Located on the West Coast of Southern Thailand, Koh Phi Phi Don is everything I envisioned island life to be and more. The harbour is lined with traditional Thai longboats, the water crystal clear and the limestone rock, rich with trees and wildlife, towers over the island in every direction. There were no cars, no motorbikes, no roads – a breath of fresh air when compared with the colossal Asian cities that surround it. Phi Phi is renowned for it’s white beaches and has been spread across the pages of countless travel magazines. I had heard and read so much about it’s relaxed atmosphere by day and beach clubs by night, and I could not wait to experience it all.
Phi Phi is accessible only by ferries that travel from other islands and the mainland several times a day. We flew with AirAsia first to Phuket then travelled by bus to the marina before taking the ferry. It is essential to book ferries in advance in order to secure not only a place on the ferry on your day of choice, but to escape the highly inflated prices charged at the docks. Upon arrival you are obliged to pay a twenty Baht (around forty pence) fee that contributes to keeping the island clean – more than reasonable considering the beaches and surrounding waters are impeccable.
I took the ferry from Phuket, and was greeted by a staff member from our hotel who had a wheelbarrow contraption for our bags and guided us through the tiny streets to the reception. All new arrivals were greeted by shopkeepers and locals with waves, smiles and voices saying “welcome to Phi Phi island”. The overwhelming feeling of friendliness and relaxation was almost instantaneous, and I attribute that greatly to the locals.
My hotel, Ibiza House, is a hotel and hostel located 30 seconds from the beach. As well as having its own pool, restaurant and hosting its own pool parties it is a stones throw away from the beaches clubs and restaurants. Although a little more expensive than others on the island (costing £70 for 3 nights – which may not seem like much at all, but in Southeast Asia it goes a very long way) location and amenities I was more than happy to pay the price.
The hotel hosted a pool party the afternoon I arrived consisting of a DJ and buckets of Thai rum. Despite being the low season, there were hundreds of people dancing and drinking and enjoying the sun. The feeling of relaxation did not subside, everybody around me seemed equally as in awe of their surroundings as I was.
As the sun began to go down people began to trickle towards to beach, and so I followed. The entrance to the beach behind the hotel played host to one of the most sensational views I have ever seen. Longboats scatter the beach and in front the vast expanse of water cocooned by towering limestone rock. As the sun lowered the sky was painted a glorious array of pinks and blues, eventually plunging the rock and sea into darkness.
Afterwards I went in search of food. Authentic Thai food is otherworldly – flavourful, spicy, and incredibly cheap. Stalls had been set up in front of closed shops selling an array of marinated meats – the chicken undoubtedly being my favourite. Amongst the stalls were open shops selling tickets for boat excursions and ferries to other islands, and so I decided on a full day trip around Phi Phi costing 500 Baht, around £10. I was given my receipt and ticket for the following morning and continued on my way. Further down I found The Pirate House restaurant that a combination of Thai and Western foods. The latter was the deciding factor, as I believe familiar foods have a way of helping expel the feeling of missing home. My food (a chicken, pesto and pasta combination) was impressive, as was the continuous loop of Red Hot Chilli Peppers blaring from the speakers. The tea menu in restaurants is always worth investigating, in my opinion, as the tea served is of great quality as well as helping with crushing a hangover.
Once I had finished in the restaurant I picked up some water and snacks for the following day, walking home along the beach and seeing what it had to offer for the following night – I finally knew better than to spend a night drinking and the following day travelling in 35 degree heat.
At 10am I returned to the shop where I had bought my ticket and met with the group I would be travelling with and our captain. As well as five stops on the trip my price included two meals. Although I can’t pretend I was overly enamoured with the coleslaw sandwich for breakfast, it was unbelievable value for money.
The weather when we left Phi Phi was perfect; blue skies, still waters and the sun shining. I travelled by longboat and away from land the sea was incredibly choppy. If you suffer from seasickness I would definitely suggest taking a speedboat as they seemed to be handling the waves much better than us. This applies if you also don’t mind paying a little extra for a more spacious journey, although group trips are a great way of meeting new people. At points the boat rocked so aggressively it felt as though we would go overboard. It was incredibly nerve wracking to begin with. The captain’s relaxed and quietly confident demeanour relaxed me entirely, his laughter made everyone else laugh and soon it became a novelty when travelling between viewpoints.
In the morning we travelled to Bamboo Island and Mosquito Island. Being a nature reserve Bamboo Island costs an additional 200 Baht to enter, so factor this in when packing your bag for the day. Unlike the other islands in Phi Phi, it consists only of white beaches and lush forest. The water all around the area is crystal clear, perfect for snorkelling and swimming in. It’s older sister, Mosquito Island, is the most popular location in the Phi Phi area for snorkelling. The boat provided us with the appropriate equipment to do so and despite all my reservations I knew had to experience it. Underneath the surface the sea floor sat but a few feet away from me, covered in coral for as far as my goggle-covered eyes could see. Huge schools of tiny fish swam around me, greens and blues and yellows darting curiously to and from the curious hands that reached out to them. I only wish I could have spent more time exploring this entirely new part of the world.
After lunch and more turbulent seas, we visited lagoons and were encouraged to swim and snorkel some more. We then visited Monkey Beach which in reality consists of a very little beach and lots of rock but the island itself is home to a large macaque population. Despite having read warnings of monkey attacks and bites, the captain assured us if we were friendly and respectful to the animals they would be so to us. It was fascinating to see how close these wild animals were willing to come to the visitors, how willing they were to let people feed them and take photos with them. I was pleasantly surprised by how stimulating the trip was – on land visits, diving, seeing the unique Southeast Asian seascapes as well as interaction with animals.
The final stop on the tour was Maya Bay – the beach made famous after having featured in Leonardo DiCaprio’s ‘The Beach’. By far the busiest stop on our trip, our longboats stopped some way away from the limestone. After being offered life vests and a waterproof bag for everyone to place their belongings in, we were instructed to jump into the lagoon and swim towards the rock, using a net attached to its side to climb onto the island. Not for the faint-hearted, after the swim and climb a man made path led the swarms of tourists to Maya beach. Like all other Phi Phi beaches, the white powder sand stretched away from me on either side, in front loomed the glistening Andaman Sea and lush vegetation towered over the island. On the rocky journey back to the main island, I couldn’t help but think it was very possibly the best ten pounds I had ever spent.
After a well deserved disco nap, I firstly had to book my travel for the following day, when I would be travelling to Ao Nang (another Thai beach resort back on the mainland). Ferry tickets are easy to come by and the prices in Phi Phi are so reasonable there is little need to barter for them – and trust me, I enjoy nothing more than a bargain.
On this particular Saturday evening New Zealand and Australia were playing in a rugby match and most bars and restaurants were overrun with their natives shouting at televisions, so I decided to cook what had come to be my staple meal of cup noodles back in my hotel room.
The clubs in Phi Phi were unlike anything I had ever seen before. There were rows and rows of loungers and tables in front of some, whilst others boasted fire dancers and singers. The mood changed from one club to the next, one consistent feature being the hundreds of young travellers like myself enjoying themselves. Music stopped at 2am, but the bars with customers remained open until people began to leave.
The last morning consisted of staying in bed for as long as possible before avidly trying to repack my rucksack within our check out time. I had breakfast at one of the bars on the beach – a baguette to ensure my stomach was calm for the oncoming ferry journey. After walking along the beach and taking as many photos as my phone could store, it was time to head back to the hotel to collect our bags and make our way back down to the harbour.
Phi Phi delivered everything a beach holiday should: blue skies, white beaches and perfect waters. It is an island so versatile it can be made to fit anyone’s preferences. For the adventurous there are a magnitude of excursions from rock climbing to scuba diving, for those in search of relaxation there are miles of beach, spas and hotels hidden far from the nightlife and for those in between there are the options of boat trips, both private and with a larger group.
If you are ever in this part of the world, I hope you to give it a try for yourself.