A 50km boat ride from Phuket, Thailand gets you to large brown rocks sticking out of a greenish blue ocean. Rumour has it that this formation hides what is arguably the best beach in the World. Ko Phi Phi is a group of islands comprising of Ko Phi Phi Don, Ko Phi Phi Leh and a couple of other islands that don’t amount to anything more than large brown rocks sticking out of a greenish blue ocean. Just to put things in perspective, the largest island Phi Phi Don is too small to have any roads and so cars don’t exist here. Walking anywhere on the island takes a breezy 10 minutes and wheelbarrows form the only means of mass transport.

Maya Bay on Phi Phi Leh came into the spotlight with the movie – ‘The Beach’. The movie was an international hit but did stir up some controversy on the island. Locals claim that palm trees were airlifted onto and off the island causing extensive environmental damage. Hollywood of course vehemently denies all such allegations. Regardless of whatever environmental damage was or wasn’t done, one clear effect that this movie has had is to have tourists flock to Ko Phi Phi as technology challenged people would flock to an iPhone5 launch.

Maya Bay, Ko Phi Phi Leh

Even if Maya Bay was at some stage the best beach in the world, the overflowing speedboats endlessly zipping in and out of the bay, ensures that it’s far from the serene beach we saw in the movie. Fortunately there’s more on offer. Sign up for any of the dive or snorkeling trips and you’re sure to visit exotic beaches that will give you everything you’ve ever wanted from a beach, and more – white sand, blue water, breath-taking cliffs, leopard sharks, green turtles, etc etc. And once you’ve had you fill, sit back, relax and enjoy the beautiful sunset.

All this hard work definitely helps with the appetite. If you’re looking for a ticket to culinary heaven, Thai food is the way to go. But you already know that. For those willing to take a walk on the wild side, Ko Phi Phi’s Viking Cave is famous for one of the most expensive animal products consumed by humans – edible birds nests. Cave swifts build their nests out of saliva during the mating season. These birds’ nests are harvested and cooked into a soup that is a delicacy in Chinese cuisine. White birds nests retail at $2,000 per kilo with red nests selling for as much as $10,000 per kilo.
Viking Cave

A friend informed me that my holiday in Koh Samui coincided with the annual island marathon, so I had little choice but to run the half marathon (no full marathon heroics this time). The registration was a breeze and I got done within 30 mins after having caused my fair share of confusion when I refused the questionable registration freebies. The entire island seemed to be buzzing with running talk and for the first time in 8 years, I spotted Kenyans in South East Asia. Whoa. This could only mean that the marathon had a cash prize. A friendly jambo-habarigani-kwaheri (hello-howareyou-goodbye) later, I was off on my pre-race day 5km test run, which confirmed what I’d suspected – I was out of form, a beer belly was on its way in, and it was too hot to run. Just the way I like it.

The race kicked off at 6am and I killed time until then by answering fellow runners’ questions about my shoes (I run in Vibram Five Fingers). I snapped out of zombie mode when I noticed that most of the runners had overtaken me within the first 100m of the race. Several glances at my watch confirmed that I was on target with a 12kmph speed. This meant that I was either going to finish the marathon last or first. Fortunately for my self esteem it turned out that most of the runners were running their first half marathon and had shot out of the blocks, all guns blazing.

The thing about U-turn half marathons is that the first half is always more difficult because you know that every step you take, (every move you make, every smile you fake, la la la) is going to have to be retraced. Despite severe motivational issues at the halfway point, I managed to keep going and wound up with a half decent 1 hour 44 minute finish.

3 Tips for Your First Half-Marathon

1) Keep your cool – Just like the Koh Samui half marathon, many newbie runners lose the plot at the starting line. It’s extremely easy to dash the first 100m and then when you’re gasping for breath, realize that you’ve got 20km more to go. Don’t be that person. Take the first 2 kms easy as you warm up and get stuck into your stride. You can always speed up at the halfway point in case you realize that you’ve got some extra fuel in the tank. Your first goal should be to finish the half and not to break Kenyan records.

2) Go easy on the water – Surprising as it may seem, more runners die from hyper-hydration (or water intoxication) than from dehydration. We’ve been conditioned to understand that running induces sweat and sweating dehydrates. However, drinking tons of water doesn’t replenish the lost salt. Excessive water consumption further dilutes the salt levels in the body and causes a drop in performance. In extreme cases it can also lead to death with women being more susceptible than men. The amount of water you should drink depends on how much water your body loses per hour and this varies from person to person. If you consume more that 600mL per hour, you’d better be know what you’re doing.

2) Carry a snack – Running requires energy. And after you’ve been on the move for 90 mins, the sugar in your blood becomes important since your body has used up all the muscle glycogen reserves. Consuming carbs and sugars on your run will prevent your body from running out of fuel and will improve your performance. Possibilities include chocolate, sports drinks, fruits, energy gels, etc. I usually carry along a bar of snickers on my long runs. Try and consume around 100 cal after an hour of running and then 100 cal every 40-45 mins after that and you will survive.

In and Around Koh Samui

The 3 sister islands of Koh Samui, Koh Tao and Koh Phangan are World famous for their white sand beaches, full moon parties and the beautiful dives. My Koh Phangan dive was the best I’ve had in my short diving career (20 dives) and for this reason alone, if you’re a diver, Koh Phangan should be on the top of your list. If you’re not a diver, you can always just chill on the beach and enjoy a breath taking sunset.