What's it really like?
Once a small, well-kept secret of the Andaman sea, Koh Phi Phi burst onto the tourist trail in the early 00’s with its appearance on the Leonardo DiCaprio film The Beach. Since then, it has become one of the busiest, wildest, and most developed islands in Thailand, regularly attracting visitors by the thousands.
As you arrive in the larger island of Phi Phi Don, you are welcomed by a bustling crowd of backpackers, adventurers, party animals, families, and honeymooners. Many of the sights have been marked by aggressive development and the central beaches no longer feel very unspoiled. However, this area comes into its own at night, with one of the most hedonistic party scenes in Thailand (which is, of course, saying something).
But, if you take the time to explore the islands further, you will find the breathtaking island scenes you are looking for. Many beaches remain stunning and peaceful, from tiny super-secret alcoves to larger bays lined with high-end luxury resorts. These are usually secluded from the party life, accessible only by long-tail boat or demanding jungle hike, giving you a sense of absolute peace.
Koh Phi Phi is a small place, so there is no specifically gay nightlife. However, the island’s party atmosphere welcomes all with equal enthusiasm, so you may not even miss the gay bars. It may not be Thailand’s gayest destination, but it remains one of its most iconic, so don’t miss out.
Koh Phi Phi is known as a huge party island. The nightlife here is some of the wildest in Thailand, so you are guaranteed a good time every night of the week. There is not a direct gay scene in Koh Phi Phi, overall the nightlife is backpacker-centric. The areas of Tonsai Village and Loh Dalum are filled with bars, pubs, and beach clubs of all types, and the vibe is young, fun, and pleasantly unsleazy.
Your main question should be where to stay on the island. Accommodation near Ton Sai is perfect if you’re looking to party. Outside of Ton Sai, the island has no roads or taxis, so you better stay within walking distance. However, if you want to avoid the nightlife then check out some of the options outside of Ton Sai. The remote beaches are the more relaxing option, with plenty of lovely hotels and bungalows to choose from. These spots tend to be very secluded, and only accessible by boat, which means no popping down to the central bars for a few drinks.
Ultimately, your choice will depend on whether you are in Koh Phi Phi to enjoy the majestic natural beauty or the endless supply of vodka buckets. If, like many visitors, you sit somewhere in between, your best choice is to book more than one hotel during your time on the island. For instance, you could spend a couple of sleepless nights partying in Ton Sai village and then move on to a restful and regenerative stay at one of the beautiful high-end resorts.
Koh Phi Phi is made up of several small islands, with Phi Phi Don being the largest and the party hub. It has a distinctive shape, with a thin strip of land separating two larger areas. Phi Phi Don is the only inhabited island; the other main island, Phi Phi Leh, is part of a National Park. It is more peaceful and more beautiful, but can only be visited for day trips.
Ton Sai Bay – Ton Sai is the main village on Phi Phi Don. It is bustling with tourists during the day, and comes alive at night for the legendary Phi Phi nightlife. The bay stretches along the central strip of land, and features the pier and a surprisingly quiet beach on the West side. This is the most popular area for budget accommodation, but there are a couple of resorts as well.
Loh Dalam – This beach sits across from Ton Sai Bay (and by across, we mean a 2-minute walk) and is one of the busiest spots on the island. Combined, they make up the bulk of the nightlife, restaurants, and general development on the island.
Long Beach (Hat Yao) – A 20-minute hike from Ton Sai, Long Beach is both easily accessible and pleasantly quiet. The best place to go spend a few hours lounging on a scenic beach if you are staying in the central Ton Sai Area, and it also a great snorkeling spot. However, don’t expect it to be empty, as everyone tends to have the same idea.
Maya Bay – The beach that started it all. Maya Bay on Koh Phi Phi Leh was the location for The Beach, and was for a long time one of Thailand’s most popular attractions. However, in October 2018, it was announced that Maya Bay was going to have to close indefinitely in order to try to reverse the immense environmental damage caused by the influx of tourists. The pollution left behind by over 5,000 tourists a day has killed over 80% of the area’s coral reefs, and the closure aims to allow these to regenerate. Chances are that authorities will re-open the beach after this with strict restrictions, but there is no indication of how long that will be.
Pi Leh Bay – On the other side of Phi Phi Leh, this bay is equally as beautiful as Maya Bay but without the hype (or the closure). There’s a very small beach that you can spend a few hours in, and it’s perfect for swimming and snorkeling.
Sama Bay – This is mostly just a snorkeling spot, and an excellent one at that. The shallow waters are full of colorful tropical fish and coral, and you can also do a bit of fishing or go for a swim.
Phi Phi Viewpoint – The highest spot on the island, offering spectacular views. It’s a relatively strenuous half-hour hike, but nothing that most people can’t manage with a water bottle and a couple of breaks. You can follow signs to the viewpoint from Ton Sai village.
Hat Laem Thong – A secluded and absolutely idyllic beach on the northeastern side of Phi Phi Don, home to many luxury resorts. It is only accessible by boat, but the resorts have good dining and bar options to keep you occupied while you relax on this stretch of paradise. Laem Thong is also home to a community of chao lay (sea gypsies)
Ao Lo Bakao – Another beautiful bay lined with high-end resorts, a short distance south of Hat Laem Thong.
Hat Rantee – A quiet and remote bay that is perfect for those who want the beauty of Koh Phi Phi without the overdevelopment. There are a few high-end resorts as well as some nice beach bungalows for accommodation. The main village is only accessible by boat or an intense 45-minute hike that passes the viewpoint, so if you stay here, you will be far removed from the nightlife.
Hat Phak Nam – This is one of Phi Phi’s quieter beaches, and is particularly scenic and unspoiled. There are a couple of resorts and a tiny fishing village along the bay.
Monkey Beach – Not to be confused with Monkey Bay (below), Monkey Beach is located on the west coast in Yong Kasem Bay. Both places are popular with tourists because of the very outgoing monkeys that have long figured out that humans will give them food. Monkey Beach is the slightly less crowded of the two because it is less central.
Monkey Bay – Monkey Bay is Monkey Beach’s more popular cousin. It is worth noting that many tour operators have stopped taking tourists to the beach because of problems with the monkeys. They are wild animals that will bite if provoked (and they do have a tendency to steal things from people’s pockets). Boats will instead get close enough for photos but not go ashore.
Bamboo Island (Koh Phai) – One of the tiny uninhabited islands that make up the Phi Phi archipelago. It is a stunning expanse of powdery white sand, with some of the bluest and clearest water around. You can sometimes be lucky enough to be alone there, but during high season there can be no guarantees.
Koh Bida Nok and Koh Bida Nai – These two islands are essentially just limestone rock formations on the southernmost tip of Koh Phi Phi. There is no landing and no beach, but they have some of the best diving anywhere in the region, with stingrays, zebra sharks, and much more. Divers of all levels can get in on the action and there is also snorkeling available on the eastern side of Koh Bida Nai.
There are no roads on Koh Phi Phi, so no buses or taxis. You will see some locals use motorbikes and scooters, but these are not available to rent for tourists (which is a relief, given the amount of drinking that goes on on the island).
Bear in mind that all long-boat prices are negotiable, and you may even be able to haggle on a speedboat charter.
From Phuket – Regular ferries, 350 THB ($12), depart from Rassada Pier in Phuket Town and take about two hours. The first ferry is at 9 AM and the last at 3 PM.
From Krabi – Regular ferries, 350 THB ($12), depart from Klong Jirad Pier, south of Krabi Town and take about an hour and a half. The first ferry is at 9 AM and the last at 3:30 PM.
Walking – The main form of transportation within the two main islands. They are both very small and easily walkable so this should never be too much of a problem. If you have heavy bags, it might be worth hiring one of the wheelbarrow drivers available around Ton Sai Pier.
Cycling – Renting a bike is possible and the service is offered at certain guesthouses and hostels. Overall, rental spots are very rare and cyclable paths even rarer.
Long-Tail Boat – Travel in between the different bays, beaches, and islands of Koh Phi Phi is usually made by long-tail boat. Journeys can cost as little as 100 THB ($4) but trips to more exclusive areas, such as Ao Lo Bakao, cost up to 1000 THB ($33). You can also charter a long-tail boat, 3000 THB ($98) for six hours.
Speedboat – You can charter a speedboat for half a day for about 5000 THB ($164) to get around, as well as to arrive on the island. This is a good option for groups who can split the cost, but should be avoided during the monsoon season if you don’t like bumpy rides.
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