Getting voluntarily stuck in Thailand
Yeah, that is what happened to me and to many other traveler/backpackers I met on my way. I decided to go to Thailand for 3 weeks holidays and I ended up staying 6 months! The following year I went back and I stayed 7 months! This is pretty commune in Thailand actually: people, traveler getting stuck there, either because it´s so magical that they can´t leave anymore, or either because they´ve got arrested! Yep, this sound pretty bad…. but it is also part of it. Like I said, it`s very easy to fell in love with the country, but you wanna keep your behavior right and respect all rules and regulations very precisely: since the military toke over in 2014, there is no joke with tourists misbehavior regarding using, or selling and buying drugs, or even disrespecting the Thai flag and the imagine of their beloved, now gone, king! A part of that, if you behave like a good human being, you can seriously have the time of your life in that magical country! So when I went in 2014 it was my third time there, but the first that I was visiting the north: Chiang Mai and Chiang Rai, two magical places surrounded by mountains and great vegetations! This is where you breathe the real Thailand, you meet the real Thai people and you get lost around all these Buddhist temples they have everywhere and that transmit so much peace and quite to your heart and soul. I already wanted to stay there forever…. but the sandy beaches and turquoise sea crazy passion I have, made start my descent down south after 10 days spent in the quiet world of northern Thailand.
And there, peace was over….
Koh PhiPhi island before the 2004 Tsunami
I was very curious of discovering how PP had become after the tsunami hit in 2004, right one month after my vacation I had with my mother. I have to tell about this island before and after the tsunami, and it breaks my heart everytime I do that. PP in 2004 was pretty much as you´ve seen in the movie The Beach with Leonardo Dicaprio (filmed in 1999): it was wild, with no cemented streets, no hotels, but just guest houses and bungalows mainly in the jungle! people were staying in the street, sitting, laying down, chilling, selling, talking, watching the people go by. few tourists souvenirs shops and loads of nice smells of Thai food coming from every corner! I remember seeing many hippies families, western hippies family, with babies and kids living like in a hippy fairy tail from the ´60. Yes because back then you would have felt like jumping in the past: PP was authentic, paradise on earth with the most beautiful beaches and vegetation I´ve then never seen again!
Finding Koh PhiPHi 10 years after the Tsunami
October 2014 there I arrive happily on PP, 10 years after. It was almost another island… it grew three times the size it used to be, after the tsunami they started to build like crazy, but with no control! meaning cutting off most part of the jungle off the mountain and increasing the size of town that now has become modern, with shops, modern shops, modern bungalows…and many hotels! Just another spoiled tropical island thought for pleasing the tourists and bring money to the already rich investors that wanted to use the tsunami tragedy to destroy a paradise. Yes, that`s what they did, they canceled one pure paradisiac island. Everything was just too commercial, with huge sized bars and beach clubs, big hotels everywhere and it felt so awful.
Not everything was lost….
It might have been that the island was able to conserve its magical energy, and I was able to meet many interesting people, mostly western, that were living and working there and despite the tragedy of seeing the island had become a commercialized hub, they all looked so happy of living there.Then I discovered the secret: becoming friends with who they call “the locals” (the foreigner that live and work there) I was able to go to very nice places that not all the tourists would have known and discovered during their holiday, and there I felt the magic of the island again. I was with the right people in the right places, they introduced me to their island lifestyle, and I just loved it, right away! So I didn’t want to go back to Europe, no more. But I did…….. for two weeks only! Sorted out few things and flew back to my rediscovered paradise, with all my crazy happy friends were waiting for me: one dream lifestyle became reality!
Living and Working on PhiPhi island
Everything started to go very smoothly for me, looked like I had to be there for some reasons! I found a really nice, well-paid job after few days and I was making nice money while working in a super cool environment and doing what I liked most: selling! Everyone on the island work as a seller: boat trips tickets, excursions tickets, restaurants menus, diving trips……it´s all about selling! and Thai need the farang (that’s how they call the foreigner…) because we bring languages and so good ability to sell, produce money and make the business run. Have to say I was working 8 hours shift like I do in Europe, but my office had no walls and the view were palm trees, the path to take to go to work was the beach. I could have gone barefoot and with beach clothes on, the heat was always present, I never had to struggle with aircon and or uniforms! The hours were passing by without you notice them, and by putting a bit of effort, the sales could have been very good! I ended up gaining European salaries….and the currency there is very poor! Remember, there aren`t fixed salary offered, everything goes on commission, so it`s up to you to work hard and sell a lot!
The risks of working illegally on the island
So far everything sounds just like perfect, but my friend, it´s not all golden what shines…. no one of us was a legal worker on the island! we were all tourists! and immigration is very strict on illegal working people! We had to be very very careful…if they catch you, you get to jail straight away (famous horrible Thai jail…), the fine is huge, and once is paid you get deported….but sometimes they like to keep you in jail for a couple of months, even after you paid the bail…..just so you remember the lesson better! Once you get arrested, your name will go on a black list and for the next 5 years you won´t be able to enter Thailand again. The risk was worthed! Paradise place, nice jobs and easy money…so everyone was risking it! Our managers were all informed by their informers about immigration coming to the island, so we had enough time to prepare and either leave our job places or just not going. The other reality was the corrupted side of immigration: depending on which city they were coming from, some of them were just coming to collect the money for their “silence”. I once was approached by the “bad” ones while I was working and I literally run away from them!! I run like never before…escaped through the beach, tiny streets, without stopping for about 20 minutes. I panicked a little and I was scared because they saw my facebook account open and I was told they take people details and save them for future research. Nothing really happened after that, no one every came looking for me and I was able to work until the end this season and even the next one, which lasted 7 months.
A place to be forever remembered!
The human being can destroy paradise, nature can damage and destroy them too…..but sometimes are the people you meet that will make the difference in the place where you will be. I was disappointed about the new PhiPhi I found, but the people and just the energy on the island made me live a lifestyle I always dreamt about and I will always be grateful to the island and its people for the amazing opportunities and unforgettable experiences I had in my 13 months spent there. Special memories that I will always carry in my heart.