Many people refer to Koh Phi Phi as the most beautiful island in Thailand, and who can blame them? With shockingly clear water, white sand and karst cliffs looming as a constant backdrop, it’s hard not to appreciate this chunk of land’s inherent good looks. Unfortunately on closer glance, years of being constantly trodden down by backpackers and vacationers alike has not done this island well. I left Koh Phi Phi with mixed feelings: one minute I was in awe, swimming in luke-warm water with tropical fish, and the next I was pushing my way through drunken idiots who did not think twice about throwing their empty beer bottles on the sand. It was fun, but I worry about how long this little island will last.
Koh Phi Phi was devastated from the 2004 Boxing Day tsunami, and 10 years later it’s still recovering. There’s a “clean-up fee” upon entering the island of 20 baht (under a dollar), but like most things in Southeast Asia I wonder how much of that money is actually being directed to the right hands. Walking around there was still plenty of garbage lying about, which could be from the devastation, but could also just be from the millions of people who visit the island each year. The main part of Koh Phi Phi consists of small walkways filled with shops, restaurants and bars, with no motorized vehicles allowed on any part of the island (apart from the occasional construction truck). What you will see instead are people on bikes pushing their way through the crowds constantly yelling “beep beep!” to notify you of their presence. I didn’t mind so much, but this drove Kyle absolutely insane. This combined with the amount of tourists caused us to not think so highly of Koh Phi Phi (unlike my parents, who loved the place). For us we found it a bit grimy, overcrowded with bars, tattoo shops and “massage” parlours with women who didn’t hesitate to offer sexual favours under their breath as men walk past.
That being said, there are beautiful parts to Koh Phi Phi. Below is what we would recommend in terms of beaches, day trips and bars.
Long Beach was our favourite on the island of Koh Phi Phi, even though it costs 150 baht per person each way on a long-tail taxi boat. However, it’s worth it. The water and sand are clean, with a few restaurants to choose from. Unfortunately I was still recovering from food poisoning at this point, so could only stomach plain rice.
One place I would not recommend is Ao Lo Dalam, which is found by walking off the ferry and walking straight through town to the other side of the island (near PP Charlie Resort). We set our towels down for 10 minutes until Kyle tried swimming and saw a thick film of God-knows-what on the water. From a distance this area looks incredible, but upon closer glance it was just plain dirty. Instead, we walked over to Ao Ton Sai where the ferries come in, and walked down to the west end of the beach. Even though there were plenty of boats arriving at the pier, we were far enough away to not be bothered, and the water was surprisingly clear.
Worth a Day Trip
Do not leave Koh Phi Phi without doing a day trip to the surrounding islands. We booked a full day tour, starting at 10 in the morning and coming back just after sunset. The boat took us around to a few different spots, including Bamboo island with the clearest water I have ever seen in my entire life, Monkey Beach which was filled with the little critters, and even The Beach (known as Maya Bay), where Leo frolicked for a few months while filming in the 90s. You can book these from one of the many tour agencies in town for as little as 650 baht per person.
When it comes to nightlife, you will find plenty of it on Koh Phi Phi. In fact, this is the main thing to do after the sun goes down. If you’re looking to fight another tourist Muay Thai style, head to the Reggae Bar where contestants receive a free bucket. Be warned: many injuries do happen from these fights. Our favourite spot was Banana Bar, a Mexican food restaurant that showed a movie every night at seven, followed by the opportunity to play beer pong and drink two for one buckets until closing. Given I was recovering from food poisoning and never wanted to look at Thai food ever again, the nachos and burritos were much-needed eating alternatives.
Beware when looking online for accommodation: most of the time the pictures are not accurate representations of the hotel/hostel. We originally were planning on spending a bit more money at PP Charlie Resort, but after walking through the place it was clearly not worth it. However, if we had just based our decision from the online photos alone, we would have been in for a rough surprise. If you are booking ahead of time (which I would still recommend as places do fill up fast), be sure to read the reviews. This will give you a more accurate idea of what a place is like. For us, we stayed in a private room at La Mamita just above a restaurant. We had Air Con, a TV and decent WiFi at $18 each per night. The only downside was the cockroach who decided to pay us a visit when I was half-alive, still recovering from food poisoning, but hey, that’s Thailand.
Overall we enjoyed our time on Koh Phi Phi, especially since we met up with a few of Kyle’s friends from Calgary, resulting in some good laughs. This was, however, an island that made the negative results of excessively catering to tourists most apparent. What might have been a gem twenty years ago now suffers from an excess of garbage and the type of meat-heads who will pay for that “massage” or tattoo. Be sure to visit Koh Phi Phi on a visit to Thailand, but be prepared for a lot of partying, cheap buckets, and questionable sanitation. For some, this could sound like the perfect vacation and for others a travel nightmare. It depends on your preferences so just know what to expect.