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20 Months in Asia: Ko Phi Phi, Thailand

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Avatar for JohnvonBob
Written by   6
1 month ago
Topics: Travel, Life, Tourism, Self

One of my first real travel goals was to do some tropical island hopping, and from anywhere on on the west coast of Thailand you could find ferries to most islands in the Andaman Sea.  Ko Phi Phi was probably the smallest while also the most popular of the main tourist islands, known for stunning scenery and wild beach parties.  Phi Phi is also closest of the main tourist islands to both Phuket and Krabi, so was a good starting point for island hopping.

After a two hour ferry ride over open ocean from Phuket, you are suddenly greeted by mossy green cliffs shooting a hundred feet straight up.  The ferry contours the cliffs, and a wide bay appears with hundreds of wooden fishing boats all hung with flags and banners and flowers of every colour.   A few larger vessels are docked at the small pier, where the ferry lands. 

 

The island is basically shaped like an hour glass, with impassable cliffs on the east bulbous end, and a manageable mountainside on the west end that has some amazing views of the rest of Phi Phi and the nearby islands.  The two ends are connected by a narrow strip of ground barely a few meters about sea level, with beaches on both north and south sides, and a  tightly-packed town.  Most of the party hostels are on the north side beach and would compete with each other to have the loudest music, flashiest lights, usually starting their nights off with crowd-drawing events, such as fire-spinning shows and limbo games that offered free shots of weak fruity liquor.  In the town center were a lot of restaurants and bars, some cheap and local others a wide range of everything from Italian, Indian, and Scandinavian restaurants to Irish pubs and a boxing ring that served drinks and pitted their patrons against one another.  The boutique resorts are more on the southeast and east beaches.  The low level of the town makes it vulnerable to the ocean, and it was practically obliterated in a tsunami ten years earlier.

  

The local inhabitants are a few hundred strong, and mostly devout Muslims, which clashes hard with the influx of slovenly tourists.  Any local-run hostel will have posters hung strongly forbidding any displays of affection or consumption of alcohol on the premises.  In one hostel I saw a young couple get into a fight with the local owner cause they wanted to watch a movie together but the owner said they couldn't sit next to each other on the bed.   But try as they might, stopping the hedonist juggernaut that Phi Phi has become doesn't seem likely.  

Phi Phi is probably also one of the most expensive places in Thailand, as everything has to be ferried in, the carted by hand and foot through the tiny town, as no motor vehicles are allowed on the island (they say that officially, but I definitely saw a pickup truck on the eastern hills).   You can still find cheap alcohol from convenience stores and a few locals that set up little tables selling 'buckets', which is basically 4-8 times the size of a usual cocktail.  There's the usual selection of Thai street food, skewers of meat, fried sea food, including whole fish, and pizza that wasn't half bad when drunk.   

During the day, you can lounge on the beach, hike the viewpoint, or take snorkeling tours or diving tours of the area, which includes a number of national park islands, including Maya Bay, which was a famous scene of a DiCaprio movie called "The Beach" that I'd never heard of but apparently everybody else thinks is great.  Our snorkeling tour was aboard a little wooden fishing boat that docked on the side of the island opposite Maya Bay, and we had to climb through a cave and hike a few hundreds meters of jungle to emerge on the beach.  When we got back to the boat, some of the other folks on the tour were talking about a huge black snake they'd seen right next to the path, which I'd apparently been oblivious to. 

 

I'm sad to say this was all in 2018, and by accounts much has changed.  Maya Bay has since closed to the public in an effort to preserve her, though a tentative reopening is planned soon.  Through late 2018 onward, Thai authorities were closing hostels and bars, arresting foreigners working illegally to support an infinite party lifestyle, and trying to clamp down on the trade of hard drugs, which were available on menus in some bars.  Covid has no doubt had an effect, but I suspect as long as the speaker stacks and rave lights are still there, Phi Phi will probably be one the first places people flock back to when travel opens up again. 

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Written by   6
1 month ago
Topics: Travel, Life, Tourism, Self
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