Arriving at Koh Phi Phi on a sunny day was really breath-taking. The surrounding islands, blue water and white speedboats passing by reminded me of childhood days playing Vice City in my messy bedroom, annoying my parents for not helping at home, and just being a typical teenager in general. Shout out to all the GTA fans out there! The views were spectacular and I couldn’t stop taking photos from both sides of the boat – it was that pretty.
We enjoyed the sounds of the waves, the Thai flag flapping in the wind, and we could almost taste the Pina Colladas! When we stepped off the ferry the first thing we heard was… no, it wasn’t coconuts falling on the ground. The first thing we heard was: “Teacherrrrrr…!” (OMG – is EVERYONE in Koh Phi Phi??) We bumped into one of Auste’s students who was so unsuspecting of seeing her teacher here. I can say that the bays and the beaches are a treat for everyone’s eyes. BUT there is a big but.
Phi Phi islands were recommended to me by a friend who has visited recently, and the photos were stunning so I thought why not give it a go. We were warned by another fellow traveller though that we wouldn’t be getting any sleep while on Koh Phi Phi.
Just how many tourists?
The ferry docked at the massive Tonsai beach. Tonsai Beach on the island of Koh Phi Phi is not to be mistaken with Tonsai Beach (or Bay) neighbouring Railay Beach. The latter is the quiet, world renowned climber’s paradise with only longtail boats going there. And if you’ve ever seen a never-ending line of ants in nature, then you can imagine the flow of tourists coming to Koh Phi Phi.
This highway of human ants has had its toll on the environment, and the small entry charge is nowhere near enough to fix the damage, as claimed by local news. Apparently much of the marine life and the coral has been irreversibly damaged. I remember reading some guy’s post on a Thailand travel Facebook page where they were boasting about jumping on live corals or something. That kind of idiotic behaviour is not uncommon on the countless snorkelling and diving tours offered.
It’s kind of hard to disregard the common view of boatfulls of tourists. The best way to see how many people visit the island is to do a quick image search for “Koh Phi Phi tourists”.
“Maya Bay, Maya Bay, The Beach!”
Maya Bay is the biggest attraction in the area even though there is a myriad of pristine islands nearby to choose from. The selling point from each and every tour operator, who by the way approach you every 5 seconds, is that Maya Bay is the place where “The Beach” was filmed. I didn’t even know that movie exists until they educated me. The bay is even marked as “The Beach” on Google Maps! Whenever you walk in the centre of Koh Phi Phi, some tour operator will give you the same phrase: “Hello, where you go? Maya Bay Maya Bay, The Beach – go now.” To this day whenever we talk about Koh Phi Phi, one of us always randomly throws in “Maya Bay, Maya Bay, you go now!”
From experience we can say that it’s better to find a “less pretty” place and enjoy the freedom and space, than going to crowded soulless spots where everyone else goes. In our view, the trips to Maya Bay were overpriced and there were too many tourists due to good weather. Hence, we avoided the herds of tourists and didn’t step a foot there! It should be really beautiful so if you think you can handle the crowds, go there, but don’t say we didn’t warn you!
What to do?
Everything’s a 10 minute walk away, and there are plenty of “activities” on the island: you can have a drink at a bar, or a drink at a pub, you can get a cocktail on the beach, or buy a bucket of liquor from a street bar. Or, if you’re streetwise, you can go to a local shop, buy an actual bucket, some pineapple juice and a bottle of Malibu. Now we could ACTUALLY taste the Pina Coladas! Nothing’s better than homemade, isn’t it?
On our first night we sat on the main beach, swam in the low-tide waters, took photos of longtail boats, and enjoyed the sound of sea waves crashing into the rocks – that was so relaxing, so soothing. On top of all that we were unexpectedly rewarded with a stunning sunset that took our breath away.
Half-way through this nature’s magical show of colours in such a place of natural beauty, we were suddenly shocked by blinding disco lights and heavy electro-techno-deafening beats… playing to an audience of a dozen. We were still sat there puzzled thinking what’s going on. Shortly after that we made our way back to our little crappy room, where we could still hear electro-techno-deafening beats from other nearby bars!
The next morning it was raining. Since we “only” had two days (after day 1 it felt like a month), we still went out with our umbrellas and had breakfast at the pier. It was fun to watch all the parked longail boats rocking on the waves.
So far, Koh Phi Phi didn’t really show any of my expected tropical qualities: tranquillity, peacefulness, unspoiled nature, even fruit variety. However, after a while the sun came out and we walked to a beautiful beach – it’s called Leh Mu Dee. There were signs showing “private beach”, but we went anyway and spent a few hours there on the soft sand. There were only two other people there and we could snorkel uninterrupted. Even after 10am, when many speedboats brought snorkelers it didn’t affect the relaxed ambience, because they were far away.
Our second favourite place on Koh Phi Phi was an Italian place which had amazing pizzas, ravioli, vegetable burgers, even FALAFELS! We ate there like 3 times a day…. washing down the falafels with a bucket of Pina Colada…
On our last day on the island we walked to the viewpoint, which was probably the best thing on Phi Phi. The locals who live on the hill charge 30 baht fare, which looks kind of dodgy, but there are paved paths and they keep it tidy. It’s like the best spot to take pictures of the island, or just relax and have a picnic. You can also buy snacks at the top. If you’re there – you have to go and enjoy one of the very few quiet spots of Koh Phi Phi.
The “local” lifestyle
The local bars and restaurants are trying their best to cater for everyone’s needs, which keeps their salary in check. That says it all. Even in the low-tourist season the neighbouring bars are competing who’s got louder speakers.
Many people come here for parties, and want to see some nature while they’re here: either the Maya Bay, the main bay from the viewpoint, or a few other attractions. Those who come for nature can be quite disappointed as it is painted over by crowds of partygoers and singles, addicted to loud music and crowds of random people, wanting to experience “the local lifestyle”.
- Beautiful nature, viewpoint, surrounding islands.
- Many places to eat (vegetarian-friendly).
- Easy to get to.
- The beauty of nature is buried under thousands of tourists.
- Crappy expensive accommodation, mainly because of huge demand. Our hotel in Phi Phi could run an online ad: “Limited offer only! Maya Bay, Maya Bay, You stay now! A tiny double room for 2,000 baht per night. No renovation since build. Includes: shower, toilet, bedbugs.”
This trip was like a relationship with someone you’re not supposed to be with. But you never know until you try. In this “relationship” we had too many people, drank buckets of cocktails, and slept in a shabby room. Do we appreciate the experience? For sure. Would we go there again? No…