This is a guest post by Sean Ogle.
When you think of dangerous islands, you might think of earthquake-prone and poverty-stricken Haiti. Or maybe it’s Australia, with its deadly spiders and snakes. Or perhaps it’s someplace even more remote, like the jungle wilderness of Borneo. Yet there is an island out there that is far more dangerous and far less obvious. That island is Ko Phi Phi off the coast of Thailand.
Ko Phi Phi is one of Thailand’s most famous islands. It’s one of the biggest tourist destinations in the country and is where the movie The Beach was filmed. Every year, thousands of people flock to this island to relax in the sun, swim in the ocean, and dive the surrounding reefs. But despite its international reputation as being a world-class travel destination, for many young travelers it can often be the most dangerous place they visit on their trip through Southeast Asia. What makes Ko Phi Phi so dangerous?
Two words: buckets and fire.
For those of you unfamiliar with the Thai bucket, it’s a combination of Red Bull, Thai whiskey, and Coke or Sprite. It gets its name from the small sand pails in which they are served and is a staple on the Thai tourist trail.
My personal bucket-and-fire story started seemingly harmlessly enough, with a burning rope landing on my foot. Originally, I thought nothing of it. I cleaned it up and took care of it. Yet three weeks later when I had an infection half an inch deep and was forced to make my first visit to a Thai hospital, I realized it was more than nothing.
Others get it much worse, getting mangled on flaming jump ropes or falling on top of fiery limbo sticks. I saw one British guy forcefully removed from the activities because he was too drunk to feel the constant burns he was inflicting upon himself with the rope.
The combination of buckets and the fire antics that take place at beach bars such as Ibiza and Apache put inebriated travelers in a position to have the best nights they’ll never remember, yet leave them with scars that will never let them forget the nights they spent on Ko Phi Phi.
On any particular night you can head down to any of these beach bars around 10pm and find an exciting display of poi fire dancers, fire jump-ropers, and even a fire limbo. You watch in awe as you sip on your first drink, wondering how anyone could possibly have the nerve to participate in such an acrobatic display of fire mastery. The Thais doing these moves seem to be masters at it, catching balls of fire thrown at them from across the beach. They have real talent.
However, as the night wears on, something begins to change. The locals begin to invite tourists to participate in a little jump-roping, promising to go slow, and always ensuring you that you won’t get hurt. Yet as the night wears on, the audience gets more excited, more drunk, and more daring. They want to go faster and sometimes two at a time. As they get drunker, their reflexes slow down — and that’s when people get hurt.
As the alcohol continues to flow, the fire seems to disappear, as you show off your flexibility and ability to dive head first into the flames. The next day, it seems like everywhere you look in Phi Phi, travelers have bandaged arms or heads. They’re on crutches or perhaps have a couple casts on various appendages. After your first night on the island, you’ll understand where those came from.
The time I spent on Phi Phi was among the best I’ve had in Thailand. I loved the beaches and the people I met. Yet it’s important to be aware of what goes on there and not to be influenced by your friends or your nightly “liquid courage.”
[Matt’s note: I did not like Ko Phi Phi.]
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