I'm sitting at the airport in Bangkok (God do I know this airport well by now!) and with some free time before my flights Stateside, I think I'll take the opportunity to write about my last week in Thailand before I get home and "normality" sets in and the memories are not as fresh.
I've had an incredible end to my nearly two month sojourn. When I was trekking in the Himalayas, I couldn't imagine being back in the heat of Thailand, but that fact hit me all too abruptly when I flew all the way from Lukla to Phuket in one day... I left you last in my hotel room in Phuket town (strangely, my guidebook recommended making the city center a "base" - an idea which is very flawed indeed). After a long needed sleep, I checked out of my room, stored my bags and set out into Phuket Town with the idea of finding a dive shop to discuss liveaboard options to the Similan Islands.
Unfortunately, Phuket town is not exactly a tourist hub, and it took me a frustrating hour just to find someone to do my laundry! After walking for what seemed like hours, I found a small travel agency who explained to me that I might find what I'm looking for with Similan Pro Dive, but that there office was far away. He offered to take me there in his car, which was extremely kind of him. So, off I set and happily chatted with the dive staff at their shop. Not wanting to commit to their 2 night/3 day trip right away without shopping a little, I accepted their kind offer to drop me off at the bus stop to catch a public bus to Patong Beach, where many more dive shops were located. After a quick bite to eat, I found myself in Patong and quickly realized that this was the main tourist hub of Phuket!
After chatting with several dive shops, I settled on an incredible 4 night/5 day liveaboard with Eden Divers for the insanely good price of 14,000 baht including 16 dives and equipment! It didn't leave for another two days, so I decided to go to Ko Phi Phi in the morning for one night and then return in time to catch the boat heading to the Similan Island, Ko Ban, and Richelieu Rock. I was so excited.
Having met a couple of Brits on the main beach in Patong who recommended a small new hotel that was cheap in Patong, that evening was spent grabbing a cab to and from Phuket Town to grab my bags and laundry, before checking in to my new digs and packing an overnight bag. I also squeezed in another heavenly Thai massage.
The next morning a minibus picked me up and transferred me to the ferry dock for the 90 minute crossing to the exquisitely beautiful Phi Phi Island. The water was emerald and the beaches blindingly white. I was excited to arrange a longboat to take me over to Phi Phi Lei in the early morning as I'd heard that the boat trips during the day took you to this famous beach (from the movie "The Beach" with Leonardo Di Caprio) did so along with hundreds of other tourists, which would spoil the ambiance for me, I think. After spending a few minutes wandering around the little town looking for a place to stay, I happened across a sign advertising a camping trip where you got to stay on Maya Beach (The Beach) overnight in a small group and wake up to the sunrise there! I was absolutely sold and giddily excited when I met up with the group of us lucky enough to have figured this out around 3 in the afternoon.
We had a wonderful crew of people, there was about 13 of us altogether, and the evening turned out to be one of the most memorable on my trip. And this had a lot to do with a certain someone that I met there: Mark. Mark, is a devastatingly gorgeous and fun-loving, 36 yr-old adventurous American/Aussie from Aspen, Co., who had been in Phuket for the last few months completing his DiveMaster training and was going to Ko Phi Phi with his sister and her three girlfriends. We immediately hit it off. In fact, during the first half hour or so that we were on Maya Bay, frantically taking photographs of one another, Mark asked to have a picture taken with me. A little surprised at this stranger's enthusiasm, I agreed, only to be further shocked when he looked at me and said "Why don't we just kiss now and get it over with, as we both know its going to happen sooner or later tonight?"
I relented ;-)
And so began my lovely week-long romance in the stunningly romantic setting of the Islands of Thailand's Andaman coast.
On arrival in the bay, some of us opted to "swim" to shore which was MUCH farther than it first appeared. It ended up being about a 20 minute swim in a strong current, but it didn't matter. That evening was spectacular: to be able to watch all the throngs of tourists leave, having that idyllic setting just for our little group, to be able to watch the sunset, eat dinner, share some drinks, dancing, and fun...and then find a little spot on the sand to sleep - it was amazing. And being able to share that with someone new simply added to the experience.
It was a little difficult getting to sleep that night- no matter what you were still covered in sand, and sand is actually harder than you'd think to sleep on. But we were rewarded with the incredible bioluminescence washing up on shore during the night, and then a chance to watch the surrounded hills and formations begin to blush pink in the approaching sunlight in the morning.
The following day Mark and I explored the other side of the island just after breakfast. As we were leaving, we happened upon a blue sea snake that was amazingly out of the water and slithering along the rocks right where we walked. We happily snapped photos.
All too soon it was time to take the longboat back to the larger boat to Phi Phi Don, unfortunately, the staff had forgotten my overnight backpack and I had to kayak, frantically, back to shore and then back to the boat to retrieve it in time.
Back on Phi Phi Don, I wandered the narrow streets checking out the island and its many beaches. It was such a hot afternoon that soon all Mark and I could do is sit at a bar and order cold drinks to stave away the heat. I opted to finish writing up my Nepal experience, and then met up with Mark in the delicious cold air con cabin of the boat back to Phuket where we laughed and shared life stories over fruit smoothies.
I was almost starting to regret my decision to take the 4 day liveaboard...it is just so rare to connect with someone the way Mark and I were, AND while on vaction! However, his sister was planning on doing her PADI Open Water course over the next four days, so Mark had to be there for that.
On getting back to my hotel, I gathered my bags and went over to the Dive shop. Horror. The owner told me that one of the generators on the boat had blown and that the trip was cancelled. Worse than that, the only other liveaboard boat going to the same destinations with another company was full and wouldn't accept any more customers!
I was so terribly disappointed, and walked over to Mark's hotel to tell him the news. At least we'd get to spend more time together...so after dinner, Mark took me on a tour of Patong on the back of his moped and I whooped for joy, especially when he rode really fast. I was having a great time, and I was sure I'd sort something else out to do the next day.
Well, I sure did!!!!!!!!!! The following day I puttered around the resort, did some shopping and checked email. The dive shop was supposed to be looking into other dive trips for me, more than likely a bunch of day trips together. I assumed that Mark was out diving with his sister. Walking by "West Coast Divers" I decided to go inside and just try ONE MORE TIME to see if they'd had a cancellation for their trip that was leaving that night.
I happened upon the owner of the company and she agreed to let me go, because she was going to give me one of the staff cabins on the boat! I was so excited, but wanted to tell Mark that I wouldn't get to see him again before I left for the States. Since West Coast is where Mark is doing his Dive Master course, I mentioned him to the owner in passing conversation, and she says "Oh, poor Mark...his sister is sick and not doing Open Water anymore" - to which I responded, "Um, can I please use your cell phone?!"
I called Mark, who confirmed that his sister had changed her mind about the course, and then I told him that West Coast was letting me go on their liveaboard, and did he want to join me since there was space for him too??!! He couldn't believe it. I couldn't believe it. It seemed the stars had aligned for us to go together.
With only 2 hours to go before the transfer to the boat left Phuket, it was a mad dash about town to get laundry, and get packed. My hotel charged me for a half-night, but I didn't care: I felt like a 10 year old on Christmas Morning. I was going diving for 4 nights and 5 days....and I got to have my very own DiveMaster as a dive buddy!
Well, I'm out of time, so I will finish writing about my liveaboard trip till tomorrow.