Koh Phi Phi island guide: More than just Maya Bay

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Got the Phi Phi islands on your Thailand itinerary? From sailing to snorkeling, dancing to diving, we’ve got the full guide on the best things to do.

View of Koh Phi Phi

The strains of All Saints warbling in the background, visions of azure waters and a deserted island hideaway that only the brave can reach. It’s the dream of Koh Phi Phi, the island made hugely famous by The Beach, the renowned novel and later blockbuster film that launched a thousand fantasies of Thailand. Nowadays Maya Bay (that famous beach from the movie) is closed to the public, so what else is there to do on the legendary island? We’re counting down the best things to do on Koh Phi Phi.

Party the night away 

Now you’re probably getting to Koh Phi Phi from Phuket, that other party haven. If you still haven’t satiated your appetite for long nights on the dance floor and ill-advised buckets of cheap vodka, then Phi Phi Don, the main island, has a bustling nightlife which far outweighs the size of this small island. 

Try Phi Phi Reggae Bar for a chilled atmosphere with – you guessed it – reggae beats but also Thai boxing, Slinky Bar for an open-air disco or the trendy Ibiza Beach Bar. 

Hike the viewpoint

It’s a must do in Phi Phi, especially if you need to blow out those cobwebs from your dancing the night before. Technically the viewpoint is three viewpoints, all with varying levels of difficulty.

The first is a short walk of about 20 minutes up some steep stairs, to a slightly commercialised viewpoint adorned with a large Phi Phi Viewpoint sign. The second? Just a turn or two away with a large wooden viewing platform – most believe this one is the best. The third viewpoint is a bit more of a trek down the hillside towards the other side of the island, so the least visited of the three. 

Regardless of how many you do, the Phi Phi viewpoint is like a rite of passage on the island. You can’t go to Koh Phi Phi and not get the photo to prove you made it to the summit…  

Take an island tour

Now Phi Phi is more than just Koh Phi Phi Don, the main island. It is actually a small cluster of islets. You’ll want to explore these, either by longtail or speedboat, to see some of the most spectacular spots. 

To get the most out of the day, speedboats are preferred yet pack many more visitors and so are a slightly touristy experience. On the other hand, you can hire a private longtail boat for your tour which means you’ll see less but can set out early which will mean you usually aren’t jostling for space. 

Regardless of your travel style, the itinerary usually remains largely the same. A stop at Monkey Beach (Yong Gasem Bay), only 700m from the Tonsai Pier itself, where you’ll come face to face with crab-guzzling macaque monkeys. These cute creatures are pretty tame but exercise some caution and definitely don’t feed them!

Next stop is Pileh Bay (Phi Leh Lagoon). Think emerald green waters, soaring limestone cliffs and absolute solitude (if you can stomach getting there early enough). The place to shoot some postcard-perfect pictures, the lagoon is great for a quick dip. On your way to Pileh you’ll usually encounter Viking Cave which, depending on the tide and sea conditions, can be explored on foot. 

But it’s the next two stops that will make your entire trip to Koh Phi Phi worthwhile: Marvelling at Maya Bay and a swim at Sama Bay (Loh Samah). 

While its closed to the public to undergo a total rejuvenation of its coral, Maya Bay can still be viewed from afar as your boat will do a slow circle around the bay for you to snap that shot of the world-famous spot. 

After that you can drop anchor at Sama Bay or even just a few hundred metres from Maya Bay for the afternoon, slurping up your sticky rice and snorkelling in the cobalt blue waters, before heading back home. 

Explore out of the way islands 

Now you’ve taken the requisite tour but it’s worth trying to get off the tourist trail to some of the other nearby spots. 

The best way? Definitely longtail boats. The longtail boats are an icon of Thai island life: Slightly dilapidated but entirely instagrammable vessels, which are almost large canoe hulls with engines on a long pole, manually operated by the captain. 

Do your homework by hopping between the many ticket stands dotted around the old town, comparing prices and haggling a little to get the price you want, usually it’ll set you back around 2,000 Thai baht for a half-day jaunt. 

A must-do location is Bamboo Island (Koh Phai), where you can chill out on the pristine white beach and snorkel in the surrounding ocean. As the name suggests, it’s bordered with bamboo trees and lush vegetation making it an idyllic spot to spend the day. 

A bit further afield is the aptly named Mosquito Island (so if heading there make sure you pack some repellent), which is totally uninhabited and the ideal place to relax and swim in the warm, Andaman Sea waters. 

Search for deserted beaches 

Most people won’t venture far past Tonsai Beach or even its neighbour, Long Beach, which is a short coastal walk (or longtail boat ride) away from the main pier. However, if you’re willing to spend a bit of time hiking, you can reach a plethora of other more beautiful beaches dotted around Koh Phi Phi Don. 

If you’re doing the viewpoint hike you can also just make your way over the hill and down to Loh Moo Dee beach for quieter shores. 

If you really want to get off the beaten track, hop into a longtail and head over to Loh Lana Bay. Or you can make your way to one of the most breath-taking of them all: Loh Dalum Beach. This one is still pretty popular though, so don’t expect a deserted stretch of sand to yourself for the day. 

Go scuba diving 

Avid divers travel all the way from Phuket for the day, just to explore the underwater paradise around the Phi Phi Islands. Captivating coral formations, the ‘rock face’ diving location of Hin Daeng or Hin Maung, plus you could even head out to the famous King Cruiser wreck, which lies close to the island. An abundance of brightly coloured fish, electric purple corals and leopard sharks are some highlights of the sites. 

For a social atmosphere and top-notch instruction, try out Island Divers

Has this list of Phi Phi pursuits tickled your fancy? Why not find your next stop after Phi Phi? 

If you’ve made it as far as the islands, it’s worth taking the fast ferry from Koh Phi Phi to Koh Lanta, the more laidback island cousin. It boasts some of the most sublime sunsets, enjoyed from the comfort of your beach chair, cocktail firmly in hand. You can also get all the way to Koh Lipe, the last Thai outpost before Malaysia. 

Regardless of your Thailand itinerary, it’s clear that Phi Phi is more than just Maya Bay. It’s dancing with abandon, sweaty but spectacular hikes, dazzling beaches and so much more. 

Posted April 23, 2020
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James and Lee of The Travel Scribes
James and Lee of The Travel Scribes are two wandering writers, who love traveling, writing and everything social media. A married couple in their thirties, when they’re not quenching their thirst for wanderlust, they’re most often found behind their laptops, bashing out their latest blog posts.
image of blog writer James and Lee