What Koh Phi Phi has promised in the movie The Beach is long lost in its current state. Its pristine, blue waters, powdery white sand, and breathtaking beaches are still there, yes, but it is marred by boarded-up shanties at the coast, drunken and rowdy (mostly British 😉 ) tourists, and hushed yet rampant island crime.
G and I are both beach bums and what best way to spend our honeymoon than under the sun, sand and seawater! We decided to head on to Koh Phi Phi, an island in the province of Krabi, Thailand as he has a friend working there in a dive shop. We decided to stay for a week in the island though most people who has been to PP would say six days is more than enough. We figured a week is just perfect to get that diving license and spend enough QT time by the beach.
Day 01 of our honeymoon wasn’t at all that good. I didn’t get to sleep the night before we were supposed to leave and we almost missed our plane. I was weeping all throughout the travel to PP-airport, airplane, cab to ferry, ferry to PP, which in total took us 7 hours of travel (that’s a whole lotta travel and tears! 😛 ). So by the time we arrived, I was plain exhausted and slept the whole afternoon away. We had our dinner at Papaya, which had good reviews on Lonely Planet, but we find their service and food unsatisfactory and expensive. Mo, G’s friend, said their quality dropped so it’s not as good as before.
We finally had a good look of our hotel on Day 02. Phi Phi Banyan Villa, as G said when he first went to PP some 5 years ago, was the nicest place in the area. It still is, sort of. It has a really good location-not too far from the pier, close to all the shops and stores and close to our fave restaurants. They had a really good gym, one of the best from the ones I’ve been to, but you won’t go to PP OR check in to this hotel just because of the gym, would you? Because apart from thees it’s not worth your money staying here (it’s more expensive the the rest): the room is small, their pool smaller and dirty, and they have a really lousy staff. Anyway, you can read my review of Phi Phi Banyan Villa here (if TripAdvisor has already approved my review).
Phi Phi Banyan Villa is not associated with the Banyan Hotels and Resorts. They are with the Phi Phi Hotel Group. If you’re ever visiting PP, please, give yourself a good holiday and don’t stay here.
Ton Sai Bay, the main bit of the island, doesn’t really have a beach. The nearest good beach would be Lo Dalam Bay, opposite of Ton Sai but even that area isn’t ‘perfect’. At least, not for a little island person like me. So right after breakfast, G and I decided to go to the Long Beach (Hat Yao) to get our sun, sand and sea fix. At first we thought it was just a short walk but we were wrong. It was a good 45-minute trek from our place. I’m not complaining though as along the way we found our favorite spot in all of Koh Phi Phi Don: Our little hammock.
I am a big fan of hammock and every time we’re on a beach holiday, I am always in the lookout of a free and available hammock that I can laze on. I wasn’t successful in finding one during our Tioman and Bintan beach trips, it was only here in Phi Phi that we had the pleasure of enjoying one.
Along the way, we came across different types of accommodations in Phi Phi. There are lots of cabins in the woods (not the type in that movie, if you know what I mean) which you can easily rent out for S$20-30 per night of stay. One quick look and you will think these chalets are old and uninhabited but it actually isn’t. It also has a nice view of the sea as it’s elevated and situated on the hillside. And they have their own hammock in their balcony! Jealous!
The trail to the Long Beach. (First Photo) You will see a lot of these ‘abandoned’ cottages on your way to Hat Yao. (Last Two Photos Above) These wood images were carved on dead tree trunks. Impressive.
Although a bit far from the main bit of the island (Ton Sai Bay) and the ‘happenings’, the Beach Resort (yes, it’s its name!) is looks and feels like it is a really good place to stay. The resort is fairly new, so new amenities and stuff, they get to have a good beach right out of their doorstep and there’s privacy for the guests.
Finally, we reached the Long Beach (Hat Yao). It wasn’t as ‘long’ as the name claims to be. I was thinking it would be the same as that of Boracay’s White Beach which is four kilometers long, but this one is probably just half of it. Sand isn’t as powdery as that of Boracay or some other PH beaches I’ve been to, but it’s still good enough. It’s the best time of the year too as there’s not much tourists on the beach, you get to have the beach all to yourself. Not good for G though as he (and, yeah, me too!) wanted to see topless babes but Mo said it’s the wrong time of the year. It’s usually the Scandis who go topless on the beach and they visit the island during peak season, December-April.
I was thankful the sun wasn’t fully out during our holiday or else I would have been really dark and over baked by now.
The whole morning of Day 03 found us going to and from the Police station. Money was stolen from our LOCKED SAFE in our LOCKED HOTEL ROOM and when we complained to the reception, instead of helping us out, they were defensive and didn’t offer any help in the ‘investigation’. We ended up going to the Police Station alone to report to the lousy Thai policemen about the incident. Taking their time, they went with us back to the hotel to ‘speak’ to the management about what happened (they all spoke in Thai so who knows, they might be asking for a ‘cut’ from the bounty they’ve harvested for the inconvenience of dealing with the complainants-which we think was true!). We checked the CCTV which was a waste of time given that their four CCTVs are conveniently placed at the reception area (was kinda wishing that we were in SG then, they wouldn’t have gotten away with it!), and it could be anyone coming and going to the hotel. The mighty policemen offered to get fingerprints from our safe and ‘cross-check’ it with the hotel staff’s fingerprints but we never really heard anything from them after that! Actually, we did. Our diving money (they were kind enough to leave enough money for us to live by for the rest of our stay in PP) was what they used to pay for their grand dinner at one of the posh restaurants in the island (yeah, we were at the same restaurant when the policemen were having dinner with the hotel staff!) a couple of nights after!
Never really did anything on our third day in Koh Phi Phi but what we experienced was enough for us see the real PP: a dirty, slum of a party island, consumed with crime and corruption. Oh yeah, there are lotsa crimes there as we were nosey enough, and like I said they were lousy policemen, to browse through their log book and read through the reports: theft inside a hostel room, even while the guests are sleeping inside, theft by the beach, local staff stealing from the safe of the dive shop where she was working, death by ‘ food poisoning’ which could mean either OD, magic mushrooms or pesticide poisoning.
Ton Sai Bay streets are full of shops selling almost the same stuff. You would find clothes shop, restaurants or food kiosks, swimming gear, tour and dive shops filling the area to the brim. As if there’s not enough of it.
Anyhoot, we didn’t let it ruin our holiday so we did what any decent couples do on their honeymoon: make the most out of our stay. Following Mo’s suggestion, we booked a sunset trip on our fourth day, blocked off the morning of our 5th day for a ‘leisure dive’ as we can no longer afford a certificate course, and a trek to PP Viewpoint on our sixth day.
Our trip to Maya Bay was booked with The Original Sunset Tour (yes, they are the original) and I actually had a great time.
What I didn’t like about the tour is the first stop: Monkey Bay. This is where they take the tourists out on a boat to a beach/bay where the monkeys live. Sure, the animals are not caged and put in a zoo but the way the foreigners (sorry to be rude but I was about to write here ‘white monkeys’ but I was there too and the locals aren’t really helping the case) ogle, make fun of, ‘feed’ them (they give them a can of beer) is not right. The water in that bay is full of trash, the monkeys look scared and become aggressive (bit one tourist when we went there)… It’s just plain wrong.
We passed by this cave, the Viking Cave, when we first reached Koh Phi Phi Ley, the smaller island. This is where the locals get birds nest (yes, that Chinese dish) to be sold to the market.
Next stop is the Pilah Bay, still on Koh Phi Phi Ley. Here we had an hour of ‘leisure’ rest where we can do any or all of the following: Kayak to the lagoon, snorkeling, water tubing. G and I took the kayak and went in to the lagoon. I wasn’t able to take photos as my camera my get wet. After getting the alone QT with G on the water, he passed up on snorkeling, chose to have his cup of tea on the boat instead. As for me, I can’t resist a good swim so I dived in. It was a good stop.
This happy tourist seemed like he was in bliss while on this tube as he won’t stop waving his arms and leg (like what you do when you make sand angels!) and kept on calling to his wife who won’t go in the water with him.
Finally, we reached Maya Bay aka The Beach. This place was depicted as the best beach in all the world over in Leonardo Di Caprio’s movie The Beach. Looking at it now, the claim was lost on me. There’s just too many tourists loitering at the beach side, boats dock by the shoreline blocking what could have been a good view of the bay, garbage everywhere.
This is just a small but quieter part of the beach in Maya Bay. There’s not much tourists to mar the image. I honestly can’t get a decent image of Maya Bay’s The Beach as there’s just too many people.
After an hour’s stay in Maya Bay, we were moored in the middle of the sea for more kayaking, snorkeling, tubing experience and while waiting for the sunset. Witnessing the sun set like that was, for me, the highlight of the trip. From a huge ball of fire it has become smaller and smaller until it became a red dot in the horizon and then gone. It was a beautiful experience witnessing that, memory even made beautiful because I have experienced it with my G.
It was on our fifth day that we took the half-day diving session with Mo and the Moskito Diving team. There were a dozen or so of us diving that morning but both G and I were the only beginners. The group took us to Koh Bida Nai and Koh Bida Nok two little islands south of Koh Phi Phi Ley. This is where we had our practice dive which actually lasted for almost an hour. Mo was a good teacher, very patient and reassuring. Not bragging, but I think I did well on our practice dive more than G (hey, I should since I’m the little island person!) which led Mo to say that Filipinos are the best divers among all Asians. Or something like that. 😀
This was our diving site, Koh Bida Nai and Koh Bida Nok. We were just swimming around one of those two islands and our ascent found us in the middle of the two. Wasn’t able to take photos of us on our wetsuit or underwater so there’s really no proof that we went diving. I might be bluffing. 😛
Our first dive found us just 6 meters underwater. There’s the usual clown fishes, lobster in between rocks, ‘rock cliffs’, different kinds of starfishes, etc. I don’t know the names of most underwater creatures. Our second dive, which lasted about an hour, we went 12 meters or so deep. We had a choice of Shark Sighting or Turtle Sighting but the crew decided to take us to the turtle area instead. The day was rather stormy, it’s been raining on and off, the water is choppy, the boat rocking hard. I admit, I am good underwater but when I’m out and with the rough waters, I could get I bit squirmy. Which was what I felt before I dropped to the water for our second dive. I was a bit sick even, but Ian said it’s perfectly ok to throw up into your regulator (and what, breathe back in your sick? ewe). Since we’re underwater, I forgot about the bugs in my stomach and focused on the world under me. It was magical. Peaceful. Uhmmmaaazing. Simply wonderful. I think diving can be one of the best way to de-stress because when you’re under water and one with the sea, you’d forget about the ugly world above it. The best bit is that we get to see around SIX turtles during our dive, apart from the school of fishes, fishes, fishes, and beautiful sea animals. I don’t know how to say it but yeah, it’s almost perfect. Being underwater can be romantic too if you’re with your partner but we can’t kiss or do anything underwater yet as G and I were both beginners, and there was Mo pulling G along as he’s a natural floater (too much gas probably from beer 😛 ). So I was just content with holding his hand underwater and pointing at things that we want each other to see.
After the dive, the sea was really rough, with huge waves almost slamming us to the walls of the island. My attempt to swim towards our boat was pathetic as it’s taking me nowhere so I just let Mo drag me to it. The sway left me really nauseous and I can’t help but throw up at the side of the boat. Which helped a lot as I was perfectly functioning normally again after that sick and I was able to enjoy the massaman curry that the crew brought us for lunch. Yum. It was good that it’s stormy that morning, a baptism (into diving) of fire (or rough seas).
Our sixth day on the island was quiet. We didn’t do much, just went up PP Viewpoint. Here you can see the sun rise OR set as well as both Ton Sai Bay (the left bit) and Da Lam Bay (the white, sandy part in the photo). Bummer though as, again, it’s full of tourists and you can’t really enjoy the view peacefully.
All in all, it was a good AND bad trip. The good bits made up for the bad parts. However, we don’t think we’re coming back to this island ever again. I know there are better and almost unexploited beaches in SEA so we’d probably try others next time. Or go back to our own Paradise that is Tioman. And we’re Thailan-ed out: Phuket, Chiang Mai and PP in a year. But I would still not pass up on an opportunity to go to BKK though (I’ve never been), it’s a different world out there: world of shopping! And yes, of course, culture.
The Paradise Pier at Long Beach. Background: Koh Phi Phi Ley
Thoughts and Trivia:
(1) There are just too many Chinese tourists there. It’s full with them. We saw a boat-full of them in their orange vests (G said most of them can’t swim) and they were all so rowdy and noisy. Sorry, I’m being racist here.
(2) The island has really great food choices! Sports Bar for G’s Pie fix, Unni’s for that Western-Scandi fare, Anna’s Restaurant (right beside the Moskito Diving Shop) has great local delicacies and this is where we had our Massaman Curry, Le Grand Bleau that ‘posh’ restaurant and Rimlay Seafood restaurant where they serve barbecues and that Roasted Half-Chicken.
(3) Good chill out places would be the Hippies Bar, Carpe Diem where the photo above was taken, for Ton Sai Bay. Both these bars have fire dances in the evenings. I was surprised to know that the fire shows were done by hippie men as opposed to what I’m used to back in PH which was mostly performed by scantily clad women and gay men. The Sunflower Bar at Do Salam Bay is also a good chill out place according to our local guide, Mo.