Exploring the Phi Phi Islands

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The exquisitely beautiful Phi Phi Islands in the south of Thailand have a certain reputation in the ‘travel world’ for being a party island. Partying isn’t exactly our scene and we would almost always choose an empty, quiet beach over a beach filled with drunk 20-something year olds. Almost always (unfortunate story below). We visited the Phi Phi islands knowing full well what the reputation was and wanted to give it a shot anyways because of the stunning pictures I had seen of Maya Bay and the clear blue water surrounding the islands.

Boats in Maya Bay, Thailand

Boats in Maya Bay, Thailand

From Bangkok we took our second AirAsia flight to the tiny Krabi Airport. Thankfully that flight wasn’t as eventful as our first AirAsia flight! We spent the night in Krabi Town at BanTo guesthouse which was within walking distance of the town. We were able to explore the evening weekend market and tried some of the best food of the entire trip!

 Temple in Krabi

Temple in Krabi

Ferry to Phi Phi

We woke early and caught the 0900 ferrry to Phi Phi Don. We had bought our tickets the day before through our guesthouse, which had a shuttle pickup included. When we arrived to the ferry terminal we decided to purchase our next ferry tickets, which would take us from Phi Phi Don to Koh Lanta. They said it was cheaper to buy them there in Krabi then it would be to purchase them on Phi Phi. I don’t know how true this was but it was nice to not have to worry about purchasing tickets later.

The ferry took about 1.5 hours but it went really quickly. We sat up top so there was a nice breeze and we were able to watch fishermen setting their nets and watch as the scenery changed from large rocky cliffs on the main land to nothing but clear blue water surrounding us.

On the ferry from Krabi to Phi Phi

On the ferry from Krabi to Phi Phi

Killing Time on Phi Phi Don

Upon arriving to Phi Phi Don (the larger of the 2 main Phi Phi Islands) we each had to pay a required 20 baht fee to “keep Phi Phi clean.” We had an afternoon to spend while we waited for our Maya Bay Sleep Aboard Tour to start. We dropped our bags off at the May Bay Tours office and meandered the windy pathways off Ton Sai, the main town. There are not any cars on Phi Phi so you have to get around on foot or by boat if you’re going to the other side of the island. There was a lot of construction on the cobblestone pathways and overall I wasn’t impressed with the town. It was the same merchant shops selling the same trinkets which were way overpriced compared to what we had seen the night before at the Krabi Night Market.

I had wanted to hike to the Phi Phi Viewpoint but by the time we ate lunch the heat and humidity were so intense we didn’t really have the energy to do much. So we got massages instead. There is at least a couple massage parlors on every block, the place we went to had some air conditioner which was a nice reprieve.

Phi Phi

Maya Bay Sleep Aboard Tour

We met at the pier at 2:45 in the afternoon and boarded the boat that would be our home for the night. Our group wasn’t very large (around 15 of us) and consisted of Brazilians, French, Australians and lots of British. Per usual, we were the only Americans. Side note: I was shocked that we didn’t see any Americans on our travels through Hong Kong, Macau, Thailand or Malaysia. It’s not the quickest place to travel to but it is so rewarding and I would encourage fellow Americans to venture a little further, Southeast Asia is an incredible place!

Our first stop was to see Viking Cave. The cave has been inhabited by a family for generations and is off limits to tourists. The family lives in a cave, built into the side of a limestone cliff so that they can scale the cliff side to retrieve birds nests. These nests are used for birds nest soup, a Chinese delicacy. The cave is named Viking Cave because it was supposedly first discovered by Vikings.

Viking Cave

Viking Cave

The next hour or so was spent jumping off the boat, snorkeling and kayaking in a bay. The tour guides tossed bits of banana into the water which drove the fish absolutely wild! It was almost scary how many fish we saw while snorkeling. To get a better idea of what I’m talking about you can check out or GoPro video HERE of our entire Maya Bay excursion.

Our next stop was what we were all waiting for: Maya Bay! Ever since Leonardo DiCaprio filmed The Beach here in 2000 it has been drawing hundreds of visitors a day. Thankfully our tour group arrives just as everyone else is starting to leave. Within 2 hours of arriving to Maya Bay the beach was utterly empty. Most of the people who see this beach during the day view it while it is a tourist attraction. Boat after boat ferrying in visitors. Beer cans littering the beach, selfie sticks crowding out the view of the enclosed bay, the water turning brown because of the boat engines running. Other than the beer cans and trash littering the soft sand, Maya Bay felt like a slice of untouched paradise after everyone left. I image that’s what first started drawing people to this tiny island before it became such a tourist attraction.

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As the sun was setting we all headed to the camp area while a young British couple headed down to the beach and got engaged! After the sun set dinner was served. We had an incredible curry and we also received a free “bucket” which was included in the tour price. A “bucket” is a mixed alcoholic drink that is usually made with Vodka or Rum. I don’t know if it was the the cheap Vodka that hit me or the Red Bulls that were in it, but I was in for a crazy night!

Maya Bay sleep aboard

We gathered around in a circle and played drinking games for a few hours until it was time to head back to the boat. Thankfully they had us all wear life jackets as we took the dinghy boat back out to the big boat which was anchored in the bay. One of the highlights of the trip I was most looking forward to was swimming in the bay at night. There is bio-luminescent plankton in the bay which lights up the water when its touched. I remember swimming with my life jacket on but otherwise I couldn’t tell you how the water looked! So disappointed! Jake said that the plankton weren’t very bright that night though, so perhaps I didn’t miss much.

The only advantage of going to sleep drunk under the stars was that I didn’t care how uncomfortable the thin mats were. Jake, and nearly everyone else had a terrible time sleeping because they were so uncomfortable. The sleeping was the easy part for me, the waking part is where everything went to hell.

Maya Bay Sleep Aboard

Maya Bay Sleep Aboard

I have a sensitive stomach, so if I throw up once I am going to be throwing up all day. Sorry if TMI! We took the dinghy boat back to the beach before visitors began to arrive. The beach and bay were beautiful in the early morning light and the water was incredibly warm still. I didn’t have the ability to do much else but hang out with the group in the waist deep water and run to the shore to throw up every few minutes. We took the jumping photos (which makes sense if you have watched The Beach) and we headed back to the boat for breakfast. I know they had fresh fruit and I’m not sure what else. I took a motion sickness pill in hopes that it would help (it didn’t) and slept all the way back to Phi Phi Don.

Maya Bay

Maya Bay

I hate that such a wonderful experience was ruined because I over-imbibed. It didn’t feel like it at the time. Over about 6 hours I had 3 drinks, which I could normally handle. I hadn’t eaten much because the heat makes me loose my appetite, and was probably dehydrated already because of the humidity and sweating so much so I definitely should have taken it easy in hindsight. I still look back on the tour with fond memories though, even if the next day was physically the worst day of my life!

Maya Bay Beach

Recovering in Phi Phi

I spent the following hour or so at the Maya Bay office laying on their couch, running to the back to use their Thai Style toilet to throw up in. Have you ever seen a Thai Style toilet? Lowest point of my life. Jake meanwhile hunted down our hotel that we had pre-booked and was trying to see if they would let us check in early, which thank God they did otherwise I would have ended up at the hospital.

We stayed at the Phi Phi Good View Resort which was about a 15 minutes walk from town on the other side of the bay. I spent the rest of the day laying in bed trying to hold down fluids while napping and watching a Walking Dead marathon. Jake was mad at me for not going to the hospital, so I agreed that if I wasn’t able to hold down fluids by that evening he could walk me to the hospital. After more than 12 hours of throwing up I was finally able to hold down fluids! I know I was so freaking dehydrated and in retrospect I probably should have just gone, that’s what travel insurance is for. I don’t know if you heard though, nurses are the worst patients 😉

Good View Phi Phi Resort

Good View Phi Phi Resort

We could hear parties and see fire dancers across the bay from our hotel as the afternoon turned to evening. It was pretty noisy most of the night, as the sounds echoed across the bay. I woke early the next morning thought and caught a beautiful sunrise. I guess the perk of a party island is you have it to yourself if you wake early enough!

Sunrise from Good View Resort in Phi Phi

Sunrise from Good View Resort in Phi Phi

We spent the late morning kayaking and we rented a long tail boat to take us to Monkey Beach. Note: Monkey Beach does not have monkeys during high tide! We didn’t seen any monkeys here unfortunately. We did experience some pretty good snorkeling though and got to finally ride on a long tail boat, so it wasn’t a total bust.

Monkey Beach at high tide

Monkey Beach at high tide

Our favorite moments on Phi Phi were:

  • Having Maya Bay to ourselves
  • Trying Thai Pancakes (best food ever!!)
  • Kayaking (me)
  • Falling in love with Snorkeling
  • Our room at Phi Phi Good View Resort (great beds and a/c!)

Worst Moments on Phi Phi:

  • Worst Hangover of my life + dehydration
  • Kayaking (Jake- he has the worst balance!)
  • Crowds and over development on Phi Phi
  • High prices

I am really glad that we went to Phi Phi and in a way it was one of our favorite and least favorite places. I doubt we will ever go back to Phi Phi though. Our next destination we visited turned out to be our favorite place on our trip and will always have a special place in our hearts. Our next stop: Koh Lanta, Thailand!

If You Go: 

  • Stay:

  • Shuttle from Krabi Airport to Krabi Town: 100 baht ($3 USD) one way

  • Ferry from Krabi to Phi Phi: 400 baht ($11 USD and included shuttle)

  • Maya Bay Sleep Aboard Tour: 3,000 baht/per person ($95 USD/ per person)

    • included dinner, breakfast and 1 alcoholic drink

*note: there are affiliative links in this post, which means we will make a small commission if you book something but you will still pay the same great price! We only recommend things we have tried ourselves***

phi phi pin

Have you been to Phi Phi before? What were your thoughts? 

 

21 thoughts on “Exploring the Phi Phi Islands

    1. The beach was still pretty crowded when we got there in the late afternoon, so I can only imagine how bad it can get! After experiencing it empty I wouldn’t want to see it any other way, unless you were able to get a longtail boat to take you there first thing (we saw some people arriving around 6 or so in the morning).

  1. Amazing place!! Though I have to admit, when I first saw Phi Phi Islands in The Beach movie, I wasn’t so impressed — but that’s mostly because this kind of landscape is normal in my country (Philippines — you should definitely check out Coron and El Nido! It has the same terrain as Phi Phi, and it’s still not as touristy yet).

    All in all, thanks for the tips! I have yet to explore Thailand’s beaches 🙂
    Aileen recently posted…The Stunning Walled City of Le Mont Saint Michel, A Must-See in France!My Profile

    1. I am dying to go to the Philippines! El Nido has been on my radar recently, I can’t believe how stunning the water looks in pictures. It will definitely be somewhere we explore in the next few years.

  2. Thanks for this honest review of your time there – honestly, the area always looks stunning in photos, and yous are stunning too, though yes, the party reputation is what’s been turning me off from visiting, because we’ve long since past our drunken days. I was told last week to look at booking an expensive tour because generally these will be a little nicer and have less of a crazy insane 20’s party vibe. Thinking we might spend a little longer saving and opt for that.

    Sad to hear that “the beach” is littered since the film released – though glad to hear that over-all it is still quite natural and largely untouched. And totally agree re your tip on waking up early for the beautiful sunrises – totally not a morning person normally but I am when we’re traveling! And it’s so good to beat everyone to the beach because they’re all sleeping off hangovers :D!!

    Thanks for the thoughts XX
    Meg Jerrard recently posted…The Best Luxury Villas in Maui, HawaiiMy Profile

    1. I was really torn about visiting Phi Phi because the whole party vibe doesn’t appeal to either of us (although we did embrace it for our one night! haha). I am glad that we only spent the 1 night in Phi Phi though, I was not crazy about the town and I wouldn’t want to spend any more time there unless it was on secluded resort on the other side of the island. I would definitely recommend Koh Lanta to you though! Lanta is luxurious, affordable and it actually felt like “real” Thailand because it’s not mostly tourists.

  3. I absolutely love Thailand! We went to Bangkok and Koh Samui last year and I can’t wait to go back. Yes, it’s far but Southeast Asia is not to be missed. We also stopped by Beijing on our way to Thailand so it’s possible to get more bang for your buck since it takes a while to get there and flights aren’t cheap. With that said, I can’t wait to check out the Phi Phi Islands on our next visit in January!
    Mia recently posted…BEIJING IN A DAYMy Profile

    1. We heard good things about Koh Samui! We were really torn between visiting islands in the Andaman Sea or the Gulf of Thailand but my desire to see Maya Bay won out 😉 And I agree, it’s so easy to arrange the flights so it can be broken up and visit multiple destinations versus a really long flight from North America. We actually never had a layover, we left the airport at every place we visited 🙂

    1. Our longest flight was like 12 hours from Vancouver, B.C. to Hong Kong! That pretty much sucked, but once we got there it was cheap and quick to fly around SE Asia.

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