Koh Phi Phi: Planning Your Trip

What to Know Before You Go

Wide view of Koh Phi Phi Island

TripSavvy / Lauren Breedlove

While Koh Phi Phi may be small compared to its neighboring islands in Thailand’s Andaman Sea, the island’s reputation is known around the world. Whether you’re coming in from Phuket or Koh Lanta, an audible gasp followed by excited murmuring can often be heard on the ferry during the approach to Koh Phi Phi. First-timers gasp a second time when greeted by the ugly circus of tourism crammed along the main path in Ton Sai. Fortunately, it isn’t representative of the entire island. Some beaches and bays are the very definition of a perfectly cliché paradise all travelers hope to find. Others are polluted by the never-ending thump thump of a DJ’s mix.

When travelers say “Koh Phi Phi” they invariably mean Koh Phi Phi Don, the larger of the two well-known islands in Hat Noppharat Thara-Mu Ko Phi Phi National Park. Koh Phi Phi Leh, the smaller island a little south, is uninhabited but can be visited on tours. The stunning setting there was made famous in 2000 by the film, "The Beach." Backpackers know it as a place to socialize between Full Moon Parties, where the beer pong games start early and the beach bucket drinks go late. Vacationers come to enjoy the scenery, inexpensive diving, and abundance of marine life.

Adorned with impressive limestone cliffs so characteristic of Krabi province, Koh Phi Phi Don has an unusual, almost skeletal shape. A very narrow strip of sand connects two asymmetrical pieces of the island and serves as its action epicenter. At points along the main walking path, you can see blue water on either side. Although visually confirming that you are surrounded by the Andaman Sea is exciting, keep in mind that the thin link in the middle is why Koh Phi Phi was completely demolished during the catastrophic 2004 Indian Ocean Tsunami.

Before you start planning your getaway to this famous piece of Thai Island paradise, peruse our guide to learn how to get there (hint: the island is too small for an airport), the best time to visit, and other tips for where to eat, stay, and play in Koh Phi Phi.

Planning Your Trip

  • Best Time to Visit: Aim for the low season (May to September), as dry season is December to April, with January and February being the driest and busiest months due to school holidays abroad; heavy rain and thunderstorms occur during the monsoon season in July and August but things are still hopping on the island. The party crowd typically arrives in Koh Phi Phi before and after other islands' Full Moon Parties; retreat to nearby Koh Lanta if you’re not in the mood.
  • Language: While Thai is the main language spoken in the Islands, many speak and understand English, especially people who work in hotels, restaurants, stores, and attractions frequented by foreigners. Saying hello in Thai (“sah-wah-dee khaaaa” if you’re a woman, or “sah-wah-dee khrap” if you’re a man) usually elicits a smile.
  • Currency: Thai baht is the official currency of Thailand. There are plenty of ATMs on the island, but bring some backup cash in case the network is experiencing trouble. Visa and MasterCard are widely accepted, while American Express can typically only be used in higher-end hotels and shops.
  • Getting Around: Plan to walk or rent a kayak or bicycle, as motorized transportation is practically nonexistent and the handful of scooters on the island are used by police or construction contractors. Noisy long-tail boats shuttle travelers around and can be hired for the day or single journeys; prices vary by distance and time of day.
  • Travel Tip: In Thai, ph is pronounced with the h silent (e.g., Phuket is pronounced “poo-ket) and the word koh (island) is pronounced deeper in the throat (“goh,”) so the correct pronunciation of “Koh Phi Phi” is “goh-pee-pee” (not “ko-fee-fee” or “ko-fye-fye”). Its name comes from the Malay word for fire, api (pronounced “ah-pee”).
Beach in Koh Phi Phi
TripSavvy / Lauren Breedlove

Things to Do

Aside from the island’s infamous party scene, visitors flock to Koh Phi Phi for scuba diving (area dive shops can also arrange PADI courses), snorkeling, and to admire the beautiful turquoise-colored waters from the shoreline as they tan along Ton Sai Beach. Others head here to go rock climbing, while all can appreciate the ever-present fresh local Thai food. Rent a long-tail boat for the day or take a guided tour to better explore the islands, stopping at Monkey Beach and other scenic points in Pihel Lagoon.

  • Visit Tham Phaya Nak, or Viking Cave, an impressive cavern at the northeastern end of the island that gets its name from the paintings found inside it, including one of a boat resembling a Viking ship. You can take a 30-minute ride in a long-tail boat from Ton Sai Bay to reach it.
  • Enjoy panoramic views of the island’s jungles and tropical waters from the Koh Phi Phi Viewpoint. After a 30-minute hike that takes you 610 feet above sea level from the town center, reward yourself for making the strenuous schlep (chances are it’s going to be hot and muggy) with a beer, water or fresh coconut from the cafe at the top before heading back or hiking local trails down to Pak Nam or Rantee Beach.
  • While you won't be able to visit Maya Bay—it was such a victim of over-tourism after its debut in “The Beach" that the Thai government closed it indefinitely in 2019 to allow the environment to recover—you can still spend time in other scenic sections of Hat Noppharat Thara-Mu Ko Phi Phi National Park, like Loh Moo Dee Beach on Koh Phi Phi Don or Pileh Bay, a secluded cove on Koh Phi Phi Leh.

What to Eat and Drink

While Koh Phi Phi isn’t exactly known for its culinary greatness, good Thai food is easy to find. Papaya Restaurant is a go-to among budget travelers for its cheap, delicious food. Nearby, the bamboo-lined Knock Out Bar and Restaurant run by Mr. Chet is a lively spot. Wherever you go, the fish, shrimp, crab, and lobster dish possibilities are endless; most are served with rice, noodles (Pad Thai is a national dish, after all), in a soup or with a salad. Get the mango sticky rice for dessert and thank us later. Note that serving sizes can be unpredictable, as some offerings are strictly solo portions while others are “family size” and meant to be shared among a table. Items on menus listed as “on rice” typically mean they’ll satisfy one person. If rice costs extra and the dish you’re ordering seems pricier than it should be, it’s probably meant to be shared.

Freshly squeezed fruit juices and smoothies are abundant, as are local Thai beers like Singha and Chang. Wine is expensive and typically found in higher-end hotels, while beer and party cocktails are the main draws for the island's many beach bars.

Where to Stay

During the reconstruction that followed the 2004 Indian Ocean Tsunami, opportunists seized control, squeezing out many of the island’s budget bungalow operations and leaving an uneasy mix of upscale resorts, ramshackle party hostels, and mid-range guesthouses. Loh Dalum is the big party beach; stay as far from here as possible unless fire shows and late-night revelry are the main missions of your trip. Backpackers looking for hostels should head east after getting off the ferry; options get cheaper the farther from the beach and the more uphill you are. Laem Tong Beach on the northeast extremity of the island is a serene choice, though it’s a long way from the action in Ton Sai Bay and hotels can be pricey. Long Beach is a popular strip of powdery sand, but getting there requires a little scrambling or a quick boat ride.

Getting There

Koh Phi Phi is too small for an airport, however, you can fly into Krabi Town—a small city on the west coast of Thailand that’s a major hub for those heading to nearby Ao Nang, Railay, Ko Lanta, or other islands in the Andaman Sea—or Phuket, then take a boat to the island. Ferries run from Krabi Town, Phuket, Koh Lanta, Railay, and Ao Nang every day. Schedules change based on the time of year (fewer boats brave the waves during the low season and stormy months between June and October) so you’ll need to ask about options in a travel agency or booking office.

Culture and Customs

  • Politeness and dressing well (think smart casual attire) go a long way, as can getting used to a slower pace than you might be used to and keeping cool when things don’t go according to plan. Thai society is very calm and well-mannered, and locals will often greet you with the “Wai,” by putting their hands together in front of their chests; return the gesture or respond with a friendly smile and a nod to show respect.
  • As far as tipping, it’s not expected but is very much appreciated if you’ve experienced an excellent meal or service. It also depends where you are, as it’s acceptable to round up and leave the difference as a tip in a restaurant or cafe, whereas you generally wouldn’t tip street food vendors. Do show your appreciation and tip your tour guide if they’ve done a good job leading you around for several hours.
  • Koh Phi Phi is as safe as the other islands in Thailand, although there will inevitably be more drunk people wandering the streets at night. Travelers of both sexes should keep an eye on their drinks, as druggings occasionally occur. A small hospital on the island can handle minor ailments, however, you’re better off going over to Phuket or back to Krabi to have something serious diagnosed and treated.

Money Saving Tips

  • To save money on tours, stick to the ones that use traditional long-tail boats instead of speedboats. Be aware that cheaper boat rides can be more crowded, as guides will try to fill the boat with more people. It’s not necessarily a bad thing, but may not allow for the most peaceful day on the water if that’s what you had in mind.
  • Picking up freshly cooked street food, visiting the market, and eating at local Thai restaurants can save you a lot of money, as can paying attention to specials at the local beach bars, some of which offer buy-one-get-one-free deals or complimentary cover when you buy a drink.
  • Koh Phi Phi shopping is limited to a handful of convenience shops and stalls selling sunglasses, T-shirts, beach sarongs, and souvenirs. Prices for items like sunscreen will invariably be higher than on the mainland, and there will be fewer choices. Save money by packing smart and bringing the usual beach survival items with you.
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