Ko Phi Phi Islands are the main landmark and the most popular tourist destination in Thailand. It's just a piece of heaven on Earth - it's exactly the way you can see it on the postcards or wallpapers featuring exotic beaches. And it really is that idyllic and full of colors - the water is perfectly turquoise and crystal clear, the sand is soft and immaculately white and the surrounding limestone cliffs create "the gate" to paradise. Nature is always flawlessly beautiful - but it couldn't be all so perfect, could it? There are, obviously, some faults in this must-see Thailand's attraction. And they are all caused by us - humans. Read on about my experience in Ko Phi Phi, find out how to avoid the scams and what's the best way to visit the islands.
How to get to Ko Phi Phi and how to avoid scams
Getting to Ko Phi Phi is extremely easy since it's the most famous attraction in Thailand. It's not a problem to find a tour, ferry or a speedboat from all the places around - Phuket, Krabi etc. The problem is that you, most likely, will be scammed. To avoid this, do not buy anything from the first person that approaches you. Be careful when they offer unrealistically cheap tours/transfers etc. There's most probably a catch in it! Search for deals and tours and choose it yourself!
The worst situation I have ever experienced in my life was in Bangkok where me and my travel companions were lied to, tricked at every corner and even received death threats. It was the first time in my life when, after first day of travelling in a new place I wished I had already been on the plane back home. You can read about it here, in the article about Bangkok - 7 reasons why it is an overrated tourist trap.
Phuket (if it comes to scams), thank goodness, turned out to be better, and although we had to be cautious, we managed to travel around without serious problems.
We arrived in Phuket by overnight ferry from Ko Tao (for 1200 THB - 30 EUR/35 USD) - another popular tourist spot (especially for Full Moon Parties - I will write about it in the future). The ferry took us first to Surat Thani - the coastal town and then we traveled on by bus to Phuket (both the ferry and the bus were included in the fare).
The bus, however did not go to the Phuket city, it stopped at the bus station which is located really far from the center. Of course, none of the passengers had been notified about it prior to departure from Ko Tao or in Surat Thani. Not too mention that the arrival time was much later than we had been told and because of that we lost a day in Phuket.
The bus driver took us all to the travel agency that offered transfers from the bus station to Phuket and tours to Ko Phi Phi or James Bond islands. Don't ever buy a tour in such a place! The prices they offered were ridiculous: 3300 THB (80 EUR/92 USD) per person for a day group tour! In Phuket, if you search around, you can find a tour about 3 times cheaper - we paid 1200 THB (30 EUR/35 USD).
Based on our experience in Ko Tao, we knew that those prices were a rip-off so when they tried to push us to buy the transfer to the Phuket center for 7 EUR (9 USD) we just gave up, left the travel agency and decided to take a taxi from the station to Phuket (public transport does not operate). In the end, we paid almost the same price for the taxi. The ride took around 30 minutes.
That's the way it is in Thailand - you can never trust anyone, even the tourist agencies - they will give you wrong timetables, wrong arrival hour, you have no idea if they are honest or if you're just getting tricked. It's highly frustrating.
Best way to visit Ko Phi Phi islands
At first, we intended to take a boat to Ko Phi Phi Don (the main island), spend a day there, and visit all the islands around (including the famous Maya Bay) on the second day. Unfortunately, due to the late arrival of the bus in Phuket, we did not have a chance to go to Ko Phi Phi on the first day.
We walked around, bought a day tour at one of the stands - it included Ko Phi Phi Don, some snorkeling around, the monkey beach, Maya Bay and Ko Khai island. if you have time, avoid such tours, in my opinion - The tour leaves you in the most beautiful places for 40 minutes and then you spend half of the day on some overcrowded with tourists, plain beach.
Take a day tour as a last resort - if all the other options are not available. Otherwise, spend at least a day in Ko Phi Phi Don - and then another day visiting Maya Bay and the surroundings.
The Monkey Beach and Ko Phi Phi Don
Ko Phi Phi Don is the largest island in the archipelago of Ko Phi Phi. It takes around 1.5 hour by speedboat to reach it from Phuket. In Phuket, before the departure we were shown what horrific sea creatures could be encountered while snorkeling and everyone was encouraged to rent fins in order not to step on them. I think that was another trick because we didn't notice even one sea urchin.
The captain warned that the ride might be a bit "rough". And it was extreme, the wooden planks of the deck peeled off themselves and were "jumping" when the boat hit a huge wave. Not only planks were jumping - passengers did too! A few of them hit their heads against the ceiling, most were throwing up. It was quite a nightmarish but adventurous ride - but I kind of enjoyed it!
First stop was the monkey beach - little beach where people could feed the monkeys (with highly overpriced bananas purchased on board). No one was allowed to get off and walk on the beach, however. The beach itself wasn't too spectacular but the surroundings were indeed. The pointy cliffs rising vertically directly from the water were truly impressive as well as the green, clear sea.
Next stop was snorkeling, with plenty of fish you could feed. It was nice, however the place the boat stopped at, wasn't too special. Then, in the early afternoon, we reached the Ko Phi Phi Den island. The island is very attractive, although - as many other places in Thailand - has lost its authenticity. On the beaches, you'll see only tourists and the locals or those who sell and provide service.
As it turned out, we stopped at Ko Phi Phi Den only for lunch! The food, as always in places specially for tourists wasn't tasty at all. And Thai food is delicious in general! There was no time to visit the island at all. We decided to eat quickly and walk around. There was a beautiful viewpoint on top of the nearby hill, however running there just to take a photo and be back on time wasn't pleasant. We definitely could and should have spent there at least 2 hours!
Maya Bay is simply spectacular. It's exactly you would imagine it to be. Turquoise sea, white sand and little traditional boats. But it's completely destroyed by the tourists - it was so crowded that there was no way to enjoy it! We experienced the same situation in Greece - Zakynthos Island on the Shipwreck Beach. Only 30 minutes and that's it because the next tour is coming! I can use the analogy of fast food restaurants here, just like at McDonald's - masses come to buy an advertised meal, get it in 15 mins and next please!
But of course, it's understandable that when you travel to a new country you also wish to visit the most famous landmarks - what would be the point of going there if you hadn't a chance to see them?
So the solution is to try to arrive at Maya Bay extremely early in the morning - you might try arrange a transfer like that on Ko Phi Phi Don. This way you could enjoy the real paradise the way it should be.
Koh Khai Nai Island
The tiny island of Koh Khai Nai was the last stop of our tour. It was the least attractive of all - there was one beach and a few of beach bars on it. No different from the beach in Phuket. I couldn't believe it: we spend 45 minutes on Ko Phi Phi Don and also 45 minutes on Maya Bay - absolutely the most beautiful place around. But on Koh Khai Nai - we had nearly 3 hours of free time!
It was probably because of the beach bars and the sunbeds you had to pay for - you wouldn't have found them at Maya Bay so there would have been no income. At that point, my frustration rose to the limits. I hate to sit on the beach with tightly squeezed sunbeds, so I decided to walk around enjoy the nearby rocks.
Maya Bay - The Most Beautiful Beach in The World?
For some, Maya Bay boasts the most beautiful beach in the world. And it surely can be! I was wondering which one to choose - the Ship Wreck Beach in Zakynthos Greece or Maya Bay as the most beautiful beach I have seen in my life. They are both spectacular and both overcrowded. The choice is really hard but in my opinion, the winner is the beach in Greece - because of the two little things - firstly, there's a shipwreck on it, and it can be seen from the viewing platform on the cliff which cannot be compared to any other view. Secondly, you can brake away from the crowds at any time of day in Zakynhtos - there are trails where you can find a peaceful place to enjoy it. Maya Bay is equally beautiful, but there's no way you can see it from a height, also it's impossible to find a place without crowds during the day. Those 2 little things make me prefer the Shipwreck Beach.
An alternative to Ko Phi Phi
As an alternative, if you love spectacular views, white cliffs, mountains, white sand, crystal clear water, cheap accommodation, superb food at low prices, zero crowds of tourists and one hundred percent of authenticity, choose Albanian Riviera (I've described it here). In this skipped by the tourists little country you can stay as long as you want on a paradise beach without resorts, hotels and con artists trying to fool you into buying some stuff you don't want. I just wonder how long it will last...
If you love the tropics and want to see unspoiled islands, little villages and paradise beaches just like in Maldives, try Lakshadweep Islands off India's western coast. No resorts and hotels, no segregated beaches, just pure nature at its best. Have a look at the article from my visit in Lakshadweep.
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