Beyond the Tourist Trap: Four Eventful Nights in Koh Phi Phi
You’ve probably heard through the grapevine that Koh Phi Phi is a miss on the Thailand bucket list. I heard that too. But what I experienced on that tiny island proved to me that you’ll never know much in life unless you experience it for yourself.
After the infamous full moon destination, Koh Pha Ngan, Koh Phi Phi has a solid reputation of being a tourist party destination. Despite wanting to travel to Koh Tao instead of Phi Phi, our flight schedule and lack of proper planning landed us in what we expected to be the second best choice, unfitting to our adventurous travel style. Not surprisingly, however, we left Phi Phi with the realization that this island is much, much more than just a party spot; it’s filled with culture, heartwarming locals, incredible snorkelling and swimming spots, tasty Thai food, breathtaking view points and captivating landscapes.
In essence, Phi Phi seems to be overlooked and underrated by those who are scared of being sucked into its so called party culture. Our mission was to uncover more than just the late night beach parties and body paint, or the incredibly boozy coloured bucket drinks… But that’s not to say we didn’t experience any of these things, too. It’s truly all about balance when it comes to Phi Phi.
WHERE TO STAY:
Without searching too much on Booking.com, you’ll quickly figure out that Koh Phi Phi is quite a bit pricier than Krabi or the mainland of Thailand when it comes to both food and accommodation. We paid 800 baht for a private air conditioned room in a guesthouse, and even at that price, what we were getting was very, very basic. I’m talking a leaking roof during heavy rainfalls, a sink that never drain ed properly and walls so thin we were kept wide awake until 4 a.m. when our neighbours came home from a night out. Case in point: do your research. If you’re more of a hostel person, be forewarned that the hostels on Phi Phi are are 100x louder and more rowdy than ones you might find in other places in Thailand.
Most hostels are located on the beach and are very cheap. In this sense, cheap also means you’ll be in a room with 8+ people and the music from the bar will play until 3-4 a.m. So when choosing your accommodation, first determine how much you value your sleep then calculate how much you’re willing to pay. Even if you do choose to stay in a homestay, it’s very easy to meet people at the bars because everyone comes out at night and the night life is very lively. Either book one online or just walk up to one when you arrive—prices won’t be much better online, but booking online does save you the hassle when you arrive.
For a guesthouse, stay close-ish to Stones Bar and Slinky’s if you want to go out, and if not, then steer clear. I won’t give you the name of the place we stayed simply because it wasn’t worth the money and I wouldn’t recommend it to anyone.
WHERE TO EAT:
My all-time favourite Phi Phi restaurant is a tiny hole in the wall 100 meters from where we stayed. It’s located right across from “Harmony House”, and they serve very cheap, delicious Thai meals like Pad Thai, Pad See Ew, curries, fried rice, etc. There’s no name for the restaurant but outside you’ll find a sign that says “Thai Food” with a picture of 8 or so meals. The owner, Lapaign, is a sweetheart and her English is very, very good. We got to know her pretty well over the five days we were there and by the end of our stay we were making jokes with her and asking her about her family and where she’s from. We ate here 7 times in 5 days, and I cannot recommend it more. This is a locals’ spot, which means that the locals in the area eat here on the daily. If that’s not reason enough to try it out, I don’t know what is.
Tip: If you search on your Maps.me app for “cheap/tasty Thai food”, you can find the restaurant that way, too.
Harmony Thai Food:
This restaurant is located a mere 30 or so meters from “Thai Food” and they also serve some very cheap and delicious meals (Pad Thai w/o meat: 50 baht). Better yet, they have great wifi and they’re open early if you need to grab breakfast before a tour.
Other than these two hidden gems, there’s not much else I can reccommend. We were on a tight budget in Phi Phi, so we stuck to what we knew and gorged on local food. If you have money to spend on food, you can easily find other, more international focused restaurants that do higher end meals like salads, Mexican food, pizza, etc.
The best thing we did to save money was make our own breakfast each morning. Our homestay didn’t have a fridge, but it did have hot water and a couple of bowls. We bought a package of quick oats and a jar of peanut butter and made peanut butter oatmeal with banana (I swear it tastes better than it sounds). The peanut butter was expensive, yes, but it lasted us a long time and ended up being significantly cheaper than buying breakfast out everyday for 90-150 baht (it”s not cheap!).
Shakes and buckets:
During the day and in evening you’ll find many small stands selling both shakes (smoothies with blended fruit and ice) and buckets (alcoholic mixed drinks). Never pay more than 40 baht for a shake and always ask for no sugar if you don’t want them to add any—they will if you don’t ask. Another precaution is to ask if their ice is made with clean water. Almost 100% of the time it will be, but it’s still a good idea to double check.
Buckets cost about 150 baht for anything from a daiquiri to a mojito, or piña colada. They pour a very generous amount of alcohol in each bucket (probably 5-ish shots), and if you ask for a “bit more please” they’ll add about one more shot at the end if they like you. Our favourite was the daiquiri bucket: Ask for fresh fruit, or even two kinds of fruit if you want a mix (i.e. pineapple and strawberry daiquiri). If you want to save money, buy your bucket anywhere but on the beach. Once you get to the beach, all buckets will cost 250+ baht.
The cheapest Chang on Phi Phi:
The cheapest large Chang we found was at a Fresh Market. It’s located around the corner from Dojo’s Bar, and right next to Tom Yam. A big Chang will cost you 55 baht. Everywhere else will charge around 70 baht—even at other Fresh Markets!
WHAT TO DO:
Hike to the viewpoint:
Take the gruelling vertical climb up to the two viewpoints and stand in awe of a stunning 180 degree view of the island. The entrance fee for both viewpoints is 30 baht. There’s lots of stairs to climb, but it should only take you 20 or so minutes to get to the top. Once at the top you’ll find a cafe with snacks, wifi, and water.
Go on a snorkelling day trip:
One of the first things you will notice when you arrive on Phi Phi is that every 50 or so meters, someone will try to sell you a day trip, whether it’s snorkelling, Maya Bay or scuba diving. We did a 3 hour half day trip to Maya Bay (the most talked about destination), Pileh Lagoon, Monkey Beach, and one other snorkelling destination.
Whatever you do, make sure that you don’t book a full or half day snorkelling trip solely to Maya Bay. The tour stands will try to sell this tour to you, but Maya Bay is not all that it’s cracked up to be. In all honesty, it was one of the most disappointing parts of our time in Phi Phi.
For context, Maya Bay is one of the filming locations for Leonardo DiCaprio’s movie, “The Beach”, and because of this, it is now one of the most visited spots in Thailand. Don’t get me wrong, it was pretty, but because of how popular it has gotten, the beach is flooded with over 1,000 people at any given moment during the day and you have to pay an extra 400 baht on top of your tour price just to get off your boat there.
It will be impossible to book a tour that doesn’t go to Maya Bay, but it’s up to you if you want to pay the extra cash to get off and spend time on the beach itself for an hour. You can choose to stay on the boat instead, which is what myself and ten others on my tour decided to do. However, because the drivers themselves take the money, I was a bit skeptical about the entire thing and was even more miffed when they said I couldn’t even get off the boat for a two second dip to cool off.
After an hour at Maya Bay, you’ll head to two other gorgeous locations (one being Pileh Lagoon) where you can swim and snorkel. Both are worth the visit and make the entire tour worthwhile. As a last stop, you may or may not get to hop off the boat at Monkey Beach, which is essentially what it sounds like: A beach full of monkeys. But this will depend on the tides and again, it was very, very busy.
A tour like this will include water, a snorkel mask and a small lunch. I’d say that it’s fairly safe to book with any company as they all offer a similar service: A 3 hour trip on a long tail boat with roughly 15 other people on it for 300-400 baht.
If you want to do your own thing and skip certain spots all together, I recommend hiring a private long tail boat and gathering 8 or so friends to split the cost. You can tell the driver exactly where you want to go and for how long and they will give you a set price for the boat, which decreases with an increase in group size. They’ll even let you bring alcohol on board.
And lastly, there will be tour companies on the island trying to sell you booze cruises. They run from 1:30-7:30 p.m. and offer unlimited alcohol and dinner. The only catch is that they cost a hefty price of roughly 2,000-2,300 baht for 6 hours.
Visit Long Beach and the South Side of the Island:
Unlike Loh Dalum Bay (where all the bars are located) the more secluded beaches on the other side of the island are not the temperature of bath water, deeper for swimming and significantly cleaner. You can access Long Beach in 45 min (3km one way), but the walk is quite hilly. There are spots to get lunch if you’re hungry, but the prices might be a bit higher than in the centre of Phi Phi.
Start off your night at Stone’s Bar. If you’re sneaky, you can BYOB and just take a seat at any of the chairs or wood tables. Once 8:30 p.m. hits, head over to Slinky’s for the nightly fire show or limbo competition. Afterward, head over to Blanco and get glow in the dark UV body paint done for 100 baht. If you’re feeling adventurous, make your way to the Reggae Bar to watch local Thai Boxing matches. Or, alternatively, if you’re feeling even more ballsy, sign up to fight yourself and win a free bucket if you make it out of there as the champion. The Reggae Bar will be packed around 10:30pm.
GETTING AROUND AND GETTING THERE:
Walk! There are no cars or motorbikes on the island (except for a few owned by locals) and everything is very close and walkable. It’s a smaller island than you might think!
To get there you’ll want to take a ferry from Krabi, which will take you 90 minutes and cost roughly 250-400 baht, depending on where you purchase your ticket. Recommendation: Buy your ferry ticket from Good Dream Guesthouse in Krabi–they offered the cheapest prices of anyone in the town.