The two islands of Phi Phi Don and Phi Phi Ley rise majestically from the Andaman Sea 48kms south east of Phuket and 42kms south west of Krabi - the two main departure points to access the islands; there is also a boat service from Koh Lanta to the south. The two islands are contained in the Mu Koh Phi Phi Marine National Park along with neighbouring islets Koh Bida Nok, Koh Bida Nai, Koh Yung and Koh Mai Pai, the latter two referred to as Mosquito Island and Bamboo Island.
Tourism related amenities have over recent years taken a stronghold on the larger and only inhabited island of Koh Phi Phi Don, which rebounded rapidly from 2004 tsunami damage. There are many shops, selling basic provisions and tourist souvenirs, spanning the narrow 150m wide isthmus (effectively a sand bar that joins two islands) dividing Ton Sai Bay and Lo Dalum Bay; these are supported by a selection of high street banks complete with ATMs and currency exchange services.
Bungalow resorts, luxurious hotels and eateries are everywhere, spilling out along the bays’ shorelines themselves. Cheek-by-jowl restaurants proudly display their menus of cuisine from all four corners of the globe; plus there’s locally caught seafood to confuse your choice of where to eat even further! Nightlife is varied too, but is mostly fairly quiet; there are a few raucous bars-cum-discos, but not enough to quench the island’s tropical ambiance. Lo Dalum has a number of beach-side bars where the main distractions are fire dancing displays on the beach.
Phi Phi Don is famous for its numerous sandy beaches and panoramic views; to take full advantage of them, there is a well signposted trek to a view point that can be reached by foot in around 30 minutes from either of the bays. Although not an immensely challenging trek, it is a long walk following, in most places, a paved footpath; the rewarding vistas of this and the surrounding islands are spectacular. At the top is a small café selling cold drinks, ice creams and snacks, but it’s strongly advised to take drinking water with you for the journey upwards –best attempted in the cooler morning, which is also the best time to take photographs, as the sun is behind you!
The smaller sheer limestone walled island of Koh Phi Phi Ley serves as a sightseeing and snorkeling hot-spot during the daytime. The cliffs are pitted with caves of all sizes and at varying heights above sea level. One of the largest, Viking Cave, can be directly accessed by boat and, aside from visitors there to see ancient line drawings on the cave’s inner walls, it serves as roost to edible-nest swiflets, whose nests are the main ingredient of bird’s nest soup.
Flocks of these small birds can be seen outside the cave in the early evening hours as they swoop through the skies after their prey of tiny insects. Late afternoon or early evening are the best time of the day to visit as you will miss the massed fleet of tourist boats that, by the time you arrive, will all be heading back to Phi Phi Don – likewise arriving early in the day is also a good decision!
Possibly the biggest and best known attraction the island has to offer is Maya Bay, brought to international notoriety during the filming of the blockbuster movie ‘The Beach’ back in 1999. This is a huge parabolic bay, hemmed in by 100m cliffs on three sides and filled with shallow, clear water; it is the destination of choice for droves of snorkelers. You can camp overnight on the larger of the secluded beaches, but campers need to bring their own food. There are barbeque facilities for public use, but camp fires are prohibited.
You can charter a longtail boat or a speedboat or join an organised snorkelling tour from Koh Phi Phi Don. However, the best way – if you have the budget – to get the most out of this and the surrounding area is to go for a private sailing yacht charter, which can be booked on Phuket. Sailing yachts can sometimes be booked ‘bareboat’ (if you can prove your sailing skills and experience) or with experienced and knowledgeable crew. There are plenty of sheltered moorings only a short distance from Phi Phi Don’s amenities and also in secluded locations for those wishing to get away from it all. Yachts, in particular catamarans, provide a stable platform with easy entry and exit points for swimmers and snorkellers.
Along with all the great snorkelling opportunities, scuba diving in the marine park is one of the most popular pastimes on the island, plus it can be possible all year round. There is an extensive variety of both hard and soft corals frequented by a rich diversity of marine life in all shapes and sizes – from the minute to the massive; there’s also a nearby wreck to explore. Diver training is very popular, mainly due to the calm conditions, clear and relatively shallow waters. There are plenty of Scuba diving services available on the island, with internationally recognised instruction available in a variety of languages. Other available pastimes include big game fishing and rock climbing.
The recommended way to reach Koh Phi Phi is to travel via either Krabi or Phuket International Airport. On arrival, you will need to transfer to one of the local ferry boat services to complete the journey. Ferry boats depart at around 8am and 1pm and take around 90 minutes to reach Koh Phi Phi Don. There is also a daily boat transfer from the island of Koh Lanta. Speed boat charters are also available from all three destinations.
Sailing yachts can be chartered on Phuket and are a great way to reach Koh Phi Phi in leisurely style, complemented by an abundance of opportunities to explore all the glorious islands and beaches en-route, which would have otherwise been passed by! And of course, you take your accommodation with you so there’s no additional cost for hotel rooms.
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