Phi Phi Islands, Thailand

Koh Phi Phi Don panorama-Thailand.

(Ko) Phi Phi Don island, the only island with accommodation, most of it on the narrow isthmus in the centre of the photo. Don’s best beach is Loh Dalum on the right (east) side while the main port is on the left (west) side, where ferries arrive from Phuket et alia and longtails roar off to Phi Phi Ley – the original DiCaprio ‘Beach’.

Why visit the Phi Phi islands?

In the right season the water is more like a well-maintained swimming pool than the sea as we know it, so startlingly clear turquoise  you can easily track fish, turtles and octopi flitting by  a metre or so below while on the surface all around are craggy limestone islets fringed with powder sand and palm trees. Really, this once was paradise, and if you can shut out certain distractions, it still is. But it’s difficult to ignore hundreds of other visitors scuffling around you taking selfies while half a dozen unsilenced trucks pass by…

Playa Maya crowd on Phi Phi Leh, Thailand.

Just another day on Playa Maya. Photo by Diego Delso


Thailand’s department of national parks, wildlife and plant conservation announced the indefinite closure  on 1 October 2018  of Maya Bay.
It said that the restrictions on tourism would not be lifted until the ecosystem ‘fully recovers to a normal situation’.
Besides beach erosion, heavy traffic on the surrounding waters also damaged sensitive coral reefs, already vulnerable to rising sea temperatures and climate change.

‘Hell is other people’ and that’s the core problem in Thailand’s stunning Phi Phi Islands today. Since ‘The Beach’ movie was shot here visitors have saturated the limited land area while the few families owning most of Phi Phi Don – the only island with accommodation – have been on a massive and competitive building spree to host the hordes and extract their green.

Visitor overload and rapacious development on Phi Phi Don, builder’s debris and longtail boat noise.
Crystal waters are often spoiled by ranks of longtails and their oily residue, exquisite lagoons waft plastic bags from rock to rock, coral withers, tranquil seashores endure the endless roar of unsilenced engines, and insatiable development continues.

Phi Phi Don

Koh Phi Phi Don centre, Thailand.

This is the west side – mainly Tonsai port –  of Phi Phi Don’s  narrow neck separating it from the east side side where Don’s main beach of Loh Dalum is located. Nice but not up to Phi Phi Leh’s standard.

Further along the coast away from the port on the west coast are some fine stretches of white sand and snorkel-worthy coral such as Yao Beach, Lant Beach and Hin Khao Beach. These three beaches also have good value places to stay nearby.

Ao Ton Sai is the core of Phi Phi Don’s action, with a profusion of small hotels, guesthouses, bars and restaurants. It’s hectic and lacking grace but certainly dynamic. Tourists looking for a more tranquil Phi Phi experience should head for south Tonsai Bay (budget-mid range), Loh Dalum beach on the east shore (mostly up-market) or even over to Laem Tong in the north of the island for a much quieter and more pricey life.

Ferries bring around 1,000 visitors to these islands daily, and that’s excluding les riches who zip out here on privately hired speedboats from Phuket or wherever.

Phi Phi Don produces about 25 tonnes of solid waste a day, rising to 40 tonnes during the high season. And they don’t have the facilities to dispose of all that crap (literally) on a daily basis. So they dig a hole and bury it or take the easy option and throw it into the sea when nobody is looking…


Things to Do on and around the Phi Phi islands

Just 150m from turbulent Tonsai Bay’s endless boat comings and goings, shopping and busy trails, Loh Dalum beach is strangely calm, a long crescent of tree-fringed sand scattered with pay parasols and washed by clear waters that are arguably too warm due to the shallow depth.

Dalum beach is backed by a handful of quite up-market hotels – if you want a budget hotel head for Ton Sai – and some good bars and restaurants.

• Keiritas Yoga, a popular style incorporating mostly Hatha and Ashtanga movements can be found in various locations and class types on the island, indoor and outdoor.

• Climb steeply 180m up to the Viewpoint (from where the photo at top was taken) for a superb overview of the island, especially early or late in the day.

• Visit Monkey Beach on  Don, either on foot, by rental kayak or hire a longtail boat.

• Don’s entertainment speciality seems to be dramatic Fire Shows which take place is various locations nightly.

• Snorkeling is fair though much of the coral is a little deep for serious snorkelling, such as Mosquito Island and Bamboo Island. Shark Point is a place where blacktip reef sharks hang out and can be reached by swimmers from Don’s Long Beach.

• Scuba Diving is superb in the Marine Park area. Trips come out from Phuket but Ton Sai also houses many competing Dive Shops so it’s easy to find a trip to suit, or get your PADI license here. Sharks are always a big attraction, as is the King Cruiser Wreck, Shark Point and Anenome Reef.

• Kayaking is a beautiful way to cruise around this stunning island (especially once you escape from Tonsai Bay! ) and rentals easy to find, either for solo use or with a kayak tour.

• Rock Climbing is an upward trend and Tonsai is home to climbing shops offering kit and maps or guides and lessons for beginners.

• Sailing is another Phi Phi favourite, with wind surfers, kiteboarding, dinghies or larger sail boats available for hire and/or instruction.

Phi Phi Leh

Playa Maya seating, Ko Phi Phi, Thailand.

• Phi Phi Leh island, home to spectacular Maya Bay, the white powder sand ‘ Beach’ made famous by DiCaprio, startling clear, turquoise waters and some nice little caves. Just half an hour from  Don (the nearest accommodation, though camping is possible) by longtail boat or less by speedboat. BUT, you will have to pay a National Park fee just to land there for however long you stay, swimming in the bay is not very nice when lots of boats are coming and going and get there very early to avoid crowds. Take a picnic if you plan to stay a few hours.

• Bamboo Island  is another gorgeous, small (500m across) and frequently visited island 5 kms from Don but like Leh demands a silly National Park fee to land there and still gets crowded. It’s lovely but less spectacular than Leh and offers nothing to do but swim, stroll and perhaps snorkel on a reef about 30m offshore.

Getting there

Almost all visitors arrive by ferry from either Phuket (Rassada Port in Phuket Town) or Krabi which both run ferries twice a day at 9. 0 and 14. 30; journey time is about 90 minutes. Hiring a private speedboat is not incredibly expensive while larger yachts are also available for rent from Chalong Bay.