Koh Phi Phi: Beautiful Beaches and Fireshows
Coming into Koh Phi Phi, we had high expectations for another island. Many people had said that they preferred Koh Phi Phi over Koh Tao. And by how much we enjoyed Koh Tao, we naturally had high hopes for Phi Phi.
At first glance, we were not impressed. Sure, the island was gorgeous from afar. The jolting cliffs rising out of the island was a nice change from the simple hills of Koh Tao. And the lack of any motor vehicle on the entire island was appealing. But there just seemed to be more people and it smelled. We searched around for a hostel, but most seemed to be booked up and we could not find a place for less than 500 Bahts per night ($15) per person. With our budget at $10 a night, we looked and looked but could not find anything fitting. Finally, we saw a hostel called The Rock, with a dorm bed for 300 Bahts ($9). We looked at the room and were not impressed. But we were tired of searching and the price was better than anything else. Immediately, we regretted this. The hostel walls were covered in writing on the wall and the place just felt dirty. We decided to stick it out for the night and move to a new place in the morning while promising ourselves to pay more if it comes down to another situation like this in the future.
After this rough start, we started to warm up to the island. The main beach swimming beach, a five minute walk from our hostel, is incredibly beautiful, although a bit crowded. The beach is set in a good sized bay. Out further towards the open sea, the high cliffs and huge rocks make the view nice as well. The long-tailed boats are along the beach as water taxi drivers try to find tourists looking to head to other parts of the island. The negative thoughts of the island started to slowly drift away.
At night, the wildly popular fire shows are performed along the main beach. Along the beach are several bars, each hosting its own fireshow. A stage and chairs are set up on the beach, and music blasts from the bar speakers as talented entertainers use various sticks, ropes, and other objects that are set aflame to “wow” the crowd. Their skill is quite amazing. The speed and precision in spinning a stick, which happens to be on fire on both sides, was shocking. And even more impressive were the added tricks, like throwing on-fire objects 75 feet to another performer, who catches the object and then throws it right back to the other. Or standing straight up with feet on the shoulders or another and continuing the routine spinning. And they would even get the audience involved, as limbo and jump rope were started (on fire, of course). Chika even tried the jump rope, lasting several jumps before making it out.
I am not one for organized tours. I almost always prefer the freedom and the lower cost of the “do-it-yourself” option. Plus, I enjoy the feeling of arriving to a place after finding the best and most economical option. Koh Phi Phi is most well-known for Maya Bay, the beach that has been made popular because the movie called “The Beach”, starring Leonardo DiCaprio, was filmed there. It’s a must-see site on Koh Phi Phi, so I knew I wanted to make it there.
All around the island, full-day and half-day tours are advertised. The prices were around 500 Bahts ($12) for a half-day tour or about 650 Bahts ($17) for a full-day tour, including breakfast, lunch, and the 100 Baht admission to Maya Bay. The tour starts at 10am and ends at 6:30pm. Compare this to the water taxi price of 1,500 Bahts ($46) to get to Maya Bay for three hours. It was an easy decision to go with the tour.
Our long-tail tour boat had about 15 passengers, including Spanish, a Canadian, a Russian, and Italians. Like our time on Koh Phi Phi, our tour started out a bit slow. Breakfast was literally a piece of bread with a little bit of scrambled egg with orange juice. The first stop of the tour was about a half a mile away from the main pier, in the middle of the bay. We stop, and the driver says, “You can snorkel here for 20 minutes.” We were not impressed with the lack of fish, until the end when getting back onto the boat and becoming surrounded by these small green fish, about the size of a golf ball.
But after this, it became much better. We made an hour stop at Bamboo Island, east of Koh Phi Phi. Along with the theme, Bamboo Island is another stunning beach island with crystal clear waters and the ability to snorkel a bit. It was, however, much smaller than Koh Phi Phi and did not have people living on the island. The island was full of day-trippers, though.
After this, we passed by the large cliffs on Mosquito Island before cruising around to the other side of the island to Nui Bay. Nui Bay is a prime spot for snorkeling, as the coral reef attracts many types of fish, and the changing of the tides causes low tide to provide much more visibility. We snorkeled here for about 30 minutes.
Finally, we headed out to the trip highlight, Maya Bay. A long boat ride, probably an hour or so, took us across the rougher waters where we found another island consisting of towering cliffs. We made our way to the southwest side of the island and entered into what seemed to be a secretive bay. Inside, were dozens of boats and hundreds of visitors enjoying the scenery and the waters of Maya Bay. Although it was crowded, the atmosphere was surreal, sitting in between these mountains but in this secluded beach. At sunset, we headed back towards the main island of Koh Phi Phi.
Although skeptical at first, the full-day tour turned out to be well worth the money. The tour lasted a total of nine hours, and provided a (weak) breakfast and a pretty good lunch of fried rice. The spots that we were taken to were impressive, and they were places that would be difficult or expensive to get to independently. The only downfall of the tour was the amount of people in each spot. But for about $20 for the day, I’m very happy with what we got out of the tour.
Kayaking Koh Phi Phi
The day after the full-day tour, we decided to venture out on our own by renting a kayak. For 450 Bahts ($14), we rented a kayak and snorkeling gear for four hours starting from Koh Phi Phi’s main beach on the north side of the bay. Waking up early and getting out on the water by 8:45am, we seemed to have the entire bay almost to ourselves. I guess on a party island, many people probably went to bed around the time that we had woken up. Being out in the bay during a quiet time was one of the best moments of our three days in Koh Phi Phi. In a place which is usually overcrowded in the afternoon, it was perfect to feel the calmness and really take in the beauty without the people.
We kayaked back out to Nui Bay, where we had visited the day before on the tour. This time, though, the tide was high and we were able to kayak all the way into the beach. Just like the main bay, we were able to really enjoy the serenity by getting there early. Within thirty minutes, five or ten boats had pulled in, making the small beach a bit crowded. From there, we took the kayak just around the corner and found a tiny beach that would only be accessible by kayak. If you look around, there are usually places that aren’t found by the majority of the visitors.
The 45 minute journey back to the bay was more difficult as the nasty headwinds slowed us down. But we made it right on time for the end of our four hour time limit. This time on the kayak was one of funnest things we did on Koh Phi Phi. The combination between the independence, the exercise, and the calmness of being in a small kayak in this beautiful bay, made it a very memorable experience.
Arriving and Leaving Koh Phi Phi
As I mentioned in the Koh Tao blog, we had purchased a combination ticket from Koh Tao to Koh Phi Phi which included a nine-hour night boat, a two-hour minivan, and a two-hour ferry. The entire ticket cost 1,150 Bahts ($35). Everything went pretty smooth. Getting out of Koh Phi Phi and arriving back in Bangkok was pretty simple, as well. We took the two-hour ferry ride from the island to the Krabi pier on the mainland. This cost 400 Bahts ($12). From the Krabi pier, we took a taxi to the Krabi bus station for 100 Bahts each ($3). From there, we took an overnight government bus, which left at 5:30pm from Krabi and arrived at the Bangkok South Station at 5:30am. This cost 640 Bahts ($19). The bus was modern and pretty comfortable, with air conditioning and a TV screen.
Although quite different than the diving island of Koh Tao, Koh Phi Phi ended up being a great experience, as well. Once getting over the higher prices, the amount of tourists, and the occasional smelly part of the island, it is actually a very nice place to spend a handful of days. Whether it’s the full-day tour, beach bumming, renting a kayak, or watching a fireshow, there is plenty to do on the island of Koh Phi Phi.