Project Aware

Read the previous entry or check out the rest of this Krabi and Ko Phi Phi trip series.

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At May 03, 2008 4:54 PM, Blogger Paul said...

Wow! What a great blog! Awesome travels and great photos.

Thanks so much for posting.

You know my wife and I love Singapore maybe we can look you up when we are there again.

Planning any trips to Koh Samui?

All the best,
Paul Valente
Resorts and Hotels on Koh Samui

At November 18, 2008 11:20 PM, Blogger NEW PINOY said...

Away from home too.


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