Maya Bay is closed to swimmers, but there’s still plenty to see. Find out how to get around safely and avoid scams while enjoying this laid-back slice of Thai paradise.
Beautiful and laid-back, yes. Off the beaten path or a hidden gem, not any longer. The secret is out, so don’t expect to have these Thai islands to yourself.
The cynics among us might suggest promises of snorkeling among abundant coral fish on your own deserted beach, “the one where they filmed The Beach” are an exaggeration. But the more truthful “hordes of day-trippers snorkeling en-masse and scaring off the marine life” doesn‘t sell boat trips.
Regardless, scores of travelers insist the islands really are heaven on earth.
Getting to Koh Phi Phi
You can get to the islands from the town of Krabi in about 45 minutes. There are ferries, long-tail boats and speedboats plenty looking for your trade. Or you can take a speedboat from Phuket, also about 45 minutes away to the northwest, so it‘s possible to visit for the day.
Are the ferries safe?
Safety standards on the ferries, long-tails and speedboats are varied, and overcrowding can be an issue. Many boats don‘t carry life jackets or don‘t have one for every passenger.
If you suspect any of the following applies, choose another boat.
• If a boat looks poorly maintained, it probably is
• If a boat runs out of space for everyone getting on, it‘s probably overloaded
• If the crew cannot show you where the life jackets are, they probably don‘t have them.
Where to stay on Phi Phi
If you want to stay you‘ll need to find accommodation on Koh Phi Phi Don – the largest island in the chain and the only one inhabited. It‘s where the guesthouses, hotels, dorms and nightlife are. Although developed, it‘s not huge, so numbers are limited, and prices are more expensive than other parts of Thailand.
Koh Phi Phi Leh
Located to the south of Phi Phi Don, Koh Phi Phi Leh is the most famous because it‘s where The Beach was filmed. The island‘s Maya Bay is the epitome of a remote Thai island beach.
Koh Mai Phai or Bamboo Island
Located to the north of Phi Phi Don, Koh Mai Phai is a popular spot for day-trippers looking for picture postcard white sand and turquoise waters. A THB 200 fee is charged to access the island as it’s in a marine park.
Also known as Mosquito Island, this is a good day trip option from Phi Phi Don, with opportunities for chilling out on the beach, snorkeling and scuba diving.
Koh Bida Nok and Koh Bida Nai
Towering limestone karsts that rise up out of the ocean with sheer cliff walls. Spectacular above and below the water.
Are the Phi Phi Islands safe?
The islands have a laid-back relaxed atmosphere without the hustle and noise of Bangkok or the larger tourist towns.
The scourge of the SE Asia traveler, the motor scooter, is not a problem here. The only inhabited island, Koh Phi Phi Don, is car and motorbike-free. Everyone walks or cycles and everything is a 10-minute walk away. This makes it possibly one of the safest places in Thailand.
If you‘re having a party on a beach, the skipper of the boat that brought you shouldn‘t be drinking cold beers. Ask him not to.
As in many spots popular with young travelers in Thailand, the bars sell bucket drinks. Why are they so dangerous? Some visitors have claimed they were robbed after their bucket drinks were spiked, without sensing the inherent silliness of the sentence they just uttered. Drinking that much alcohol makes taking your watch and wallet from your comatose body easy pickings for thieves.
Are the beaches safe?
Adrenalin junkies will find plenty to amuse themselves here, including rock climbing, diving, snorkeling and cliff jumping.
Yes, we said cliff jumping.
On a few of the beaches, including Maya Bay, there are places where you can climb up and then drop into the ocean. Some cliffs are as high as 52ft (16m). Injuries are common, including sprains, fractures, back muscle tears and popped eardrums. You won’t be surprised to learn you aren’t insured for medical expenses resulting from cliff jumping. There are organized tours to the cliff jumping sites. Just don‘t jump.
Medical assistance on Koh Phi Phi
There is a small hospital on Phi Phi Don, but it can only deal with minor medical issues. For anything serious, medical staff will stabilize you and pack you off to a hospital on the mainland (usually Phuket). If you‘re in that situation, let your travel insurance provider know as soon as possible by contacting the emergency assistance team.
Koh Phi Phi areas to avoid
Monkey Beach on Phi Phi Don has, as the name suggests, has monkeys on the beach. Be careful as they can be aggressive, and don’t feed them under any circumstances.
If you‘re bitten or scratched, you‘re going to need to get the wound cleaned properly and you should consider getting a rabies shot. Time is of the essence here, so contact your travel insurance emergency assistance team – leaving rabies untreated can result in death.
Scams on Phi Phi Island
The ferry terminals (piers) in Phuket and Krabi are packed with touts offering you a good deal on the ticket price. It‘s certainly a good deal for them, they‘ll add about 50% to the price you can get by walking a few meters to the official booking office/table.
If you‘re staying in a hotel on Phi Phi Don, your luggage transfer (a guy with a wheelbarrow) to the hotel is free, but the return trip isn‘t.
All food is transported to the island, so it‘s expensive and the range is limited; don‘t expect fine dining.
Most scams result from packaged tours or day trips to the islands: offering buffet lunches that don‘t happen, and promises of snorkeling expeditions that are canceled etc etc. Is it a scam, or just poor service and bad organization? Before you choose a tour provider, ask around. Go a day early and talk to the people getting off the boats about the level of service, and pick an operator that most people recommend.