Thailand: Koh Phi Phi

From the chillout dreamland of Koh Lanta, I moved onto Koh Phi Phi with 3 of the guys from Blanco. We had a fairly leisurely start to the day after a late night, having breakfast with the scooter crew from the day before ahead of our pick-up to the port. The ferry took about an hour, and as we pulled into Phi Phi Don (the larger island of the two) we were struck by the aquamarine water and dramatic cliffs – Don is made up of two steep, rocky, jungle-clad islands joined by a flat spit. We docked, trudged sweatily to our hostel (Blanco Beach Bar, owned by the same guy as our hostel on Lanta, but much more of a party place on Phi Phi) and checked in before going to grab some lunch. After we’d eaten, we went on a wander, following a trail which takes you steeply up one of the side karsts to some pretty impressive viewpoints over the island. We hiked for about 20 minutes, and were met at the top by a busy but glorious viewpoint with a panoramic view over both sides of Phi Phi Don. We found an unoccupied rock and sat down, watching as the sun went down behind the other side of the island, turning the sky into several beautiful shades of pink, blue and orange. There are three viewpoints shown on the map, you have to pay 30฿ for 1 & 2, and then 3 is part of a private restaurant – the view is just as good from number 2, so get yourself a good sunset-watching spot there.

Longtail boats at Phi Phi Don

We ambled back down to the hostel to shower before heading out for dinner and drinks – Cosmic is a tasty and reasonably priced restaurant. At this point, the evening got a bit weird. There was a bit of a ruckus outside the restaurant and we wondered what was going on, until a man came in and told us there was a restaurant on fire down the road and it was spreading quickly, so we needed to get out. We hurriedly paid and left, heading down to the beach and watching as the orange glow above the town grew. Because of the topography of the island, there’s a lot built into a very small space on the spit that joins the karst formations, so there are a lot of buildings and people concentrated into a dense area. This, teamed with the breeze, meant the fire spread fairly quickly down the street, which is not good news for an island with no fire service – there are no roads, so the best the locals could do was a cart with a small hose and some barrels of water. The wind changed direction and looked to be moving towards our hostel, so we ran back to grab our bags and sit down on the beach – luckily the tide was out in the bay so we could sit a little further away. The music and some of the lights from the bars along the beach shut off as the power cables burned, so it was a bit of a strange and surreal experience. After a couple of hours of uncertainty, and some choppers flown in from Phuket to dump water, we heard news that the fire was out. Luckily, no-one was hurt, but there were about 20 buildings affected and the power and running water was off on our hostel’s section of the beach. One of the guys only had one night on Phi Phi, and what a night to be there! To try and make the most of it, we played some games, sat by the (small, controlled!) bonfire on the beach and chatted into the early hours.

The next day, we all woke up a little grumpy having barely slept – it was incredibly hot so having no power or water = no air con in the rooms and no showers. In a room of 10 slightly hungover people, this did not smell good. I escaped out to the beach to sit and doze for a little while in the breeze, before we went to grab some breakfast at the only restaurant that had power on the side of the island. Needless to say, service was a little slow…

We spent the day lounging on the beach and trying to rehydrate, listening to some music and exploring, wandering to the other side of the island for a hair-of-the-dog beer at sunset. Myself and another guy from our room left our hostel for another as there was still no power or water come nightfall, and we were desperate for a shower! Feeling refreshed, we met up with the others for pizza before we headed back to Blanco for drinks. As we arrived, the power came back on – annoying as we’d just lugged our stuff to another place, but good in that the music started playing again, the lights came on, and the party properly got started! There were fire artists, limbo and skipping as well as the music – I couldn’t help but get involved in the skipping rope action despite not having done it for maybe 10 years. Turns out, I’ve still got the knack! We danced until the music stopped (all the bars turn off at 2am), also bumping into some of the others we met in Lanta, and crawled back to the hostel for some much needed air-conditioned sleep.

Some impressive skipping from one of the Blanco staff

The next day also started at something of a leisurely pace, and the guys from Lanta and I moved hostel again to one back from the beach, to a bit of a quieter place after a couple of nights in a party hostel. We stayed at Voyagers, which I’m not sure was worth the money – it was clean and the lady in charge very friendly, but not the nicest place for what we paid. We went for a walk and found a less busy beach spot to read and feel sorry for ourselves for a bit, before returning to the hostel and chatting with other people from our room.

That evening followed much the same pattern as the previous one, dancing, skipping, limboing and singing until the early hours. I even managed to get one of the guys involved in the skipping, which for a 6’5” Dutch man was quite the sight! I’m not sure it was really his strong point, but he gave it a good go…

The next day, one of the guys and I went on a boat trip. There’s a plethora of boat trip options when it comes to Koh Phi Phi; some more along the booze cruise line (like the Blanco Boat Party), some more based on snorkelling and kayaking, and some a kind of mixture of the two. The Blanco trip is a fairly hefty 2000฿, and given the amount of sangsom rum already consumed, we thought we’d go on a less boozy, more active affair. We shopped around a bit through the different travel agencies and stalls, and signed up to a full day longtail boat trip. Most of the trips go to similar places, but there are a few different companies offering tours – prices range from 500฿ – 1500฿ for a full day trip, with the variables being boat (speedboat vs. longtail, private hire vs. group tour) and the included lunch, drinks etc. You also have to pay a 400฿ National Park fee to go in Maya Bay, which usually isn’t included in tour price quotes. It’s worth mentioning the scuba diving is also supposed to be brilliant around Phi Phi, not something I do myself but my Dutch friend went and said it was amazing – make sure you squeeze one in if you’re a diver!

Beautiful water off Bamboo Island

We got ourselves a medicinal cheese toastie for breakfast and headed down to the pier to find our boat. The little boats out here are quite iconic-looking vessels called longtails, which fit about 20 people on them (comfortably, so maybe 35 if the Thais get their way). For the morning there were only 10 of us, so we set off with a little bit of space. First stop was just outside of the harbour for a spot of snorkelling. I sat this one out, but some of the group jumped in and saw a variety of fish swimming around. The sea really was a beautiful shade of blue, much clearer than the water in Myanmar.

Next up, we headed to Bamboo Island, which sits north east of Phi Phi Don. The sea was surprisingly choppy which I wasn’t expecting, and we weren’t convinced our little longtail was quite cut out for the waves given the noises it made with every roll! We made it just about in one piece, but with several facefuls of sea water (enough to splash out the hangover), and moored up. I think the island is one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever seen anywhere on my travels; honestly like a picture postcard. Palm tree jungle covering some of it, into soft bright white sand and vibrant aquamarine water. We also saw a big lizard bumbling around, which added to the atmosphere. The only problem was all the other people there! It was really very busy, so we walked as far as we could get round the shore until we hit some rocks, to a slightly quieter corner where we could appreciate the beauty in a little more peace. If you just want to spend a day on the beach, it might be an idea to hire a longtail and head over to Bamboo Island. Whilst it was really busy, the beach is much nicer and a lot bigger than the main beach on Phi Phi Don, so you could set up camp there quite comfortably. There’s also a picnic area and snack bar.

A rare quiet spot on Bamboo Island

Time up on Bamboo Island, we picked our way back to the boat where we were served up some fried rice for lunch. We gobbled it down, aware that the journey back over the open sea might leave us with a major spillage problem! We boated for about half an hour back over to Phi Phi Don, where we picked up a few more people for the afternoon, and headed to Monkey Beach. This was pretty much what the name suggests, a beach with a load of monkeys! They were just chilling out on the rocks along the shore, eating and ignoring all of the tourists they must be very used to by now. It was another very beautiful but very busy spot, as I keep reminding myself I need to get used to in Thailand! We took some monkey snaps and had another dip in the sea before piling back into the boat. If you just want a gander at the monkeys, you can grab a kayak from the main beach on Phi Phi Don and paddle over, it should only about 20 minutes.

One of the inhabitants on Monkey Beach

Our next stop was perhaps the biggest tourist attraction in the Phi Phi islands; Maya Bay on Phi Phi Leh. This bay is the iconic location where the film ‘The Beach’ was shot, and something of an infamous shark scene takes place there! We arrived, and it followed something of the same theme as the rest of the day so far; a strikingly beautiful white, blue and green scene, with far too many people in it. We picked our way through the people, challenging ourselves to take some pictures with as few other tourists in them as possible. Which was difficult. We took a dip in the sea (no shark incidents, thankfully), and bumped into a couple of girls from our hostel in Koh Lanta. We wandered through the jungle over to the viewpoint on the other side of the island, overlooking another pretty karst bay. You can see why the location scouts picked it for ‘The Beach’, it was quite an extraordinary place.

Searching for paradise on The Beach

From Maya, we headed onwards to another quick snorkelling spot off Phi Phi Leh, and then chugged past Viking Cave – a dramatic and slightly ominous looking cave opening on the east side of Leh. No-one is allowed to go in any more after some rock falls and a fire, but it was quite the sight. We continued on to a piece of open water between Phi Phi Don and Phi Phi Leh, where we stopped to watch the sunset. Another day, another beautiful red sunset – I have to keep reminding myself I’m not currently living in the real world!

After sunset, we headed back to shore for showers before getting another pizza dinner (they have stalls all over the island with delicious giant pizza slices for 80฿). It was the boys’ last night so I agreed to their choice of the evening’s entertainment; Muay Thai boxing fights at the Reggae Bar… Not really my scene but it was quite the show, the fights were a mixture of experienced locals and idiotic tourists – very Brits abroad. I need to work on a foreign accent so I can pretend not to be British when there are other embarrassing Brits around… Some of the fights were actually quite good and well-matched between people who knew what they were doing, I’d never seen the sport before so there’s another tick on the list of new experiences! We had a few beers and watched about 8 fights before heading back to the hostel as the boys needed to pack, and I was desperate for an earlier night after 3 nights in a row!

I spent my last day on Phi Phi walking around streets I hadn’t yet explored and reading on the beach. In the evening, I met up with some Canadian guys in Laos – there wasn’t a chance of me having a quiet one on my last night with them around… We had some drinks, watched the fire show at Stones Bar (where one of the performers couldn’t have been any more than about 7 years old which felt weird to watch!), and then headed to Banana Bar. They have good music, drinks deals and a really nice rooftop set-up, so it’s a good place for some beers before the high energy of the pumping bars down on the beach. A bucket or three down, we returned to Blanco for another evening of suspect dance moves and neon headbands. We crawled into bed at 6am, so I was dreading my 9:30 ferry… but at least I was off to meet some special visitors!

I had a great time on Phi Phi; I’m not really a party hard traveler (or at least haven’t been able to be thanks to on and off illness), but it was really good fun to let loose for a few days. It’s a party island through and through – not all of the bars were really my bag in terms of the crowd or music, but I met some really fun people at Blanco. Next up, time for a bit of a detox…

Until next time,

Number of strangers I’ve spoken to today: 14, including some Canadians who talked a big game about their beer pong skills, but lost 3-0 to me and one of the British guys.
Interaction was: a confidence-booster. Who knew I was that coordinated?

One Woman and her Backpack x

Follow me on Instagram @elliestravelstories


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