The Ultimate Guide to Koh Phi Phi
The largest and the most famous island in the Krabi province, Koh Phi Phi island is a paradise for all beach goers and party makers. The island is a perfect combination of clear blue waters and a vibe that makes all your worries go away in a jiffy. Essentially, all the islands of Thailand are mostly scattered around the south of the country.
Koh Phi Phi is located perfectly between one of the most famous destinations of Thailand, Phuket, and the west Strait of Malacca.
Most would think Koh Phi Phi is a single island, but actually it’s a group of many, of which Koh Phi Phi Don and Koh Phi Phi Lee are the most famous. While the former is the most visited island of the group, the latter also sees its share of visitors.
Other islands which form the Koh Phi Phi islands include Ko Mai Phai also known as the Bamboo Island, Koh Yung also known as Mosquito Island (Yung in Thai means Mosquito), Bida Nok, and Bida Noi.
The islands of Koh Phi Phi is surrounded by the Andaman waters.
Phi Phi is believed to be one of the most beautiful islands in the world. The islands are actually a part of a marine National Park – Had Nopparattara – Koh Phi Phi National Park.
The islands house some of the most beautiful and exquisite corals, Limestone Mountains and cliffs, caves, stretch of white sandy beaches, and the most spectacular beach life.
The major population in the islands (approximately 80%) consists of Muslims, which is why, it is mostly advised to maintain a bit of decency while dressing up.
As most of us already know, the islands of Koh Phi Phi gained its limelight after it was used as one of the locations for the highly famous British-American movie The Beach (2000).
The islands of Koh Phi Phi suffered a catastrophic loss after Tsunami hit the islands in December 2004, however, most of it, but not all, has been restored since then.
The islands only have two seasons – the hot season which lasts from end of January to April, and the monsoon season which begins in May and goes on until December. The rains aren’t constant but for shorter periods and are generally in the form of heavy showers. These factors do not stop the crowd from visiting the islands in huge numbers. After all, it’s the beaches and no one is coming here to stay dry!
It is a little surprising but the islands of Koh Phi Phi are considered amongst one of the oldest communities of Thailand. Records state that the islands have existed since the prehistoric era.
As mentioned before, Phi Phi Don is the largest and the busiest in the group of 6 islands that constitute Koh Phi Phi which makes it obvious that most tourist attractions and activities are scattered around this island. The island in itself is a piece of haven for beach goers and is also considered as one of the most fantastic islands in the world.
Though the beaches aren’t as secluded and fascinating as they were once, the islands still manage to capture hearts and make it to most bucket-lists.
Some of the most popular things to see and do around Phi Phi Don are:
As the name suggest, it is a viewpoint and thus perfect for sunrises and sunsets. Approximately, 185 m above sea level, you can see the whole island from here. There is only one shop at this level selling snacks and cold drinks (no beer). The walk up to the view is very steep and takes around 15-30 minutes depending upon your level of fitness. There is a nominal entry fee of around 30 Baht. There are many large boulders scattered around the top where you can stretch your muscles after the strenuous climb at the same time taking in the gorgeous view of the islands. Although, if for any reason you cannot make the climb to the viewpoint, your next best option is the Banana bar which is not only Koh Phi Phi’s only rooftop bar but also it gives you the chance of sipping your favourite cocktail while you soak yourself in the surroundings.
I will never personally visit this beach (I don’t like monkeys so much as they scare me a bit) but if you are interested, the beach can be reached on foot or you can rent a canoe. You can also hire a long tail boat. Be careful as not to feed, tease, or poke the monkeys as they can be really aggressive at times. Also, do not carry food items (or camera or wallet or anything) loosely in your hands as the may try to snatch them.
Tsunami Memorial Garden
This can get a tad bit emotional but it is worth visiting and paying your respects to the victims of the cataclysmic Asian Tsunami of December 2004 that washed away and destroyed a major part of the islands.
Located south of Ton Sai, the beach offers some spectacular landscape and exquisite corals. Though not too big in size, the beach is often packed with tourists, accommodations, and events, which may be a turn off if you had ‘peace and quiet’ in mind. It’s within a walkable distance from Ton Sai (like every place else) but you can hire a long tail boat if you are feeling lazy.
Although a separate beach, Lanti is the next door neighbour of Yao and is almost similar in all regards.
Ton Sai Bay
Not the same as Ton Sai near Ao Nang, the beach is where all the actions takes place. Streams of restaurants and bars, countless hotels and guesthouses, and all the major actions take place. Though it is not the most stunning place in the islands, it still is highly impressive.
This is one of my favourite bits of the attractions on the islands. Look out especially for Hippie’s, Apache Bar, Carpe Diem, and the Tia and Millie Sunflower Bar for some amazing fire show surprises!
The second biggest and popular of the islands is Phi Phi Lee (Leh). Though it is as exquisite and beautiful as Phi Phi Don, if not less, the island remains mainly uninhabited because it is a national park. This means that even though Phi Phi Lee isn’t really where you expect loud music bustling down streets and people drunk in the island vibes, you can definitely expect some amazing attractions and photo opportunities.
Phaya Naak Cave
The cave is full of prehistoric paintings and edible-nest swiftlets, although only some of them can be visited.
This is where The Beach was shot and hence, this is the most popular spot of Koh Phi Phi and also the most stunning one. Arguments have been made about the adverse effects that the extreme exposure had on the island but there are many supporters to the cause as well. There isn’t any coral left on the bays and very few fish. There is a jumping spot though in one of the creeks and a small cliff next to it which can provide some climbing opportunities. You can hire a long tail boat for a half a day to visit the bay and expect to around 1500 baht. Many recommend reaching the bay early in the morning that give you a perfect chance to view the sunrise and also cherish the beautiful surrounding before the place starts packing with tourists. The bay can be heavily crowded during high season but otherwise it is calmer and quitter. Off lately, the park rangers have started levying a 100 Baht entrance fee for the national park but this seems to happen mainly if you arrive in a long tail boat.
Other places of importance around Koh Phi Phi include the Mosquito Island and Bamboo Island.
The island of Koh Phi Phi has plenty to offer in terms of adventure water sports. Luckily, the Tsunami didn’t affect the dive sites around the island and thus, they are still a great choice for divers.
Bida Nok and Bida Noi are popular for diving activities as both offer gorgeous corals in abundance along with other striking marine life such as turtles and leopard sharks. The latter also gives you a good chance of spotting black tip reef sharks!
Wang Long is highly popular for its underwater cave systems but is only recommended for seasoned divers.
One of the most popular diving attractions of Koh Phi Phi is the King Cruiser wreck which claims the ruins of a passenger ship which sank in 1997 after it hit the Anemone reef. Anemone reef itself is a spectacular diving site between the islands of Koh Phi Phi and Phuket with a gigantic limestone peak 30 metres from the seabed. As the name suggests, the reef is full of eye-catching anemones school of fish. Expect to spot snappers, colourful clown fish, tuna, occasional leopard shark, and barracuda.
Other activities that can be enjoyed on the islands are snorkelling, yoga, rock climbing, kayaking, cliff jumping, bird watching, fishing and camping, and sailing and cruising.
Tonsai Pier, located in the north of Phi Phi Don, is the main pier of the island and hence, the busiest. There are daily ferries to the island from Phuket, Ao Nang, Rai Leh (via Railay Bay), Krabi Town, and Koh Lanta. In the high season, there are as many as four daily services from Krabi to Phi Phi. It takes about 90 minutes and between 250-300 baht for a one-way trip to the islands.
The number of services may reduce during off season. It is suggested to check the internet or a local travel agency for correct prices and time tables.
Most travel agencies will offer to pick you up from you hotel/accommodation as the ferry port is around 5km out of the main town.
The ferry service between Phuket and Koh Phi Phi takes around the same time and costs around 350 to 400 baht and mostly include pick-up from your accommodation.
The number of daily ferry service depends on the tourist season, however, is mostly the same as Krabi.
There are two boat services daily from Koh Lanta to Koh Phi Phi and three boat services to return to Koh Phi Phi. A one-way boat fare costs approximately 350 Baht and takes the same time as Krabi and Phuket.
You can buy all-inclusive tour packages to Koh Phi Phi from Phuket.
Most of these packages include a day trip to the islands combined with activities such as snorkelling and scuba diving, buffet lunch, transport to and from your hotel (depends on the tour organiser and the package).
The low-end tours usually carry 25-30 passengers on a 2-engine speedboat and around 35-40 on a 3-engine speedboats. It is advised to book directly at the tour agency as it is easy to negotiate and can at times give you a 50% off on the actual price as featured on the websites.
The closest airport to the islands of Koh Phi Phi are Phuket and Krabi International Airport.
Though in terms of service and connectivity, Phuket is preferred more than Krabi as the the frequency of both domestic and international flights to Phuket is much higher than Krabi, however, there are daily fight to and from Bangkok and Kuala Lumpur from Krabi as well.
Once you are at the airport, you will need to reach the pier (Rassada Pier in Phuket and Klong Jilard Pier in Krabi) to catch a ferry boat to the islands.
It is quite obvious that the islands cannot be connected directly via buses, however, you can book a train, flight, or bus to the nearest pier from where you can take a ferry to the islands. Some tour operators sell “Bus+Ferry” and “Train+Ferry” combo tickets but ensure that you have enough time to catch the ferry after you arrive at the bus station.
Koh Phi Phi has no motorised transport except for a few motorbikes with side carriages to carry goods. You can walk to almost everywhere on the island you stay at and for sightseeing and exploring other nearby islands in the group, a long tail boat is your best (and only) option.
Be very good at haggling!
Depending on how long you want the boat ride to last, an average 6-hour trip may cost you 1200-1500 Baht.
Once you arrive at the pier, you may be able to get free transport to your hotel if that is what your travel operator assured while booking the ticket but that may not happen on your way back so keep that in mind.
You can also hop on to one of the many long tail taxi boats which cost approximately 100 to 150 baht (depends on the time of the day) from Ton Sai to Long Beach.
Tip: The long tail boat rides are fun but carry earplugs as the boat engines can be really loud and harsh on your eardrums and after a while can result in headache and agitation.
Where to Stay
One of the most popular islands in the group of islands of South Thailand, Koh Phi Phi has no scarcity of accommodation options. Although compared to the other spots in the country, accommodation is relatively expensive but that still leaves the budget travellers and backpackers with plenty of options.
The prices for hotels and guesthouses double up during the tourist season.
Most doubles cost around 400 Baht.
One of the best times to visit the islands is around the Full Moon when most tourists are off to Koh Pha Ngan.
Backpackers and budget travellers can look for budget options look further east on the main street where you can find dorms and hostels.
Unfortunately, I haven’t had a personal experience staying at any of the guesthouses, hostels, or hotel here, but, as per booking.com, world’s #1 accommodation portal, and a website I highly suggest and use for all my hotel/hostel bookings, may be the best place to hunt for your accommodation in Koh Phi Phi.
I have tried to make the guide as detailed as possible so you can get all your travel questions about Koh Phi Phi answered here. And, I hope this helps. Be generous and share the post with your friends, if you think this can help someone and make their travel easier.
Note: All the prices quoted in the post are as on August, 2015. Please check for the updated prices online for any changes.