The island looked stunning as we cruised around to Sunset Beach. By far the prettiest place I’d ever seen. My heart soared as the white sandy beach came into view. It sank just as rapidly when I jumped off the boat and ran up the beach to a modest-looking resort. 20 quid a night for a bungalow? A full day’s budget merely on accommodation? This was going to be a Merry Xmas, alright. Sat inside eating a packet of Turkey And Stuffing flavour crisps by candlelight, waiting for the Ghost Of Christmas Past to turn up and mock me. I dumped my bags back on the beach and weighed up my options. Swimming away not being one of them, unfortunately. The place looked very touristy, lots of families. My diving instructor back home had been here 2 years before, and had described a chilled-out tropical paradise of divers and hippy travellers. The Rough Guide had said “something of a maverick backpacker’s frontier” Sounded great, and I’d been looking forward to getting here since I landed in Asia. Now I wished I’d stayed on Phayam. There’s nothing maverick about middle-aged blokes sat on the beach in a pair of Budgie-Smugglers, reading John Grisham novels. But no use crying over spilt travelling funds…just get on with it, Crawford. Could be worse; stuck in freezing London, wondering where your next freelance job is coming from.
I squinted up the beach and saw a familiar name. Forra Diving. This is where Ian took his Divemaster training. I staged up the beach in the unforgiving sun, and introduced myself to the dreadlocked (don’t start) fella there. His name was Mark, and he remembered Ian. He kindly offered to let me leave the gear there and marked out a few cheaper places on the map; said things had changed here a lot in 2 years; development had accelerated due to tourists being funnelled down here in the immediate years after the tsunami.
So I had a wander about. The main concrete path through the island leads you to Sunrise Beach. Less populated, and much cheaper. I found a nice hut, haggled down to 9 quid a night and paid for 3 upfront. There were less boats here, too. Despite the beauty of Lipeh, there isn’t a moment’s peace on the beach; the constant put-put-put-PUTPUTPUT of longtails shatters the silence every couple of minutes at best. I headed back for the bags, noting a couple of cheap places to eat, frequented by locals, along the way.
Once unpacked, I went off for a swim. 80 yards to the beach. I can put up with this; especially with the water being so tepid. It’s so clear that you can see your feet when you’re neck-deep. Or the yellow stream from your shorts when you take a leak.