Where: Koh Phi Phi Don and Koh Phi Phi Li (a.k.a. The Beach), Thailand.
When: February/March 2009.
Why: I visited Koh Phi Phi as part of my 30th birthday adventure where I travelled from Bangkok to Singapore. Also on this journey, I visited Ayutthaya, Kanchanaburi and the Bridge over the River Kwai, Koh Samui, Phuket, Koh Phi Phi and Ao Nang (Krabi) in Thailand; and Kuala Lumpur and Malacca in Malaysia.
I initially planned to go to Koh Phi Phi for just two nights and one day, but I liked it so much I ended up staying for nearly a week.
Money, money, money, mon-ey: I was worried that there wouldn’t be anywhere to get cash on the islands, but there were a few ATMs on Koh Phi Phi Don, which took major credit cards.
I think that subconsciously, Phi Phi was always the ultimate destination of my Bangkok to Singapore journey. Once I left Koh Phi Phi I was on my way home – even though I had a week left of travelling and two more countries to go.
Koh Phi Phi was/is my island paradise. There are no cars, it rains flowers, there are kittens and monkeys everywhere, they have book shops and internet and they drink by the bucket. They also have ‘The Beach’ and the island is full of wonderful, friendly party people from across the world. I was going to stay for only one night – I ended up staying for nearly a week.
Koh Phi Phi is made up of two main islands: Phi Phi Don, which is where the hotels etc are; and Phi Phi Lei where they filmed ‘The Beach’. You can camp overnight on Phi Phi Lei, although numbers are highly restricted and you have to book a private tour to do this.
There are lots of shops, bars, restaurants and hotels on Phi Phi Don. Far from being an isolated island paradise, it’s actually a busy resort – albeit one without cars. It’s a great place to hang out for a while and just chill.
Tragically, Phi Phi Don was hit very hard by the 2006 tsunami. Because of the two horseshoe bays, the island was hit twice. When I visited in 2009, most of the island had been repaired and rebuilt. From what I understand, the rebuilding was being done in a more careful, environmentally friendly way (I could smell evidence of this near to the reed-bed sewage system which was on the way to my hotel) and some controls had been introduced to stop over-development. The island has also introduced evacuation routes and signs, in case this were ever to happen again.
I had this weird thing with Phi Phi Don in that I found it really hard to navigate and I’m usually great with directions. For some reason, the two horseshoe bays confused my sense of direction and I could never get a handle on where I was on the island. I knew how to get about, and people would guide me to the harbours, but I could never work out where I was on the map in my head or how it all fitted together. Looking at the map now, I spent most of my time on the section in between the two horse shoe bays, although I didn’t realise it at the time. This is where most of the hotels, bars, shops etc are.
I have a feeling that some people won’t like Phi Phi: that there are too many sports bars, hamburgers, drunk backpackers and tattooists, too much trash, not enough tranquility. Some people may find it over developed, but personally, I liked it. I found it to be busy and fun and exciting. I felt like I was at a secret party, that we were the last people on earth, dancing whilst storms flashed around us.
And there were monkeys and kittens.
Getting there and getting about
The only way to get to Phi Phi is by ferry from either Phuket or Ao Nang. I caught the ferry from Phuket to Phi Phi. My hostel booked it for me, so I was collected from the hostel in a mini-bus and taken directly to the boat. I think it cost me about 600 bht (£12).
According to the PhiPhi-Phuket website, the boat now costs around 500 bht (about £10) and there are four daily ferries from Phuket to Phi Phi. You can find the timetable for the Phuket and Krabi ferry at www.phiphi.phuket.com/schedule.htm.
The ferry departed from Rassada Pier in Phuket.
There are two piers in Koh Phi Phi: Tonsai and Laem Tong. I got off at Tonsai.
The ferry was packed – but full of fun people (apart from the crazy American frat-boys who annoyed everyone). The journey was beautiful and took about an hour and a half. There was a shop on board and toilets and you could sit inside or on the deck.
When we arrived in Phi Phi Don a gentleman from our hotel met us with a wheelbarrow, in which he carried all our luggage, and he led us through the maze of alleyways and shops, up to our hotel.
There are no cars on Koh Phi Phi. The islands are small enough to walk everywhere. There are lots of wide footpaths and the paths are quite well signposted.
If you are staying at one of the outlying resorts then you can hire longboats to take you to your hotel.
What I did on my holiday
Afternoon/Sunset tour of Phi Phi Lei
It was on Phi Phi Lei that the movie The Beach was filmed. Phi Phi Lei is the smaller of the two Phi Phi islands. It lies about two miles from Phi Phi Don, where all the hotels are. You can camp on Phi Phi Lei but only on an organized tour.
There are loads of tours which you can take to Phi Phi Lei. I decided to do the afternoon/ sunset tour as I was far too lazy to get up in the morning.
The boat we took was a little bit worn but we had sea canoes, just in case.
First stop on our boat trip was Monkey Beach – where there are giraffes and lions and tigers. Not really. Here there be monkeys who eat Pringles out of your hand. Monkey Beach is on Phi Phi Don, about ten minutes from the main pier. Like the Bay of Island tour in Phuket, we had sea canoes which the crew unloaded off the back of the boat and which we then paddled up to the beach. The water here was sea through and perfect aqua blue.
We then motored over to Phi Phi Lei, past Viking Cave, where they collect the bird’s nests for Bird’s Nest Soup – before we anchored up by an inlet. Here the crew unloaded the canoes and we paddled up a deserted, limestone gorge into the centre of the island. I was chauffeuring a girl who had a broken ankle, poor thing, and we sat in the sunshine making echoes and watching the fish.
Back at the boat we went snorkeling in the sea – and I have never seen so many fish! They kept nearly swimming into my swimming costume. I could literally pick them out of the water with my hands – and they’d jump out of my hands and dive back into the sea.
But the reason we were all on the trip was to go to Maya Bay, better known as ‘The Beach’. When we visited, the tide was too low for our boat to get into Maya Bay – and I’m so glad – as to get to it we had to swim from the boat over to a cave; climb up a waterfall and through a hole in the limestone cliffs; and then walk through the centre of the island, to emerge through the tall grass onto ‘The Beach’ – the same way as the characters first see ‘The Beach’ in the movie.
Maya Bay is beautiful. It is a lagoon like bay, almost entirely encircled by limestone cliffs. In the bay there were typical Thai boats and strange black areas, which turned out to be shoals of fish which you could herd into funny shapes.
I spent ages lying in the surf talking to New Zealand Amanda – moaning about the London Northern Line.
After this, it was back to the boat and off for a Thai green curry, Chang Beer and music as the sun set.
Sailing back into Loh Dolum Bay at dusk, with Phi Phi Don lighting-up, the stars beginning to emerge and the best chill out music playing was a perfect moment for me. Absolutely magical.
There’s loads of travel agents and loads of boat companies that do this tour or similar. I just went to my local travel agent and booked one from there. I seem to remember it cost me 600bht for the half day tour (about £12).
Watched the sunset surrounded by monkeys
The viewpoint overlooking the two horseshoe bays was by my hotel.
It was hard going climbing up to the viewpoint – but at the top there were stupendous views and from here I watched the sun set surrounded by monkeys.
I have a picture of the steps to remind me that sometimes the route to get somewhere is really hard, but when you get there it is worth it and there may be unexpected monkeys.
Drank by the bucket and partied
Phi Phi Don has some of the best bars in the world and a real variety of syles. I had a strange night sat in a rock pub listening to The Clash and a brilliant night sat on the sand at Ibiza Beach Bar; drinking beer, watching the fire show, listening to techno and jumping at the violent lighting storms out in the bay.
What I loved about Phi Phi is that I felt like we were at a secret party and we were the only people on the world. Because there are no cars, little infrastructure and because we were pretty cut off from the mainland, there was an elemental wildness to the place that I loved.
In Koh Phi Phi people drink by the bucket. The bucket is a normal kid’s beach-bucket, which contains a half litre bottle of spirits, a can of full fat coke and a Thai Red Bull. You’re supposed to pour everything in together and then drink away. I couldn’t even finish one bucket (a cute French man had to help). Some places did buy one bucket, get one free!!!
There is a superficial side to PP, and there were a lot of young, beautiful flash packers and loud American fratboys, but at the same time I did meet some really friendly people and we had a lot of fun.
Where I stayed
Tropical Garden Bungalows
I was a bit nervous about going to Koh Phi Phi without pre-booking anywhere to stay, as I was worried that I’d get stuck on the island with no hotel room; so I pre-booked my accommodation whilst I was in Phuket. I needn’t have worried though as there were loads of accommodation options on Phi Phi, with a wide variety of standards and budgets.
I found a room at the Tropical Garden Bungalows for 1000bht (£20) per night. I chose it as it was one of the cheaper hotels with a pool.
I was met off the ferry by a man with a wheelbarrow who led us to the hotel and carried our luggage for us. The Garden Bungalows is located on the edge of the resort, up by the view point.
I can tell you about every type of room in the Tropical Garden Bungalows as I changed rooms every night – not because they were so bad but because my PP budget kept shrinking the longer I stayed there and I had to keep downgrading. I had an air conditioned room with private bathroom the first night, fan room with private bathroom the second night and fan room with shared bathroom the third. All the rooms were fine but basic. I also made friends with others in the complex and so I can tell you that the private bungalows were quite nice – with mosquito net draped beds and hammocks on the balcony.
The Garden Bungalows were okay but not amazing. There are nicer places to stay on Koh Phi Phi. I’d go somewhere else if I went back. I’d pay a bit more to be somewhere less basic.
However, they did have some good things going for them: two nice bars, a pool, a TV room and nice staff. I also liked the location, as it was slightly tucked away but still close to the centre. I liked the wooden buildings and that the complex was quite spaced out, with palm trees all around.
If you’re backpacking and used to roughing it then this place is fine. If not, then I’d pay a bit more to stay somewhere a bit more luxurious.
Please note, some, if not much of this information may not be correct, or may be out of date. All these articles show is how we found these places when we visited and what we personally thought of each place. Where possible I will include links to site which will contain more up-to-date info. All of this is my own work and any opinion expressed is that of the author only.
If you think I’ve missed something important or have got something wrong, please let me know in the comments section below.
All photos copyright of J Clemo-Halpenny. If you would like to copy or reproduce any of these images, please email me to ask permission.