Ko Phi Phi: The Most Overrated Island in Thailand

A busy and crowded bay in Ko Phi Phi, Thailand
Updated: 12/27/18 | Originally Posted: 06/02/2015 *This update consisted of added links and resources.

This was my third visit to Ko Phi Phi. As I was there, I was reminded of how much I dislike it.

In fact, I hate Ko Phi Phi.

Despise it.

I think it is one of the most overrated islands in all of Thailand.

I spent the last four days here with some friends of mine from Bangkok. We were here on a vacation from work.

Originally, we were going to go to nearby Krabi, but when it was too quiet for them, we moved to Ko Phi Phi.

Ko Phi Phi is one of the most well-known islands in Thailand, and during the high season, it’s swarming with people. It was made famous first by Lonely Planet and by the movie The Beach, who used the nearby Maya Bay as a film set. Over the decades, this small island (it’s only 12 square kilometers!) became home to hundreds of high-end resorts.

The island was a tragic victim of the 2005 tsunami and more than 2,000 people were killed here alone. After the event, many thought the locals and government would use this opportunity to rebuild in a more sustainable way.

Sadly, that was not the case. The island has been so rebuilt that you would never know such a tragedy took place. Everything is right back where it was beforehand, there’s a brand new and bigger pier, and even more hotels blight the island. There are more boats here now too.

I can’t figure out what people see in the island.

a crowded beach full of boats on Koh Phi Phi in Thailand

First, Ko Phi Phi is overpriced. You pay double what you would anywhere else in Thailand. During the low season, a beach bungalow is 800 baht, double what I paid during the high season on Ko Phangan. A bucket of booze (the quintessential Thailand drink) is 400 baht, double what it is in Bangkok and a bit more than double what it is on most other islands. A cheap Thai meal is around 100 baht, triple the price of Bangkok.

Then there are the beaches and the water. This is where Ko Phi Phi is supposed to shine.

But it doesn’t.

From afar the blue water and white sand beaches look like paradise. Yet when you look closer, you realize that looks are deceiving. One of the beaches is used by all the boats, so it’s a no go. There’s the main one in the bay opposite that a lot of people go to, but when the tide recedes, all that’s left is dead coral, boats, and ankle-deep water. That wouldn’t be bad—if it didn’t happen during the day! This leaves the most popular beach, Long Beach, which is a 15-minute walk from town. There you’ll find tons of people vying for the decent spot of beach. And, this nice part of the island, is now lined with resorts and boats.

a crowded beach on Koh Phi Phi in Thailand

The inner bay, which disappears during low tide is filled with dead coral. There’s concrete everywhere. Buildings hide the beach.

Unless you are on the private resorts on the north end of the island, you can’t be saved from the one thing that truly kills this island: the mass of long-tail boats. There are simply too many boats and too many engines choking the water. No matter where you go, you’ll notice that the water has a funky smell to it. Or that white foamy bubbles of waste and chemicals from too many boats and engines float on the surface. Or maybe you’ll notice the oil slicks and weird brown stuff in the water. Whatever you notice, you’ll notice that the water up close just isn’t as good as it was far away, and suddenly the cool dip in that blue tropical water won’t seem like such a good idea.

Ko Phi Phi, like many Thai islands, suffers from overtourism. It’s simply too small to handle all the people brought to it. Hotels are thrown up, boats brought in, and ferries arrive to fill as many rooms as possible all while coral reefs are dynamited and overfished and as many tourists as possible are brought to gawk and feed the wild monkeys and take photos where Leonardo DiCaprio filmed The Beach.

Since so many backpackers an the alcohol and music flow continuously, I think Ko Phi Phi is only good for one thing: partying.

That’s the only reason to come here. To me, there are very little redeeming qualities to the island.

Good marketing, pretty pictures, and a reputation for a good party keeps Ko Phi Phi alive, but if you want beautiful and unspoiled tropical islands, Ko Phi Phi is not the place for you.

If you want beautiful beaches, visit Ko Lanta, Ko Jum, Ko Mak, or Ko Adang instead!

There are so many other beautiful — and cheaper — islands in Thailand that I would skip visiting to Ko Phi Phi. Don’t contribute to the mass tourism and environmental destruction of the island. Save your time and money and go elsewhere (but skip Pai too).

Paradise exists in Thailand. It’s just not here.
 
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