Have been on the island of Koh Lipe for three days now. I haven't written about it yet as there are a lot of lotuses to be eaten here. Koh Lipe is miles out in the Andaman Sea and is the largest isle of an archipelago of small, one palm-tree type islands. Back home, everyone has adopted the habit of leaving unwanted books on the windowsills of their houses. A couple of days before we left, we went out and found a selection of books, in both English and French sitting outside our neighbour, Emma's house. Like magic, there were two copies of the 'Guide Routard,' Millie's tour guide of choice. One was for Thailand, the other for Cambodia. They were from 2013.
On the way to Koh Lipe
Snorkelling from a boat.
Things change fast in this part of the World, but we figured they would be new enough to find useful addresses of guest houses, local attractions and restaurants. Only up to a point, it transpired. Earlier in the year, I met a German lady, Francesca, in Pi in Northern Thailand. She had been there the previous year and was somewhat taken aback by how much it had already changed. The same proved to be the case here. According to the Guide Routard, the island had no cash machines and electricity was limited to a few hours per day, with one or two bars with wifi. After a seven hour boat trip, we arrived in the evening with pocketfuls of cash, to find that one of the main beaches had restaurants and bars all along it. Strolling through the main thoroughfare, 'Walking Street,' we were slightly disappointed to find that the place was heaving with tourists, with rather awful musicians (unless 'Hotel California' is one's cup of tea) and the usual tee shirt shops and tattoo parlours in abundance.
The tiny islands.
To make matter worse, we headed for the nearest restaurant, next door to where we're staying in a beautiful bamboo bungalow. The setting was lovely, with bamboo lanterns hanging from the trees in a jungle setting. The teenage waitress, as usual, was smily and friendly, but had a limited grasp of English, or any other European language for that matter. We were very hungry and the food on offer sounded great. I ordered a pork stir-fry. Maybe it was just a bad stir fry day, but I was served something which consisted of brown discs of meat with a bit of salad. If you dropped these discs onto the plate they made a sound like someone hitting the crockery with a hammer; sort of dry, heavy pork scratchings. Admittedly, Millie's choice was fine and quite copious, so I helped her out when she was unable to finish it. It wasn't the best of introductions to Koh Lipe.
The chosen breakfast bar.
The next morning, we got up early and went to look at the beach. It was absolutely fantastic. Going in the turquoise water, there were exotic coloured fish even in the shallows. Things started to look brighter. Having no choice, we breakfasted in the main touristy area and found that the food was in fact very good: wonderful seafood restaurants in abundance, displaying gigantic prawns, lobsters and fresh fish on ice. You can even get good coffee.
Millie has developed a fascination for lady-boys. She seems to be able to spot them from a distance. I'd come across them on my previous travels, but didn't realise how many there were. Most of them just look like women to me. Women, it seems are better at that sort of thing. We did some googling. It seems that the Thais, (and Cambodians), have always been more tolerant of sexual ambiguity, to the point where they are considered bringers of good luck. So, if you feel that life is giving you a raw deal, what you need is a ladyboy around to steady your Karma.
There are also a lot of Russians about. The younger ones seem no different to tourists from elsewhere, apart from their penchant for particularly hideous tattoos, but the older ones, of forty years plus are a whole different matter. Loud, obese, vulgar and with an arrogance which can only stem from a sense of insecurity. They are everything that the Thais are not. Maybe it's the Thai charm which seems to highlight their shortcomings. In a word, the South Africans of Europe.
I'm writing this at a place called 'Sunset Beach.' Every evening at a bout six the beach fills up with people armed with phones, cameras and of course, selfie sticks to watch the sunset. The normally not overpopulated beach suddenly fills up with spectators who look like adherents of some weird cult. As the sun sinks below the horizon, they frantically shoot or film every second. An American guy in one of the bars confirmed my suspicions of this phenomenon: many of the people are from large polluted cities like Beijing or Moscow. They've quite likely never seen the sunset before.
Quick. Get the selfie-stick.