Exploring Thailand's islands: Shattering the stereotype in Ko Phi Phi
The Thai islands. We all know the stereotype; intoxicated tourists consuming buckets of alcohol and dancing on the beach wearing very little aside from glow sticks. But are the preconceptions true? We explore Ko Phi Phi, one of the islands that most fulfils this stereotype, to find out.
A hugely popular tourist destination, we expected to see many tourists as we took a boat from the mainland over to Ko Phi Phi. As the island came into view, however, the impression it gave couldn't have been more different. Instead we saw a lush jungle, punctuated only by small coves and deserted white-sand beaches.
Our boat turned a sharp left, and the illusion was shattered. Countless charter boats churned in the water, and hordes of people played on the beaches in the distance. We moored up in Ton Sai village, the most popular place to stay on Ko Phi Phi and discovered it to be the party-place you’d expect, and more. For this reason, much travel advice writes Ko Phi Phi off as a touristy island that is best avoided.
Those small beach-bays we spotted from a distance? With just a small bit of insider knowledge they become accessible. Here are some of our favourites:
Hin Phae (Shark point)
Commonly known as shark point, this is where Blacktip Reef Sharks come to feed. Get here between 9 and 11am when the sharks are feeding and you have a good chance of seeing some. We jumped in to do some snorkelling and saw about ten of these beautiful fish, within an hour!
Ao Nui Bay
This bay holds the typical Thai beauty, complete with perfectly-placed rock jutting out of the water. If you like snorkelling then this is a great bay to visit for the numerous species of fish. Our favourite sighting whilst here, was a battery of barracuda (and yes, that really is the collective noun for them!).
Loh Moo Dee beach
A nearly deserted beach. The only people you'll find here are those camping overnight (capped at about 5 tents) and those visiting by long-tail boat, like yourself.
Ko Mai Phai (Bamboo Island)
There's a small fee to enter onto this nature reserve, but a fee worth paying. You will find a few others enjoying the island including some bigger tour boats, but when an island's this stunning it's forgivable. Snorkelling here is highly recommended; between us we spotted an octopus, moray eels and plenty of fish (in the real sense of the word, not the dating app!).
Yonkasem (Monkey Beach)
There are two places called monkey beach on near Ko Phi Phi, both of which have resident wild monkeys. We visited Yonkasem and saw a few of the cheeky mammals. Do remember that these are wild animals and you are in their natural habitat, not the other way around. Give them their space.
Located next to a Thai fishing village, this long stretch of beach sadly sees a fair bit of rubbish dumped on it. However, rarely visited by tourists, you’ll find stunning shells along the entire stretch of beach, and will likely end up in broken conversation with local fishermen too.
How can you find these secret Thai beaches?
The simplest way is to hire a kayak. Plenty of vendors will rent you a kayak by the hour so get paddling and find those beaches. In as little as 20 minutes we’d paddled out to a small cove that was visable from Ton Sai, but that both surprisingly (and luckily) no-one else had bothered to reach.
Another fantastic way is by long-tail boat; you'll doubtlessly be approached by long-tail boat sailors asking if you want to take a tour but our advice is to politely decline as these are the most likely to rip you off. Book instead through a local you've come to know; ask your local restaurant or your scuba school nicely. Chances are they'll know someone who will give you a better rate.
In summary, that initial lush jungle we saw spreading out before our eyes as we sailed across from the mainland? This, and quiet bays do in fact still make up most of the island. Avoid the areas overcrowded with tourists, and we’re sure you’ll enjoy your stay as much as we did.
- By Katie Silcox
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