Before coming to Thailand this time round the only thing I knew about Koh Phi Phi, a small collection of islands in the Andaman Sea between Krabi & Phuket, was that it was where the Leonardo DiCaprio film “The Beach” was filmed. Although the movie, was a cautionary tale about searching for backpacker paradise that in reality doesn’t exist (hmmmmm) I thought the scenery was breath taking, and it’s what first sparked my dream of visiting Thailand.
When I arrived in Thailand at the beginning of January, the plan was to head to Krabi from Bangkok and island hop, taking in the likes of Koh Lanta, Railay and Phi Phi to see Maya bay where this iconic film was made. Chatting to fellow travellers about our plans it became pretty clear that Phi Phi was maybe not the island paradise I’d imagined. Many referred to it as “Party Island”, ok I thought, I like partying, in fact I love partying, that’s not so bad! And then I heard other travellers call it Asian Magaluf or dirty, overcrowded, expensive….not so good.
Mind you, I have also encountered a lot of traveller snobbery when on backpacking routes. Those who shun anything “western” wear elephant pants all day every day and sneer at any location that has a holiday resort within 10kms. So I figured I would take all “horror” stories with a pinch of salt and go find out for myself. I mean, it couldn’t be that bad… could it?
The ferry from Koh Lanta to Phi Phi took a little over an hour, once on the pier we were required to pay a 20 THB “cleaning fee” by local officials, dubious I thought but what ever, it was only 50p, right?!. We’d already booked a nice hotel on Agoda whilst sitting on the ferry, and as a bonus it was with in walking distance. In fact the main town (and the whole island) on Phi Phi was pedestrians only, which made a nice change from having to dodge motorbikes & tuk tuks. First impressions were just OK, cute narrow streets but busy as hell and lots of fairly nasty smells. My experience was probably marred by the beginnings of Gastro and I actually went to bed with a fever for the next 12 hours, thank god we’d booked a nice hotel with a comfy bed and AC, YES!
Once I’d recovered from the horrible tummy bug I wanted to get out and see what Koh Phi Phi had to offer, and I’ve got to say it was a massive let down. The main beach, Loh Dalum, by day wasn’t all that great. It was filled with boats spewing out fuel into the water with lots of plastic bottles bobbing along on the surface ewww!
By night all the bars along the water blast out crappy EDM to accompany their fire shows. The shows themselves are pretty impressive, but the bars cover the ENTIRE beach with plastic chairs so if you want to watch you have to sit down and buy an incredibly expensive drink. The problem with sitting everyone down like they’re at the theatre though is it absolutely kills the party vibe. Everyone just sits there like they’re at the opera! But the most disgusting part is that a section of the beach seems to be used as an open toilet, no wonder I could smell shit all the time.
The bars in the main village are a mixed bag too, there was an awesome live music place that I totally forget the name of, possibly because they had a buy one bucket, get one free offer on! There are also lots of “themed” bars: Irish, American, Swedish, Tudor, and a Thai kick boxing bar where you can see drunk punters knock the living shit out of each other. In the 30mins I was there I saw two K.O.s and a broken nose, fun huh?…..
Food there is pretty much of the pizza slice and kebab variety with little Thai food available. Mind you I did have a delicious breakfast at the French bakery near the port, yum yum.
And as for the famed Maya beach, weeeeeell it certainly didn’t look like this….
It looked a lot more like this…..
It has been totally over run by tourists, including loads of boat parties full of YOLO, EDM dicks necking neat vodka and dive-bombing into the water. Definitely not the paradise beach I had imagined. I’ve nothing against boat parties, I’ve been on quite a few myself, and had a great time but what once was a beautiful island paradise has been completely ruined by them.
I actually hate writing such a negative piece about a destination, but I really do think people need to stop going to Koh Phi Phi for it’s own sake. There are much prettier, cheaper, more exciting islands in Thailand, still with a fun party scene that hasn’t totally destroyed the local eco system. Koh Tao, Koh Phangan I’m looking at you! There is so much more to Thailand than Koh Phi Phi, Koh Samui & Phuket……uuurgh Phuket don’t even get me started on that place…
Have you ever been somewhere that was a massive let down? Or even somewhere you were told was terrible but actually really enjoyed? I’d love to hear your stories.
I’d love to visit Thailand sometime. I’ll probably skip Koh Phi Phi when I do.
You should definitely go, it’s such a beautiful country, but some of the more well known islands (such as Phi Phi) have been destroyed by mass tourism. It’s very sad, but inevitable without good management.
Thanks for confirming that some of the tourist hot spots are to be avoided.
Phi Phi isn’t going to make it onto the bucket list!
yes, avoid avoid avoid. But neighbouring Koh Lanta is amaaaaaaazing!
Ah no that is so so sad. We went 6 years ago but only for a few hours, and it didn’t look so overrun like in these pictures. But I guess Tourism can do this to a beautiful island too 🙁