Phi Phi Island is probably the most famous island in Thailand. In this travel guide, you can find some of the top things to do and to see in this amazing place.
Quick guide to Phi Phi Island
Best time to visit: Between the end of November and the end of March
How many days: as long as you need to relax. At the very least 3 days in total
Why it’s worth visiting: It offers some of the best beaches and island hopping options in Thailand
If you are looking for information about Phi Phi island, one thing that is immediately clear is that this island is basically a tourist trap. That is why I wasn’t really excited to travel there, however, I think that certain places should be visited at least once in life, and Phi Phi was one of them.
After my trip, I can confirm what many other people said: Phi Phi island is indeed a tourist trap, but I want to add that not the entire island is that bad.
In this article, I will explain how you can relax and avoid most of the tourists even on one of the most visited islands in the world.
Useful info about Phi Phi Island
The first thing to say when talking about Phi Phi is that there are two islands with almost identical names: Koh Phi Phi Don and Kho Phi Phi Leh and they are very close to each other.
The only Island where you can actually stay for the night is Koh Phi Phi Don. Kho Phi Phi Leh is an uninhabited island, declared a natural reserve. The famous Maya Bay (from the movie The Beach) is in Kho Phi Phi Leh, see the first picture of this post. It’s not possible to spend the night in Kho Phi Phi Leh.
Phi Phi Don is where all the tourists coming from Ao Nang and Phuket arrive. Getting there is quite easy. If you are in Krabi or Phuket you can simply take a ferry boat (it takes about 3 hours). You can book your ticket in any of the several travel agencies all around Krabi.
Another interesting thing is that in Phi Phi Don in theory there are no cars. In practice, this is not true: I have seen some of them but they are only used by locals. However, there is no traffic and most probably you won’t see any car or motorbike if you stay in the village.
Most tourists stay in the southern part of the island, in Tong Sai bay, where almost all hotels and restaurants are located. Tong Say Bay is a tourist trap: McDonald’s, Italian restaurants, fire shows in the evening in many restaurants and hundreds of shops selling all the same things made in China. Despite this, Phi Phi is still a beautiful island and with some tricks, you can enjoy this paradise and avoid most of the tourists.
Everything depends to a large extent on the choice of the hotel. Yes, because apart from Tong Sai Bay to the south, there is another part of the island in the north, completely disconnected and only accessible by boat. The northern part of Phi Phi Phi is a real paradise and quite obviously you will find all the best resorts. Sleeping in the north of Phi Phi is not cheap but in my opinion, it’s worth spending at least two nights especially if you have traveled all the way to Phi Phi Island.
Where to stay in the north of Phi Phi Island
In this part of the island, there are far fewer tourists than in the south and honestly, it seems to be a completely different place. There are several resorts and I stayed at the Holiday Inn Resort Phi Phi Island.
As you would expect from a Holiday Inn Resort, the location is really great. Although some bungalows are a bit too old, the location is spectacular. There are three swimming pools, one of which is perfect for watching the sunset while sipping a cocktail. The resort is right on the beach and covered with thick tropical vegetation. As soon as you’ll arrive in the north of Phi Phi, the hordes of tourists will be only a distant memory.
I read on some blogs that getting to this part of the island is expensive because you’ll have to take a long tail boat. It’s not true: there is a ferry that for a few euros will take you to the north of Phi Phi. The ferry leaves twice a day. The downside of sleeping in this part of the island is that the few restaurants available there cost about twice as much as those in Tong Sai and there’s not much to do in the evening. But I also imagine that if someone decides to sleep in this part of Phi Phi, they don’t have much interest in nightlife.
Here are some more pictures of the Holiday Inn Resort on Phi Phi Island
Where to stay in the south of Phi Phi Island
The second option for those who want to stay in the Tong Sai area, and maybe have a limited budget but don’t want to give up some privacy, is the Bayview Resort.
Located 5 minutes from the crowded Tong Sai, can be reached by land or long-tail boat. It’s the ideal solution if you don’t want to get too far from Tong Sai’s nightlife and restaurants.
The hotel is located near Long Beach where there are fewer people and the beach is very nice. The resort also has a swimming pool and a beautiful view of the bay.
Things to do in Phi Phi Island
The main reason to visit Phi Phi Phi is for the beautiful beaches and crystal clear water. So the main thing to do is to visit Maya Bay and the nearby beaches.
The problem is that Phi Phi is full of tourists who have come there for the same reason. So what can you do if you want to avoid the crowd and enjoy this paradise? There are several travel agencies scattered around the island that offer more or less standard tours to all the main attractions but the only real way to avoid tourists is to ask one of the locals with a long tail boat to take you where you want very early in the morning.
When I say very early in the morning I mean that you should be in Maya Bay at 6:30 am at the very latest. Keep in mind that Phi Phi Leh is close to the southern part of Phi Phi Don so if you are in the north of the island it takes about one hour to get there. I arrived at Maya Bay at 6:30 am and there were two other boats. At 7:00 am it was already full of tourists.
In Tong Sai bay you’ll see many agencies trying to sell Maya Bay tours who leave early in the morning to avoid tourists. Avoid those tours at all costs. They will all get to Maya Bay after 7:30 am which is already too late.
Here’s another tip: when you arrange your island hopping tour with one of the locals tell him that you also want to see Kho Bida Nok. It’s a small island quite popular among divers. None of the tourists who join the regular tours visit this amazing place. If they tell you that it’s not good for snorkeling don’t listen to him. It’s definitely the best place where you can snorkel around Phi Phi Island. You’ll see an incredible number of starfish and tropical fish.
Phi Phi Island post-pandemic
There has been a new floating pier installed at the back of the bay during the lockdowns and a new boardwalk to cross onto the beach. It means that boats no longer need to enter the bay, thus protecting the re-planted corals which is great news. There is also supposedly going to be a limit on how many people can visit per day, so finger crossed the National Park stick with that!
If they refuse to take you to Bida Nok just look for somebody else willing to do so.
If you are in the north of Phi Phi, at the Holiday Inn, look for boat 99. It’s a very kind Thai man who took me where I wanted to, including Bida Nok very early in the morning. We left at 5:30 am and he only asked for 1500 Thai baht. The tour lasts about 3 hours.
The other places to see are all part of the standard package that all tourists visit but if you leave early you’ll have the advantage of getting there before everyone else. In Losama bay for example we were almost alone: there was just another boat.
Losama Bay reminds me of Big Lagoon in El Nido, in the Philippines.
The panoramic view of Tong Sai
Another thing that is worth doing in Phi Phi is walking all the way up to the hill where you can have a beautiful panoramic view of the entire bay. Avoid the hottest hours of the day though.
Final thoughts about Phi Phi Island
Phi Phi Phi left me with conflicting feelings. It’s a real paradise unfortunately ruined by mass tourism. We have to keep in mind though that we are all responsible, including me, if we go there. Phi Phi reminded me very much of The Philippines although Thailand is a real tourism machine and therefore much more exploited.
I think that at least once in a lifetime it’s worth visiting Phi Phi, keeping in mind what you’ll find there though. Having said that, Thailand is still a wonderful country where you can eat very well, there are fantastic beaches and the prices are very affordable.
Here you can read my travel guide about swimming with the Whale Sharks in The Philippines. Here are more pictures I took in Krabi. If you want to visit Bangkok, don’t miss Ayutthaya. You can read more info here.