I found myself in a sea of people with a bright orange sticker that said “Phi Phi” on it in big letters, which we later coined as a “sucker sticker.” About 50 people were on the beach in the morning with me waiting for our boat to the island of Koh Phi Phi from Railay beach. That morning I already knew the next two days weren’t going to be the beautiful paradise that I had somehow expected. I blocked out everything telling me this was a party island and I had convinced myself I would find a pristine beach waiting for me.
I had already thought Railay was a bit more touristy than I preferred and when I arrived on Koh Phi Phi I was shocked by the number of people, tourists and shops lined up waiting to sell their next straw hat, bikini or bucket of alcohol. The few beaches on Koh Phi Phi that had a chance of being beautiful were so busy with people that if you could find a place to sit down you might be able to enjoy it. The rest of the beaches, specifically the party beach is most likely still trashed from the night before. Once you see the partiers using the ocean as their personal bathroom or barf bag, I guarantee you will lose any desire to take a dip during the heat of the day. Again, these are my own experiences. Everyone has their own opinions and every traveler has their own stories to tell.
Iconic – My expectations were set in that everyone told me while on the Andaman coast you have to go to Koh phi phi. The beaches are beautiful specifically the one from the movie “The Beach.” It fascinates me to see how movies can blow up tourism in specific areas. I have yet to decide if that is a blessing or a curse. Along with the extra cash flow into the island, the beach that was once famed as beautiful and picturesque is now overrun with tourists and snorkeling boats.
Dirty – Upon arrival every tourist pays 20 baht to enter the island to “keep Koh Phi Phi clean.” Unfortunately, you have to assume that this money isn’t making it back to the land. As I mentioned earlier the main party beach is full of people throwing up and urinating in the water in the evening. Garbage is everywhere, even the locals don’t seem to care about keeping the trash off the street and if they don’t care about their island why would anyone expect the tourists to?
Overpriced – After traveling through Thailand and then arriving in the islands you get a bit of sticker shock. The same sunscreen, fruit shake or casual dinner is instantly 3-4 times more expensive. If you are able to find a decently priced room, you most likely lowered your standard of living. There are nice accommodations on the island but you will definitely be laying down some baht, so don’t expect to save money. Also, we are used to seeing higher prices, but are able to seek out the hidden gems of cheap food down side streets and alleyways. Here it wasn’t like that, everywhere seemed to collude and pad thai, fruit shakes and even accommodation was the same price everywhere.
Culture – When you arrive on Koh Phi Phi you don’t feel like you are arriving in a different country. You could be on any beach in the world, there just happens to be limestone cliffs surrounding you. All of the restaurants serve western food and advertise an American or English to pull the tourists in. The food was fairly generic. By the end of my time here I craved a spicy, burn your face off curry that humbles me and reminds me what country I am in. The island is pure tourism at its finest (worst).
I realize that my opinions come off as negative, plenty of people love this island which is why we went to see it for ourselves. Honestly, Railay probably ruined it a little bit for me because it was so beautiful and quiet. When I am on an island I enjoy walking along a beach where I may not see any one else for an hour. Or sitting and listening to the waves crash against the sand in a peaceful quietness. I enjoy wandering around the island not being asked to purchase something every step. I love a drink or two at sunset, not a bucket or two until I can’t walk every night. I personally won’t return to koh phi phi, there are too many other beautiful Thailand islands to see. I had to see it for myself and maybe you do to – but don’t say I didn’t warn you.
Ermm, yeah Phi Phi is scheduled to be our first stop in Thailand on Tuesday. Our expectations are so low, I am just hoping that will somehow save us cause it can’t be worse than what I am imagining right? right, lol?
We went in with high expectations, which made it even worse. With your low expectations, you may end up liking it! Just don’t go in the water on the main beach, and you’ll be fine. Keep us updated on your island experiences.
Such a shame the island was so disappointing! This is a very helpful post though, as my boyfriend and I recently started planning the Thai islands we want to visit and I’ll definitely keep this in mind for my planning. I read your thai cooking school review so I assume you went to Koh Lanta but I didn’t see a post here about that island. What did you think of it? Worth going to?
What other islands are you planning to visit? We enjoyed Koh Lanta, it was a change of pace from the other islands. We were told to go to Koh Jum and skipped it and wish we had made a stop there, but we will be back! Email me and I’ll send you a guesthouse to stay at! Koh Lanta has a great National Park, but the beaches aren’t as stunning as Railay!
I was thinking of splitting up the time between the islands off the east and the west coast. I’m considering Phuket/Krabi (as starting off point), Koh Phi Phi (though not so much in the running after having read this post), Koh Lanta (I have also heard good things about Koh Jum), Railay, Koh Phangan, Koh Samui, and Koh Tao. What was your favorite island/how did you split up the time between them?
Caroline, I can understand your disappointment, having been to both Railay and Koh Phi Phi. But on the whole I enjoyed it immensely, exploring a bit and finding the real gems can help. Believe it or not I went back to Koh Phi Phi again, first time during peak, second time in the off season. We had a great time both times.
Generally, if you go to the beach early in the morning all the party people are in bed nursing their hangovers (and the tide was higher). We were fortunate enough not to experience people using the ocean as a latrine. That is shameful. We had the best fruit shakes of our lives on Kho phi phi, I still dream of them. And found some terrific places for food.
True, the main village can be one gaudy tourist trap but you can glide through on your way to somewhere more secluded. Take a boat to the isolated beaches on the eastern side of the island.
Tell you what though, I could never get over the ridiculous number of scuba diving shops!
We went several years ago and people were saying things were beginning to slide, perhaps things have gotten worse, from what you’ve experienced. Hopefully it never gets as bad as Patong. Good luck finding that deserted stretch of beach. They’re still out there, trust me, I’ve seen them!
Caroline Eaton says
I have definitely heard travelers who have loved koh phi phi – ha and I was also amazed at the never ending amount of scuba diving shops!
There are so many beaches in Thailand to explore – I still have plenty of stretches of sand to discover!
I was in Koh Phi Phi in April 2005, a few months after the tsunami. The island was still in ruins and it was eerily quiet – but breathtakingly beautiful. The beaches were empty and the locals (survivors?) were amazing. I’m planning an insanely extensive RTW starting in late 2013 or early 2014 and had considered returning. I think I will keep let my memories stay alive and not head back after reading this!
Caroline Eaton says
There are so many other beautiful islands I want to visit in Thailand – keep me updated on where you end up traveling to!
I support exploring more remote islands while you are there! 🙂
I am currently planning a solo SE Asia trip and experiencing sticker shock just looking at the prices on the Thai coast and it’s the low season! Can you suggest an affordable place to stay in Railay? I so want to see it, but I am considering skipping it to save money.
Reading your article am Filled with mixed feelings.
I had finalised on Krabi+Phi Phi for next Jan-Feb, now I am thinking of changing it to Koh samui or Koh lanta.
BTW, since you are on the look out for pristine beaches, try Philippines (coron-el nido-boracay),I have been there and it’s just superb. (Boracay is touristy but worth it)
Joanna Cer says
I totally agree with your article here, I’ve been to Phi Phi last June and yes it was very dirty and very noisy during the night. I couldn’t barely sleep for 2 nights, most of the tourist there does not respect the nature.
Craig @ Jungle Nomad says
Thanks for a great post. I do agree with what you are saying as I saw everything when I was there but you have to look at Phi Phi from both sides of the coin.
Thailand can not be all pristine beaches and cheap. Every country that I have visited have their tourist traps and then their hidden gems and Phi Phi is a tourist trap.
Personally I enjoyed Phi Phi but for the 3 days that I was there out of a 3 week trip. I then went on to experience the shear beauty that Thailand offers but for what Phi Phi offers I enjoyed. It is a party island and that is what I expected.
Great website. Keep it up.