Blessed to be a witness

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Saturday, 28th May

Such a perfect day

Yesterday was our day off, and I can pretty confidently say that it was amongst the best days of my life.

We had arranged with a few people the night before to take a longtail boat over to Maya Bay on next-door Phi Phi Leh, which is where The Beach was filmed. The idea had occurred to a great number of people, and so we arrived at the departure point to find a very large crowd of people, so a convoy of longtails set out across the bay and into the straits between the islands. We rounded the back of the huge green-fronded limestone cliffs of Phi Phi Leh to find that it is completely flat at the back - a cross-section of an island. Dotted around the cliffs were bamboo poles that the locals use to harvest swifts' nests to sell to the Chinese for bird's nest soup. I really wouldn't fancy doing that job - the cliffs are sheer, the water deep and the nests are high - but apparently it's very profitable.

We then turned into a gap between the cliffs and entered a little fjord-like bay, at the end of which is Maya Beach, which was used for the film. A lot of the sand had been swept away by the tsunami, but there was enough space to walk on it. And what a blissful place. The weather was stunning, the sand soft, the scenery awe-inspiring, the beer cool, and the company great. The afternoon was immediately enlivened by one of the girls getting a jellyfish sting, and in the absence of any vinegar, I stepped up to the mark and peed into a beer can. The poor girl then went down to the water and poured my pee all over her arm and leg. The terrible thing was that it did no good. Insult to injury.

I snorkelled over to where I thought there was coral, but the current was quite strong and I didn't fancy my fitness levels were high enough to get back if I went out too far. Then I joined a couple of the Jackass crew, and general water-based mayhem ensued. Dunking unsuspecting paddlers was the first gambit, then grabbing participants and flipping them head over heels into the water. This went on for hours and hours, and I'm proud to say that twice I executed a perfect 360° back somersault off the hands of those launching me.

M went for a walk into the interior valley of the island, and one of the Austrian girls showed her "Protection Force Five". Near a block of toilets that had been built for the film crew, and left for the benefit of tourists, was a policeman asleep in a hammock. He is the entirety of Protection Force Five, posted there because Phi Phi Leh is a national park. They giggled at the vaingloriousness of his title, and gave him a cold beer from the icebox, and he was absolutely delighted.

Later we had a wheelbarrow race up the beach, and I found that I've regained enough strength in my arms to be able to do handstands again, and even managed to walk on my hands down the beach for a few steps. Eventually, after four hours of absolute stupid childish pleasure, the shadows from the cliffs started to creep their way up the beach, and we sadly had to board the longtails to return before we lost the tide and the light. As ever, ours broke down temporarily, but thankfully we were in a convoy so weren't in any danger of drifting around the Andaman Sea, at least not this time.

That's me at the back waving a can of Heineken. M is to my right.

We attended the volunteers' meeting in high spirits, then went for a bite to eat, where we idly speculated on whether or not we should buy the still-shut Irish pub in Ton Sai, revamp it, and live here for the rest of our lives. Then back to Hippies once again to watch the fire show, the patter for which we now know by heart: "All right guys, we love to play fire but we didn't get paid. We not professional beggars, but we'll pass a hat round and if you could show your appreciation by giving one hundred, two hundred baht, that would be great."

I dived into the pool to get the sand out of my ears and nose, and then we went to bed relatively early, with big smiles on our faces. Unfortunately I was plagued by tsunami nightmares all last night - something that a lot of people experience here - but the day before was simply divine, and Phi Phi Leh is without a shadow of a doubt the most beautiful place I have ever seen.

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