The Phi Phi Islands (pronounced “Pee-Pee”) are a group of six islands situated in the Andaman Sea of Southern Thailand. The two main islands are Ko Phi Phi Don and Ko Phi Phi Leh, with Phi Phi Don being the only inhabited island. Ko Phi Phi was largely destroyed in 2004 when the tsunami hit, but has since been rebuilt and recovered.
A tropical paradise that offers white sandy beaches and bright turquoise water, along with a diverse culture. You’ll find characteristic limestone rock formations and an abundance of marine wildlife. It’s a postcard-perfect destination – or at least it would be if it weren’t for all the tourists.
The islands are undeniably beautiful. But being a very popular tourist trap, Phi Phi Don is very over-developed and has become a party hotspot. This has made the Phi Phi Islands particularly popular with backpackers, although there are some more luxury resorts available too.
Where are the Phi Phi Islands?
The Phi Phi Islands are a group of six islands in Southern Thailand. They are situated in the Andaman Sea, 45km southeast of Phuket and 40km southwest of Krabi. The Phi Phi Islands are part of Hat Noppharat Thara-Mu Ko Phi Phi National Park.
How to get to Phi Phi Islands
There are two main ways to get to the Phi Phi Islands: by speedboat or by ferry from Phuket or Krabi. Ferries to the Phi Phi Islands take around two hours from Phuket and around 90 minutes from Krabi or Koh Lanta. Public ferries are a good budget option and it’s advisable to buy tickets in advance to get the best deal.
There are lots of different ferry companies operating in the area with frequent departures. They are of varying standards and can become quite crowded, so check before you travel. It’s advisable to arrive around an hour in advance to get good seats.
Speedboats offer a faster – and arguably more fun – alternative. It’s best to book a couple of days in advance if you can to guarantee a spot. For the ultimate flexibility, a private speedboat charter is a great option and ideal for larger groups.
If you’re looking for the whole package then there are various all inclusive tours available. These will cover your entire trip, including travel from Phuket to Phi Phi.
Best time to visit Phi Phi Islands
Phi Phi is a year round destination. When to visit will depend on your weather and budget preferences.
Peak season is from November to April – this is when prices are highest. It follows that you’ll save money if you visit outside of this, between May and October.
Phi Phi Islands weather
The off-peak season aligns with the monsoon season; May, September and October are typically the wettest months. The temperatures are still warm though and you’ll still see a good amount of sunshine. Just be wary of sudden and heavy downpours.
March to mid-May are the hottest months with very high humidity. If you’re not a fan of the intense humidity then best to avoid these months. But if you love the hot weather then it’s a great time to visit, with beautiful weather.
November to February are the coolest months (but still warm enough for plenty of sun-bathing). The weather and temperatures of these months are arguably the most favourable, which does also mean they are the more expensive months to visit.
Phi Phi Islands nightlife
Phi Phi Don is famous for its nightlife, with big beach parties and various entertainment. It’s one of the more expensive places to party in Thailand, so bear this in mind when budgeting.
The drinks are strong in Thailand, and this is particularly true in Ko Phi Phi. The infamous 2 for 1 buckets of alcohol are notorious and somewhat dangerous. Be wary of the strength of the drinks and, as with anywhere, pay close attention to your drink. It goes without saying but do not go near illegal substances in Thailand, as the country has very strict laws on drug use.
Things to do in Phi Phi Islands
With multiple islands to explore and plenty of tourist attractions, there are a lot of activities to do in Ko Phi Phi. Here are the top things to do in the Phi Phi Islands:
Ko Phi Phi Don
As the largest Phi Phi island and the only inhabited one, Phi Phi Don is where you’ll find all the accommodation options and infamous nightlife. Although it is a beautiful island, it is painfully overdeveloped. With an abundance of tourists visiting everyday, it is not quite the untouched paradise you may believe it to be – far from it.
Despite the overdevelopment, it is still a very popular place to visit, especially amongst young backpackers. The beaches are beautiful and the nightlife lively (that’s an understatement). Just be aware that you’ll be welcomed with a near constant scent of sewage – Koh “Pee Pee” is therefore quite an apt name!
Phi Phi viewpoint
For beautiful views across the azure waters, luscious green vegetations, and towering cliffs, head to Phi Phi viewpoint. It’s not an arduous climb, being only a 30 minute stroll or 20 minute power walk. You’ll be greeted with a selection of cold drinks and various snack options at the top.
Take a seat on one of the rocks or provided hammocks and take in the breathtaking view. Morning is the best time to visit and the route is well signposted from the Reggae Bar.
Ko Phi Phi Leh
Phi Phi Leh lies 1.5km south of Phi Phi Don. It’s an uninhabited island that comprises various stunning bays and caves. It is a truly breathtaking island to explore with amazing snorkelling opportunities where you can discover exotic fish and colourful coral.
Popular spots to visit include Maya Bay, Sama Bay, Pi Leh Bay, Palong Bay and Viking Cave. Sama Bay and Pi Leh Bay are excellent swimming and snorkelling spots. Palong Bay is a popular dive site and a good place to spot black-tip reef sharks. Viking Cave is known for its birds nests – swifts make nests from their saliva and these nests are harvested by locals. They are sold for an excruciatingly high price point to make bird’s nest soup. It may sound disgusting but it’s a Chinese delicacy!
Part of Phi Phi Leh, Maya Bay is a beautiful bay that is framed by 100-metre high cliffs on three sides. As the world famous film location for The Beach starring Leonardo DiCaprio, it is a very recognisable destination. It comprises several small beaches and the crystal clear water allows you to see the underlying reef with clarity. This makes it a very popular snorkelling spot.
There are not many provisions at Maya Bay so it’s best to take your own. You’ll find a small stall that sells drinks and snacks, as well as some toilets – but these are best avoided if you can hold it!
As beautiful as Maya Bay is – or was – it’s not all rainbows and roses. Unfortunately due to its popularity, the view is somewhat spoilt by the mass of speedboats ferrying tourists to the bay. The overcrowding got so bad that Maya Bay has been closed since June 2018 due to the damage caused by tourists. At the time of writing, it is due to reopen in summer 2021.
Koh Pai island – more commonly known as Bamboo Island – is located around five kilometres northeast of Koh Phi Phi Don. It is the ultimate tropical paradise and is slightly quieter than the buzz of Phi Phi Don and Maya Bay. It’s a popular lunch spot for a lot of the Phi Phi Island tours.
The island is shaped like a heart, with a centre of lush green vegetation surrounded by a strip of white sandy beach. The bamboo trees which adorn the island are responsible for its charming name. At Bamboo Island you will find the clearest waters imaginable.
As with many of the smaller islands, provisions are limited; but there is a small stall serving drinks and snacks. Due to the crystal clear waters, the island offers another great spot for snorkelling, being home to beautiful coral reefs.
The island is accessible by long-tail boat. As a small island with not much to see other than its extraordinary natural beauty, a few hours is usually long enough to spend here.
Located 700m from Tonsai Bay, Monkey Beach is a 150m-long strip of beach backed by a tall limestone cliff. It comprises silky soft white sand and lapping emerald waters. The lush vegetation makes it a popular habitat for monkeys, hence the name.
Monkey Beach is not to be confused with Monkey Bay, which is located on the other side of Phi Phi Don. It is best accessed by long-tail boat, but you can kayak there too. As with any wild animals, it’s advisable not to get too close. They have been known to bite or scratch due to tourists feeding them – and a rabies panic is not what you want!
Snorkelling and diving
You can go snorkelling just about anywhere in the Phi Phi Islands. It’s a beautiful place to snorkel, with brightly coloured coral reefs and tropical fish. There is a huge diversity of marine wildlife to spot. Just make sure that you go with a guide, as some areas have tricky currents to navigate.
Diving is also very popular in and around the Phi Phi Islands. Again, speak to a tour company to find the best spots for diving. If you’re a beginner, there are plenty of diving locations which are great for entry-level diving. More advanced divers will find some deeper and more challenging dive sites further out. Some of the best dive sites include Bida Nok / Bida Nai, Malong May, Kled Gaeow Wreck, Hin Dot and Hin Daeng / Muang.
Due to its towering limestone cliffs, Ko Phi Phi is a hotspot for rock climbing in Thailand. It boasts world-renowned rock climbing sites with stimulating climbing walls and highly trained instructors. Not to mention the spectacular views that surround you.
The most notable rock climbing walls in the Phi Phi Islands are as follows:
- Ao Ling Wall
- Ao Pilay Wall
- Drinking Wall
- Hin Tak
- Hua Ling Wall
- Maya Bay (has two walls)
- Tonsai Tower
A fun way to see all the beauty that the islands have to offer. Renting a kayak gives you the freedom to reach secluded caves and beautiful bays not accessible on foot. You can do a self-guided tour to give you the ultimate flexibility and an unforgettable adventure.
For an extra thrill, try a paddle boat or water-skiing tour – a touch of adrenaline at a relatively affordable price too.
Relax in a spa
All this adventure got you yearning for some relaxation? If sunbathing on a beach all day isn’t your idea of relaxation then there are a number of spas on Phi Phi Don. Relax and unwind with a spa day or wellness experience. Enjoy some luxurious spa treatments and soak up the paradise surrounding you.
How to get around Phi Phi Islands
Moving between the islands is best done via speedboat or long-tail boat. Some islands can be accessed by kayak too, if you’d prefer a more adventurous method of exploration.
On the islands themselves, there is no motorised transport for public use. The only way to get around is on foot but the islands are small so it’s no problem. The lack of cars or motorbikes is actually quite a pleasant appeal of the islands.
Are the Phi Phi Islands worth visiting?
The Phi Phi Islands generally harbour mixed opinions from visitors. They are inherently beautiful but they have somewhat lost much of their appeal by being overrun with tourists. That being said, the white sandy beaches, azure waters, and island life is unmissable.
My personal recommendation is not to stay on the Phi Phi Islands. Instead, stay in Phuket or Krabi and do a full day tour of the islands. This way you can see the best that the islands have to offer without the downsides of staying on Phi Phi Don.