Like in many international schools, Singapore American School offers students a short school holiday midway through the first semester. So in mid-October we decided to join our friends Mike and Tara and their three kids on a boat trip floating around Thailand. We flew to Phuket, where we met up with the crew of Merdeka for our five-day cruise around the Phi Phi Islands.
Despite heavy seas and incessant rain the first two days, we started diving right away. The three certified divers–me, Mark, and Mike–set out with one divemaster, while the newbies tried out some trial dives with the other dive instructors. The three boys decided to complete their diving certifications during the trip. When I certified in 2006 I did my very first training in a swimming pool; these boys walked out to the beach and did their training dives in shallow water with palm trees and cliffs in the background. Not so bad!
The weather cleared up by the end of day two, and we even started to see the sun peek out. Our divemaster Sharky pointed out Maya Bay on Phi Phi Ley, the island that was the filming location of the 2000 Leonardo DiCaprio film The Beach. I remember hearing about the huge number of tourists that flocked to that island after the film came out and the environmental devastation that the crowds brought. The crowds, boat traffic, and trash left behind were bad enough, and Sharky said that coral in the bay was largely killed off by the chemical sunscreen leaching from the visiting, swimming masses.
Thanks to efforts by the Thai government, the bay shows signs of gradual recovery. Thailand’s government closed the island to visitors in 2018, expecting the closure to last only four months. The extra three years due to the covid-induced pause in tourism gave the replanted coral even longer to establish itself, and strict regulations limit the number of visitors per day and ban swimming.
We stopped at Phi Phi Don, an island full of backpackers, restaurants, and trinket shops. We enjoyed the chance to grab a meal off the boat, and a few of us trekked up to the view overlooking the twin bays of Tonsai and Loh Dalum.
On our way to the airport we stopped for lunch at a nearby Marriott resort; we all agreed that it looked like the perfect spot for a quick weekend visit to just sit poolside and stare out at the ocean for a day or two. Only a two-hour flight from Singapore, Phuket definitely merits a return visit.