A June 2005 trip
to Phi Phi Island by tammyhayano
Quote: What's Phi Phi Island like right now? Can you come as a volunteer, as a tourist, or both?
Dion, a 33-year-old American, came here at the end of January, a few weeks after the tsunami had struck Koh Phi Phi. His intention was to stay for 3 1/2 weeks and do what he could to help out. Now 6 months later, he is returning home to Minnesota, USA. What made him stay all this time and sacrifice his job in the States? Leave behind family, friends, and obligations? To change his plane ticket nine times? To go for visa runs every month? After spending a few minutes talking to him, I get it. The energy of the volunteers here is unbelievable. The people who've been here for 2 months, 2 weeks, or just 2 days-- they are all absolutely committed to help the Thai people.
I'm staying a Mr. Jong's guesthouse. They opened up 5 days ago and as I'm entering the place, I'm stepping over volunteers who are paving the front steps. Everyone says hello, smiles and makes eye contact. The manager of the guesthouse, Kay, guides me upstairs of the two story building. "Downstairs not yet finished," she apologizes. "No air-con. Only fan." For 300 baht a night (about USD), I have my own room, attached bathroom and an ocean view. "Wow, this place is nice!" I comment. Kay beams. "They help me. The volunteers help me so much." She leaves me to my room, and outside I can hear volunteers working below. There's music playing in the background, light chatter, lots of "thank yous", "good work" and "see you tomorrow."
The effects of the tsunami are evident. Buildings are in various stages of reconstruction; concrete blocks and debris are strewn over empty lots. These are the images that most people know from watching the news or reading the paper. What most people don't realize, however, is that business is open and Koh Phi Phi is a fully functioning island. There's foot massages. Restaurants with movie nights. Shops selling clothing, jewelry, CDs, souvenirs. High speed internet access. Guesthouses, bungalows, 5 star hotels. Activities like snorkeling, rockclimbing, diving, island tours. Bars with fire shows, live music and parties. But with tourism down 90%, the Thais struggle to make a living.
In the past week, I've met an Italian, Japanese, Dutch, Spaniard, Korean, Iranian, and German. Their professions range from electricians, paramedics, and carpenters to students, teachers, and artists. They are among the 2,000 volunteers who have visited Koh Phi Phi (since the tsunami) at their own cost, their own initiative, not knowing anyone, with varying fluency in English, unsure of what to expect but with a desire to help. Their presence on the island works two-fold. As volunteers, they help rebuild the homes and businesses of the people who have lost so much. As tourists, they spend money on accommodations, meals, and souvenirs to generate much needed income for the locals.
Hi Phi Phi's catchphrase, Return to Paradise・is indeed a double entendre. With the support of the Phi Phi community, the beauty of the island has emerged once again. Welcome back.