It’s not often that you find a place that looks better than the postcards but that is how I feel about the Phi Phi islands. As the ferry arrived in Tonsai I was blown away by the clear, turquoise water and the limestone cliff face that defines Phi Phi’s profile against a bright blue sky.
The area “Phi Phi” that most tourists refer to actually relates to two islands: Phi Phi Don; being the area for accommodation, restaurants, nightlife, and nightly beach activities, and Phi Phi Ley which includes Maya Bay, made famous by the 1999 Leonardo Di Caprio movie, “The Beach”.
Most of Phi Phi is road-less with the main form of transport being by foot or by long-boats. Tonsai, where the ferry docks, is the main activity centre where you follow narrow pathways lined with shops, market stalls, tourist information, bars and restaurants. If you take an unexpected turn you will end up on the sanded paths which are frequented moreso by the 20,000 island locals and offer ‘real’ Thai cuisine and half the price than those restaurants in the main thoroughfare. The cuisine is offered in shack-like structures with no so-called walls that just adds to the authenticity. Luckily, this part of the island is an isthmus so if you take a wrong turn it isn’t hard to navigate back to one of the two parallel beaches – Tonsai Bay and Lo Da Lum Bay (the party beach).
People come to the Phi Phi islands to either relax and “get away from it all” in beautiful scenery or (and probably the most common reason) to enjoy the crazy nightly life including infamous beach parties with fire games and bars that are full to capacity spilling onto the narrow paved pathways. Unfortunately sometimes these parties give Phi Phi a bad name as it is difficult to escape this noise and those not aware of this reputation are often disappointed that their quiet getaway is interrupted until 3am most mornings with pumping music.
I was one of those people who went to Phi Phi to relax in a bungalow and spend my days lounging by the beach with a bit of partying thrown in. Unfortunately because I told the booking agents that I wanted somewhere quiet they booked me in at a very remote resort which at night the only access was via long-tail boat which could cost up to 1,000 Baht and was unsafe. Needless to say I never went to the beach parties but did have a few nights of drinking at the resort bar.
I stayed at Power Beach Resort which is poorly rated on TripAdvisor but if you go in not expecting the best you will be pleasantly surprised. Originally I booked a fan bungalow but when the porter led me up a ridiculously steep set of uneven stairs high into the jungle which had gaps in the floor boards and no safe deposit box and an interesting smell I upgraded to an air-conditioned room which was much nicer and a lot closer to the beach although a lot more expensive at 2,500 Baht a night. As far as I was concerned it was money well spent. Each of the rooms had a veranda with a nice lounging chair to relax on. What the rooms lacked, the staff made up for – they introduced me to the Thai friendliness and looked after me well. When I cut my foot on coral the manager bathed in daily for me. The dining area has a relaxed feel about it and I made multiple friends there or laying on the beach chairs. A couple of days into the stay I ventured next door to Relax Beach Resort which when compared to my resort looked and felt like a 5 star resort despite not having electricity during the day and only fan bungalows. I spent most of my remaining time here as the food was much nicer than that on offer at Power Beach. Unfortunately this resort is usually booked out at least a month in advance so I wasn’t able to move over, however, I really enjoyed my stay at Power Beach and would recommend anyone to stay there (in an air-conditioned room only!) and spend days at Relax Beach Resort.
I went on an amazing tour organised by Relax Beach which is a must-do. There are hundreds of versions of this trip offered on the island with the main difference being whether you go on a long tail boat or a speed boat. It stops at a number of stops on Phi Phi Don, Phi Phi Lay, Bamboo and Mosquito Islands. The scenery is postcard-like but due to the popularity of this tour expect hoards of tourist at every stop which takes away some of the magic. Particularly at Maya Bay which is the famous bay from the movie The Beach. An evening tour to Maya Bay was highly recommended to me as you can enjoy this stunning location without the beach being littered with people and boats. My tour cost 1,200 Baht which included lunch and a lot of entertainment. One of our long tail boats broke down (this is a common occurrence on the island) so it was decided to tie two boats together long ways to power it with one engine. Unfortunately, one boat was heavier and water poured into the other drenching everyone. At this point, the drivers decided it was best to tow the broken down boat and tried to untie the ropes in the middle of nowhere while still moving forward. He untied the front rope but let go of the rope as the two boats pulled away from each other. They were still connected by a rope at the back, and as they were pulling away from being parallel to in a straight line at quite a speed they couldn’t separate and both boats were dangerously close to tipping over until the rope snapped in the nick of time. Just thinking about everyone’s valuables that they had with them on the boat still makes me nervous.
I also spent a lot of time hiking to the viewpoints which in the humidity was quite tough but worth it with spectacular views. It is also popular to hike at sunset but again if you are in a remote area it is quite difficult to access and to walk from our side of the island is very dangerous as there have been stories of robberies and vicious monkeys. I had one run in with monkeys up there but luckily I wasn’t their target – they ferociously ran at an American with food in his hand and ran off with it when one of the locals started using her sling shot on them, not before the other monkeys in the trees started throwing nuts at us. Always an entertaining experience.
The best thing about Phi Phi is the people – both the locals and those staying at the two resorts I visited. It was easy to find a beach buddy or drinking buddy alike. Now, a couple weeks on I look back and can’t wait to have another relaxing beach resort experience just like this one!
– Wish you were here xx