Koh Phi Phi is a small island compared to Phuket and Koh Lanta—the two nearest neighbors on the west coast—but its reputation is known around the world. 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.
Backpackers know Koh Phi Phi as a place to socialize between Full Moon Parties. Beer pong games start early, and beach bucket drinks go late. Vacationers come to enjoy the scenery—arguably some of the best island backdrops in the world. Both take full advantage of the inexpensive diving and abundant underwater life in the marine national park.
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 island and serves as the epicenter of action. 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, the thin link in the middle is why Koh Phi Phi was completely demolished in the 2004 Indian Ocean Tsunami.
Which Phi Phi Island?
When travelers say “Koh Phi Phi” they invariably mean Koh Phi Phi Don, the larger of the two well-known islands in the marine 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 Beach," the film adaptation of Alex Garland’s 1996 novel of the same name.
How to Pronounce Koh Phi Phi
The correct pronunciation of Koh Phi Phi earns a giggle or two among English-speaking children visiting there. In Thai, ph is pronounced with the h silent (e.g., Phuket is pronounced “poo-ket”). Not helping things, the word koh (island) is pronounced deeper in the throat, more like “goh.”
- Incorrect but often overheard: “ko fee fee” and “ko fye fye”
- Correct: “goh pee pee”
The name actually comes from api (pronounced “ah-pee”), the Malay word for fire.
How to Get to Koh Phi Phi
The jump-off point for Koh Phi Phi is Krabi Town, a small city on the west coast of Thailand that serves as a hub for tourists heading to Ao Nang, Railay, and other islands in the Andaman.
Koh Phi Phi is too small for an airport, however, you can fly into Krabi Town (KBV) or Phuket (HKT) then take boat transportation to the island. Phuket is the most expensive of the two options.
Ferries run from Krabi Town, Phuket, Koh Lanta, Railay, and Ao Nang every day. Schedules change based on the time of year; you’ll need to ask in a travel agency or booking office about options. Fewer boats brave the waves during the low season / stormy months between June and October.
When to Visit Koh Phi Phi
The dry season for Koh Phi Phi runs from December to April, with the driest and peak months being January and February.
Koh Phi Phi gets heavy rain and thunderstorms during monsoon season—especially July and August — but people keep coming. The island doesn’t actually shut down and board up like much of neighboring Koh Lanta does for the off season.
Tip: Koh Phangan’s Full Moon Party on the other side of Thailand definitely affects the flow of travelers to Koh Phi Phi. You’ll have much more peace on the island during the week of the big party, but watch out: as soon as it finishes, lots of merrymakers head to Koh Phi Phi to carry on! Retreat to nearby Koh Lanta if you aren’t in the mood.
Where to Stay on the Island
Beaches and bays are scattered and tucked all over the island. Some 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.
During reconstruction that followed the 2004 tsunami, opportunists seized control and squeezed out many of the budget bungalow operations. Today, there is an uneasy mix of upscale resorts, ramshackle hostel party dorms, and a few mid-range guesthouses.
Centrally located in the narrow part of the island, Loh Dalum is the nighttime party beach. Stay as far from here as possible unless fireshows and late revelry are the main missions of your trip. Backpackers looking for hostels and cheaper accommodation do better walking east (to the right) after getting off the ferry. Predictably, accommodation options get cheaper the farther from the beach and the more uphill one looks.
Laem Tong Beach on the northeast extremity of the island is probably one of the most serene choices, although it’s also a long way from the abundance of eating and nightlife options in Ton Sai Bay. Hotels there are relatively pricey for the island.
Facing southwest, Long Beach is a popular strip of powdery sand with great location, but getting there requires a little scrambling or quick boat ride.
Unfortunately, many of the most idyllic beaches are jammed with anchored longtail boats, the only transportation choice for accessing such slices of paradise.
Fortunately, Koh Phi Phi is one of the few places in Thailand where you won’t deal with offers for tuk-tuks and taxis. Motorized transportation is practically nonexistent. The handful of scooters on the island are used by police or construction contractors. Unfortunately, less traffic in the streets means more traffic on the water. Noisy longtail boats shuttle travelers between different points on the island.
Plan to walk a lot as you explore the island. Boats can be hired for the day or as needed for single journeys. Prices vary depending on distance and time of day.
Things to Do
Aside from partying and enjoying fireshows, of which there are plenty, visitors to Koh Phi Phi come to taking advantage of the turquoise-colored Andaman Sea. Diving and snorkeling opportunities abound. The numerous dive shops around the island can arrange PADI courses or snorkeling.
Along with water sports, there is a limited amount of rock climbing on the island, although you should probably head over to nearby Railay if you are looking for anything serious.
Climbing the steep stairs up to the viewpoint is a rite of passage on Koh Phi Phi. Go up in the evening for photogenic views of the island. Drinks and snacks are available at the top.
Koh Phi Phi isn’t an island known for its culinary greatness, but good Thai food is easy to find. Eating favorites from home is another story. As with all tourist islands, restaurants make attempts to produce Western cuisine; success ranges from impressive to inedible.
Papaya (the restaurant, not the fruit) is an old favorite of budget travelers in the islands. Open only for dinner, Papaya can get busy with in-the-know people who cram in for the cheap, delicious food.
The bamboo-lined “Restaurant Knock Out” run by Mr. Chet is a lively choice for good food and atmosphere.
Tip: Serving sizes on menus are unpredictable—some offerings are meant to be solo portions, but many 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 are ordering seems pricier than it should be, it’s probably meant to be shared—the default Thai way of eating.
What to Bring
Being a small island, shopping on Koh Phi Phi is limited to a handful of convenience shops and stalls selling sunglasses, T-shirts, beach sarongs, and souvenirs.
Prices for items such as sunscreen will invariably be higher than on the mainland, and there will be fewer choices. Bring the usual beach survival items with you; save the real shopping for Chiang Mai or Bangkok.
There are plenty of ATMs on the island, but bring some backup cash in case the network is experiencing trouble.
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; 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.