Crystal clear waters, white sand beaches and palm trees gently swaying to and fro. It’s the vision of Koh Phi Phi sold to us all by Leonardo DiCaprio’s blockbuster film, The Beach, and it’s still a place that many a traveler flocks to, in an attempt to find their own slice of Thai paradise.
We recently landed on Koh Phi Phi by taking a fast ferry journey over from its relaxed sister island, Koh Lanta, and have everything you need to know about this speedy 1 hour journey.
Spoiled for choice
Now, when confronted with all the choices for the route between Koh Lanta and Koh Phi Phi, we were a little stumped. Speedboat or slow ferry? And, if ferry, which one to choose?
After a few good speedboat rides, we decided to change it up and try the 8:00 am slow ferry, which we booked with Andaman Wave. It turns out that it doesn’t matter too much which one you book, as you’ll be shepherded onto whichever one is available; almost like the code sharing you’ll know from air travel.
Island-hopping in Thailand
This ferry ride was our third of the month, as we had previously sailed into Thailand from Malaysia, taking the ferry from Langkawi to the small enclave of Koh Lipe, and then onto the more laidback Koh Lanta.
So, you might call us complacent when we hopped into our songthaew taxi to the Saladan Pier only 45 minutes before our journey was meant to start; usually we’re pretty anxious about arriving at least an hour before.
Luckily the Saladan pier in Koh Lanta is pretty easy to navigate. It’s a small pier where, upon arrival, you’ll easily find the ticket booth to hand over your tickets and then walk about 5 minutes around the corner to the boarding gate.
Unlike other boarding experiences we’d had, we didn’t have much of a wait. We were ushered almost immediately onto the awaiting boat and helped with our (very heavy) backpacks as they were stacked Tetris-style inside the cabin.
Slowly sails the boat
Now the boat was definitely not the most modern we’ve experienced. While we had been expecting a slightly plusher, more contemporary vessel, essentially you’ll be put onto whatever boat is available.
That said, the boat itself was pretty sturdy. A wooden affair decked out with slightly worn seating, a questionable toilet (take tissues and hand sanitiser), friendly smiling staff members and actually a smaller smattering of fellow ferry-goers than we would have anticipated.
Before we knew it, our departure time had arrived and the boat pulled out, about ten minutes later than scheduled (which, by Southeast Asia standards is surely early?!).
The crossing itself was the slowest of all our ferries (and we’ve taken a lot of ferries) in the last year, but a really enjoyable experience. Instead of sitting inside the cabin, we curled up on the front bow of the boat, nestled just in front of the captain’s cabin.
Alongside about ten other travelers, we spent the hour-long journey looking out at the incredible expanse of the Andaman Sea, as limestone karsts and smaller islands dotted the horizon. It wasn’t the most comfortable place to spend an hour but with the salty sea breeze in your hair and the water whizzing by, it was the perfect place to be.
A warm welcome to Phi Phi
Before we knew it, Koh Phi Phi loomed large in our sights, as we saw the beach stretched out in front of us. But, like most ferry rides in Thailand, we weren’t there just yet. First up we had to anchor a kilometre off the island and have our boat strapped to two others, as those passengers going on to Phuket needed to transfer to another vessel.
Well, most of the passengers made it. But it turned out two hungover travelers hadn’t heard the loud shouts of the crew and missed their Phuket connection. Never mind, they were reassured that they could just jump on the next ferry, departing a couple of hours later.
Usually these transfers are a pain but, surprisingly, this one took less than five minutes and before we knew it, we were hoisting our bags back onto our backs, and walking down the gangplank onto the shore at the Ton Sai pier.
The epicenter of Phi Phi, Ton Sai, is where all the boats (ferry and speedboat alike) dock for the passengers to stream off. This makes it the ideal place for the local government to collect their tourism tax, a paltry 20 Thai baht (0.75 USD) to cover your use of party haven Phi Phi for your trip.
At time of writing there was also an extra check for arriving passengers: a temperature check. This was to check for raised temperatures and any traces of the coronavirus from those flocking to Phi Phi. But, just like the ferry, it was over before we knew it – a small contraption pointed at the forehead, a temperature gauged and we were onto the island in search of mango smoothies and some pancakes to line our stomachs.
The final verdict
All in all, we’d probably count this as our favorite ferry experience in Thailand. Not for the comfort (it wasn’t comfortable), or for the company (we didn’t talk to anyone) but there was something really special about chilling at the front of the boat, sea air and sunshine bashing our faces. Only an hour on calm waters is a win in any traveler’s book, especially if you are landing in Phi Phi ready for sun, sand, snorkel and socializing.