When I found the book "The Beach" in a second hand bookstore in Penang it seemed an appropriate read since it's set in Thailand and that was the next destination on my trip (and it was also more appealing then the Mills and Boon books which the shop seemed to specialise in). It's the tale of "paradise found ... and lost" according to the blurb. The story is a new take on the classic "Lord of the Flies", based around a group of "travellers" who despise the development tourism brings and discover a beautiful tropical island off southern Thailand. They create a secret community on the island but when the secret gets out they turn on each other and their paradise is lost forever.
I visited Maya Bay in southern Thailand, where the movie "The Beach" was filmed. It was beautiful but just like the sentiments in the book, I couldn't help feeling the place had been spoiled because it was overrun by package tourists (myself included). It would have been picturesque if not for the dozens of speedboats and longtails lining the shore. However, I could still appreciate the beauty of the place, as well as the nearby island of Kho Phi Phi, south of Phuket.
On the island of Koh Phi Phi by day you can dive (I saw turtles!!), snorkel, swim and kayak. By night you can eat, drink buckets of thai whiskey (yes, buckets ... no responsible service of alcohol here), sit in a bar and watch friends pummel each other in a muay thai ring (after numerous buckets) or sit on the beach marvelling at the fire twirling shows. You can do all this while meeting interesting people from all over the world. In the end I couldn't quite decide whether it was despite, or because of all the "tourists" or "travellers" that I loved this place but I thought it was pretty close to paradise.
A quick word on the Full Moon Party ...
Take about 15 to 20-thousand people from all over the world, put them on a beach on a beach in Thailand during full moon, give them buckets of alcohol, music and some rather dangerous activities (a beer slide and fire skipping rope to name a couple) and it makes for one rather crazy night. With a group of great people from the US, England, Scotland and Oz we drank, we sang, we danced, we laughed, we ate (best chicken sandwich and chips EVER), we watched the sunrise, we suffered and we recovered (eventually). It was a memorable night!