An April 2001 trip
to Ko Phi Phi by Ben the Grate
Quote: Recently made world famous from the film The Beach, Phi Phi Island's remote charms are being upgraded to glitzy Vegas. Go now, while you still have the chance.
Member Rating 4 out of 5 on February 25, 2002
Phi Phi Paradise Pearl Resort
Ko Phi Phi, Thailand
To have even cheaper accomodations, just keep walking down the beach away from the village and the huts get smaller, cheaper, and more rickety.
Member Rating 3 out of 5 on February 25, 2002
Phi Phi Long Beach
Long Beach (Hat Yao)
Ko Phi Phi, Thailand
Hotel | "GENERAL INFO on accomodations"
Velas Vallarta Suite All Inclusive Resort
Av. Costera S/N, LH2 Fracc. Marina Vallarta
Puerto Vallarta, Mexico 48354
+52 (322) 226 9500
Restaurant | "GENERAL DINING info"
There are tons of places to eat in Phi Phi, most of which are in Ton Sai, the village. However, if you're staying on Long Beach, each resort has its own restaurant, and there is also a little restaurant situated between Phi Phi Paradise and Phi Phi Long Beach resorts that became my favorite, especially for breakfast (their tomato and onion pancakes were TO DIE FOR!)
You shouldn't pay more than about 40B for a meal on Long Beach (less than $1) unless you're drinking sodas or beer.
Grab a boat and head to town for a more "upscale" dining experience, though still primitive by western standards. I like to have squid curry at Mama Resto's ($3 with beer)and then treat myself to a 2 hour massage (about $10) before heading back for a starlit walk on Long Beach.
Ko Phi Phi Dining
Throughout Ko Phi Phi
Ko Phi Phi, Thailand
Attraction | "Short beach hikes from Long Beach"
Take this trail for about 5 minutes and it will lead you over to a beach that has no huts, and is consequently deserted most of the time. The few times I have seen other people there, they've been skinny dipping, so I infer that this otherwise taboo activity is tolerated at this beach ONLY.
The beach is sprinkled with lovely coconut palm trees and the water is shallow for what seems like miles. If you feel crowded on Long Beach, this is the place to head.
Hiking from Long Beach
Ko Phi Phi, Thailand
For beginners, rent sea kayaks from Phi Phi Paradise resort (about $10 a day for a double) and then hire a longtail boatman to ferry you and your kayak to Maya Bay around 7am (another $10, though you can bargain him down to $5 if you're good). If you're a strong kayaker, you can kayak back. Otherwise, tell him to pick you up at Viking Cave around 4pm.
Spend an hour or so enjoying Maya Bay, as you'll likely have it to yourself at this hour. If the seas were calm on your way in, paddle out the bay, turn left, and head around the tip of the island and up the other side. If the seas were rough, drag your kayak on the trail heading inland from the beach and you'll eventually come to a "hole-in-the-wall" where you can push your kayak through to the leeward side of the island where the seas will be calm.
Turn left and kayak up the island, enjoying views down to the coral reefs under you.
Eventually you'll come to a bay opening to your left. Enter this bay. Here in the entrance is some of the finest and most colorful snorkelling I've ever experienced. In fact, the fish were so prolific that when I dropped a cracker in the water it literally boiled and fish jumped INTO my kayak!
You can paddle all the way into the deep heart of Phi Phi Le in this bay, called Ao Lo Dalam, but the snorkelling gets worse the farther in you go. A deep blue pool for swimming awaits you within.
Back to the open sea and hang a left and you'll eventually see the large dock at Viking Cave. Pull up here and the nest gatherers will help you tether your kayaks and scoop you up onto the large dock. You may be asked for a small admission fee (maybe 5-10B) and explore the cave (don't forget the flashlight!), keeping in mind that this is their religion and if you are asked to keep out of any area, please do.
From here it's a line-of-sight kayak back to Long Beach (it will take you an hour unless you're very strong). If the seas are very rough, it's probably a good idea to bargain with the nest gatherers to ferry you back to the beach, or just wait for your boatman if you arranged to have him pick you up.
I was treated to an unforgettable experience when I was trapped in the cave during an unexpected storm and spent several hours "talking" with the nest gatherers and sharing dinner with them. (Talking consisted of drawing pictures in the dirt since we didn't have any shared language.)
Kayaking Phi Phi Le
Ko Phi Phi, Thailand
By far the most efficient way to get to Phi Phi island is to fly to Phuket on Thai Airways. You can buy a ticket for less than $100 round trip, sometimes much cheaper if you buy it from a travel agent in Bangkok. However, if you're in Thailand because it's one of the cheapest places on earth to visit, your primary budget option is the bus.
There is one first class bus each day from the Southern bus terminal in Bangkok to Phuket and it costs about $10 each way. It leaves at 7pm (subject to change!) and the trip takes a grueling 14 hours. (Or you can fly it in 1 hour for $40 more each way!) There are cheaper buses to Phuket from Bangkok, and I heartily recommend them if you're looking for cultural experience. However, it will take you at least a full, hot, muggy, smelly day to get to Phuket and you just might get your wallet nabbed when you finally pass out from exhaustion!
When you arrive at the airport there is a "Tourist Desk" that will sell you taxi fare and ferry fare in one ticket. This is all fine and good if you like to be ultra prepared.
If you're on the cheap, just walk outside the airport, grab a cab and ask him to take you to the ferry terminal for Phi Phi. There are several ferries, he'll take you to the one that pays him a commission to bring in tourists. Agree on the price beforehand. If it's more than 80 baht ($2), then he's ripping you off. Don't be afraid to haggle.
Once at the ferry terminal (don't expect anything more than a deck of rotted wood floating in foul, polluted water) you can purchase your ticket. Look for prices marked at the ticket window. If there are none, you can haggle. Prices in 2001 ranged from 300B ($6.50) to 500 baht ($11) each way, depending on the speed of the boat.
Don't expect the boat to be a luxury liner, either. Your baggage will be taken and piled in a corner and you can either sit below deck in a theoretically airconditioned main cabin, or smear on some sunscreen and sit up top enjoying the view of polluted canals filled with dead fish and dead animals and watching your ferry belch oil into the water. Once you get clear of Phuket's canals, though, you'll hit the brilliantly blue water for which Thailand is famous. It's just sad to see the trail of oil your boat leaves behind. It takes no more than 2 hours to reach Phi Phi.
When you get there, you're let off at the main pier in Ton Sai, the only village on Phi Phi, where you'll be accosted by longtail boatmen wondering where you'd like to go. Make sure you know where you want to stay before you arrive.
Boat fares to Long Beach (the area I always stay) should be no more than 40B ($1) per person, and if your boatman asks more, demand 40B or tell him you'll find another boatman. He'll give in. Boat fares to other remote beaches skyrocket to 200B and more.
PLEASE NOTE THAT DURING MONSOON SEASON (June through September), boats to Phi Phi may not run at all for weeks at a time due to rough sea conditions.
NOW...there's a cheaper way.
Krabi is a town directly across the bay from Phi Phi on the opposite side from Phuket. Since Krabi has not yet been developed as much as Phuket, prices here are much cheaper. You can fly to Krabi roundtrip for under $80, sometimes even less, and taxi to the pier should be about $0.50. Bus fare is $10 first class from Bangkok or $7 in 2nd class airconditioned. The ferry from Krabi to Phi Phi costs 150B ($3.30) but leaves only twice a day (10am and 2pm).
Plus, the scenery around Krabi is much more spectacular than Phuket and far less polluted. So if you have more time, use Krabi as a transit. Transportation in and out of Phuket is extremely frequent, though, and makes for a more "efficient" trip.
If you still have your ticket, you're in luck. Ask at your hotel what time your ferry leaves (make sure to show the ticket, because each ferry leaves at a different time). Then ask any Thai person at the dock WHICH boat you get on with your ticket, as there may be up to 6 ferries in dock at any time.
If you don't have a ticket, there is a travel agent at the opposite end of the dock from the boats on the right hand side who can sell you a ticket on any ferry back to Phuket, Krabi, or Ko Lanta.
The beaches here are bleached-white and very fine sand, usually backed by steely gray cliffs draped with green jungle. The water here is warm, usually air-temperature (about 80 degrees) and a shocking blue.
Snorkelling, especially around Phi Phi Le, reveals shocking reds, blues, yellows, and greens as the reefs here are prolific.
Make sure you don't spend all your time smoking pot on Long Beach. Go into town and treat yourself to a Thai massage (cheapest you'll ever get at $5 per hour). Subject yourself to the steep climb up to the Viewpoint and drink in the view of the entire island along with nearby islands.
Unlike many small islands, Phi Phi does not shut down when the sun sets. Ton Sai is filled with bars and fight clubs, and there are almost always small bars and snack shops open until late late late on Long Beach.
At night, enjoy a moonlit stroll along the beach, when the breeze is cooler than the water (coaxing you to take a warm midnight swim). If you're observant, you might notice tiny glowing beads washing up on shore with each wave. This is some type of phosphorescent seaweed, and you can pick it up and smear it on your finger and it will glow for a few moments.
After the filming of The Beach on the adjacent and uninhabited Phi Phi Le, the islands became world famous and people are flocking, causing prices to rise and accomodations to upgrade.
In 20 years, Phi Phi will look like Phuket...large, glitzy, expensive, and besieged with problems of pollution, electricity, and insufficient clean water.
So go now.
Phi Phi Le is uninhabited and the only way to get there is to take a tour boat, longtail boat, kayak, or...swim (NOT recommended).
It lies 1km off Long Beach on Phi Phi Don, and a boat takes a few minutes to get there. Kayaking will take you an hour. Swimming will likely take you the rest of your life. It may appear close, but the channel of water between the two islands hides deceptively strong currents, making this a kayaking trip for experienced sea kayakers only.
The primary attraction on Phi Phi Le is now Maya Bay, that spectacular beach from the movie. The powdery white sand is licked by warm blue waters which are nearly surrounded by tall limestone cliffs, with only one small entry to the open sea. The character of Maya Bay changed when Hollywood came in and ripped out the natural vegetation and imposed their own palm trees to make it appear more like paradise, but the place is still spectacular.
Make sure you get here EARLY EARLY because by 10am the place is buzzing with tourists.
The second major attraction on Phi Phi Le is Viking Cave, made famous by several National Geographic publications. It is the oldest collection point for Cave Swiftlet's nests, which are used to make the outrageously expensive delicacy Bird's Nest Soup. The nest gatherers scamper up flimsy bamboo poles hundreds of feet high to scrape the nests from the cave walls. The cave, too, becomes periodically thronged with tourists, though it's large enough to wander off on your own. (Bring a flashlight!)
The best way to see Phi Phi Le is via the freedom of your own kayak. But if that makes you nervous, you can either purchase a tour (about 200B per person) or just longtail boat from Long Bay to Maya bay on Phi Phi Le, then longtail boat from Maya to Viking Cave, then back to Long Beach. The latter option gives you more flexibility and keeps you away from a packaged tour crowd, but may get pricey in high season.
Little electricity exists on the island, and accomodations are the epitome of spartan. But Ko Lanta is for the adventurous! You can sleep in a treehouse high above the ground. You can climb into labrynthine caves and have deserted beaches all to yourself. Or, kayak or longtail boat to a nearby deserted island and pretend you're Robinson Crusoe.
You can reach Ko Lanta by ferry from Phi Phi Island or from Krabi. If you're in Phuket, your only option is to take the ferry to Phi Phi and then the ferry to Ko Lanta. From Phi Phi, the cost is about 150B and it takes about two hours. There are two a day in high season (Oct-Apr) at 11am and 1pm.
From Krabi there are numerous ways to reach Ko Lanta. This quickest is from Krabi's ferry dock Tha Jao Fah, and there are two a day (10:30 and 1:30) during high season for 150B. There are also ways to take motorcycle taxis from Krabi to Ko Lanta, but the ferry is easiest.
Like Phi Phi, there is no need to make a reservation before you get here. Just stroll along the beach and stop at a place you like. They start at 80B ($1.75) and go up. Reputable places are Kay Kwang Beach Bungalows, Golden Bay Cottages, Lanta Long Beach Bungalows, or the upscale Waterfall Bay Resort (with rooms starting from a pricey $6.50)
For adventure, try exploring Tham Khao Mai Kaew, a complex cave system in the center of the island. If you're an experienced and equipped caver, you can go by yourself, or the family that lives near the cave will guide you for 50B per person. Bring your own equipment. Getting there requires a taxi or renting a motorcycle.
Internet resources at:
Ben the Grate