Among all the other islands of the Gulf Koh Samui has proudly established itself as the destination where rich, famous and beautiful go for a swim – well, and the rest of the world, too: from backpackers on a budget to package holiday-makers. Crystal clear waters and idyllic beaches, lush tropical greenery and modern ‘island style’ shopping molls, fancy jewellery shops and colourful local markets – you name it – Samui has it all. Beautiful Koh Samui is, that’s true, but it still can hardly compete with pristine beaches of the Andaman, which legendary Koh Phi Phi is famous for.
Do not expect the ideal picture of a lonely island all at your own disposal, as since The Beach movie was filmed there, Koh Phi Phi has changed a lot – mostly in the sense of numbers of tourists visiting the island every year and mushrooming modern resorts. Looming limestone cliffs, transparent turquois waters and postcard-perfect white sand beaches are still there, but the excessive development over the past decade remains a subject of heated arguments. Those who support the idea of preserving the natural character of the island and those who see only the great prospective for financial profit have not yet come to a compromise. In the meantime you can contribute to Koh Phi Phi’s preservation with your conscious behaviour and support of the operators who follow the sustainable model in providing services to tourists.
From Koh Samui to Koh Phi Phi
Phi Phi islands are located in the bay of Phang Nga, approximately halfway between Phuket and Krabi. Getting there from the Gulf requires a combined ferry+bus+ferry journey. For a quick hop between the two coasts opt for combination tickets. If you want to look around and make a couple of stops en route, buy separate tickets for each leg.
From Koh Samui to Koh Phi Phi by a combination ferry+bus+ferry ticket
Seatran Discovery, which is one of the main ferry operators in the Gulf, sells combination tickets from Koh Samui to Koh Phi Phi. These tickets include a ferry ride from Koh Samui to the mainland (1½ hour), a bus ride from Donsak pier in Suratthani to Krabi Town (3½ hours) and one more ferry ride from Khlong Jilard Pier in Krabi Town to Koh Phi Phi (1½ hour). With all the stops and waiting time between the rides expect to spend from seven to 8 hours in total. There is one departure a day at 9am, scheduled to reach Ton Sai pier on Koh Phi Phi by 4.30pm. Tickets cost THB950, which is a real deal, as separate tickets will hardly cost you much less.
From Koh Samui to Koh Phi Phi via Suratthani and Krabi
The same route is easily done all by yourself if you do not want by some reason buy a combination ticket.
From Koh Samui take a ferry to Donsak (from THB450 with Seatran Discovery) or a joint ticket from Koh Samui to Suratthani (from THB270 with Phantip Travel), from where you can continue your bus journey to Krabi. The sea travel takes just 1½ hour, but add at least two more hours to get from Donsak to Suratthani and catch a bus to Krabi.
There are cheaper car ferries plying the route between Samui and the mainland. These include Seatran and Raja ferries. Both sell passenger tickets at THB120 and sale every hour from 5am. These ferries are the only option if you want to get from Koh Samui to Koh Phi Phi in one day. Buy tickets on the pier.
From Suratthani the same Phantip Travel has many departures during the day from 6am till 6pm (THB250) or you can buy a ticket right on the spot as there are quite a few buses connecting Suratthani and Krabi. The journey takes about four hours.
If you leave Koh Samui after 7am, most probably you will be able to hop onto 11am bus at the best to reach Krabi Town by 3pm, meaning you will miss the last ferry to Koh Phi Phi the same day, which also leaves at 3pm from Khlong Jilard Pier. It is a good idea to make a stopover in Krabi for a night or two to explore some of the most interesting sights in the province including Wat Tham Suea (Tiger Cave Temple) which boasts a very rewarding view of Krabi from above or Emerald Pool with incredibly coloured water.
You can then continue your journey to Koh Phi Phi when you are ready with Andaman Wave Master or Chaokoh Travel Center ferries. The former is a bit cheaper (THB450), a tad slower (1 hour 45 minutes) and has two departures a day at 9am and 1.30pm; the latter leaves Krabi at 10.30am and 3pm (THB600, 1½ hour).
From Koh Samui to Koh Phi Phi via Suratthani and Phuket
Instead of going from Suratthani to Krabi, you can take a bus from Suratthani to Phuket. It takes just marginally longer to get to Phuket (4½ hours) and costs more or less the same as to Krabi (THB250-THB280). There is a wider choice of ferries leaving Phuket for Koh Phi Phi than from Krabi, but the last one departs at 3pm, too, and tickets are more expensive (THB600-THB800). In fact, the only reason to go from Koh Samui to Koh Phi Phi via Phuket is if you are planning to spend some time on the big island before heading to Koh Phi Phi.
Tip: The Andaman sea is a part of the Indian Ocean, and the choppy waters are not rarely seen. If you are prone to seasickness, do not wait until it is too late and take all the necessary medicines in advance.
Note: All the passengers arriving to Ton Sai pier on Koh Phi Phi pay a THB20 ‘pier’ fee which is supposed to be used on cleaning the island. It is not included into ticket price.
Connecting onward from Phi Phi
Thanks to Koh Phi Phi’s strategic location in the heart of the Phang Nga bay, the islands are connected to many of the southern destinations, including Koh Lanta, Koh Lipe, the Trang islands and Langkawi (Malaysia).
From Koh Phi Phi to Koh Lanta, the Trang islands and Koh Lipe
Ferries to Koh Lanta from Koh Phi Phi take from one to 1½ hrs to arrive to the island. There are two boats a day at 11.30am, one at 3pm and one more at 3.30pm. Tickets cost THB450 (Andaman Wave Master) and THB600 (Chao Koh Group).
Getting around on Koh Phi Phi
The Phi Phi islands are 28 sq.km of forests fringed with white sand beaches in the middle of Phang Nga bay. Be ready to do a lot of walking as there are literally no paved roads (well, some are appearing at the moment, but still). You can also charter a longtail boat for short trips around Phi Phi Don and Phi Phi Leh: there are plenty of them in and around Ao Ton Sai. In general the majority of accommodation and services – including Phi Phi Island Hospital – are found in Ton Sai Village which lies on the southern side of the narrow isthmus connecting Phi Phi Don and Phi Phi Leh.
Some of the Koh Phi Phi beaches
Even if Ton Sai bay is the busiest part of the islands, it still remains a stunning place to enjoy the sea. A narrow path crammed with tour operator shops, restaurants and guesthouses to the east brings you to a pleasant Hat Hin Khom beach.
If you go northwards from Ton Sai bay to the other side of the isthmus, you will get to Ao Lo Dalam, which is a party animal’s paradise.
The best corals off Koh Phi Phi’s coast are found near Hat Yao (or Long Beach), which faces south and is the most swimmer-friendly among all the islands’ beaches.
Two long and picturesque eastern bays, Ao Laem Thong and Ao Lo Bakao, are the realm of high-end resorts.
Smaller bays, including Hat Phak Nam, Hat Rantee or Hat To Koh, cater for more budget travellers and offer low-key bungalows. These three beaches are much more tranquil than the overcrowded Ton Sai and Lo Dalam bays. The best way to explore them is to hire a longtail boat and organise some bay-hopping for yourself.
Tip: It is not possible to camp on Maya Beach on Phi Phi Leh (which was featured in The Beach movie) any more and you will have to enjoy it only by daytime. If you want more privacy, hire a longtail and arrive early in the morning.
Where to stay
Rule #1: Book in advance – especially during the busy periods.
Rule #2: If you hate those pre-booked affairs, do not keep away from the touts who meet all the arriving boats. Yes, they are annoying, but they are helpful: finding accommodation on Koh Phi Phi these days is not an easy task!
Rule #3: Budget accordingly. THB 1000 on Koh Phi Phi means a very simple, no-frills dig, in most cases in the form of a Thai bungalow with a fan and no hot water.
For an island of such a modest size Koh Phi Phi have a lot of things to offer – and they are not at all limited to bucket drinking parties and lazy sun-bathing. If snorkelling, diving, kayaking, rock-climbing, hiking and numerous viewpoints which let you take in all that stunning beauty are not enough, enrol to a yoga-on-the-beach course or go on an evening cruise to watch bioluminescent plankton off the shores of the islands. We are sure, you will enjoy your Koh Phi Phi trip: why would you not?