Known as the ‘Jewels of the Andaman Sea’, the six islands that make up the Koh Phi Phi group are known as Phi Phi Don, Phi Phi Leh, Bamboo Island, Yung Island, Bida Nok and Bida Nai. Phi Phi Don is the only inhabited island of the six but the others are easily reached from Phuket or Phi Phi Don.
Phi Phi is best known for its starring role in the hit film ‘The Beach’ and if you think that the stunning scenery was Hollywood magic, then think again. The natural beauty of Phi Phi is simply astounding and even jaded expats find themselves in awe the first time they visit this paradise. Majestic limestone cliffs rise straight out of the water to create a maze of channels and inlets that conceal hidden lagoons and tiny beaches of pristine white sand.
Phi Phi Leh is perhaps the most magnificent of the six islands and its sheer walls conceal many hidden lagoons, including the fantastic Maya Bay, used as the hidden lagoon in ‘The Beach’. Yung Island and Bamboo Island are also home to some amazing beaches, while Bida Nok and Bida Nai are little more than rocks in the water.
The best scenery of the Bida Islands is underwater and the two are considered to be among the best diving and snorkelling spots in the Andaman Sea. The visibility is amazing (20 metres on average) and the variety and colour of coral and sea creatures is simply staggering.
The spectacular site of Phi Phi Don is 90 minutes away by boat The main island of the chain, Phi Phi Don, was devastated by the Boxing Day Tsunami of 2004 and the giant waves washed completely over the narrow strip of land between the twin bays. Nearly every building in the most developed centre of the island was wiped out and 700 people, Thai and foreigner alike, lost their lives on that infamous day.
Today, thanks to international relief efforts, Phi Phi Island is making a strong comeback. Many hotels and resorts have been rebuilt and more are on the way. In a way, the Tsunami was a mixed blessing. Although the loss of life was tragic, much of the over-commercial development was erased and the island has returned to a much more natural state.
Ton Sai, the main village on Phi Phi Don, has a great selection of amenities for the traveller. Restaurants serve good quality Thai and Western food, there is a small market area whose primary wares are jewellery and handicrafts as well as CDs and DVDs and bungalows and guest houses abound, catering to a wide range of clientele.
At night Phi Phi is in permanent party mode, and the beachfront bars and clubs open up to welcome the mostly young crowd. Spectacular fire shows are common, performed to thumping beats laid down by Thai and foreign DJs and large crowds come out to dance the night away, fuelled by copious amounts of alcohol, especially the notorious ‘buckets’.
During the day there are plenty of activities on offer for those who wish to do more than recover from the previous night. Snorkelling and diving are by far the most popular and dive shops are in abundance offering courses and day trips to the spectacular underwater locales.
Other popular activities include rock climbing, visits to the beaches of the nearby islands and sea kayaking. The short trip to the viewpoint behind Ton Sai village is highly recommended as it provides stunning vistas of the twin bays of Ton Sai and Loh Dalum Go early in the morning or in the afternoon to avoid the blistering midday heat.
Phi Phi Ley by contrast is sheer natural beauty and remains that way since no development has been allowed on the tiny piece of flat land in the stunning Maya Bay. The island’s three bays do get busy during day trips, particularly around noon, so you need to hire an early morning or late afternoon longtail boat from Phi Phi Don to have it all to yourselves.
Maya Bay will be familiar to fans of the Hollywood blockbuster The Beach, and you can wander through to a hidden tidal cove at the rear which reveals the bay where the snorkelling takes place on tours. Yet another bay around the corner is ideal for swimming with its clear aqua water. The final stop is the sea gypsy caves where they harvest best nests, much desired in Asian soups.
The final stop on the Phi Phi tours, is Bamboo Islands, which has a gorgeous beach, nice views and soft lapping waters.
Getting to Phi Phi
Daily ferries to Phi Phi Don leave from Rasada Harbour in Phuket Town. There are two departures daily, at 08:30 and 13:30. The trip takes about 90 minutes and the fare is around 800 baht for a one way ticket. Its easiest to arrange a ticket with a travel agent including a transfer to the ferry terminal.