Brought to worldwide attention by the 2000 Hollywood adventure drama, The Beach, the Phi Phi Islands are Thailand's superstars. The islands are a bit of a backpacker legend and a hot topic of conversation amongst many travellers. Their natural beauty is enough to entice any visitor, as the sheer and stately limestone karsts and verdant jungle views are absolutely breathtaking. However, it tends to be the allure of the party scene that brings most visitors Phi Phi.
The Phi Phi Islands are located equidistant between Phuket Island and Krabi Province on the mainland. There are a number of speedboats and ferries leaving every day at various times and any hotel or tour operator can help with buying tickets and transfers to the pier.
Phi Phi's main islands are Koh Phi Phi Don and Koh Phi Phi Leh. Koh Phi Phi Leh is a day-tripper's paradise, and is where the majority of The Beach was filmed. Koh Phi Phi Leh is home to striking Maya Bay – the eponymous 'beach' of the movie. Sheltered on three sides by towering 100-metre-high cliffs, white-sand Maya Bay enjoys striking turquoise waters teeming with vividly coloured tropical marine life. Perfect for snorkelling, Maya Bay also has some great scuba diving.
"Phi Phi Don's also famous for its nightly fire shows. There are a handful of talented fire dancers on the island that amaze the crowds on a nightly basis with their remarkable skills."
But Koh Phi Phi Don is where the legendary nightlife is. The island's infrastructure has been developed into a network of high-end resorts, affordable accommodation, restaurants, cafés and souvenir shops, as well as laid-back beach bars and clubs.
Many travellers stop off on Phi Phi Don for a few days to get the most out of it. Although accommodation is plentiful on the island, it's best to book beforehand to ensure the best value for money. However, if you do arrive on Phi Phi Don without accommodation, rest assured that one of the many touts at the pier will be able to help you sort out something for the night.
Back to that nightlife... on any given night, there's a party to be found. Just about every beach bar and club on Phi Phi Don offers happy hour specials, where the island's mixologists concoct refreshing cocktails utilising local ingredients such as coconuts, pineapples, and whatever fruit's in season, while most of Phi Phi Don's west-coast bars provide the perfect place to watch the sun set and hug the island's cliffs. Phi Phi Don's also famous for its nightly fire shows. There is a handful of talented fire dancers on the island that amazes the crowds on a nightly basis with their remarkable skills.
And Phi Phi's quickly becoming a foodie paradise. The island's eateries offer local cuisine, lots of fresh seafood, Scandinavian fare and an assortment of Western favourites, as well popular Italian dishes, with pizza being an island staple. There's also a small, local Thai market within the village if you want to buy fresh fruits and veggies or to sample a spicy Thai curry.
The island's souvenir shops sell the usual T-shirts, fisherman pants, sarongs and postcards, but there are also a few interesting artisan shops in the village well worth taking a look at, as they offer handmade leather goods such as bags and shoes at affordable prices. Phi Phi also has ample pharmacies and minimarts in case you've forgotten to pack your sunscreen, vitamins or toothpaste.
Although lazing about the island’s beaches and pools is a popular activity, for the more adventurous traveller, renting one of the island’s elaborately decorated long-tail boats is a must-do. Located pretty much near wherever you are, the long-tail boats offer half- and full-day trips to lesser-known sights and islands around Phi Phi, including Bamboo Island, Mosquito Island and Hin Klang.
For the more experienced snorkeller, Shark Point, easily accessible from Long Beach, offers the chance to see black-tip reef sharks in their natural habitat. Snorkelling the areas around Phi Phi Don is a fantastic experience, as the waters offer ample marine life and the coral reefs are expansive. Snorkellers should exercise caution as currents can be strong and, during the SW monsoon season, the swell can be dangerous. If in doubt, go with an organised snorkelling trip.
Diving the Phi Phi Islands is also a popular activity, and avid divers from around the world come to Phi Phi Don to do so. There are a number of dive shops to choose from, and all have staff on hand who speak a variety of languages. For those wanting to learn to dive, the operators on Phi Phi Don have packages offering basic PADI and SSI courses, while more advanced courses are also available.
"Diving around the Phi Phi Islands is also a popular activity, and avid divers from around the world come to Phi Phi Don to do so."
Koh Phi Phi Don also offers a bit of a jungle experience in the form of hiking up to the viewpoint in the centre of the island. The climb is somewhat strenuous and steep, and it normally takes 30-40 minutes. It’s best to take a water bottle along, as the hundreds of steps and twisting trails up to the peak can be difficult in the heat, and you may want to stop for a short break. Upon reaching the top of the viewpoint, hikers are rewarded with lush views of the island and its neighbours, along with the quieter eastern beaches.
The Phi Phi Islands offer something for everyone. They make for a good day trip from Phuket or Krabi and are popular for a few days stopover on the way to other destinations further afield. Whether you are hoping to relax or to experience an epic beach party, the Phi Phi Islands is unlikely to disappoint.