Photos from Phi Phi Islands are all around the Internet! It seems that there is no island vacation in Thailand’s Andaman Sea without a trip there. The surreal limestone cliffs jutting out of crystal blue waters, covered in lush jungle surrounded by white beaches are among Thailand’s most scenic destinations. No wonder Phi Phi Islands were chosen as a filming location for The Beach, 20 years ago.
Tourism on Phi Phi Islands
Ever since the movie was launched, Phi Phi Islands popularity exploded. But celebrity comes with a high price! The islands are visited by thousands of people each day, which erodes the beauty of the place… corals bleach and die, tiny beaches are actually flooded with tourists, spectacular bays are often literally full of boats and some wild areas are becoming trash deposits. Luckily, Thai government took measures to preserve this natural paradise. Maya Bay, the famous location of The Beach, is closed indefinitely for tourists since June 2018, and it will reopen under strict regulations. An environmental fee is collected both for Phi Phi Don and for Bamboo Island and there are environmental activists who militate for restricting the number of tourists to be allowed on the islands.
Despite all the over-tourism, a trip to Phi Phi Islands was a must for us when we got to Phuket. Our expectations here were highly exceeded, not just due to the breathtaking beauty of the place, but also as it was less crowded and significantly cleaner than we thought. It was April, which means end of the season, so maybe in peak months there are more tourists.
If you want to experience the spectacular Phi Phi Islands, don’t go in a day trip. Better choose to spend a few nights here instead. Visiting Phi Phi Islands on a day tour from Krabi or Phuket, you’ll arrive at the best locations around noon, together with hundreds of other tourists. You’ll end up very tired and you wouldn’t enjoy the place to the fullest. I was told that in high season, in some of the areas, there isn’t even space to park the boat, so you can imagine what this means in terms of crowds! We’ve learned our lesson about day trips in very touristic locations in Vietnam’s Ha Long Bay and promised not to make the same mistake again. So we decided to spend a few nights on Phi Phi Don, the largest and the only inhabited island over there.
Phi Phi Harbour View Hotel
On Phi Phi Don, we spent our time at Phi Phi Harbour View Hotel, which was a great decision. It is located minutes away from Ao Tonsai Pier and the main street, making it very easy to reach. Such convenience means everything when you visit Phi Phi Islands with a toddler! The tropical heat, ferry ride and crowds are more than enough trouble for the little one, no need to add extra time and transfers, on an island where there are no motor vehicles. We also chose a really early tour (more on this below), so being close to the departing point meant some extra sleep in the morning!
Despite the location very close to the pier, Phi Phi Harbour View Hotel benefits of enough peace and privacy due to its design. It is perfect for a short stay on Phi Phi Islands, like we did, but also if you want to spend a longer holiday here.
We had a very comfortable room at Phi Phi Harbour View Hotel, with one double and one twin bed and a balcony facing the swimming pool. The rooms at the ground floor have direct access to the pool, which is great unless you visit Phi Phi Islands with a young kid.
Perfect to beat the tropical heat, a second pool is located next to the beach. This one includes a kids area, where Eric had lots of fun playing. Loh Dalum Beach over here is quite laid-back, with not so many tourists and a few long-tail boats that enrich the authentic feeling.
There are several options to eat at Phi Phi Harbour View Hotel. We had breakfast at Anchor Restaurant, on the terrace overlooking the beach and the bay. This is the ideal scenery to start your day. For dinner, we tried Maya Restaurant, on the other side of the property, very quiet compared with the touristic streets. Maya Restaurant focuses on Thai cuisine, which was delicious. But we found international dishes too, as Eric prefers less exotic food combinations.
During the day Phi Phi Don can be a bit crowded, especially in the pier area. Luckily it gets quite relaxed in the evening. We loved to walk around the area after sunset, when the weather cools down a bit. The whole island is pedestrian only; there are no motor vehicles, except for emergency intervention. We found lots of nice places to eat in the village, out of which we highly recommend Mango Garden. If you haven’t tried yet the famous Mango Sticky Rice, don’t hesitate any longer. But beware, it is addictive! Also, don’t miss the guy making coconut ice cream right next to the harbour!
Phi Phi Islands Tour
From Phi Phi Don, we chose a day tour around Phi Phi Islands, to be able to admire the spectacular nature around here. There are plenty of options, half-day or full-day, on various schedules and budgets. Since this is a highly touristic area, the earlier you go the better it is to beat the crowds. Plus that early morning the air is more pleasant, as it gets really hot at noon time! Most of the tours depart from Phi Phi Don at 8 or even 10. Add also the ones leaving from Phuket and Krabi, arriving in Phi Phi late in the morning.
So we chose one of the few options departing the island at 6:30 in the morning. If you visit Phi Phi Island with a toddler or baby it is the best choice. Eric tends to wake up early anyway and this way we were back to the hotel around 14:30, so we all took a well deserved nap. Staying at Harbour View Hotel, right next to the pier, was of great help, as we were less than 5 minutes away from the boat.
After having a coffee and a quick morning snack, we started our trip just in time to witness the sunrise on the sea. We headed first to the smaller Phi Phi Le, where we saw the famous Maya Bay and Pileh Lagoon. We took breaks for swimming and snorkelling, where we could see lots of colourful fishes and even tiny sharks, totally harmless to humans. Eric loved bathing in the Andaman Sea, with calm and warm waters. It was great to swim together, all the three of us. Since it was early morning, the area was really wonderful, with just a few boats around.
Next stop, Monkey Beach, back on Phi Phi Don, was probably Eric’s favourite! He enjoyed a lot seeing the small funny animals, even though I am usually a bit scared with him around wild creatures. Honestly, I had no real reason, as the monkeys seemed very used with humans and not aggressive. Still, better be cautious, especially around mothers with young babies. And don’t feed or touch the monkeys, as you never know how they can react and various diseases can easily spread in both directions. Plus they shouldn’t get used to receiving food from humans.
By this time it was already getting crowded in the area! So, 11 o’clock was the perfect time to head to Bamboo Island, where we stopped for 2 hours, lunch included. Bamboo Island is even better than we’ve seen in pictures. Despite seeing lots of long-tail boats near the shore, the beach didn’t feel crowded, probably because it is quite large. Most of the people were either swimming or hidding in the shadow, as the sun was extremely hot. Andrei loved the waters in blue and turquoise shades, reminding him of our time spent on Caribbean beaches.
On Bamboo Island we could relax for a while, as Eric was playing with sand and pebbles near us. It was the moment I realised how much he grew! He is getting more and more independent from us, not requiring our attention every minute. Playing in the middle of the nature is the best ways to stimulate kids imagination and creativity. He didn’t need any toys or accessories, he just improvised a whole universe with rocks, wooden sticks and leafs.
Before returning to Phi Phi Don, we made one more stop for snorkelling in one of the bays. The reef here was better preserved, but still not very colourful, another direct result of climate change and over-tourism.
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Disclosure: We received a complimentary stay from Phi Phi Harbour View Hotel, in exchange for an honest review. As always, all the opinions expressed here are our own.