If you’re planning a trip to Thailand most likely you’ve come across the option to go to Phi Phi Island. Island hopping in Thailand is a must for any Southeast Asian backpacking journey. Just Southeast of Phuket, Phi Phi has gained an abundance of attention over the years. Unfortunately it’s often overrun with tourists, but for a good reason. As your social media feeds will show you, it has some of the most dramatic scenery of any island in the world. It’s decorated with impossibly turquoise waters, and tall craggy limestone cliffs, framing white sand beaches in a calm cove. Yes, the island scenery is legendary.
I’ve toured the islands a few ways, first arriving in 1999 while studying abroad in Bangkok, and most recently in 2018. If pressed for time, a day trip to Phi Phi is entirely possible from Phuket. But if you have the time, it’s worth spending a night or two on the island to tour the sites. I’ll tell you about the preferred way, which gives you a more intimate tour of the area on a traditional long tail boat.
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If staying in Phuket (which has an international airport), you’ll most likely come across a few tour options to reach Phi Phi. Most tour operators in Phuket will offer you one or more of several different types of day trip schedules. The day tour will likely consist of an early morning pick up from your hotel, with a transfer to the ferry terminal. From there you’ll board a large ship for the 48 kilometer boat ride to Phi Phi. As you approach the island, you’ll encounter Phi Phi Ley, home of the famous (or infamous) Maya Bay, where the movie The Beach was filmed in the early 2000’s. The tour will continue to Phi Phi, where you will disembark and pay a park fee to enter the island. The tour will most likely have a catered lunch at a restaurant in Phi Phi, and you will have a few hours to walk the island on your own, with the choice of spending it by the beach, taking a short hike to the peak, or shopping in the maze of gift shops in the small town.
My preferred way will always be the overnight option in Phi Phi, and touring the island in a long tail boat. The tour takes about 6-8 hours depending on how early you wake up and want to spend at the sites, but it’s entirely customizable based on your party’s wants and needs. You can reserve a private or shared long tail boat tour from any of the tour companies on Phi Phi. If you choose to rent a private long tail boat, you can choose your start time. While they recommend starting early, we like to sleep in and opted for a 9 AM start time for our own boat tour.
We soon realized this was late, as we headed towards our first stop: Maya Bay. At about 9:20 AM there were throngs of tourists on the tiny island. The beach was lined with similar long tail boats from other tours, and tourists were busy taking pictures and laying on the beach. If you take the tour boat from Phuket, they are often too large to stop at the beach, and can only enter the bay to view from afar. This is a plus when taking the long tail boat, which is small enough to navigate the shallow waters of the bay. After paying the park fee and taking a few pictures, you will be whisked to another area of the bay for snorkeling. The water is pretty shallow, and there are numerous fish that aren’t afraid to come nibble at your legs.
Following Maya Bay, we cruised the islands, relaxing and enjoying the scenery. The limestone cliffs never get old, each having a unique pattern and different cave formations. The long tail boat has a shade to escape the beating sun, and the driver provides a cool snack of sliced pineapple at around midday. Our next stop was Pileh Lagoon, where he anchored and we had the opportunity to take pictures. The Lagoon is an enclave of 90 degree vertical cliffs crowned in their own shade of green shrubbery, vertically diving into the cerulean sea. There’s an opportunity for snorkeling where the pilot teased there might be sharks, or you can just relax and take pictures.
Bear in mind that because this was a chartered private long tail boat tour, we were able to guide the driver to where we wanted to go. One of the options was stopping at Monkey Bay, where a colony of monkeys live on the beach. But we opted not to stop and take pictures, satisfied with a day of relaxing and viewing the beautiful scenery. You also have the option of anchoring in the shallow waters to snorkel where the reefs might be more vibrant. However we had heard that the 2005 tsunami destroyed a lot of the shallow reefs, and it hasn’t come back.
The whole excursion lasted about 6 hours, and we toured at an incredibly relaxing pace. I fully enjoyed the experience, and would definitely take a long tail boat again!