Swimming with Sharks in Thailand

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bamboo island water and boat
Bamboo Island Thailand
By Barbara Goio
I was taking my time. That’s what you do when they tell you “hurry up and  lets go swim with the sharks”. I was not at all sure that it was a good idea to get into the water with them but I let myself be persuaded.
According to the locals here on Phi Phi Don,  one of Thailand’s prettiest islands, at evening time on Shark point, when less long tail boats pass the sharks are noticeably more sociable.  People assured me that the Black tip sharks are “gentle, curious, definitely not dangerous”.
Long Beach is a beach of wonderful white sand in the southern part of Phi Phi  All you need to be happy is a diving mask and a pair of fins and you can explore Sharks Point  from the shore.
Over a few days I was lucky enough to get to see up to six sharks on each of my dives. As they passed, calm and silent, I felt an incredible thrill.
I was feeling pretty brave but then a local dive master told me that when conditions are good you could be swimming with 40 or 50 sharks all around you!
Diving is one of 5 five things you must do during your stay on the Phi Phi Islands Archipelago.
phi phi leh thailand
The other four are:
1.party all night listening to loud music (if you are young) or sleep all night listening to the
sweet noises of the jungle (this is what I did). And it’s crucial to decide first on which particular side of the Phi Phi Don Island you stay on. The choice is between partying or enjoying the peace and quiet. Be sure to read all the information about your lodge in advance and it they mention nightlife and noisy then heed the warning as it gets seriously noisy.
2. have a drink – preferably a technicoloured cocktail as you watch incredible sunsets.
3.Explore glorious uninhabited islands by long tail boat.
4. Pay your respects to Leonardo di Caprio on Phi Phi Leh Beach, a small island where “The Beach” he starred in was shot. The story of the real Beach is a tale in itself. After “The Beach”  became a huge box office success more and more tourists poured into locations where the movie was shot, especially Maya Bay in Phi Phi Leh a small island not too far from Phi Phi Don. There the cliffs plunge into emerald water with a backdrop of the mountains and the finest powder white sand. A true paradise.

By 2018 after countless tourists had walked in di Caprio’s footsteps sadly mass tourism had destroyed this heavenly spot and eighty per cent of coral died as a result of pollution. Maya Beach bay deteriorated into a dirty pond filled with plastic waste, crowded with uncaring noisy visitors, where techno music and round the clock drunkenness had replaced the sounds of lapping waves and exotic birdsong.
Thai Government finally decided that enough was enough and ordered its closure, but that had come too late for nature. Nowadays visitors can admire “The Beach” from behind a long line of floating buoys. Last year there were rumours that The Beach could be become accessible again, but wisely enough, the government decided to keep it off limits until 2021.

Other islands, like Mosquito Island, are also a nature reserve, slowly recovering from the effects of mass irresponsible tourism. Snorkelling is only permitted in certain designated places off Bamboo Island, another little gem of the Phi Phi Archipelago.
When you snorkel further out towards the open sea you find coral, fish, sea urchins and beautiful life in the deep. But close to the shore it is a underwater desert of devastation.
Locals tell you the sad truth about uncaring tourists disrespect for the islands and how many just want to jump on a fast boat, onto an island, take some selfies, jump back off on to another beach and drink beer. At the end of the day they can boast that they have visited up to half a dozen islands. Tour operators compete to offer  more beers, food, better photo settings, I learnt.
Nevertheless, if you want to walk a bit, swim with or without sharks, listen to the sounds of nature it is still possible to seek out paradise, just make sure you know where you’re headed.
Useful information:
– Phi Phi Don is the only inhabited island of the Phi Phi Group  which includes Phi Phi
Leh , Bida Nok, Bida Nai, Bamboo and Mosquito Islands.
– The best time to go is from November to May: Best avoid Christmas and New Year period,
because it’s so crowded and expensive and summer due to so much rainfall.
– The islands are accessible by boat or by ferry from Pucket, Ao Nang, Railay, and Ko Lanta.
– Ask at hotel reception to arrange a trip aboard your own personal long-tail boat.
– You’ll find accommodation catering for all tastes and pockets. Long beach is generally quieter. I was content with my cozy inexpensive bungalow on the beach which had a small restaurant nearby.
– I wanted to visit the Phi Phi Islands before visiting Thailand’s bustling capitol so I flew from Europe to Bangkok and I left my main baggage at the Suvarnabhumi Airport . You can have it sent from airport to your hotel by a local tourist agency for about 15 euros. I then flew south a with a small backpack, swimsuit, flip flops, mask, fins and a light dress for the evenings. Everything you could possibly need in Paradise!

For further information on Thailand see www.tourismthailand.org  For holidays in Thailand contact your local ITAA member travel shop. A large number of Irish tour operators sell Thailand so shop around for the best deals and combination of islands and mainland.

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