Siam Island Hopper Guide to Koh Phi Phi
Koh Phi Phi’s stunning natural beauty is undeniable, but it’s the all-night beach party scene that draws young people from around the world. Here’s a glimpse of what the island’s all about.
Koh Phi Phi is paradise brought to life – walking on white sand beneath limestone cliffs, swimming in tropical waters of world famous islands, partying without inhibition on the beach. Nowhere else in Thailand’s island archipelagos is scenic beauty paired so perfectly with a laid back party atmosphere as Koh Phi Phi.
Top: Longtail boats on Ao Ton Sai
Bottom: Long Beach.
Koh Phi Phi is a limestone archipelago in the Andaman Sea. The larger island, Koh Phi Phi Don, has a large pier and a wide range of resort options, while the smaller island, Koh Phi Phi Leh, is home to beautiful bays and cliffs but has limited facilities and no resorts.
The reason most people go to Koh Phi Phi is simple: beautiful beaches. Fine white sand, colorfully decorated longtail boats suspended on clear, turquoise waters and idyllic palm trees stretched toward the sky. Yes, all that still exists. Phew!
But it’s not always what you expect. Koh Phi Phi Don is packed with people, hotels and a constant stream of boats. If you stay on Ao Ton Sai or Lo Dalum, pulsating techno beats will keep you up (and keep you dancing) late into the night.
It’s unlikely that you’ll have a whole beach to yourself, but part of the fun of Koh Phi Phi is meeting other like-minded travelers. And there are still ways to carve out your very own island experience filled with natural beauty and a let-loose-in-paradise vibe.
Get your beach on: Koh Phi Phi Don
When you arrive on Koh Phi Phi Don at the Ao Ton Sai pier you will be immediately confronted by crowds of people calling out to you. Sorry, you’re not famous and they aren’t paparazzi. But they’d love to show you an amazing deal on a villa! Smile, but don’t stop, as you walk by. Hotel prices, costs of tours and activities and the amount of other tourists on the island all depend on the season. We recommend you book hotels in advance so you won’t have to depend on these ‘deals’ when you’re already on the island.
A longtail boat off the coast of Koh Phi Phi.
Ao Ton Sai is a winding maze and the most developed part of Koh Phi Phi Don. There’s no swimming here. Instead, you’ll find lots of bars, restaurants, tattoo parlors and dive shops. On the other side of Ao Ton Sai is the main beach, Lo Dalum. On this long stretch of sand you’ll find large resorts, beach bars and lots of people.
Most monkeys on Monkey Beach wait for peak tourist hours.
Monkey Beach is still an undeveloped patch of white sand.
Kayak from Lo Dalum to Monkey Beach, a tiny white sand beach around the eastern side of the beach, only accessible by boat. Hundreds of monkeys will be waiting for you. Cute as they are, they’ll grab any food out of your hand. So get ready to snap some photos then get off the planet of the apes.
Along the path from Ao Ton Sai to Long Beach.
Had Yao (Long Beach) on the south western tip of Koh Phi Phi Don is becoming very developed with resorts and bars, but its white sand beaches and light blue green waters are still a draw. Reach Long Beach via a scenic jungle path from Ao Ton Sai. Pass through the friendly, secluded, hippie-meets-hipster Viking Resort and keep walking until you reach a steep rocky path to the white sand. There’s a rope to guide you – you’ll need it.
For a more secluded beach experience check out Loh Moo Dee Beach, a stretch of peaceful sand around 600 meters from Haad Yao. Hike another 15 minutes further north to reach Rantee Bay. This white sand beach has a coral reef around 80 meters off shore – great for snorkeling.
There are also two small islands off the northern coast of Koh Phi Phi Don. Koh Mai Pai or Bamboo Island, and Koh Yung, Mosquito Island. Take a quick longtail boat or speedboat out to either of these islands to enjoy an afternoon on the white sand. Better yet, go in the morning with your snorkel gear before others arrive.
Get your beach on: Koh Phi Phi Leh
Take a longtail boat from Koh Phi Phi Don (15 minutes) or from Krabi or Phuket (around 2 hours by speedboat). If you arrive sans tour be prepared to pay a national park entry fee of 200 THB for non-Thais and 20 THB for Thai people. We know, life ain’t fair.
Proceed to check off the four amazing natural wonders on Koh Phi Phi Leh: Maya Bay, Viking Caves, Pileh Lagoon and Losama Bay. It usually costs around 100 THB per person to get from Koh Phi Phi Don to Maya Bay via longtail boat, or around 500 THB for a full tour around Koh Phi Phi Leh. We recommend you make your way around the perimeter of Koh Phi Phi Leh on a longtail boat and take your time to stop at each of these amazing sights.
Visit Maya Bay early in the morning or after 5pm by your own personal longtail boat. That way you’ll avoid the day trippers and giant tour boats. In the afternoon, up to 30 boats will be stationed along the shore at any one time, along with larger snorkelling boats dotting the deeper waters.
Around the corner from Maya Bay is Losama Bay, a little inlet of crystal clear water. Jump off the boat with your snorkel or dive gear and take advantage of this beautiful spot. Pileh Lagoon is a beautiful emerald colored bay that’s surrounded by jagged limestone cliffs. The shallow green pool is practically enclosed in the island, creating a surreal scene. Only speedboats and longtail boats will be able to enter, due to the enclosed space.
The Viking Caves on Koh Phi Phi Leh’s northeastern edge might not have been home to any actual vikings, but whatever. The ruggedly beautiful outcropping of rock attracts both cliff divers and scuba divers, who enjoy the view from up high and underwater.
Where to eat
Koh Phi Phi doesn’t possess the same culinary history as Phuket, or Koh Samui’s level of fine dining. Tourism is the main industry and the cuisine has developed accordingly. But that doesn’t mean you can’t find a delicious seafood dinner, a spicy som tum, or a friendly fruit shake on every corner.
Tonsai Seafood, Ao Ton Sai
While the uninhabited Koh Phi Phi Leh is devoid of restaurants and resorts, food is plentiful on Koh Phi Phi Don. As soon as you jump off the pier at Ao Ton Sai you’ll find crepes, waffles, fruit and other tempting beach snacks. If you’re in the mood for seafood try Tonsai Seafood. It’s been on Koh Phi Phi for ages and the grilled seafood is fresh and cooked right.
Garlic 1992, Lo Dalum
On Loh Dalum grab Thai food at local joint Garlic 1992. This little mom and pop shop has been whipping up Thai favorites for visitors since, yup, 1992. They make a mean panang curry and the Western staples are on point.
Orange Place is another beloved island restaurant. The Isaan specialities are delicious and there’s evidence to prove it – thank you notes written in different languages all over the walls. Find it on Gypsy Road opposite Oasis Guesthouse.
For casual beachside dining try Mint, located behind Phi Phi Island Village Beach Resort on Loh Ba Gao beach. The Thai restaurant is accessible via a steep trek from the beach or by longtail boat but the lower prices and authentic taste make the effort worth it.
Thai dishes at Garlic 1992.
Our number one tip for eating on the islands? As difficult as it may be, skip the predictable Phad Thai and order some interesting island classics or expand your seafood experience. You can thank us later.
Party in Phi Phi
Lo Dalum Beach where inhibitions are lost.
Koh Phi Phi Don has earned quite the party reputation. So if booze cruises and beach parties are your thing, awesome. If not, simply steer clear of Lo Dalum and Ao Ton Sai come nightfall and you’ll have a peaceful vacation.
But if you are on Lo Dalum, check out Banana Bar. This chill bamboo beach bar/Mexican restaurant just off the beach has a rooftop lounge perfect for sunset watching and casual beer sipping.
Also in Lo Dalum, Kongsiam Bar features a great live band and house party atmosphere. On the northern end of Lo Dalum, Sunflower Beach Bar is a chilled out bar with a hippie vibe. It’s a nice place to stop on the way up or down from the Koh Phi Phi viewpoint.
Of course, as the night goes on the party gets going and the buckets start flowing. Sip buckets and watch elaborate fire shows at La Dalum beach bars like Woody’s or Slinky’s until you’re convinced you can do it too. Join in for some fire jump rope, complete with singed hair and a few random burns. Stones Bar on Lo Dalum promises the true backpacker experience with dorm rooms to pass out in and a chill restaurant in which to meet fellow travelers.
Fire limbo and jump rope at Stones Bar. Amateur Muay Thai fights at Reggae Bar.
Koh Phi Phi’s Reggae Bar, in the main area of Lo Dalum, combines two activities you don’t usually find paired: copious amounts of drinking and amateur Muay Thai. Join in a fight with your friend or a stranger and show off your kickboxing skills.
Chartered party sailboats and yachts also cruise around Koh Phi Phi Leh, including Maya Bay, to bring the party experience to the island’s most beautiful spots. If you’re up for a booze cruise get ready to join a young and energetic group for an day of dancing on deck and back flips into the clear water.
Sleeping it off
Many people choose to stay in Phuket or Krabi and take a day trip to Koh Phi Phi. But if you choose to stay on Koh Phi Phi Don and experience all that this island has to offer, there are a plethora of resort, bungalow and hotel options.
Photo courtesy of Villa 360
Foreign hotel brands haven’t made the leap to Koh Phi Phi yet, except for the Holiday Inn Koh Phi Phi on the isolated Laem Thong beach. But if this is your budget bracket, we’d skip the chain hotel and stay at Villa 360 Resort and Spa for (8,000 THB) on Loh Ba Gao beach. Each of the 33 rooms has a spectacular view.
The shabby chic White Hotel
Slightly less expensive is Mama Beach Residence (4,000 THB) on the Western side of Ton Sai Bay. This property is all about the tropical beach side experience with grassy gardens and a beach front view. The White Hotel is just off Lo Dalum beach, and at 1,000 THB for a crisp, clean bed and a cheap and cheerful wooden bungalow we’d happily forego a beach front spot. That is, if you like the shabby, chic beach-worn look.
Don’t leave Koh Phi Phi Don without hiking to the viewpoint. The view of the curved back to back shores of Lo Dalum and Ao Ton Sai is an amazing shot. Walk from Lo Dalum beach and follow the signs. Just be sure to have money on you, like everything in life, there’s a price to pay.
The Koh Phi Phi viewpoint
Join a climbing tour like Spidermonkey to experience Koh Phi Phi’s rocky cliff formations from a different vantage point. If you’re up for adventure there’s also cliff jumping where thrill seekers can climb the limestone shores and jump into the deep waters.
Thanks to day trippers Maya Bay is packed with people from morning until late afternoon. If you want the bay all to yourself, stay overnight on board a boat with the Maya Bay Sleep Aboard experience. You’ll barbeque on the beach after all the other tourists have left, then camp on the sand or sleep on the boat under the stars. If you’re lucky you’ll see the phosphorescent plankton that light up the shallow waters each night. Then, wake up to a beautiful sunrise and an abandoned beach.
A traditional tattoo parlor on Ao Ton Sai.
Traditional Thai tattoos have become a fixture on Koh Phi Phi, and on the sunburnt shoulders of tourists from all over the world. Make an appointment in advance and be prepared for some pain as the tattoo artists use traditional bamboo spikes to brand you with a reminder of your Koh Phi Phi experience, forever.
On Koh Phi Phi you won’t be the only human in sight, far from it, but you can find idyllic little areas to claim as your own for a few hours, or a few days. And rest assured that all the people around you are just like you; beauty seeking, thrill seeking and bucket list conquering visitors looking for a place too beautiful to be real.
Photography by Guy Houben
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