Ko Phi Phi

The Scene

Tiny Phi Phi Don consists of two mountains of land connected by a narrow sand spit. For years it was heralded as one of the most idyllic spots on Earth. With press like that, development was not long in arriving.

Luckily, the island is still surpassingly pretty, and even the couple of soulless new low-rise hotels have yet to eradicate the funky, welcoming, homegrown feel to the thriving little tourist village that has grown up between that sand spit's two beaches.

Happy, sun-crisped crowds of backpackers throng the narrow lanes, popping into Internet cafes, bargaining for cheap silk sarongs, and arranging diving trips or plane tickets at the innumerable travel agents.

Neither main beach is ideal for swimming. Southerly TK now bustles with ferries landing, speedboats for day trips bobbing in the bay, and longtails taking up most of the prime waterline real estate—all of them fouling the water.

Northerly Ao Lo Dalam beach, on the other hand, is quiet and lovely, but unfortunately consists mostly of mudflats under a foot or two of water that stretch several hundred feet out to sea. Most folks save their snorkeling and swimming to do on boat trips to isolated coves or other nearby islands.

Everyone staying on Phi Phi Don at some point takes a $6-$7 half-day boat ride out to its sister island, Phi Phi Leh. Leh really landed on the big time sightseeing list when one of its protected coves (great snorkeling) was used to film The Beach, but for decades it's claim to fame has been Viking Cave.

This huge cavern is where chao lay (Muslim "Sea Gypsies") scramble hundreds of feet up bamboo and vine "ladders" to scrape sea swallow nests off the rocks. These cup-sized masses of bird spit and twigs are destined to become bird's nest soup in Hong Kong, Taiwan, and Singapore.

I get the feeling the chao lay, too, find this a bit odd, but when Chinese aficionados are willing to pay $20 per nest, who cares? The chao lay wisely only harvest the first two nests a bird builds, then leave it alone to build a third so this gravy train can continue into the next generation.

Sleeping, Eating, & Drinking: You can pay $100 to $300 a night here, but there’s no reason you should. There are a few private coves around the mountainous sides of the island, but most are cursed with ridiculously upscale resorts.

If you prefer the energy of being in the heart of the action in town, stay at one of the cramped but clean modern rooms at the surpassingly friendly Charlie Beach Resort, set at the edge of the blessedly quiet Ao Lo Dalam (www.ppcharlie.com).

Noodle shacks running a never-ending loop of The Beach on their TV screens abound and are decent enough for curries and pad Thai. Wish I could say the same about the many International and European-cuisined restaurants that have sprung up. There is one stand-out worth splashing out on: the French-inflected Thai cuisine at Le Grand Bleu, a classy restaurant in an old Northern Thai–style house on the main drag just a few steps from the ferry docks.

There's a lot of low-key partying on Phi Phi. In the heart of town, a jovial crowd knocks back Singha beers at Reggae Bar, an odd mix of modern club (rock videos on a big-screen TV) and Old School southeast Asian bar complete with rickety balconies hanging over a kickboxing ring in the center for nightly matches.

For a more peaceful evening, tipple fruity cocktails at the ersatz Tarzan-in-the-tropics Jungle Bar, an open-air joint overlooking Ao Lo Dalam complete with sandy floor, tiki torches, and "glasses" fashioned from fat sections of bamboo.

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This article was by Reid Bramblett and last updated in April 2011.
All information was accurate at the time.

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Copyright © 1998–2013 by Reid Bramblett. Author: Reid Bramblett.