It’s only 8.30am on a Thursday morning, but already the five large ferries, docked three abreast at Rassada Pier in Phuket Town, are full with passengers.
Hundreds of expectant tourists form this formidable friendly invasion force, heading for the two islands of Phi Phi, those small and fragile natural jewels all on their own in the pristine Andaman Sea.
Judging by the languages I hear around me on the boat ride over, today hordes of Chinese, Russian and French visitors, all in assorted beach gear, are ready for sun and sea.
They all disembark en masse onto the narrow jetty at Phi Phi Don, the larger of the two islands, before streaming into the narrow lanes of the holiday village already packed with tourists.
The beach is lined by longtail boats; a couple of them are already noisily reversing with their passengers on board, escaping to a less-crowded stretch of sand on the other side of the island.
Meanwhile, sleek speedboats power in with more visitors, their row of large outboard engines revving.
Blond Scandinavian men sit, somewhat bored, in the many dive shops near the beach, ready to teach people how to dive down to see the richness of the coral reefs under the crystal clear water.
Signs on almost all hotels and guesthouses read “FULL.” It is after all high-season on Phi Phi. In the fierce afternoon heat, the many air-conditioned convenience stores offer cool respite for passersby.
On a rough field, against a striking backdrop of lush green hills, teams of young men compete in a football championship, with much laughter and cheering. Village life goes on after work is done.
Just offshore, a particularly eye-catching longtail wooden boat, built of thick old exposed timber, waits to take other villagers home. It’s has been a long day for them too, catering to the international tourists who bring in a daily baht bonanza for the islanders.
Back onshore, a troupe of wiry young men limber up and twine cotton strips around their hoops and twirling sticks ready to be lit for their fire dancing and juggling, once the sun dips below the horizon.
In the glow of sunset, viewed from the deserted curving end of the beach I find myself in, the bright lights and flags of the throbbing tourist village in the near distance sit in contrast with the blue-green steep timbered cliffs.
A couple of swimmers float in the warm sea, now turned bright red by the sunset.
I wonder, what was this island like before it was developed?
Why in the world have visitors come here in such numbers? And have they all found what they were seeking? So many questions to answer.
Meanwhile, Phi Phi settles down to relax for the evening. It needs its rest, for tomorrow is another busy day.
Getting there: Passenger ferries leave at 8.30am and at 1.30pm for Phi Phi from Rassada Pier southeast of Phuket Town.
Costs vary but expect to pay about B600 for a return ticket. While good accommodation can be found on arrival, it’s best to book ahead during high season.