Not far off the coast of Thailand, about 50km south-east of Phuket and about the same distance south of Krabi/Ao Nang lies an archipelago known collectively as Koh Phi Phi. Most people pronounce it “Ko Pee Pee”, just so you know. Although people sometimes use this name to describe the main island, there are actually four biggish islands in the archipelago and they offer one of the most unique travel experiences in Asia. They are:
- Koh Phi Phi Don – the main island and the only one with a permanent population.
- Koh Phi Phi Lai – where the movie “The Beach” was filmed (Maya Bay), but populated only by birds
- Koh Pai – also known as “Bamboo Island”
- Koh Yung – great diving around beautiful coral reefs
Koh Phi Phi Don is the main attraction, with permanent hotels and glorious beaches nestling between two imposing karst (limestone) mountains. Unfortunately this was one of the scenes of massive devastation after the Boxing Day Tsunami in 2004, when the sea came crashing between the two mountains and flooded the island. But it has all been rebuilt and that was a one in a million disaster.
There are essentially two sides to Koh Phi Phi Don. The day beach side, where tourist boats drop in with snorkellers and day trippers who just want to enjoy the beach and the azure water. Then over the other side is the residential part, with hotels and shops and markets and eateries galore. It is a pretty commercialised piece of real estate, but I think still well worth visiting. I’d even consider having a holiday there, just because it’s so laid back.
This is Thailand without many of the restrictions of religion and culture. It’s Thailand for the young people, with skimpy dress codes, loud music, cool pubs, nightclubs, parasailing, dive trips and much more to enjoy. But it’s also a place of remote quiet beaches, canoing through limestone caves, exploring deserted islands and snorkelling among coral reefs. In just half an hour at KPP I had my first face to face with a sea turtle!
It’s always warm in Koh Phi Phi – either wet and warm, or dry and warm. Most of the rain falls in just a short period of the year, so most of the time it’s dry and warm.
A decade ago you’d have been hard pressed to find anyone who’d been to Koh Phi Phi, but these days it’s where the in crowd go to holiday and most people know of it. I don’t know what it is about Koh Phi Phi, but I really like it.
Getting to Koh Phi Phi Don
We visited Koh Phi Phi from Ao Nang beach near Krabi town on a day boat. Big speed boats do this trip every day with snorkelling, diving and sight-seeing included in the price of about 2000B p.p. return including lunch in a restaurant on the main island. For that price you even get to play with the beach monkeys on Monkey Beach.
Ferries leave Ao Nang Beach near Krabi at 9.30 AM, 10.30 AM and 2.30 PM take about 90 minutes to get to Ko Phi Phi Don at a cost of about 500B p.p. There are also ferries from Phuket (and Ko Lanta during peak tourist season) to Ton Sai Beach on Ko Phi Phi Don at 8.30 AM, 1.30 PM and 2.30 PM, which take about 90 minutes and these brings a lot of day travellers to the island where they snorkel, swim and eat in the street cafes and hotels. The ferries leave Ton Sai at 9.00 AM, 2.30 PM and 3.00 PM.
The Ko Lanta ferry, when it’s operating between October and April, leave Ko Lanta at 8.00 AM and 1.00 PM and return from Ko Phi Phi Don at 11.30 AM and 2.00 PM, at a cost of about 300B each way p.p.
There are no flights to Koh Phi Phi as the island is too small to support an airport. So to get there from Bangkok you need to catch a two-hour flight to Krabu (Air Asia often has tickets for around 100-200B) and then catch a taxi to Ao Nang, about 20 minutes away.
Another way to get there is to catch the train from Bangkok to Surat Thani and the bus from there to Krabi.
Top hotels and resorts on Koh Phi Phi
There’s a fair bit of churn of guests through Koh Phi Phi and the local islands, so maybe the hotels here don’t feel they have to do a very good job of keeping their guests happy. Not one of the hotels or resorts in the island chain has a really spotless reputation, but here are our pick of the rest:
Outrigger Phi Phi Island Resort and Spa is a 5-star resort on Lo Ba Goa Bay, right in the middle of the main strip of Koh Phi Phi, so very convenient to all the restaurants and night life as well as the main beach. The rooms are bungalow style with thatched roofs and private balconies and located in amongst well kept gardens, tree and flower beds. The food in the restaurant is cooked in front of you from fresh ingredients. The hotel has its own clean and private beach as well as an infinity pool.
Zeavola Hotel is a 5-star hotel located on the northern tip of Koh Phi Phi, on a beautiful stretch of unspoilt white sand beach. The hotel has 52 rooms, its own bar/pub, restaurant and shops as well as massage and spa facilities and a nice swimming pool. Speed boats from Krabi/Ao Nang and Phuket go directly to the hotel. The hotel’s private beach is very nice and the atmosphere is very simple and laid back. Dine at night under the stars in the hotel restaurant with fabulous Thai food and fresh seafood. Be aware this hotel is a long way from the rest of the facilities on Ko Phi Phi, but a great place to relax and kick back.
P.P. Erawan Palms Resort is a 3.5-star resort located in Ao Lo Dalam opposite Ton Sai Bay (a short walk through the rainforest). Be aware that this is a completely non-smoking resort and does not have sea views or free wifi. But the rooms are well appointed, clean and comfortable and the mid-town location is very convenient, but a 10 minute walk to the beach and the piers where people party at night. It’s also very close to the best restaurants and bars. The views from the rooms are of a central garden courtyard with swimming pool and there’s free access to a gym in a partner hotel nearby.
Phi Phi Andaman Legacy Resort is a 3-star resort on Ton Sai Bay with pool view and mountain view rooms and bungalows, set in a stunning garden landscape close to the beach and the town facilities. The guest rooms are designed in the Thai Lanna style with lots of timber and Thai antiques. While it doesn’t have the range of amenities of some resorts on Koh Phi Phi, it is relatively cheap to stay in and is just 5 minutes walk from the party pier, but still pretty quiet at night. Rooms are clean and well appointed.
Video preview: Snorkelling on Koh Phi Phi