Koh Phi Phi Don (Phi Phi Island) is a beautiful small island which has a vibrant, young nightlife and fantastic beaches. However staying here will come at a price. There are crowds, everything is more expensive and the Thai smile is seen less and less. However, Phi Phi remains a must-see destination and provided you know which area is best for eating, sleeping and partying, having fun on Koh Phi Phi should be easy.
What exactly is Koh Phi Phi?
Pronounced as Ko Pee Pee, Ko Phi Phi is an archipelago of six islands set in between Phuket and the Krabi mainland in Southern Thailand. It is around a one hour flight from Bangkok to Phuket or Krabi and you take the ferry from those towns. There are several ferries a day from both locations which take less than 2 hours. Only one island has accommodation, and this island is called Koh Phi Phi Don. Phi Phi Don is 8 km in length and 3.5 km wide so is actually pretty small. It looks breathtaking as you approach from the sea. Pure white sand framed by dramatic cliffs and surrounded by water that’s a beautiful shade of turquoise. Most of its 28 square kilometres is forested hills, while its edges are fringed with white sandy beaches and tall limestone cliffs.
The 2 famous bays of Koh Phi Phi
A long flat sandy strip connects the mountainous east and west of the island, scalloped into the much photographed double bays of Ton Sai and Loh Dalum. (or Ao Ton Sai and Ao Loh Dalum as they are also called)
One side of this scallop is Ton Sai Bay, where the pier is and where most boat activity happens. If you think about all the food and hotel supplies that must be shipped in, you can imagine how busy this beach is. There are some nice restaurants here though and it is still pretty. Between the 2 beaches is the busy Ton Sai Village, where most of the hostels and cheaper accommodations are, plus there are tonnes of shops. Walking through the alleyways takes you to Lo Dalam beach, the other scalloped bay, a pretty area, and the island’s main party scene.
Getting to Koh Phi Phi
Ferries leave from Phuket and Krabi daily (from Krabi three ferries a day at 09:00, 13:30, and 15:00 and from Phuket at 09:00, 11:00, and 14:30 (11:00 during high-season only). Tickets can be purchased online or from most local hotels and tourist offices or down at the port. If you buy in advance a minivan will take you from your hotel to the port.
I hear Koh Phi Phi is ruined?
All the islands of Koh Phi Phi are technically part of a Marine National Park, but the millions of visitors have taken a toll over the years. 25 years ago there was one boat a week to the island and only a few dozen tourist bungalows. Now there are more than 150 hotels/resorts and 15 hostels. However, although it is crowded, it is not as developed as Koh Samui or Phuket and there are no lady bars or stripper poles which is a major bonus for a lot of people. Having fun on Koh Phi Phi is not seedy like other destinations.
In 2013 the island’s visitor arrival numbers were 2.5 million for that year, including day-trippers and since this is a national park, for the main island there is clearly a lack of a sustainable plan which worries many. So when you are there, treat this lovely little island with a bit of respect and put your cans, plastic and cigarette butts in the bins. With a bit of politeness, you will also see the Thai smile, which has been lost by some of the weary island workers. Some of the most famous bars and restaurants before the Tsunami of 2004 have been rebuilt and are still the most famous today which makes a lot of people very proud too.
Ton Sai Village
Ton Sai village is FULL to the brim with guesthouses, hotels, bars, restaurants, tailors, tattoo shops, travel agents, ATMs, mini-marts and many stalls. There are some lovely jewellery and handmade clothes to be found – all overpriced of course, but fabulous. Shopping can be really fun. Tourists are loudly touted diving trips, places to stay and eat and it can all get a bit much but it can also be fun too. From this village, you can book many activities including rock climbing, fishing, diving, snorkeling, island hopping and cliff jumping.
The ultimate party beach Lo Dalam
Once the sun sets on the island, the volume gets turned up, and the main area of the island becomes a young and silly party playground offering some awesomely entertaining events such as live music and fire shows. Follow the crowds down to the beach and get involved with the music, the cocktails and also the famous alcohol-fueled buckets which are great for sharing. Fire shows happen nightly and never cease to be wonderful. Many of the young Thai guys have been honing their craft for years so it’s really impressive most of the time. There is also lots of nightlife in other areas around the 2 bays, a few up in the hills and in the village too.
Should I go to Koh Phi Phi?
Along with the full moon party on Koh Phangan, Phi Phi Island, is one of the most talked about places in Southeast Asia for those under 30. With its natural beauty and reputation for great beach parties, it has put itself firmly on the tourist trail. If you don’t plan to sleep until 4 am then stay wherever you like, but if you want to sleep quietly read the reviews of places first and try the lovely places nestled up in the hills. You can do 5-star seclusion too but that’s for another blog.
Limestone cliffs, turquoise waters, white sand beaches and miles of trackless forest make Phi Phi a perfect tropical island. Overcrowding and over drinking in the main areas sometimes causes an unusually aggressive atmosphere for Thailand but keep your wits about you, keep smiling and you will love it.
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All images courtesy of Flickr.com. Featured image by Don Kullez, cloudy photo from viewpoint by Gregg Knapp, Thai Sangsom Bucket by Leah Gregg and Tonsai Bay by Fabio Achilli1