Thailand’s Phi Phi Islands

Stunning karst islands rise straight out of brilliant turquoise waters. White sandy beaches fill in the space between their walls. With all of this beauty, it’s no wonder that Thailand’s Phi Phi islands are so popular with vacationers.

The Andaman Sea is host to some of the most magnificent islands including a group of islands called Phi Phi. The name ‘Phi Phi’ is pronounced ‘Pee Pee’ and ‘Koh’ translates to ‘Island’. Koh Phi Phi Don is the largest in this group and is the only one that is inhabited. It is the one referred to when people say they’re going to Phi Phi. The island is so popular because it has beautiful sandy beaches, warm water and dramatic karst cliffs.

Not far from town is a short hike to a viewpoint on the top of a hill. It’s a nice spot where you have a gorgeous view of the two main beaches, Tonsai and Loh Dalum. Between them is a thin isthmus that separates the two bays. A small cafe at the viewpoint allows you to linger and take in the views.

There is a picture posted nearby that shows the area immediately before and after the 2004 Tsunami. During the Tsunami waves crashed from both bays and met on the isthmus. Almost all of the large palm trees and buildings on the isthmus were destroyed. By 2018, many of the palms had regrown. Since that event several signs have been erected that indicate routes that lead to higher ground in case of a Tsunami.

There is a lot to explore in the area by kayak. We paddled by several rocky islands, into small coves and to a few remote beaches. It’s such a beautiful area and very peaceful when you can get away from the hectic town.

One beach we kayaked to is called Monkey Beach. As you would expect, monkeys came running to our kayak as soon as we got out, hoping we’d left food. We had learned by then not to leave unguarded food in the presence of monkeys. They were dissapointed when all they could find was our life preservers.

Early the next morning we hired a long-tail boat to go the smaller, uninhabited island of Phi Phi Leh. As we approached the island, we realized why there are no inhabitants and why it’s so special. The island looks like a fortress in a fairytale, surrounded by high, steep rock walls.

There are only a few openings in the fortress wall and they can’t be seen until you are very close. One of these openings leads to Maya Beach. It’s a white-sand beach inside a small, protected cove with clear, emerald water. It would be very picturesque if it weren’t for the hundreds of other people who went to see it as well. This is where scenes from the movie ‘The Beach’ were filmed so it is on everyone’s ‘must see’ list.

We continued around the island’s fortress wall and entered another couple of pirate-style hideaway coves. Protected by seemingly impenetrable walls, the coves’ entrances are small openings between the rocks. Once inside, they open up to pretty lagoons surrounded by massive shear walls. The water was warm and inviting so we jumped off the long-tail boat and went for a swim.

On the way back we stopped at another hidden cove in the outer wall of Phi Phi Don.

Rock climbing on Phi Phi is not as extensive as it is in Railay, but it’s also less busy. We spent an afternoon climbing on Tonsai Tower. It’s a beautiful rock face on the edge of Tonsai beach. From the climbs we had great views of the two beaches and town below.

The rock on Phi Phi is different from Railay. The hand holds are small pockets in the rock and there are more ledges and bulges to climb over. We did 2 climbs and then part way through the third, it started to rain. In complete Thailand style it didn’t just rain, it poured. We thought our climbing was done for the day but after 20 minutes it stopped raining. Since the climbing routes are under an overhang, the rock remained quite dry. In the end it was a perfect day for climbing.

There are no real roads on Phi Phi Don. Other than a very few motorbikes, most of the traffic is pedestrian. Despite this, the town is very busy. Tourists crammed into the 3 or 4 sidewalks which are lined with restaurants and bars as well as shops selling clothing, nick-nacks and tours. It made us yearn for the quiet vibes of Railay.

Getting to Phi Phi

Phi Phi is located off the western coast of Thailand. There are regular ferries between Tonsai Pier in Phi Phi and Rassada Pier in Phuket (2 hours) or Klong Jilad Pier in Krabi (90 minutes). Krabi has an international airport.

Coming Next –  Bangkok                                

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71 comments

  • Another enjoyable read!!! Maya beach is crazy these days and you can easily understand why the Thai government closed it for a year recently. That said, I seem to recall that they extended its closure?

    Liked by 1 person

    • I hadn’t heard that but I just found an article about it. Sounds like it just got busier and busier. We only stayed in the bay long enough to take a few pictures and then found 2 other lagoons with only a couple other boats. Hopefully they’ll keep trips to a minimum.

      Liked by 1 person

  • So incredibly beautiful. When I started reading, I was wondering if this is where that Leonardo’s movie was shot and then you mention it, saving me some google searches 🙂

    I notice a marked swimming area on Monkey beach, is it an accident-prone area?

    Liked by 1 person

    • It is an incredible area with so many beautiful places. The swimming areas are marked to keep the boats out. I think you can swim anywhere, but it’s safer behind the buoys where they boats aren’t allowed.

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  • A beautiful part of the world. Love the karst and the beaches, although I am not really a beach person, they look like a great place to sit and ponder the sea. Would be nice to see with sunshine. Thanks for sharing. Allan

    Liked by 1 person

    • We’re not beach people either that’s why it was so great to find so many other things to do. We wish we saw it with sunshine too 🙂 Thanks for reading! Maggie

      Liked by 1 person

  • My husband and I were in Phuket, Thailand back in 2017. We did the Phi Phi Island tour. It was beautiful and packed with people – making it difficult to see the beauty past the crowds of people on the beach. That said, being there was incredible – when we found a spot and made it our own as we enjoyed the beauty of the dramatic landscape.

    Liked by 1 person

    • It was pretty busy, much more than other beaches we visited, but we found Phuket really busy too. The scenery in this area though would make me consider a return visit. Thanks for reading Stephanie! Maggie

      Liked by 1 person

      • We stayed across from Karon Beach. It was a lovely area, with a Budda atop a mountain, overlooking the area. Karon Beach hadn’t fully recovered from the 2004 tsunami.
        We scootered to the infamous Patong Beach area and spent a day wandering around, but were quite happy to return to the more quiet area of our hotel on Karon Beach. We truly enjoyed the food, the people, daily massages – sometimes twice, the beaches, the fresh coconut water and juices, the overall laid back vibe… and taking off on our rented scooter to explore the area! We’d go back to Thailand in a heartbeat!!!! We even talked about purchasing property there. It was just that, talk.. dreaming of how wonderful it would be! I really enjoy your blog, Maggie! Your and Richard’s travels are inspiring and interesting!

        Liked by 1 person

  • Phi Phi looks gorgeous. I like that there are a variety of activities and different ways to view the area, including hiking, kayaking and taking a boat tour. I now want to re-watch “The Beach”.

    Liked by 1 person

    • It really is an incredibly beautiful area, I guess that’s why it’s so popular, that and the movie. We did rewatch the movie and could recognize a few scenes from different places in Thailand. Maya Beach was the definitely the busiest of all the locations. Thanks for reading:) Maggie

      Liked by 1 person

    • The Andaman islands are incredible. But be warned, they are also very busy. It’s worth it to rent a kayak to one of the smaller beaches where hardly anyone else goes. Hope you’re able to get there some day 🙂 Maggie

      Liked by 1 person

  • It’s popular for a reason – you have to switch off from the hustle and bustle of the crowds to take in the unique landscape. Thanks for showing it so nicely.

    Liked by 1 person

    • That’s true, and that’s why we were there too 🙂 One of the best parts of both kayaking and climbing was that it was quiet and peaceful so we could enjoy it. Thanks for reading! Maggie

      Liked by 1 person

    • The landscape is unbelievable. The cliffs are so dramatic and the coves feel like you’re in a fantasy movie or something. It’s really a beautiful place. Thanks for reading Chelsea. Maggie

      Liked by 1 person

  • The landscape of this region is simply stunning. Coincidentally, I’m working on a post about my most memorable beaches, and while I never made it to Phi Phi Islands, nearby PhraNang Bay definitely made my list. I understand that it has developed a lot since I visited in 1991 when it just had a smattering of simple bungalows with salt water showers, but I guess the natural scenery remains as awesome as ever. I’m tempted to return. Beautiful photos!

    Liked by 1 person

    • We only visited PhraNang on a day tour from Phuket. I don’t remember seeing much development, but maybe the boats avoid those areas. I probably wouldn’t visit Phi Phi again, but I would love to go to a different island in this region. I just love look of the the tall karst pinnacles in the sea and the small isolated coves and beaches.

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    • It is a beautiful area, we were there just at the the end of dry season, end of March. You can see the skies were quite cloudy and it did rain here and in Krabi. It’s very busy in the high season though, but because it’s so beautiful, you can understand why.

      Liked by 1 person

  • We never think to add in beachy places on a lot of our trips, but you have me thinking about including this in a trip to Thailand. I did ponder how two active people like you would fare in such a destination, but then OF COURSE, I saw you climbing at the end! 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  • Wow, really beautiful photo’s … love the ones of the beaches, especially Monkey Beach. We would love to visit Thailand – heard that the virus had a huge effect on tourism, I do hope there will be some sort of recovery in this industry 😔.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Yes, it sounds like it’s been very bad there. So many parts of Thailand depend heavily on tourism so hopefully it will rebound once things return to somewhat normal (if and when). Maggie

      Liked by 1 person

  • Those islands look amazing! Glad they have put measures in place too for tsunamis as well. They should definitely be preserved 😊

    Liked by 1 person

  • I once had a monkey in Africa chase me. I had a banana in my hand and the guide left to use the restroom. They know the difference between the guides and tourists! My friend had to throw sticks at it! Glad they didn’t get your food

    Liked by 1 person

    • Oh thanks for telling me its name. Yes we saw it on our hike on Koh Phi Phi in Thailand. I just looked it up and read that it’s also found in Laos, Vietnam, Singapore Malaysia and more. It’s very beautiful.

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    • Thailand really does have incredible beaches. If you’re not a lie on the beach person, like us, there are a lot of activities to do so you can still enjoy them. Thanks for reading, Maggie

      Liked by 1 person

  • Such stunning coastal vistas. I love how Maya Bay is surrounded by high limestone cliffs of Koh Phi Phi Leh. No wonder the Phi Phi Islands is the ultimate destination in Thailand 🙂 What can be better then white powdery sand, crystal clear water, lines of coconut trees and plenty of scenic spots? Thanks for sharing and have a good day. Aiva 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    • It is such a perfect paradise with hidden coves surrounded by steep walls. But it’s very busy so it’s not quite paradise anymore. Thanks for reading Aiva! Maggie

      Liked by 1 person

    • It was quite disappointing and we didn’t even care to see Maya Beach but the island is so cool with so many hidden coves. Too many people though. Wonder if the ‘environmentalist’ Leo realizes or cares what he’s done. The climbing was excellent!

      Liked by 1 person

  • So beautiful, the dramatic rocks and beaches. I’m not a climber so I flinched a bit looking at those photos! Somehow I missed that movie – will put it on my list to catch up.

    Liked by 1 person

    • We watched it again when we came home from Thailand, it’s definitely meant for a younger audience but it wasn’t bad and has some great shots of Thailand 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  • That’s like a comprehensive summary. It’s organized and helpful for me as a travel consultant 👏👏👍👍

    Liked by 1 person

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