Koh Phi Phi: Five Sites to See
January 1, 1970
by Joseph Brush
Koh Phi Phi is on every backpacker’s list of sites to see in Thailand. The reason for this is easy to pinpoint because even if people don’t realize, the image of Maya Bay has become synonymous with backpacking the Land of Smiles ever since Leonardo DiCaprio set foot there in the 2000 film The Beach. While Maya Bay is undoubtedly a stunning site to behold, it is but one of a number of sites the Phi Phi islands have to offer. The main island Ko Phi Phi Don has a flavour unique to itself. Miles and miles away from the bustling traffic of Bangkok, the densely packed town packs a plethora of bars, restaurants, hostels, and tattoo parlours (sometimes all combined into one) all accessible by foot. Here is a list of the top sites to see based on my own experience in this wonderful little stop that showcases some of the best Thailand has to offer.
Koh Phi Phi boasts some of the best scuba diving Thailand has to offer. Having recently completed our open water certification on Ko Tao, we were eager to get back in the water. As there is no airport on the Phi Phi islands, all visitors inevitably arrive by ferry or speedboat at the Tonsai Bay Port (the Phi Phi Islands are right in the middle between Krabi and Phuket, taking about 90 minutes by ferry either way). You will inevitably be offered diving trips by a multitude of agencies pretty much right after getting off the boat. For 2500 baht we got a full day trip that involved two dives in Koh Bida Nok and Malong Bay. Malong Bay in particular was an amazing experience as we swam through mountains of coral teaming with colour and diverse sea life. Throughout a 40 minute dive we saw lobster, puffer fish, and most interesting a grouping of Barracuda (yes they were kinda terrifying). Between the dives we were provided with coffee and cookies as well as a rice dish for lunch, all while basking in the stunning vistas of Maya Bay. Our guide Ben was a highly experienced British Diver spending the winter in Koh Phi Phi, and provided insights about the area and sea life as well as vital tips about our diving technique. All in all, while one of our more expensive exploits, our diving expedition do not at all disappoint.
Loh Dalum Bay
Located on the other side of Koh Phi Phi Don, Loh Dalum Bay is the ultimate destination for both day and night entertainment. During the day the beach is teaming with backpackers and locals alike. With clear, emerald water, and soft, white sand, the beach is enclosed by towering limestone cliffs. Whether your drinking a Chang beer on the beach or exploring the bay via kayak, Loh Dalum Bay is the perfect spot to waste away the day. At night the beach is transformed into the island’s main party spot. Dance floors are erected at a number of the hostels that operate along the beach complete with thumping dance music and mesmerizing fire shows. Loh Dalum Bay erupts into a lite version of Koh Phangan’s Full Moon Party, only you don’t have to wait an entire month until the next one, just come back the very next night!
Phi Phi Viewpoint
If you are looking to get away from the hustle and bustle of the town, then hiking up to the Phi Phi viewpoint is the perfect excursion to get in some exercise and bask in some necessary quiet. From Loh Dalum Bay there are clearly marked signs that navigate you out of the town and up to the elevated lookout area. Do not forget to bring water as the hike can be moderately rigorous (particularly after a night at the beach party), but it is only a brisk 30 minute walk and the view at the top is genuinely stunning. For a small fee, we were treated to a view that provided a clear site of the entire island, including the massive mountainous island on the far side and the linking flatland between featuring Loh Dalum Bay and Tansai Bay, as well as the densely packed town in-between. I recommend going in time to see the sun go down, while it is also the busiest time to go, it is truly a site to be seen.
Thailand boasts a number of colourful bar scenes, but the Reggae Bar on Phi Phi is something unique all to itself. While more expensive than other places, the entertainment factor is essential as inexperienced backpackers step into the ring top engage in some amateur Muay Thai. For those interested in entering the ring, once you actually see the fights for yourself you realize that they are not for the faint of heart. What the combatants lack in actual skill and training, they make up for in intensity as a jeering crowd goads them into engaging in a fury of punches, kicks and holds. In the end, volunteers are treated to a bucket on the house. For those with genuine interest in Muay Thai, the amateur fights are broken up by semi-professional bouts as well. For anyone looking for some entertainment before they head down to Loh Dalum Bay, the Reggae Bar is undoubtedly the place to go.
Of course no trip to Koh Phi Phi would be complete without a trip to Maya Bay itself. A short boat ride from Koh Phi Phi Don, the bay is enclosed by 100 metre cliffs on either side and it is the perfect place to spend an afternoon sunbathing on the smooth, white sand or swimming in the calm, clear water. Even if you have seen The Beach or pictures of the bay online, neither do the actual thing justice. Away from the bay itself, their is another lookout on the other side of the island worthy of a short venture. We toured Maya Bay as part of a day trip that also took us to Monkey Beach, as well as a snorkelling expedition through Phi Ley Bay. There are a number of agencies throughout Koh Phi Phi Don that offer these types of trips. We found one for a very modest price of 500 baht that also included lunch as well as a night time snorkelling session to see plankton once we had returned to Tonsai Bay.
A Little Slice of Everything
Ultimately, Koh Phi Phi has become a major tourist destination for a reason. It really has a little something of all that the Land of Smiles has to offer. Awesome diving and snorkelling, gorgeous beaches and viewpoints, great food, and a lively night life. For any backpacker writing the Phi Phi islands off as “too touristy,” I highly recommend at least spending a day or two soaking up some of these wonderful sites.