True to their word, the maxi-taxi driver picks us up on time and delivers us to Phuket Port where we ferry across under stormy skies towards the dramatic looking island peeking out from the mist.
Noisy, crazy-looking long-tail boats motored by reconditioned car engines mounted on a block with a long pole connected to a propeller, carrying fishermen and tourists weave their way around the ferry as we come in to dock just under two hours later in a beautiful crystal water bay and steep jungle covered cliffs; the colours are amazing.
A local takes us under his wing on arrival and guides us to the Tropical Garden Hotel; bungalows nestled on a lush tree-filled hill with butterflies and sweet smelling tropical flowers whose heady, lingering scent follows us as we walk past the swimming pool and into our cute little abode. We head off to explore the ramshackle, labyrinthine streets filled with food stalls, markets, tattoo parlours and dive schools tucked in to every nook and cranny.
The town has a sleepy feel to it; it’s the off season, prices are low and we feel lucky to experience the magical island without having to share it with thousands of other tourists that it looks like the place is geared up for. There are spectacular fire shows every night on the main beach, where the lithe locals spinning poi and fire sticks to the thumping music entice punters to stop and drink and stare a while. The most popular drinks are ‘buckets’ filled with ice, liquor, mixer and a shot of pure Red Bull concentrate that by the looks of the happy faces all around seem to do the trick.
We hire a long-tail boat and pilot for the day who takes us out to Koh Phi Phi Leh (famous after the movie The Beach was filmed there) where if you are able to turn a blind eye to the thousands of other tourists and way too much litter floating around, the stunning beaches, snorkelling and swimming in bright turquoise water is a real treat.