Koh Phi Phi: The best tips & most important info for the island paradise
Koh Phi Phi is a true paradise. Turquoise waters, white sandy beaches, green overgrown mountainsides, palm trees and wooden longtail boats gently swaying in the water against the dream backdrop.
Find out why NOW is the best time to visit Koh Phi Phi in this in-depth guide. All tips and information were researched on site in March 2022 and are therefore up to date.
Info about Koh Phi Phi
Koh Phi Phi is a group of six small islands that belong to the southern Thai province of Krabi and are located about 40 kilometers from the mainland in the Andaman Sea. The main island and at the same time the only inhabited island, is called Koh Phi Phi Don.
From a bird’s eye view, Koh Phi Phi Don looks like it consists of two islands connected by a narrow spit of land just 200 meters wide. Because of this shape, Koh Phi Phi Don is also called Butterfly Island.
The neighboring island of Koh Phi Phi Leh is also very well known. Here is the Maya Bay, made world famous by the movie “The Beach”. Further north are Koh Mai Phai (better known as Bamboo Island) and Koh Yung (Mosquito Island). These three islands are uninhabited and undeveloped. You can visit their white sandy beaches and picturesque bays only by boat.
To the south are the two inaccessible, rocky islands of Koh Bida Nai and Koh Bida Nok. Their offshore coral reefs are popular with divers due to their biodiversity and steep, underwater cliffs.
Together, the six Phi Phi islands form the 390 km² Hat Noppharat Thara Marine National Park.
The main island of Koh Phi Phi Don currently has a population of about 2,000, most of whom are Muslim. They are descended from the fishermen who first settled the island in 1950. This is also the reason why there are no Buddhist temples on Koh Phi Phi, only mosques.
My dad traveled to Koh Phi Phi in 1989 and had the great fortune to experience the island group as an almost untouched natural paradise. At that time there was neither the movie “The Beach”, which later attracted the masses here, nor had the devastating tsunami rolled over the island.
The gigantic tidal wave, which was triggered by a seaquake in the Indian Ocean on December 26, 2004, hit Koh Phi Phi with full force. It destroyed almost the entire infrastructure and claimed more than 800 lives, according to official sources. Thousands are still considered missing today.
The tsunami changed the landscape of the small paradise. For example, the palm forest on the narrow headland between Ton Sai and Loh Dalum was completely torn away. 80% of all buildings were buried under debris and mud left behind.
To protect the environment, but especially to protect against further tsunamis, the original reconstruction plan called for the buildings that had been torn away to be built not on the headland, but on higher ground, leaving areas free for nature.
Looking down on Butterfly Island today, 18 years after the tsunami, this plan seems to have fallen short. The once green spit of land is now densely built-up. There are hardly any coconut palms left. Of the old charm of the island, wie my dad was able to experience it, not too much is left.
Only a small exhibition at the Koh Phi Phi lookout point and the completely neglected Tsunami Memorial Garden still bear witness to the natural disaster. Only a few meters away is a concrete building that was erected as a tsunami evacuation meeting point, but is now in danger of collapsing.
Would this be the salvation in case of another tsunami? I dare to doubt it. But at least there is an early warning system on Koh Phi Phi today.
After the tsunami, the island recovered quite quickly and welcomed tourists again just a few months later. The rush of visitors grew rapidly. The movie “The Beach” with Leonardo DiCaprio, which was shot to a large extent on Koh Phi Phi Leh and made especially the Maya Bay world famous, contributed significantly to this.
By the beginning of 2020, more than half a million tourists were counted annually. Far too many for the tiny island, which is simply not geared up for such masses. The consequences: Koh Phi Phi threatened to suffocate in garbage, sewage disposal reached its limits and the sensitive ecosystems of the surrounding coral reefs collapsed.
In past years, we were frequently warned by other travelers not to go to Koh Phi Phi at all. “The island is completely overcrowded. There are people scurrying on every square inch. It’s a pure party island. Boats dock at Ton Sai Pier and leave like there’s no tomorrow. The charm is completely lost,” many reported.
In 2018, the Thai government fortunately intervened and closed at least the most affected Maya Bay so that nature could recover. You can read more info about the Maya Bay closure here.
Consequences of the pandemic
About 1.5 year later, Corona came and caused a standstill. Not a single tourist boat docked on Koh Phi Phi anymore and the most important source of income for the locals collapsed. Most of them were forced to leave the island temporarily and look for work (more or less successfully) in other parts of the country.
For two years, Koh Phi Phi lay dormant. Even though many livelihoods suffered, the break was probably a great blessing for nature. Since Thailand is now open again for tourists, Koh Phi Phi is also slowly awakening from its sleep and is today perhaps more beautiful than ever.
We were on the island for a week in early March 2022. From a reliable source we know that at that time less than 20% of the pre-pandemic visitors were there. The island seems empty at the moment and yet (unlike some other Thai islands) enough accommodations, restaurants and stores are open.
The best time to come here is very likely right now, because I suspect it will never be this empty again. Accordingly, the following Koh Phi Phi tips are red-hot. Have fun reading!
Arrival on Koh Phi Phi
The waterway is the only way to reach the Phi Phi Islands. Usually you arrive at the Ao Ton Sai Pier on the main island Koh Phi Phi Don. In the past there was absolute hell going on here. Speedboats and ferries from Phuket, Krabi and Koh Lanta docked at the pier almost every minute, and thousands of backpackerseisende flocked to the small island. When we arrived, it was quiet, almost idyllic.
Right after you leave the boat, an “entrance fee” of 50 baht per person is required. Supposedly this money goes to the protection of the national park.
At the end of the jetty, a whole horde of tour guides and touts are waiting for newcomers. If you have booked your accommodation in advance, there will probably be a guide with a sign from your hotel to take you there on foot. Your luggage will be transported by handcart. Which brings us to the next point.
What makes Koh Phi Phi fundamentally different from all the other touristy developed islands in the south of Thailand: There are no cars and only a few motorcycles, which are, however, reserved for the locals and not rented to tourists.
You can therefore explore the island exclusively on foot or be taken from one beach to another by longtail boat. Alternatively, some accommodations offer free bike rental.
Ton Sai Village
The area around Ton Sai Pier is the busiest. Here is Walking Street with many small stores, restaurants, bars, cafes, supermarkets and dive schools.
Most of the accommodation and the two hospitals are also located in Ton Sai Village. You will also find a bank, several exchange offices and several tour operators where you can book boat trips.
Before the pandemic, wild parties were held in Ton Sai. At the moment it is relatively quiet even in the evenings. However, should tourism increase again to the same extent as before, it can get quite noisy in the hotels. Under these circumstances, I would perhaps not necessarily book an accommodation in the middle of Ton Sai Village.
Beaches on Koh Phi Phi
Ton Sai Beach
Ton Sai Beach is the main beach of the island and is located right next to Ton Sai Pier. There are so many longtail boats in the water here that you can hardly swim. However, there is a beach promenade lined with small restaurants and beach bars that invite you to stroll. From here you can watch the colorful hustle and bustle on the turquoise water.
The further you walk along the promenade from the pier, the more beautiful the beach becomes. At the very end you will even find a picturesque, quiet section.
Loh Dalum Beach
Loh Dalum Beach is located opposite Ton Sai Beach, on the other side of the narrow headland. Before the pandemic, Loh Dalum Beach was known as a backpacker and party beach. At present, it is paradisiacally beautiful and deserted here during the day. The beach slopes so flat that no boats dock and you can swim wonderfully.
In the evening, a few beach bars set up their deck chairs and cushions, turn up the music and serve colorful cocktails at sunset. We felt very comfortable here.
Laem Tong Beach
The 600 meter long Laem Tong Beach is in my opinion the most beautiful beach of Koh Phi Phi Don. It is located in the secluded north of the island and is accessible only by boat. The palm-fringed beach is fine and bright, the water shines turquoise blue.
There are only a handful of high-priced accommodations and restaurants here. Those who come here
mmt, is definitely not looking for a party, but relaxation away from the hustle and bustle.
Koh Phi Phi Viewpoint
The Koh Phi Phi Viewpoint is my absolute highlight on the island. My dad was there in 1989 and took the beautiful photos shown above of the then untouched paradise. 33 years later, I was standing at the same place looking down on the butterfly island. The landscape has definitely changed and the aftermath of the tsunami is clearly visible from up here. Where palm trees used to grow, ugly buildings now stand. Nevertheless, the view of the narrow headland and the sea all the way to Koh Phi Phi Leh is absolutely unique!
The way to the viewpoint is signposted on the entire island and can hardly be missed. If you look at Google Maps, however, there could be some confusion, because here are several viewpoints on the island displayed. The one you want to visit is Viewpoint 2, which automatically leads past Viewpoint 1.
The way up leads over numerous, steep steps and is absolutely sweaty at temperatures of 35 degrees. Some reports say that good shoes are absolutely necessary for the ascent. However, this is absolute nonsense. The entire path is asphalted and, apart from the effort, is no particular obstacle. We wore light sneakers. Most of the people we met along the way were there with flip flops or sandals.
Once at Viewpoint 1, there is an entrance fee of 30 baht (about 0.80 euros) per person. The ticket is valid…
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