After a somewhat disappointing trip to the island of Koh Lanta, we decided to take the ferry over back to Phuket, but with a two-night stopover on Phi Phi Island. We read in guidebooks and online that Phi Phi Island is crowded with tourists and as a result, its beaches are full of boats, gasoline and debris. But we were determined to find those pristine, white sand beaches and crystal clear waters that we saw on the Internet. Where were they? Did we miss something? Could they be in Phi Phi?
Let me tell you that sometimes following the crowd pays off. We arrived in Phi Phi after just an hour and a half on the ferry and it was a totally different world. It is no wonder tourists flock to this island. Even from the pier we could already spot the white sand. We were getting excited!
Walking along the pier we were swarmed by Thai men holding signs for various hotels and water-taxi drivers vying for our business. We literally booked our accommodation on the ferry and we knew it was just a short walk from the pier, so we ignored them. But it was interesting to know that you could potentially arrive in Phi Phi without booking a hotel in advance and then just pick one of the hotels as you’re walking down the pier. Perhaps that could result in better pricing? We didn’t know.
Our hotel turned out to be pretty basic but very close to the action. We quickly changed into our swim suits and went to the beach, which is actually on the opposite side to the pier and hence should not get much boat traffic.
As we stepped onto the beach, we could not believe our eyes. THIS is the kind of beach that we’ve always seen on pictures and postcards. THIS is where we should have been all along instead of wasting our time in Koh Lanta. The sand was soft and white, the waters were clear, the limestone cliffs surrounded us from both sides. Yes, there were people all over the beach, but not as many as we expected. Perhaps the touristy season was just starting, but we didn’t find the beach crowded at all. There were plenty of free spaces to lay out your beach towel, even in the shade. You could easily find a spot to swim without being bothered by anyone. It was beautiful. It was paradise. It was exactly how we imagined a Thai beach should be.
We spent the afternoon swimming and relaxing on the beach. We even rented a kayak for an hour and took it far enough to take a peek around one of the cliffs. Afterwards we swam some more and watched the sun slowly dim away behind the cliffs.
At night time, the narrow streets near the pier were crowded with young backpackers, buying buckets of alcohol and partying it up in the bars. The buckets were sold everywhere, and included a small bottle of hard liquor and a pop of some sort. We found a place that served delicious and cheap food (much cheaper than in Koh Lanta) and people-watched for a little bit. I spotted many Russian tourists and we even chatted with a Polish couple for a bit. Back in our hotel room, we could hear the party music from the streets play until 3 o’clock in the morning, but it didn’t bother us. We were too spent from swimming and kayaking the entire day.
The next day we took a day trip around some islands nearby. On this trip we quickly realized that we got really lucky with the tour company that took us around Phang Nga Bay out of Phuket. The day tour out of Phi Phi was a disappointment in many ways. The breakfast and lunch that were promised turned out to be two pieces of bread with jam and a small box of fried rice. Needless to say, we were starving the entire day. There was not even enough water for everyone on the boat. While we were excited to experience a long boat, we realized that it was only operated by one guy, who turned out to be our “guide” for the day. However, he spoke zero English and we could hardly understand him. We had no idea what was going on the entire day.
The water was not very calm and the boat could not dock very close to the shore, which meant that every time we got out, we stepped into the water up to our waists. The snorkelling equipment was old and dirty, and we only got to snorkel for a short twenty minutes. To top it all off, the motor of the long boat broke in the middle of the day and the guide spent at least forty minutes fixing it, while shaking his head and saying “Ay! Ay! Ay!” with his hands covered in oil, while we were in the middle of the water!
But the landscape turned out to be very picturesque. We visited Bamboo Island that had a very large, white sand beach and crystal clear waters. We cruised by a Viking Cave, which formed in one of the rocks. The main attraction was of course Maya Bay, where “The Beach” movie was filmed. We got out onto the beach and were surprised by how soft the sand was. I have never ever walked on sand that was this soft! It was like walking on flour.
The highlight for me though was Monkey Beach. We docked near a small beach where a number of boats were already present. As we got out of our boat into the water, I noticed many monkeys roaming around the beach. In anticipation of visiting Monkey Beach, we bought four small bananas at the market in the morning and I held them in a clear, plastic bag in my hand as I got out of the boat. I didn’t even get a chance to get out of the water completely as one of the monkeys spotted the bag full of bananas in my hand and jumped on me. It’s a good thing that I actually wore a sarong because the monkey hung on to it with its claws. If I was wearing just my swim suit, I think the monkey would have just pierced my skin as it jumped on me.
I tried to shake off the monkey by turning around rapidly from left to right, but the monkey started shrieking. I was afraid it was going to charge for my face, and I heard from the tour agency that these monkeys could be quite aggressive. It took me a few seconds to realize that the monkey was after the bananas in my hand. Even though I was really hoping to get some nice photos by feeding the bananas one at a time to the monkeys, I understood in that moment that I had to let them go.
I handed over the bananas and the monkey let me go as it sped up onto a nearby tree. Other monkeys hissed at it and ran after it. But a few seconds later I saw a banana peel fall onto the sand from the tree. It was a terrifying and a hilarious experience at the same time. We did get a few photos with the monkeys, but we didn’t dare to get too close because they all seemed to be very aggressive.
All in all, we got what we paid for on this day trip. It was very cheap (only 450 baht per person compared to 1,500 baht for Phang Nga Bay), but the service was poor. However, the scenery was impressive and proved to us once again that Phi Phi Island is the place to visit if you set foot in Thailand.