Garbage ‘n Paradise
I went to PP for the first time in 2007. This means that I saw the island during its second wave of speculation: a human induced Tsunami that irreversibly destroyed the beauty of a tropical paradise to make room for redundant resorts, restaurants, massage shops and garbage dumps.
They say that, once upon a time, Phi Phi was an archipelagos of small, quiet islands, with a bunch of Muslim fishermen living on the coast, and all the rest was jungle, monkeys, coconut plants and mosquitos. The first wave of speculation happened in the late '80s and '90s, when European 'fugitives' first discovered the beautiful uncontaminated island of Phi Phi Don (the main island). By 'fugitives' I mean a bunch of renegade Italians, Germans and French who for some reason had to leave their home countries with the hope of finding redemption elsewhere. The south of Thailand, and in particular the still virgin Phi Phi Islands, offered a fertile ground to plant a small business and start a new, more or less successful, life. Few of these individuals I met personally, one of them (an Italian businessman, ex-owner of a restaurant on Lodalum Bay) was shot dead not long ago for some business related issues. This alone gives a good picture of the type of people were inclined to start a business on PP.
Conditions were favorable for foreign investors because Thai fishermen and land owners were unaware of the kind of profit their tropical land could generate once touristically exploited. The local mafia spotted the enormous potentials instead, and in more or less legal ways they started to fill the gap between local owners and foreign businessmen wannabes. It is not easy to analyze the long chain of people connecting the foreign investor to the fisherman. In general, there is a nominal 'land owner' who gives the rights on the land to a 'contract owner' who then uses a 'mediator' which is the direct connection to the foreign tenant. The so called "key money" that one needs to pay in advance just to be able to talk to the 'contract owner' is nothing but a bribe that serves to lubricate the whole corrupted machinery, and the lubricant has to be refilled every few years just to ensure that the rights on the land are not sold to another, better-paying foreigner.
The islands became worldwide famous when some incompetent Hollywood director hired Di Caprio and decided to use Phi Phi Leh as the setting for the movie "The Beach". The film's release in 2000 was attributed to an increase in tourism to the islands. If tourism got boosted, so did the success of the existing businesses, as well as foreign interest in opening new ones. Locals were happy to see more tourists, which meant more and easier money to be made: selling coconuts, providing unprofessional massages, playing with the fire or baking fish on the beach became more popular than fishing itself. Long-tail boats became taxis from a beach to another. Growing and selling weed became extremely profitable. Everyone had his piece of cake.
Then the Tsunami hit in December 2004. Due to the flatness and low elevation of Phi Phi Don, the wave traveled the island from side to side killing a bunch of locals, a few tourists, and destroying buildings, boats and coconuts trees on its path. The total number of fatalities is unlikely to be known but the figure is estimated at around 4,000. After the Tsunami, the Thai government declared the island temporarily closed while a new zoning policy was drawn up. The deputy Prime Minister proposed an upgrade to hotels and restaurants on Phi Phi Don and a limitation to the number of tourists to "help preserve its environment" (Pinit Jarusombat, October 2005). However, many residents and land-owners opposed the plan and the proposal did not go further.
About one year later nearly 1,500 hotel rooms were open and a tsunami early warning alarm system had been installed by the Thai government. And here we are, speculation started all over again and more aggressively than it was before. The previous establishments had shown to everyone the real economic value of such a tropical pearl, so the new establishments had to optimize and exploit it to the maximum extent. Land prices became higher, as there was more demand for a piece of the cake. Survived investors took in their friends and expanded the business, land that became of nobody was claimed by neighbors and sold or rented at much higher price to redundant and competing activities.
(As a simple example: neighboring discos on the beach increase the volume of their music to prevail over one another, every meter of sand is conquered by pumping few extra watts into the system. Too bad electricity on the island is still produced by burning gasoline in a big engine.)
The result was chaos, the typical Thai type of chaos that one can experience in Patpong or Khao San Road in Bangkok, on Walking Street in Pattaya, or on Bangla Road in Phuket. Stalls in the street sell all kinds of fried food, cheap alcohol buckets, Chinese fake clothes and wood-crafts, and all around are tourist restaurants, whore bars, loud discos and massage shops – nowadays even with an explicit happy ending sign. Fxxxing over-exploited human market, cheap, smelly and crowded as hell. A visible consequence, after just a few years that I have known PP, is that the target of this cheap and shitty amusement became younger and younger. At the same time the care and respect for the tropical environment dropped dramatically. Empty bottles, glasses and buckets became the natural pavement of the beach, garbage is dumped everywhere and hardly collected by anyone but the sea, and when the sea breeze blows it is more likely to smell of the scent of decomposed food and sewage than that of ocean and jungle. And nobody cares. Long-tail boat drivers keep bothering tourists by selling Maya Bay trips, and do not realize that a clean piece of white sand will probably attract more potential customers than the smelly pile of garbage they are sitting on. I also believe that the degradation process went up exponentially. There is no need to wait years to notice it: nowadays I observe the island getting dirtier and shittier every single time I go there, which is about once a month. Every time I have the feeling that we've reached the tipping point already, after that it would be environmental collapse. But apparently nature can take much more than I would guess, and there is no bottom line to getting worse.
What really destroyed PP was not the tsunami in 2004, but the greed and incompetence of foreign investors and land owners – variously connected to the local mafia – and the total lack of environmental awareness and regulations in Thailand, together with the poor common sense of the local uneducated population. It was not a tsunami in paradise, but God's punishment to the blind degradation of what could have been a paradise but was treated like a dump. And the worst is that, men did not learn the message, they just pushed their greed further as soon as they had the chance. Save the planet? George Carlin said it well enough, "The planet is fine, people are fxxxed!" Our little blue home will survive another 4 to 5 billion years, and in less than a few thousand it will probably wash us away like leaches on a shaved dog. We are only responsible for our destiny as a species, and as far as I can see, we are failing. Humans are fundamentally inadequate to the challenge of long term survival, where "long term" implies in harmony with the surrounding nature that feeds and sustain us. Look what we've done to one of the best locations on the planet! And the case of Phi Phi is just a drop in a sea of incompetence. We will manage to spoil it all one day, like we spoiled the most of the once virgin island, make ourselves miserable and then perish. In the end, what is it worth saving about us? We are the scum of the universe with respect for nothing nor each other.
We all came from cosmic shit – the last fart of a dying star made all those elements that are so precious to our survival – and to shit we will return.
To conclude, I wrote this after having invested some money myself in an Italian restaurant on Phi Phi Don and after having been there with my whore, a flexible massage girl that I picked up in Bangla Road and I paid to spend the weekend with. I was alone at that time so was not trying to be a "sex tourist" as seem to be so popular here. She played her part perfectly, kept my cock happy for a whole long weekend, and even helped me out dealing with the personnel at my restaurant (whores usually speak better English than the average Thais). These little brown bitches are ready to do everything you ask (and pay) for. So … yes, I am a sinner of the worse kind. I exploit their land and good will, and fxxx their women for a nickel and a dime. But I still place myself above and I dare to judge them all. That's not being hypocrite, I know I deserve punishment as much as they do, I know I am the worse scum of the universe, and as such, I enjoy.
In the end, who doesn't?
I first visited Phi Phi Island in 1997 and to be honest, I wasn't that impressed then. It seemed over-developed already back then. As for the assertion that *foreign* investors have ruined Phi Phi, I disagree. I think the locals managed to do that long before foreigners got involved.