Peace of Phi-radise
If your idea of paradise is a tropical isle of powder white sand beaches, palm trees, aquamarine waters, and more bronze-skinned, blonde-haired, blue-eyed bodies than a teenager’s liquid dreams, then Koh Phi Phi (pronounced Pee-Pee) is heaven on earth.
Located 50 kilometres or a 3-1/2 hour ferry ride from Phuket, this heirloom of the Andaman Sea is actually comprised of 6 islands. The best known islands are Koh Phi Phi Ley and Koh Phi Phi Don (where half of Sweden’s young and beautiful and very drunk seem to be ensconced from November to April).
Ko Phi Phi Ley, made famous by the Leonardo DiCaprio movie, The Beach, is without question the most visited. And it is certainly the stuff of Hollywood movie set glory. You enter a cave on one side of the sea and exit the cavern to find yourself amidst a vertiginous amphitheatre of towering forested cliffs that is the heart of the island. From there, follow a white sand path to Maya Beach (Leo DiCaprio-style) to the magnificence of its blue lagoon backdropped by dramatic limestone cliffs.
Visit early in the morning and the scene will play out to the letter. Arrive later in the day and you’ll see 200 snorkellers, 100 japanese tourists, 20 longtail boats, 10 ferry boats, and a Scandi in a skimpy bikini written into the story. Life is not ALL bad.
The pulsating centre of the Andaman Sea is, undoubtedly, Ko Phi Phi Don. This compact island (no motor vehicles) is where travellers to Phi Phi stay to relax, party, create new friendships with people from all over the globe, and lifelong ones with Singha Beer and Sangsom buckets. And while Phi Phi Ley has achieved cinematic fable, Phi Phi Don is a stunningly beautiful island as well.
Ko Phi Phi Don is picture-perfect: two soaring islands of rainforest trees and limestone cliffs are perpendicularly-connected by a sandy isthmus ( Ton Sai Village ) that serves as the focal point island life. Viewed from the sky, it is paradise in the form of an abstracted and rather sexy letter H.
Ton Sai Bay, on one end, serves as the docking port for ferries, speedboats, and longtail boats. While on the opposite side lies Loh Dalum Bay , beachside catwalk for the perpetually young and beautiful. Both bays are perhaps less than a kilometre from one another.
At Phi Phi Don’s centre, Ton Sai Village is home to countless guesthouses, hotels, travel agencies, and restaurants fitting all budgets and inclinations. And while many a whinge-ing and complaining has been heard of rising prices in Phi Phi, one would be hard-pressed to find a room for USD 10 dollars a nite along the Costa del Sol and Cote D’azur . There are hundreds of those in Phi Phi.
Fifteen dollars will get you an aircon room, and 50 dollars places you in a lovely resort with all the bells, whistles, and poolside pina coladas. Compare that to, say, St. Tropez, where fifty bucks gets you a meal that qualifies itself on decoration and location rather than flavour and nutrition, and a snooty and incompetent French waiter who has somehow forgotten he is a paid servant.
For the more sociable, Baanthai Guesthouse seems to have a set-up most conducive to meet other travellers (which is to say it’s the best place to meet babes and boys). Its capacity to connect its guests and make them interact and embark on a nightly boozecruise assisted by a few Singhas and Beer Changs is unparalleled on the entire Banana Pancake Trail. This social magic is achieved simply by having put a long table alongside the check-in counter, the entire space open to the street. So, when you check-in, you’re compelled to meet everyone sitting along the extended table having beers or clicking away on their Facebook pages. From there, the much-hated and much-loved Beer Changs come out!
At Baanthai Guesthouse, don’t look for the party, the party kidnaps you.
Run by the venerable Miss Lee (affectionately called Meusli), Baanthai has a wonderful guesthouse vibe. From the nightly streetside pre-parties to the boozecruise that follows (first it’s off to the Apache Bar to knock down some booze, some pool, and get knocked out in the Muay Thai ring. Thereafter, it’s off to Rolling Stoned, a cranking bar with a live rock band playing everything from ACDC and The White Stripes, to the romantic pinings of Jack Black’s “Fuck Her Gently. The cruising for the boozing is finished off amidst the happy house beats of Carlito’s Bar, known largely for it’s all-Scandinavian staff), Baanthai Guesthouse is definitely a guesthouse institution in having insanely attained a college party vibe.
Amidst all the sun and fun, Baanthai’s rooms are surprisingly quiet and clean, if simple. Located in a small compound at the back of the reception desk, the rooms are insulated from the hustle and bustle of the street and entrance hall. But don’t sneak any additional guests in? Miss Lee is, unfortunately, gifted with a photographic memory. She remembers EVERYBODY. She’s as surreal as Phi Phi in that way.
Phi Phi offers a heapful of activities from snorkeling, island-hopping, diving, cliff-jumping, and rock-climbing. The local SpiderMonkey travel agency (http://www.spidermonkeyclimbing.com/), run by british-expat Naomi and world-class Thai rock-climber Theep, offers exceptional, proficient, and fair service.
Longtail boats are available for 650 baht per person, while day-long ferry cruises cost 1200 baht including lunch and a snack. All this includes visits to Maya Bay and other amazing islands of crystalline waters and talcum-powder sand. Can’t really imagine a day tour with so much value-for-money packed in.
For those wishing to capture that legendary aerial view of Phi Phi Don, the 186-metre high stroll up to the Viewpoint is a must-do trek every late afternoon to catch the sunset. The vista is breathtaking. Plus, the mid-way stopover, plus the conveniently located restaurant and store at the peak, offer cold beers that just makes the strenuous climb worthwhile. Viewpoint is the Andaman’s finest Stairmaster. A week of that daily climb assures the title of the Firmest Butt in the Far East.
With all the fun on offer and all the sinning proffered, Phi Phi surpirisingly has numerous quiet spots despite its reputation as a hedonistic Indian Ocean playground for Swedes on Springbreak. The small islet of Koh Phai (Bamboo Beach), a half hour longtail boat ride away, offers campgrounds and beach sand akin to baby powder. Within Phi Phi Don itself, Lanti and Hin Khao beach, both reachable by foot, offer some relative peace and quiet. Another definite must-do, overnight camping at fabled Maya Beach, assures one a glimpse of that empty blue lagoon and a truly sublime “Beach” feeling at sunrise.
Food-wise, and here one can draw an epigram between food and culture, Phi Phi Don’s yummies on the plate are slightly above mediocre at best. Sure, you can get somewhat decent French, Mexican, Italian, and Thai food. But, it is an island. So everything is shipped in. There is no real evidence of that rich Thai culture one finds in the north.
Phi Phi, at day’s end, is a place to chillax, to party, to think, to flirt, to do what floats your boat, or to do nothing at all. Which is not very difficult when you are in one of the most beautiful island chains in the world.
A 12-hour 1,000 baht ride from Bangkok to Phuket, and a 350 baht ferry ride from Phuket to Phi Phi (ferries leave twice a day) is a small price to pay to see one of the prettiest places on earth. So get on that plane, hop on that bus, roll on that ferry, and taste your bit of Phi-radise.