The infamous Phi Phi is a favourite amongst decades of backpackers – Rich first came here back in 1999. It offers turquoise warm waters, white powder sand and that small island feeling. It’s a one hour’s ferry from Railay, and a long-tail will take you from West Railay beach into the bay to transfer to the boat. Watching those with huge suitcases deal with the at-sea transfer is worth the trip alone.
Phi Phi itself is actually two islands – Phi Phi Don and Phi Phi Leh – Don being the town, Leh a smaller island nearby that encloses the famous Maya bay (used in the film The Beach). Ao Ton Sai (town) is where most of the action happens, a busy, close-packed collection of resorts, guesthouses and huts, ranging from the dirt-cheap to the stupidly expensive. For those looking for a quieter life, other beaches around the circumference of the island offer retreats that offer a more ‘real’ beach experience. Most other beaches will need either a decent walk at low tide or a long-tail to get to, but they are worth the effort if Ao Ton Sai disappoints. Long Beach, a favourite of Rich’s years ago, now has a half-decent path, but it’s worth taking a long-tail if only because the waters on the journey are stunning.
There’s plenty to do, mainly diving, snorkelling, the usual vegetating on the beaches, or as it appears more recently, just hanging around and having a drink. We decided on coming through Phi Phi as it was en-route to Koh Lipe, and also to let off some steam after the manic few weeks of quitting our jobs, homes and starting this extended holiday.
We stayed in the centre of town at a place called The White, a typical flashpacker guesthouse, next door to D’s books, a great little coffee house with free WiFi and power sockets under the seats. You’ll be lucky to get a spot though as those with their own laptops tend to set up camp for hours at a time. The White was more expensive than our budget should have allowed, but we had already decided to allow ourselves a little extra money for the first month to give us time to get into the swing of things and also because we wanted to be somewhere comfortable for Christmas and New Year.
We spent most of our time mooching round town, had a couple of big nights out and worked our way through some of the local dishes. If you’re looking for somewhere to drink, we’d recommend Stones Bar at the far end of the Ao Lo Dalam beach and Bohemian Bar on the other side of the island.
There are a few well-presented Swedish bars on the island but the music is just terrible, really, think Eurovision, Hanson and Britney Spears.
Food-wise, we drank many cups of tea (and the cheapest) at Breakers, as well as chowing down a decent breakfast. Western dishes and cheap pizza are plentiful at Calamaro’s, and the excellent Thai menu at Pum’s was offering a nine year anniversary deal, taking the prices back to those in 2001.
We also had a few meals in the Thai market, a few small stalls offering everything from street snacks through to full curries. We recommend spending some time in these joints, it’s cheap and good quality, just don’t get hung up over cleanliness. They may not look robust but we didn’t have any problems.
The weather wasn’t fantastic during our stay – it had been raining loads before we arrived so the waters were not at their clearest and we are leaving the snorkelling and day trips until we get to Koh Lanta when the visibility should have improved.
We cannot leave a post about Phi Phi without mentioning the nightlife. This is the main draw to Phi Phi these days, although the onslaught of thousands of young backpackers and holidays makers will surely cause outrage among the hedonistic old school travellers looking for the quiet life. At night, it gets quite mental. Fuelled by beer and buckets (a small beach bucket with a deadly mix of local spirits, coke and a strong caffeine drink – ฃ4),
hoards float from bar to bar with touts offering free shots and body paint. Once the bars wind down the streets fill with stalls offering end-of-night barbequed snacks. It’s a little full-moon party madness every night, but aside from the location it’s not that much different from any European party resort. You certainly can avoid it if you want on the quieter parts of the island. We indulged a couple of times and had a blast but that was more than enough for us and we were glad to be heading off the island after five days.
We leave Phi Phi heading to Koh Lipe. The seas are a bit rough so we’ve opted for a speedboat via Koh Lanta, our destination for Christmas. The total journey is about four hours, much faster than taking the ferry all the way but also more expensive so we’ll probably opt for the overland route on the way back. Koh Lipe should be a world away from Phi Phi, much quieter and laid back and our home for the next two weeks. Here’s to getting away from it all.