Phi Phi is known for being the superstar among all the islands in the ‘Land of Smiles’. It’s where film ‘The Beach‘ starring Leonardo DiCaprio was set, and ever since tourists have flocked to this island paradise. For some, it’s the only reason to touchdown in nearby Phuket.
During our three months in Phuket, my sister came to visit. It was our first time in Asia together and we wanted to do something special. So, we decided to visit the insanely pretty Phi Phi Islands.
A few days before we wanted to go, we went to the local tour agent and found there are lots of tour companies offering the same tour at the same price. We were after the best deal the agent could offer. After shopping around at half a dozen agents, we booked in a tour that was listed at ฿3200/pp, but with some bargaining we got it for ฿1350/pp. That’s better than half price!!! And it shows how much room they have to move on profit margins!
We were picked up from our apartment and Kata on time, and headed up north to pick up other passengers in Karon and Patong. Our driver got very lost picking up our final passengers. Not a great start to the day. We ended up driving around in circles for what felt like an hour before he finally found the right hotel!
We arrived at the pier at 9:30am. It was quiet, and clear that all other speedboats had left for the day. While we had a little bit of FOMO for being the ‘last cab off the rank’, the plus side was that we we were able to check in quickly. We got our obligatory pre-tour-photo (which they had printed and framed on our return) and headed to the end of the pier for the security briefing and fin hire.
We loaded up onto the speedboat, got nice and cosy with our fellow travellers. It was a full tour, so you really find out how loaded up a boat can get! Then, at last, we FINALLY left the pier an hour later than scheduled!
It was great to feel the wind through our hair after being stuck in the minivan for most of the morning. Then, the crew realised they had forgot something… so we had to turn back around.
It felt like this day was never going to start!!
Ok, missing item collected and take two, and we were finally on our way to Phi Phi. We were all excited to get to our first stop, Phi Phi Lay – the home of the postcard perfect Maya Bay (THE Beach from ‘The Beach‘). Then the crew announced that we had two options:
It was up to the tour group to decide which option to go with.
C’mon, seriously? If this was really the case, it would be national news that one of the most popular destinations in the land was un-visitable. We could see through what the crew were saying. The reality was; we were the last boat of the day, so Maya Bay was going to be jam-packed & they wanted to make it our decision not to go there.
Many other travellers fell for their scam, and for those that didn’t, they pulled out a stock image of the jellyfish and asked [quite aggressively] “do you want to get stung & paralysed?!”.
So, it was voted that we don’t go to Maya Bay. It would have been nice to see this place that everyone was talking about, but at the end of the day – we were going to have our heads down in the water snorkelling so as long as that’s good, we’re happy.
This day didn’t start off very well, but when we arrived at Phi Phi Lay, all was forgiven. The landscape here is ridiculously beautiful and unlike anything I’ve ever seen. The Phi Phi islands have towering limestone cliffs that have eroded at the waterline which make them look like they’re floating on top of the sea. They’re incredible.
We anchored in at Loh Samah Bay for an hour of snorkelling. This place gathers all the postcard clichés in one place with crystal clear water, soft white sand, and lush tropical plants.
Frist stop, Loh Samah Bay in Phi Phi Lay
My sister and I got straight in. Steve’s not as crazy about the water as we are. While we were admiring all the sea creatures, I figured Steve was just taking some pictures and doing his own thing. When we found him, he was quite shaken up… I’ll let him explain:
“This was the first time that I’d been able to bring my camera and water-proof case out to some pristine waters, so I was pretty excited.
It’s a surprisingly hard thing to use while snorkelling. The buoyancy of the camera case makes it pretty hard to hold under water and frame a shot, so there was plenty of guesswork. At one point, I realised I had no idea what I was shooting. So, I decided to find a space to have a little look.
Obviously conscious of stepping on coral and/or anything important, I had a little look around to find a place to stand – and there was a convenient rock. Checked it out, looked safe, so there I stood, looking at my pictures.
And then along comes a Russian tourist – yelling in Russian at me. Perhaps he was talking. Either way, I had no idea, then he gestured with his eyes to look down. So I put my goggles back on, and ducked my head under the water.
Sure as shit, I was standing on a long squirming sea snake – stuck under the end of my flipper. My freakin’ god. I almost walked on water. Soon as I moved, it buggered off and I was out. My heart skipped a couple beats, and I couldn’t believe it.
I later learned these snakes are highly venomous, but are a bit of a toothless tiger. They can only bite at the webbing of your fingers or toes cause their mouths are so teeny. I don’t care. There’s a place for rational thought – and it wasn’t there and then. ”
Wow – What a day. So full of drama and it was only midday!
It was time to leave this lagoon. So, we all got back into the boat to check out some more sights of the uninhabited Phi Phi Lay:
Also known as Ao Pileh or Pileh Cove, this small inlet is one of the jewels of Phi Phi. We came past at about midday and the emerald green water just glistened in the sun. We were just doing a sightseeing ‘drive by’ so didn’t stay here for long, but long enough for this spot to take our breath away.
A few hundred meters north of Pileh Lagoon was the Viking Cave. To be honest, we were a little underwhelmed and expected something bigger after it being mentioned as a key highlight on so many tour brochures. All it is, is a bunch of rugged bamboo structures at the bottom of a tall limestone cliff. Next.
After seeing the sights of Phi Phi Lay we headed towards Monkey Bay on Phi Phi Don.
Ergh. This place is the kind of animal exploitation we hate. It was horrible. The tour guides handed out bananas to everyone to give to the monkeys. Despite signs saying there’s a ฿500 fine if you feed the monkeys, everyone was doing it (except for us). The poor monkeys seem trapped on this beach and rely on tourists to give them their food supply. The pecking order was obviously out of whack, and everyone seemed entertained when fights over food broke out between the baby monkeys and alpha males.
This was supposed to be a ‘sightseeing’ part of the itinerary, not ‘let’s tease the local monkeys’. We didn’t partake in this activity but boat after boat of tourists off-loaded here and encouraged this bad behaviour.
Now that the monkeys had been fed, it was finally our turn to eat, so we headed to Tonsai Bay.
Wow, there were SO MANY TOURISTS!!! Tonsai Bay was chaos! The tour guides herded us all like cattle through the winding pathways to some massive dining halls where there was a big buffet spread with everything from soup, curries, rice, spaghetti and fruit. The food was actually pretty good and we quickly scoffed it back then used the spare time we had to explore some more of Phi Phi Don.
We ended up at the northern beach and found a beachfront bar to chill out at. We enjoyed some fresh coconuts with the sand between our toes. Ah, it was bliss – for a moment – until we realised our time was up and we had to rush back to the speedboat.
Back on the boat and off to our next destination – which was also in Tonsai bay so it literally took 5 minutes to get there. The location we stopped at was called Shark Point. Lucky for some there were no sharks here (although I would have loved to see them!). It was a great spot with lots of fish and a variety of shallow coral to drop offs that we could duck dive around.
Our time at Shark Point (30 mins) flew by and before we new it our time at Phi Phi was up.
As we left Phi Phi we noticed the sky was starting to turn. We didn’t want to leave, but we also didn’t want to be suck in a storm. The timing was perfect.
This island looks like it hosts some pretty wild parties. It was full of shack-like bars and backpackers enjoying this little slice of paradise (oh, and some kittens that we gave some love!). We thought we’d grab a drink, but the prices were a rip-off and the vibe was a bit too rowdy for our liking, so we headed the beach for one last dip instead (it’s a hard life!).
The storm was starting to catch up on us. Lucky for my sister and I, it was still sunny on the beach. Steve used this as a chance to go over the wild side of the island and climb over the rocks to get some shots of the storm clouds. It looks like another planet!
Some of our best travel memories are from snorkelling tours. This tour was our first one for Thailand, and with Phi Phi’s incredible reputation, expectation was high.
Unfortunately, the service from the tour company meant it didn’t live up to the expectations. But hey, we wanted cheap and well, we got what we paid for!
We’re realistic about it though. While the tour company has lots of areas it can improve on, Phi Phi is still a perfect day trip from Phuket. The hype is justified and we’ll never forget Phi Phi’s natural beauty.