As the paradise setting for Danny Boyle’s movie The Beach starring Leonardo DiCaprio, the tropical, idyllic geographical location of Koh Phi Phi in the middle of the Andaman Sea far from Phuket and Krabi mainland is a small paradise with a big offering. Thanks to the movie and its success (and of course the destination's astounding natural beauty), the Phi Phi Islands have become one of the top tourist traps in all of Thailand - and stepping one foot on its shores makes it immediately clear why.
With impossibly perfect soft white sands, warm turquoise sea, swaying palm trees, and a host of tropical activities, this tiny archipelago is one of the most perfect places in the entire world. From someone who lived and worked on Koh Phi Phi for three years as a dive instructor, this guide will help travelers prepare by spilling the beans on these islands' best instagrammable spots, and how to make the most of them.
13 Maya Bay
Made famous as the paradisal base for the Hollywood movie The Beach starring Leonardo DiCaprio, Maya Bay's popularity has never diminished since it first aired on screens worldwide. Since the film's release in 2000, tourists have flocked to Maya Bay in hordes - and the numbers were seemingly uncontrollable. Hundreds of speedboats and longtail boats would queue to park while crowds took turns stepping foot on the white powdery sands to get their iconic photos and experience the legendary beach themselves. But in their unstoppable droves, the masses ruined the place, turning it into a chaotic tourist sea of desperate beings clambering for their piece of the paradise - all on one small beach.
However, in 2018, the local Thai government closed Maya Bay in an attempt to allow it to heal, which has done wonders for the place. What was once a stressful, erratic conglomerate of boats and people in one tiny cove is now a tranquil postcard-perfect hideaway once more. Boats are only allowed up to the red buoys that line the boundaries, so it's still possible to view the beach and swim in the surrounding waters. Even though it's closed, it's far better than it once was; no people; no boats, and a peaceful beach to gaze at and take photos of - as it was in the iconic movie. Reports allege that Maya Bay will open once again to the public in the near future, however, there will be strict controls and rules in place in order to protect and preserve it - unlike in the past. But for now, rent a speedboat or longtail boat from any of the excursion operators or hotels on the island, and head to Maya Bay early in the morning or in the early evening for some of the best crowd-free views.
12 Stop Off At Phi Leh Lagoon
Phi Leh Lagoon is one of the most instagrammable spots in Phi Phi Leh. Boats come and go into this natural pool surrounded by majestic greenery-covered rocky walls, which protect the lagoon from wind and waves. This means it's always calm, and conditions are akin to that of an idyllic swimming pool, making it a serene spot to simply stop, chill, swim, and take it all in.
360-degree panoramas of this place are breathtaking and will make Instagram followers truly envious when uploading them to the feed. As with many places, this spot can get crowded in the high season and especially at certain times of the day. For fewer crowds and boats, make sure to get up early and head out before everyone else does (or go later in the day before sunset when everyone's gone home).
11 Bamboo Island
Bamboo Island is located in the northeast of the Phi Phi Islands and is about five kilometers from the main island of Koh Phi Phi Don. It's only small at about 600 meters wide and 700 meters long, but what it lacks in size it makes up for in stunning scenery. Boasting pristine white sands, lush bamboo trees, and beautiful rock formations along the beaches, Bamboo Island offers no lack of perfect Instagram pic opportunities.
10 Hike To Ao Lo Dalam
Outdoorsy folks will love Koh Phi Phi not just for its perfect beaches, but also for its fantastic tropical hikes. Hiking the island is one of the best ways to discover its many beautiful sights, with a noteworthy route being the easy 30-minute walk to a lesser-known viewpoint at the southern end of Ao Lo Dalam. There are usually not many others in sight at this slightly more secretive spot, where a beautiful little bay with a small curve of white sand is bathed by crystal clear turquoise ocean - and jumping in is the best way to cool off after a humid walk through the jungle paths.
9 Kayak Around Koh Phi Phi
Visitors to Koh Phi Phi shouldn't even think about leaving until they've rented a kayak and explored the coastline. Kayak rental is available at most beaches and hotels and is usually inexpensive at just a few hundred baht. Paddling out on a kayak is a brilliant way to enjoy the island all to oneself, discovering secluded coves, bays, and caves that many of the larger boats are too big to access.
Many visitors kayak to the likes of Nui Bay, Lana Bay, Monkey Beach, and Wang Long, all of which are must-visit spots when on the island. Some with more stamina even kayak around the entire island, which is so small that it's possible to do in a few hours (just remember to pack water, protective attire, and sunscreen - the sun's rays are very strong).
8 Monkey-Watching At Monkey Beach
Japan isn't the only place where locals live alongside monkeys. Cheeky primates live all over the Phi Phi Islands, and it's not uncommon to hear of the boisterous little fellas thieving snacks from hotel balconies or coming to snorkeling boats to see what goodies there are on offer. One of the best places to spot them though is the official Monkey Beach just next to the main town of Tonsai.
These confident little creatures are not shy of visitors and will gladly come up close to swipe sunglasses, bags, or food (so don't get too friendly). Also, no matter how cute and entertaining they are, it's wise not to let them get too close because they have been known to bite - which results in a stressful, lengthy trip to the local hospital in Tonsai to get a rabies shot. Thus, keep some distance, enjoy their company, have fun watching them, and take the time to appreciate the beautiful beach on which they live.
Many boat tours include this as a stop on any Phi Phi Island itinerary, but it is possible to hire a private longtail boat for a decent price and take oneself there for a more intimate experience. It's also possible to kayak there too - just remember to bring enough water and sun protection.
7 Go Shark Watching
Black tip reef and leopard sharks prowl the waters in and around Koh Phi Phi Don and Koh Phi Phi Leh. The best and easiest way to search for them is by scuba diving, but snorkelers can get in on the hunt as well. These majestic creatures can be seen all over, but there are a few well-known spots where they are seen more frequently. These include Shark Point off Long Beach (Phi Phi Don), Palong Bay (Phi Phi Leh), and the small bay at Bida Nok Island (just south of Phi Phi Leh).
Of course, the best people to ask for information on shark spotting are the divemasters and instructors at dive centers - they're usually very kind and are more than happy to point visitors in the right direction. Some dive centers even offer snorkeling trips as well as diving excursions, so these are definitely the best people to consult if shark-watching is on the bucket list.
6 Take A Scuba Diving Trip
Out of all the dos and don'ts when visiting the country of smiles, diving is the biggest do. Thailand's scuba diving is among the best in the world, which baffles divers when they discover it's also one of the cheapest places to dive on the planet. Although scuba diving in Koh Phi Phi is typically a bit more expensive than elsewhere in Thailand, it is indeed worth it. When planning a dive trip here, it's important to know that Phi Phi dive sites are season-dependent, with the best sites located on the west side of the island only accessible during the high season from around mid-October to the end of April.
Outside these months, sites on the island's east side are a better choice due to harsh weather and sea conditions, however, these are not half as good as those on the west and often suffer bad visibility. It's also worth noting that the clearest water is just after the half-moon following a new moon due to lesser variation in tides.
Overall, the best dive sites to tick off the list when visiting Koh Phi Phi include Viking Cave, Palong (lots of black tip reef sharks), Malong (hawksbill turtles galore), Nui Bay, Lana Bay, the Kled Geaw Wreck, Hin Bida, the King Cruiser Wreck, Shark Point, and Anemone Reef, plus a few others that are great depending on the time of year.
5 Swim And Snorkel At Lana Bay
Lana Bay is on the northwest side of Phi Phi Don and is a long stretch of soft white sand and shallow turquoise water. The beach is usually quiet with no one else around, but it's what lies beneath the surface of the ocean that makes it a beautiful spot to visit. Whether exploring it from a kayak, a speedboat, or a longtail boat, Lana Bay's reef is really quite something.
While some of it is better for scuba divers, there are shallow areas that go along the short coastline that are shallow enough for snorkelers to enjoy. Some of the reef was damaged by the 2004 tsunami, but much of it is still intact and many parts are recovering well. There are plenty of colorful corals, anemones, tropical fish, and huge schools of yellow snapper to marvel at.
4 Lounge At Nui Bay
Like Lana Bay, Nui Bay is an idyllic spot to visit. It's often included with Lana Bay and Monkey Beach on a boat or snorkeling trip as they're all right next to each other. Nui Bay with its unique camel-shaped rocky islet is a popular scuba diving spot, although snorkelers and beach-goers have a lot to enjoy here too.
The small beach at Nui Bay is like something out of a postcard; it's tiny with a few palm trees against the dramatic backdrop of cliffs and is the perfect picture of a castaway in paradise. It does sometimes get crowded, but go early in the morning or in the evening and that won't be an issue.
3 Take A Kayak Or Boat Trip To Wang Long Bay
This tiny little cove is tucked away on the southwest side of Phi Phi Don. It looks like a crack in the island that opens up into a stunning and secluded space perfect for swimming and snorkeling in peace. At low tide, there's also a small beach at the end ideal for sunbathing and taking pics.
The beauty of this private place is that it's surrounded by towering rocky cliffs, which make for a dramatic backdrop when snapping sublime Instagram shots. Plus, the entrance is too small for large boats to come in, so it's small longtail boats or kayaks only, and there are rarely very many people.
2 Visit Or Stay At Laem Tong Beach
On the opposite side of Nui and Lana Bay on the northeast side of Phi Phi Don is the lovely Laem Tong Beach. It's easily one of the best beaches and is the more up-market, tranquil side of the island where four higher-end resorts are situated, along with a few great beachfront restaurants and bars (Jasmin restaurant serves some of the best food and cocktails on the beach by far). Also, pretty Thai longtail boats line the shores and are ready to take visitors on island hopping trips or back to the main town of Tonsai.
Overall there's not a huge lot to do on this beach other than admiring the atmosphere, exploring the stunning barefoot luxury resorts, enjoying some great food and drinks, swimming in the warm shallow sea, and people-watch. But it's a whole different world compared to the bustling main town where most visitors stay. There are also a couple of fantastic dive centers for those interested in scuba diving: Leisure Dive Center and Zeavola Resort's Activity Center.
- Tip: right at the northern tip of Laem Tong Beach in front of Phi Phi Natural Resort is a beautiful tree with a picture-postcard rope swing. Take a seat, swing to the heart's content, and have someone snap the most idyllic Instagram pics as you gaze out into the ocean from the tree swing.
1 Discover Phi Phi Viewpoints
Phi Phi's viewpoints are key attractions and offer some of the most incredible Insta-worthy photos. There are three in total that offer paralyzing views - but the higher one goes, the better the vista. Each viewpoint demands a small fee to enter and guests usually receive a bottle of water as part of the price. The entry fee is cash only so ditch the credit cards.
The first point opens up scenes of the island's isthmus - the thin stretch of land that the main town sits upon - but there are a few hotels in the way that block some of the views. Head up further to the second point, and hikers will find an even fuller view of the island and its signature thin strip of land. Most of the island can be seen from the second point, but there are still a few buildings and fauna blocking the entire panorama - plus, it often gets crowded.
The best and final viewpoint is where one can get the most dramatic photos and views, and better yet; there are far fewer crowds there because it takes a lot more hiking in the taxing tropical climate to reach. Big stones form the viewing platform, which makes for a beautiful setting for photos that truly completes the picture.
- Tip: time any viewpoint visit up to an hour or so before sunset for the absolute best show-stopping scenes for the Instagram feed.
Tips from someone who actually lived on Koh Phi Phi: the Phi Phi Islands consist of Phi Phi Don (the main inhabited island), Phi Phi Leh (uninhabited and to the south), the Bida Islands (uninhabited but great for diving), Bamboo Island (in the northeast), and Mosquito Island (beautiful but has been closed for many years for conservation). The main island of Phi Phi Don essentially has two halves - perhaps three if counting the small area in the middle - and visitors should consider what they want from their stay before choosing accommodation. As a general rule of thumb, the south end of the island (the main town of Tonsai) is the busy, bustling hub with lots of hotels and a vibrant backpacker scene.
It's NOT the place for those who want a quiet beach vacation - but it IS for people who love adventurous activities, partying, and awesome nightlife. Travelers in search of a peaceful, castaway Phi Phi escapade will find their place on the northeast tip of Koh Phi Phi on Laem Tong Beach. There are four small higher-end resorts on this small stretch of beach (Zeavola, Phi Phi Natural, Erawan Palms, and Holiday Inn) and three scuba diving centers. Overall the atmosphere is more idyllic and tranquil than the party town of Tonsai, and this side is significantly pricier. Staying on Laem Tong still allows access to all the Phi Phi highlights, and there are plenty of boats for island hopping tours. Adventurous visitors can even walk through the jungle to Tonsai from Laem Tong (it takes about an hour and a half) or they can walk to nearby Phi Phi Village along the path in about 30 minutes. Another high-end resort offering a quiet luxury retreat is Phi Phi Island Village, which is secluded but serene. Again, access to the island's main attractions and activities is equally as easy from here.