The islands of Koh Phi Phi, off the coast of southwestern Thailand, are very popular with travelers because of their unrivaled tropical scenery, clear blue waters, relaxing atmosphere, and undersea attractions. However, in the last decade, Koh Phi Phi has seen a huge surge in tourism, adding to the crowds and pollution of the main (and only populated) island, known as Koh Phi Phi Don.
This main island is shaped roughly like the letter "H", with the middle stretch being a low sandbar and home to the primary town, Ton Sai. The other large island, Koh Phi Phi Ley, is to the south and is a national park and marine sanctuary. Visitors are welcome, but no permanent settlement exists.
Maya Bay, Koh Phi Phi, Thailand
Koh Phi Phi Ley, the island to the south, is one of the main attractions of the archipelago. Made famous by the movie "The Beach," this beautiful island is now overrun during the day by visitors on tour boats who come to see Maya Bay, as well as snorkelers and divers. The beauty of the island is what draws the crowds in, and is worth the hassle.
Various scuba diving and snorkeling spots around the islands are also quite popular, and offer a glimpse into the tropical undersea wildlife. However, the number of visitors in recent years has taken its toll on the natural scenery.
The beaches on the main island consist of white sand, are usually wide, and lead into calm, clear blue waters. The main beach is in the middle of the island adjacent to the town, and is therefore the busiest. Various other beaches, some quite small, can be found amongst the steep cliffs of the east and west sides of the island. Some can only be accessed through hotel properties, while others are easily accessible from public paths.
A few lookout points can be found on the higher grounds around the island, and the primary viewpoint charges an admission fee.
Ton Sai is the main town at the center of Koh Phi Phi Don, and has all amenities that travelers could want or need such as restaurants, shops, travel agencies, banks, dive shops, etc. At the middle of town on the southern shore is the main dock to catch ferries to the mainland or other islands, larger dive boats, or longtails to other beaches.
To the southeast of Ton Sai, following the shoreline, are several beaches lined with numerous hotel properties of varying price ranges. While a path follows the shoreline, other paths take an inland route to the east and provide access to the hotels to the northeast. To the west, more paths lead up the hills to other properties.
Koh Phi Phi Ley can be accessed via boat, and any of the longtail boat drivers will be happy to take you there for a price (negotiate fiercely). As the southern island is national park land, an entrance fee will be collected upon arrival.
Scuba diving is extremely popular around the Phi Phi islands, as the water is clear, warm, and the wildlife is generally healthy. Dive shops can be found throughout the town of Ton Sai, and are sometimes quite aggressive with their sales pitches as you walk along the main paths. Do not believe their supposedly amazing claims of seeing whale sharks on every trip or other profound statements, which are too good to be true. Go with a dive shop that will take you to nearby locations to see the nearby reefs, and you won't be disappointed. Many of the dive shops are honest and friendly. Ask about equipment and safety.
Many dive shops also offer dive certification courses.
If you'd rather snorkel, that is a completely realistic option as well, because much of the surrounding waters are somewhat shallow. Dive shops also run snorkeling trips, as so hotels and hostels and other tour agencies in town.
Another popular activity, offered by hotels and hostels, is a boat tour around the islands. These trips usually include lunch and snorkeling, and stop at a few beaches, snorkeling spots, Maya Bay at Phi Phi Ley, and sometimes a short walk up a hill with a viewpoint. As boats are generally needed to get to many spots on the island anyway, these tours are a great way to see the stunning scenery and get an overview of everything. After all, many little beaches and snorkeling spots on the island are only accessible by boat due to the very high vertical cliffs that surround most of the main island.
Food and Dining
A variety of food, Thai and other, is available in Ton Sai and in many of the hotels. As the island is small and crowded, food prices are often high because many supplies must be ferried in via boat. Travelers' favorites, such as pad thai and various curries, are common, as is seafood.
Koh Phi Phi is small, and motorized vehicles are very limited. However, most places in or near the central town are accessible on foot or by biclycle, as the island is not too large. All main roads are essentially just paved walking paths. For more distant hotels at the ends of the island, longtail boats act as water taxis. Although they can be somewhat expensive at times, the boats are usually faster than any vehicle due to the rough terrain and narrow walking paths on the island. Sometimes hotels will send boats to pick up customers with advance reservations.
Some motorbike taxis can be found as well, just make sure the drivers are willing to follow basic safety rules.