Placeholder – this is still being written up
Ko Phi Phi (Don), Thailand
IN BRIEF :
Phi Phi is off the West Coast of Thailand, 40 km South East of Phuket. It has some very impressive karst rock formations and many beautiful beaches. Its natural beauty, plus its fame from appearing in a Hollywood movie, has turned it into a mass-market tourist destination.
Most tourists do their snorkelling on a round-the-island boat trip.
Opportunities for off-the-beach snorkelling are limited. The reef-edge is about 100 metres away from the beach and is under the path of a hundred speed-boat propellers. It is not safe to snorkel at the reef-edge.
That said, there are a few options:
-The East coast of Phi Phi Don has some decent coral and, because the area is fairly remote, there is less boat traffic there.
-At the Southern end of Haat Yao (Long Beach), (known as “Shark Point”) there is a reasonable chance of seeing black-tip reef sharks in the shallows. Scared about sharks? Read this.
-A big rock 150m off the beach at Shark Point attracts a lot of fishlife, and provides protection from boat traffic.
Phi Phi is quite far from the mainland, which makes for a good range of fish species. Even in the shallower (=safer) waters near the beach, you can see a decent range of fishes – certainly those from my Thailand Common reef-fish page.
The coral is mostly Porites species (lump/hump coral) plus the occasional spots of branching, bracket and star corals thrown-in.
The condition of the coral varies from place-to-place. In the shallow-waters of the roped-off swim-zones, corals are generally shabby. The popular stops on the daytrip-tours are often smashed-up by boat anchors. But the coral on the East coast drop-off is in decent condition.
I visited for a week in April (the end of the dry season). Underwater visibility was about 6m, which isn’t quite as “crystal clear” as the tour-brochures suggest, but is good-enough, and typical of the Andaman Sea.
Overall, Phi Phi is a reasonable place to do some snorkelling if you are already there for your beach/party vacation, but, given that the best coral is kinda dangerous to get to, I don’t think I would make a special trip there for the snorkelling.
– – – –
Ko / Koh / เกาะ is “island”
Ao / Au / อ่าว is “bay”
Haat / Haad / หาด is “beach”
Laem/ Lam / แหลม is “cape/point/headland”
Hin / หิน is “rock”
A bay which also has a beach might be labelled as either Haat or Ao. Don’t get hung up on the difference – they are both the same place.
The only island with accommodation for overnight stays is the biggest one, Ko Phi Phi Don (เกาะพีพีดอน).
(image credit wikitravel).
As this website is all about off-the-beach snorkelling, this page only covers Ko Phi Phi Don. For everywhere else, access is by boat-trip only. There is (err, will be) another page here, which covers the other islands.
Phi Phi Don is often said to be in the shape of a weightlifter’s dumbbell – two rocky, hilly islands joined together by a low-level sandy isthmus. The Western island (Ko Nork, เกาะนอก, “Outside Island”) is uninhabited, with towering cliffs all over it. The Eastern island (Ko Nai, เกาะใน, “Inside Island”) is where you will find all the resorts, bars and beaches.
Paying 2-3 times the market rate for everything; being kept awake ’til 3am by the noise of the teenagers jive-ing away at the lindy hop; then having to dodge all the puddles of puke in the morning is not my idea of a good time.
Previously, I have only seen Phi Phi from the relative safety of daytrips from Ko Lanta. But in April 2015, I decided it was time to give the place a fair-chance and stay for a week, to have a proper look around.
I stayed in (cheapo) Ton Sai Town, which was as dire and noisy as expected, but I did discover that around the rest of island is a wide network of walking tracks. Armed with a bottle of water, a sun hat and a mask & snorkel, there are plenty of more-isolated spots to discover.
Phi Phi Don is very hilly, so (unless you are shelling-out on a taxiboat), be ready for long hikes up and down steep hills to get anywhere. It is going to be hot – take some water and suncream.
There are several viewpoints dotted around the island – all worth visting if you have your walking legs on. They are marked as VP1, VP2, etc. on my map.
The tracks leading to the viewpoints are a good way to get from one end of the island to the other. Here’s a tip: You have to pay a small fee (30B) to get into (or through) the “”main” viewpoint (VP2), but there is a way of skirting this premium route if you don’t want to carry money on your snorkelling escapades. Details down the page (do a local search [Edit>Find (on this page)] for the “Walking Tracks” section).
There is a good general orientation on Phi Phi at wikitravel.
There is fringing reef around 60% of Phi Phi Don, but the best bit of the reef (the drop-off) is a looong way out from the beach – often 100m to 200m. This puts you slap-bang in the middle of the boat lanes, with daytrip speedboats and ferries from Krabi, Phuket, etc. all vying to be the first one to cut-off your head. Many beaches have roped-off swim-zones extending 30m off the beach, but these are built for sunbathers to wash-off their sun-cream, not for snorkellers to see some decent coral. The safe-zones don’t extend-out far enough to envelop any decent reef. You will need to hike to the quieter parts of the island to find decent coral in swim-safe areas.
The fish life in Phi Phi is pretty good compared with other islands closer to the mainland. Interesting fish often come into the roped-off, shallow waters. There is a good range of Wrasse, Rabbitfish, Surgeonfish species, as well as the usual Parrotfish and Butterflyfish, Less-common species seen include a few Sweetlips, and some schooling Trevally and Fusiliers.
The Burgundy coloured line on my maps is the area that I snorkelled.
Most entry-points into the water are from sandy beaches. Hard-soled footwear isn’t essential, but it is always a good idea, just-in-case. Some beaches do have difficult access to the water at low tides, because of the coral in the shallows. See the individual sections, below.
Currents were no problem. There was a mild current running North to South down the East coast, which was tedious to swim against, but nothing serious. At more remote locations, I couldn’t get around the headlands at 10a or 8d. Elsewhere, there were no currents at all.
In a week’s worth of snorkelling, I only saw two jellyfish and they were of the non-stinging variety.
General Safety considerations
Boats, boats, boats. Plus the standard ones listed here.
That’s enough orientation – let’s get on with the area-by-area details:
Areas 1, 2 and 3 – Southwest Ko Nai
This stretch of coastline is characterised by long, flat, sandy beaches broken up by the occasional rocky headland. Most beach-side resorts are in this area.
There is a long track leading all the way along this stretch of coast. Occasionally, it turns-up the hillside to skirt-round a resort (even needing a climb-rope at one point), but, generally, this area is one of the easiest parts of the island to reach.
Area 1 – Ton Sai to Viking Nature Resort
The first beach at Ton Sai (area 1a on the map) is mainly a boat-park. The beach is fine for sitting-out in the sun, and it is conveniently close to lots of bars and restaurants, but it is a non-starter for snorkelling. The shallows are mud-flats for about the first 50 metres off the beach and after that, the water is still only knee-deep for another 100m:
You can see the location of the reef drop-off in the picture (waaay off in the distance – where the sea turns dark-blue,). Beyond this drop-off is the busiest area for boats on the whole island, as it is the deep-water entrance to the jetty. This area is a total non-starter for snorkelling. Move along, please.
Around the headland and into Haat Hin Khom (“sharp rock beach”), things aren’t that different. There is less mud and more sand, but the rake of the beach is still very shallow. At low tides, the few small chunks of coral get exposed to the air, which kills them off. The coral here is something to stub your toe on, rather than to marvel at.
The light blue areas on the map indicate this kind of shallow water (typically less-than knee-deep at low-tide).
Heading South East, when you get past area 1b, the water starts to get deeper.
We are at the edge of the reef now, where the reef slopes down to the deeper waters of the bay. This reef “drop-off” is traditionally the best area for finding wildlife; but, being in the boat-trip lane of a developed tourist island – it is not very safe to come here. I visited in the late afternoon, when most boats had gone away. The early morning (say, before 8am) would be another possibility. At all other times, I wouldn’t even contemplate swimming here without boat-cover.
I also saw an uncommon adult Many-Spotted/Harlequin Sweetlips skulking-off under a rock.
Btw, if you hover your mouse over any picture with a fish in, you can see the name of the species at the bottom of your browser window. Also, check out the Specieslist for a longer list.
Area 2 – Haat Yao
Haat Yao (Long beach, หาดยาว) is a 500m stretch of sand, housing four or five popular mid-range resorts. There is a walking path leading there from Ton Sai town, (walkers’ Hint: At Bay View Resort – go past the restaurant then turn left up a paved service-road for a few metres; then turn right and continue along the elevated footpath running parallel to the coast. Hint2: At Viking Nature Resort, there are a few divergent tracks through the resort, but they are well signposted and end up at the same destination. When you get to the end of Viking Nature Resort, take a right, down the steep, rootsy track down to the start of Haat Yao. There is a climb rope here to help you down, but don’t be discouraged – I saw five-year-old children using it just fine.
Area 3 – Shark Point
Small blacktip reef sharks often cruise near the big rock – sometimes on the left (3b), sometimes on the right (3a).
At least you are protected from speedboats here, as they can’t get through the line of shallow rocks, and will take a wider berth.
If you feel more comfortable staying in the shallows, there is always a chance of seeing a shark there, but the chances are better the further out you go.
To spot a shark, you will have to be patient and eagle-eyed, as they are timid and well-camouflaged against they grey, rocky bottom:
Underwater visibility wasn’t good here. In these pictures, I have had a lot of help from Doctor Photoshop to remove the murk from the water.
For the best chance of seeing a shark, try to keep still in the water. Be prepared to wait for a long time, scanning all around for a flicker in the greyness. It seems that most people arrive here in a boat, swim around for ten minutes, see nothing, then get back in the boat and leave again. Have patience, grasshopper.
I came here on three occasions and saw sharks on two of those – both times on the left/South/3b side of the rocks.
Usually sharks are more active in the low-light of the mornings and evenings, but here, they seemed just as forthcoming in the middle of the day.
Scared about sharks? Read this.
…and the big rock at the, err, point of Shark Point provides shelter for a multitude of reef-fish.
This is probably the best place on Phi Phi for looking at reef-fish:
(Mouseover for species names, or checkout the Specieslist).
Well, that’s the it for best of Phi Phi’s ‘easy-to-reach’ snorkelling. If you want more places for decent snorkelling, you will have to haul-yourself over the hill to the East coast.
I swam around the point (Laem Por) to get to the East side.
Area 4 – Laem Por (แหลมพ้อ)
Sharksuckers attach themselves on to sharks and other big fish (and people) to get an easy ride (plus some free food). They are persistent little beggars and can rip your skin if you remove them wrongly, so it is best not to let them on-board in the first place. Repeated foot-in-the-face-moves will eventually get rid of them.
There is not much to recommend snorkelling this section of the island. Underwater, it is all rocks. Up top, it is one of the busiest areas for boat traffic, because everyone cuts-in to get round the corner to the Northern beaches or Krabi.
The only appeal here is a couple of intriguing-looking little beaches.
If you want to investigate those, I would suggest coming by kayak. Swimming here from Haat Yao is probably not a good idea.
Ao Por / Poh / Pooh (อ่าวพ้อ, ?Winge Bay?!) is a mysterious little number, accessible overland by some confusing tracks going over the hill from “Phi Phi The Beach Resort” at the Southern end of Haat Yao.
Apparently, Ao Por used to house a nice backpacker resort. At the time of writing (2015),there were only some abandoned, half-built luxury cabanas up the hillside and half a concrete outhouse behind the beach. I don’t know what the story is, but no-doubt it won’t be long before some kind of development resumes.
To get to Ao Por by walking from Haat Yao, start at Phi Phi The Beach Resort and head up the steep paved road running perpendicular to the beach. Follow the signs to the Seaview Sunrise Bar (or Monkey bar):
If you are staying at Phi Phi Hill Resort, there is also a track next to Bungalow F4, which joins up with the West-East track on the top of the hill. Turn right on it to reach the Sunrise Bar and then continue as above.
Now that we’re back into coral territory, we can can consider the East coast to have properly started.
Area 5 – East Coast
The East coast is a bit of a hike from the rest of the island but with 6 km of coral reef running alongside, it is worth a visit.
Above the water, the coastline is mainly steep and rocky, but there are are a few long, sandy bays dotted up and down the coast. Most of the beaches have a couple of resorts – mostly quiet, midrange, family places.
All the beaches can be reached by steep, narrow footpaths radiating down from the high-ground in the middle of the island. There is no formal coastal path but people report that you can rock-hop between beaches when the tide is low.
Ao Por to Ao Lo Moo Dii
After about 500m, you approach Ao Lo Moo Dii/ Loh Mu Dee (อ่าวโละมูดี).
Phi Phi island was on the original migration route of the Chao Leh, sea gypsy people, who originated from Sumatra in Indonesia and took-up residence on various islands up the Andaman coast.
Many placenames on Ko Phi Phi are just the “sound” of the Chao Leh/Indonesian/Malay names and don’t mean anything in Thai. Anything starting with “Loh/Lo” is a case in point.
At the time of writing (2015), Ao Lo Moo Dii had no resorts – only a single, private restaurant which was marked-up as being for the exclusive use of the Nonthasak daytrip boat out of Phuket.
I’m not sure if the beach is private, but the caretaker fella didn’t seem to mind a few interlopers, as long as you don’t act like you own the place.
The area behind the beach was all marked-out with string, in preparation for the building of about 20 bungalows on the site. Tezza says that its been on the cards since 2002.
You’re unlikely to come here by swimming. The walking route from Haat Yao is an extension of the service road for Phi Phi The Beach Resort. To find it, just head up the concrete road at the South end of Phi Phi The Beach Resort and, when you’ve got as high as you can, turn left to Ao Lo Moo Dii (instead of right to Ao Por).
As with all the other beaches on Phi Phi, it is a long way from the beach to the drop-off.
The shallows are mostly sandy and free-from toe-stubbable coral relics.
Technically, you are still at risk from speed-boat propellers at the drop-off, but the amount of boat traffic is much lower here, because many of the boats will have veered-off South East towards Krabi. Also, the reef is a little wider, so you don’t need to go right up to the edge of it to find good coral.
The coral is not pristine, but it is in pretty-good condition. This is certainly one of the best snorkelling spots on the island.
Here are a couple of notable fish found in the area:
(Mouseover for species names), or see the Specieslist.
A few spots on the East coast enjoy the presence of mooring buoys, so that boats don’t smash-up the coral by dropping their anchors on it. I will never understand why nobody thought of this twenty years ago for the rest of Phi Phi.
(btw, the depth at the top of the drop-off is typically 2-3 metres, which is fine for snorkelling)
Ao Lo Moo Dii to Ao Pak Naam
It is a 1km swim to reach the next beach to the North – Ao Toh Ko.
Ao Toh Ko (อ่าวโต๊ะกอ) is a secluded bay with a 200m metre beach and a lone resort.
There is a walking track to Ao Toh Ko signposted from the track behind Viewpoint 2:
(the junction is marked as J1 on my map).
Apparently, at low tide, it is also possible to walk along a coastal track to Lo Moo Dii. Tezza says that at low tides you can also rock-hop North to Ao Ran Tii.
The next bay to the North is Ao Ran Tii. From Ao Toh Ko, it is a 300m swim around a rocky stretch of coastline.
I only took one underwater picture on this stretch, so I guess that the area was unremarkable. Here’s the picture. It is a Clam:
It is fairly big, but it isn’t a Giant Clam, which is a distinct species (and extinct in Thailand).
Tezza reports that, at low tide, you can also rock-hop South to Ao Toh Ko and North to Ao Pak Naam.
The next secluded bay to the North is Ao Pak Naam (อ่าวผักหนาม). It translates as “Spiky Vegetable” bay – though I’m not sure which spiky vegetable.
The oldest resort here is called “Relax Beach Resort” and you will sometimes find the beach referred to as “Relax Beach”, rather than Pak Naam Beach (including on the sign back at J1):
I did use the walking track when I left this beach. When it reached the high ground at the centre of the island, I followed it round a tangle of tracks to emerge at junction J3, rather than J1 (where it is also signposted).
You can see a lot of corals in the shallows. These toe-stubbers make it difficult to get to the drop-off at low tides. This is common at a few of Phi Phi’s East coast beaches, but it seems to be the worst, here. There is a tiny group of fishermens’ huts at the North end of the beach – use one of their boat-lanes as an easy way to get past the toe-stubbers and out to the deep water beyond.
Out on the horizon are Ko Yung/Mosquito Island (on the left) and Ko Mai Pai/Bamboo Island on the right.
The were also crowds of audacious Sergeant Major Damselfish:
Hoards of Sergeant Majors is usually a sign that daytrip boats stop here and feed them. Please don’t feed fish – it is bad for the ecosystem. Why? Read this or this.
It is another 500m on to the next bay, Ao Lo Ba Kao.
Ao Pak Naam to Ao Lo Baakao
Lo Baakao Area
I resumed my East coast journey the next day by taking the walking track from Ton Sai to Ao Lo Baakao.
The track to Lo Baakao has a different starting point from the three previous ones. For Ao Lo Baakao, you have to haul yourself up to the highest viewpoint (Viewpoint 3) and take the little turning 100m before it (Junction 4 (J4) on my map), then descend Northwards down the narrow dusty path. When you get to sea level, there is a T-junction with a paved footpath. The right turn leads to the South end of Ao Lo Baakao; and the left turn loops around to the North end. The left turn also has a spur off to Ao Lo Laana on the West-coast.
(By the way, there is a section on Walking Tracks at the end of this article. It goes into more detail on directions, etc.).
The resort keeps changing hands (and names). At the time of writing it had just finished being Outrigger Phi Phi Island Resort. Many of the signposts on the walking track still point to that name, so it is good to know, even though it is probably called something else by now (edit: I think it is reverting to its previous name of Phi Phi Island Village).
This part of the island is on low ground and it is one of the few places where you can get from one coast to the other without breaking into a sweat. There is another sandy bay (Ao Lo Laana) ten minutes away on the West Coast. On the flatland between the two coasts is a small village (labelled “High Street” on my map). It has a few general stores and some driftwood restaurants where escapees from the expensive resort can sample what they think is local culture and prices. Ha!
From here North, everything is veeery expensive, with rooms typically in the 9000+THB range.
There is also a dorm/tent/backpacker joint on the West side (more about that in section 7, Ao Lo Laana).
Ao Lo Baakao to Laem Thong
Let’s get back in the water and continue our journey up the East coast….
That East Coast (Northern Section) map again.
The seabed in Lo Baakao bay is sandy, straight-off-the-beach. It is suitable for dunking the kids in on a hot day. But further out (in knee-deep water) there are many chunks of dead coral which, at low tide, would make it difficult to get any further. Not that there is any reason to do so – there is no coral reef here. A hundred metres out from the beach, the sandy bottom just slopes down and down into the depths.
This is the sort of place where you pay for the organised boat trip, not do do-it-yourself snorkelling.
If you do want to get in or out via the bay, there is a deep-water channel at the Northern end (that ultimately leads to the river which runs through the village). It is not a comfortable swim. You will have to compete with longtail taxi boats and more ‘industrial’ scale vessels delivering goods to the resort and village.
The coral reef starts-up again as you head North from sandy Ao Lo Baakao. But if you are swimming out from the bay, note that the drop-off into deep water remains sand (not coral). The reef, itself, sits in a narrow strip, closer to the shore. If you are further out (swimming North from the bay, following the sandy drop-off), you might fail to notice the reef.
Soon, you arrive at the hi-falutin’ end of the island – Haat Laem Thong.
Laem Thong is the long, skinny peninsula that occupies the Northern third of Phi Phi Don.
“Laem” means cape/peninsula.
Thai is a tonal language and it also has several letters which sound identical to each other. Consequently, for each “word” like “Thong”, there are actually up-to five (and often ten or twenty) different words in Thai that all end-up being “Thong” when squeezed into the tight shoes of the Western alphabet. Most maps are written in English and I was expecting that the ‘Thong’ in Laem Thong would be ทอง (golden). “Golden peninsula” sounds nice, doesn’t it? But, no. It turns out that the Thai is ตง. The best translation I can find for this is “girder”. So, welcome to Girder-Peninsula Beach, holidaymakers.
Haat Laem Thong (หาดแหลมตง) is a 500m long stretch of sand hosting four or five high-end resorts. This is where the high-rollers come.
There is a paved walking path from Ao Lo Baakao to Haat Laem Thong. Paved, so that the well-heeled resort guests don’t damage their, well, heels. It is wide and flat enough to take a luxury golf-cart taxi, so shouldn’t give you any problems walking it.
Satellite pictures do show a coral reef dropoff, about 100m off the beach, but there were a lot of boats coming and going. Even to a suicidal-nutcase snorkeller, this was a propeller too far. Haat Laem Thong is another place where you are supposed to pay for the organised boat tour, rather than going it alone.
Area 6 – The Northern tip of Laem Thong
I wasn’t intending to swim right around the Northern point, because, according to the laws of snorkel-mechanics, ‘Strong Current + Remote Peninsula = Unhappy Ending’. So I gave it a few hundred metres out of Haat Laem Thong, then turned around and swam back again.
I went back to the Northern point a few days later on a walking-only sortie. I found that you can sneak through the back lanes, staff quarters and bottle dump of Phi Phi Natural Resort to reach the very Northern tip of the island. The last bit is a steep scramble down some climb-ropes to a cute little beach at the Northern tip.
I don’t recommend that you go to Area 6. From what I saw from the surface, the snorkelling didn’t look too special; there is a lot of boat traffic round the Northern point; and you never know what the currents will be doing. Plus, if you do need to make an emergency exit, you will have to trample through an expensive, private resort.
Area 7 – Mid-West Laem Thong to Ao Lo Dalam
Having covered all I reasonably could on the East side of the island, I got ready to make my way back down the West side.
Halfway down Haat Laem Thong (near Jasmin Restaurant), there is a track going across to a service-jetty on the West side.
I went there, jumped off the jetty at 7a and started swimming South. Note that this a one-way ticket – you can jump-off the jetty into the sea here, but you can’t get back out of the water again (unless you can levitate!). It is all sharp rocks and surging waves on either side of the jetty, so don’t start something you can’t finish.
Ao Lo Laana (อ่าวโละลานะ) seems to be all flat, sandy bottom and very shallow water – not really worth snorkelling in. There is a deep(ish) channel dredged at the Northern end if you want to get in/out to the deeper water.
I didn’t swim ashore there, but I did walk there a couple of times.
The walking route from the South is the same as for Ao Lo Baakao – up towards Viewpoint 3; take the downhill turning at J4, continue past J5 for 100m until you come to a T-junction with a paved path, where you turn left (then left again) for Ao Lo Laana.
The better option for cheapskates is Green Beach Camping, about 100m back from the beach at Ao Lo Laana. They offer three-bed dorms (pictured) and also rent-out tents:
Toilets & showers are at the end of the garden.
I can’t find where I wrote down the prices, but they wasn’t as cheap as I expected. Somewhere around 500THB for a dorm and 400 for a tent. (edit: now that it’s open season again, Agoda is saying 400B for the dorm and 600B for (their) tent).
You wouldn’t want to carry a heavy backpack to here from Ton Sai – you will need to invest in a longtail taxi, just this once. Apparently, the asking price is 1000THB, or you can get about a third off that if you book it through the resort.
Apparently, at low tides, it is possible to rock-hop from Ao Lo Laana to a track that starts near the fishermens’ village (7d-ish) and leads to Ao Noi. Local guy Chat (?from ‘the Beach Bar’- in the “High Street” on my map) seems keen to provide directions &/or assistance. If low tide coincides with early morning (before the tour boats arrive), you can get some great pictures.
I would have liked to swim out to Camel Rock, but every boat on the island comes whizzing through this strait and it was no-way safe to swim there.
Rocky terrains don’t tend to attract reef fish. They are, instead, the habitat of algae-feeders. One of these is the Lined Surgeonfish:
This one came-up to say goodbye to me as I was reaching the end of the rocky section near 7g.
Entering the wider Ao Lo Dalam (อ่าวโละดาลัม), there are two or three small, isolated beaches nestling in its corner. You can reach them by kayak, or at a push, by rock-hopping at low tide:
Note that there is no shade from the sun.
I tried to get out of the water between 7h and 7i, but it was impossible because the tide was low and the shallow waters were filled with bulky near-dead coral heads.
Instead, I followed the “drop-off” around past 7i and into the bay. Here are some shots of the coral on the stretch around 7i:
The coral is all a bit skanky, but if you are in Ton Sai town and you don’t want to walk very far for your snorkelling, then this is your closest option.
The underwater visibility was appalling here. The rake of the beach is very shallow and I guess that the outgoing tide was dragging all the murk along with it. If you are coming here, give it a try just before high tide, when, in theory, the visibility should be better.
There are some tiny swim-zones in the shallows of the beach at Ao Lo Dalam (7j):
These are really just to separate cooling sunbathers from parascenders’ speedboats. Don’t expect to find any remarkable snorkelling in these roped-off zones.
West of Ton Sai
The Western end of the “dumbbell” that is Phi Phi Don is sometimes referred to as Ko Nork (“outside island”). It is uninhabited and very tall and rocky.
Area 8 – Ao Lo Dalam to Monkey Beach
If you are standing on the beach at Ao Lo Dalam, then to the, left around headland 8b, is Monkey Beach (หาดลิง) (more formally known as Ao Yong Kasaem (อ่าวหยงกาเส็ม)).
You can get there by kayak (rentals available at 8a). Or its not that big a deal to swim there.
Starting at 8a, I was hoping to find some decent coral on the way.
No such luck.
Ao Lo Dalam was badly hit by the 2004 tsunami. The first half of the swim is mostly bricks and rubble from former resorts.
Heading further North towards 8b, there is some coral, but its in appalling condition.
The only thing I saw of interest here was a nervous Blue-Fin Trevally, scuttling-off over the coral remnants:
This was the only example of this species that I saw in Phi Phi, (although, actually, I wouldn’t have expected to see any at all in this environment).
Monkey Beach is a popular stop on the round-the-island boat trips and you will find a never-ending stream of speedboats and longtails calling in here, hoping that monkeys will come down from the highland forest to the beach:
With all those boats and people, it’s not exactly tranquil:
(Although it seems to get quieter in the afternoons).
Nobody seems to care about such conservationism in Phi Phi. Boat captains throw out food to entice the monkeys down to the beach, and tour assistants hand-out bananas to customers as monkey food.
Also, you might just get bitten by a monkey when you run out of food for it. Feed me, Seymour.
I swam along the reef edge from 8b to 8c, but didn’t find any snorkelling highlights.
I also had a swim out to the headland at 8d.
Area 9 – West Ko Nork
The Westernmost coast of Phi Phi Don is all towering cliffs plunging vertically into the sea. I had thought I might try and swim it, but wasn’t too sure as it is a long way without any exit points.
As it turned out, there was a strong current running around the headland at 8d and I couldn’t get past it, anyway.
Nautical charts show no coral reef on the West side of the island. Plain rock can be so boring, so I guess there’s not much missed here.
Some daytrips visit a hidden bay halfway along the West coast (?Ao Wang Long/ อ่าวหวางหลง). Some also take you to the rock at the South end, so you can climb-up and jump-off it.
That’s all I got on Area 9.
Area 10 – South East Ko Nork = West Ao Ton Sai
This last area is another stop for daytrip boats. The area has some beautiful karst cliff formations; another Monkey Beach (actually, three) and some (mostly unimpressive) snorkelling spots.
I enjoyed it here – more for the views of the cliffs than the corals.
I came here early in the morning, which is the best time – the sunrise is lighting up the cliffs and the day-boats haven’t started-up yet.
I started from the beach and snorkelled 10i-10a-10i. But, for the sake of anticlockwiseisity, lets start from the cape at 10a.
There was a strong current running South, so I couldn’t (safely) get any further than 10a.
Many species enjoy a bit of current and the presence of those species, in-turn, sets up a food-chain which brings-in lots of other sights to see.
Actually, if it wasn’t so far from dry-land, this spot could easily win the ‘best-snorkelling-on-the-island’ badge.
Right next to 10a is a narrow gap between two rocks, leading to a tiny “secret” beach:
Boats can’t get in here, so swimmers will have the place to themselves. Well, apart from all the washed-up plastic debris that is. The beach is only 10m x 5m, so you probably wouldn’t want to spend the whole day here, but squeezing through the narrow channel does make you feel like a bit of an explorer!
Continuing North, you reach the first of the three “Monkey Beaches”. This one is quite small and, as it was high-tide, it was very small indeed. That didn’t prevent them from cramming four speedboats and two longtails in, though:
The stretch of beach from 10i back to Ton Sai jetty (1a) is fine for sitting-out, but there are way too many boats coming and going for it to be suitable for snorkelling.
Well that’s it for the snorkelling – about 15km of coastline covered!
I’ll let you draw your own conclusions. But if you do come to Phi Phi, then certainly head to Shark Point and the East coast for your bestest off-the-beach snorkelling.
If you want to get yourself around the island without shelling-out on expensive water taxis, there are plenty of walking tracks.
The tracks on my map are pretty accurate. I walked all of them (except the ones down to Toh Ko and Ran Tii beaches):
These are the main ones, but there will also be other, smaller ones, here-and-there.
The map should be mostly self-explanatory, but here are a few tips on finding your way around:
The free way:
For most long-distance journeys, you will have to climb up and over the Viewpoint. The main track from Ton Sai to Viewpoints 1 and 2 starts at the North East corner of town (at Junction 0 (J0) on my map). Climb up a steep set of concrete steps opposite the Garden Inn Resort.
You have to pay to get into (or pass through) Viewpoint 2. At time of writing, the charge was a nominal 30B. You get a ticket/receipt which is valid for the whole day so hold onto it (and keep it dry!) if you want to walk back later.
If you want to travel cash-free, you can avoid the pay-wall by instead starting at the walking street behind Lo Dalam beach. Follow it East, over the stinky creek, past Junction 2 (J2), up along the steep road between all the resorts, then when you run out of resorts (at Dusit Bungalows) continue along that same track, following the power lines. You’ll come to a 90 degree left turn where you turn left to continue following the power lines up a steep, wide track. When you see a scrappy locals house (which is also the Reception to a non-existent resort) and a blue sign pointing right, saying “PP Viewpoint”:
GPS: 7° 44′ 48.174,98° 46′ 39.12
… you have reached the pay-point (marked $ on my map). Don’t turn right and don’t pay (even if they ask you to), just continue straight on (which is free), following the power lines up another 30m of hill, then back down the other side of that 30m hill.
Congratulations, now you are past (=East of) the Viewpoint (VP2). From here, you can see the telephone tower at Viewpoint 3. You can either head up the hill towards it to get to J3/J4 and the Northern beaches; or turn right to get to Junction 1 for the South-Eastern beaches.
Everything else about the walking tracks should become obvious if you can find and recognise the key junctions J1-5.
Junction 1 (J1) – From the wide, mid-island, North-South track, at Junction 1, a little track runs down to Toh Ko and Ran Tii beaches.
GPS: 7° 44′ 42.732″,98° 46′ 46.332″
Comment: There is a sign nearby for restaurant “Phi Phi Cowboy Hill”. Also, this map is posted nearby.
Junction 3 (J3) – Marked “Jungle House” on my map, there is a stall here selling drinks to thirsty climbers.
GPS: 7° 44′ 51.69,98° 46′ 46.902 (2nd 4995)
Comment: Under a tin-roofed awning nearby, these maps are on display: 2 3
Junction 4 (J4) – From (near) Viewpoint 3 to the Northern beaches
GPS: 7° 44′ 57.324,98° 46′ 47.382
Comment: On the signpost, “Ao Lam Tong Bay” is the same place as what I have called “Haat Laem Thong”.
Junction 5 (J5) – The low road from Lo Laana to Lo Dalam
Coming at it from the Lo Laana end, the approach looks like this:
GPS: 7° 45′ 25.704,98° 46′ 11.904
The white sign says: “3 Ton Sai Bay right (60 minutes walk); PP Island Village down” (i.e. where you have come from);
The Green sign says: Ton Sai Bay Viewpoint up; Ton Sai Bay right.
Our track to the right (Ton Sai town) follows some coaxial TV cables (presumably linking PP Island Resort to a satellite dish somewhere).
This track eventually tips-out at some rocks near 7h (approx GPS: 7.752287, 98.771105 ). At low tides, you can then walk along the rocks and sand from 7h to Ton Sai town. At high tides, you can’t.
Viewpoint 1 (VP1) is the halfway-up-the-stairs, lightweight version of the “main” viewpoint, VP2.
VP2 is the place to be at sunset. The world and his girlfriend are there.
VP3 is higher, less busy and has better views than VP2. And its free to get in. On the downside, after dark, it is difficult to walk back down from.
VP1, 2 and 3 all look West, over Ton Sai, the sandy spit and Ko Nork, the Western island.
The names: “Viewpoint 1, 2 and 3” seem to be universally accepted as the way of identifying those viewpoints.
Viewpoint 3 is also known as “Top Viewpoint”
“Viewpoint 4” looks East towards the sunrise. The name seems to be a punt by the chancers who set up a drinks-stand there.
The names “Junction 0, 1, 2, 3, 4, 5” are made up by me, to refer to points on my map. No-one outside of this web-page will know what you are talking about if you mention these.
There is already piles and piles of information out there about Phi Phi accommodation. Try finding something other than hotel booking sites in your internet search results.
Travelfish have a very informative guide, which is also downloadable as a 1.5MB pdf.
The venerable Tezza also gives an extensive coverage.
Just a couple of tips for cheapskates:
I stayed in Ton Sai because it is the cheapest place. Actually, its still not that cheap compared to other islands in Thailand. The rock-bottom option seems to be “The Rock” backpackers, with fan dorms for about 300THB in dry-season. These have lockers big enough for a smartphone or wallet, but not a laptop. Mostly, the other dorms on Phi Phi are air-con and more like 600THB.
In Ton Sai, there is no escaping the noise of dance music from the clubs on the beach. You could try the North-East corner of town (near the dam), but I doubt it would help much. The clubs are on the beach at Ao Lo Dalam (near 7j). To be fair, they would turn the volume down at 2am, but I’m not sure whether that is always the norm.
The other cheapskate option is Green Beach (Dorm) and Camping in Ao Lo Laana at Area 7 (more details up the page, in section 7).
Mu Ko Phi Phi is a Marine National Park, but there are no Ranger Stations or National Park accommodation on Phi Phi Don.
If you have money to throw around, there are plenty of options for nice resorts on the South and East coasts.
There are ATMs in Ton Sai, but nowhere else.
There is no road transport (except golf-cart taxis at the luxury resorts).
There are tons of dive shops. I didn’t try the diving, but the marketing videos looked nice. Prices are regulated and should be the same across all dive shops.
There are ferries from Lanta, Krabi and Phuket.
Dry season is November to April.
THB means Thai Baht.
Originally written: July 2015 . . . . . Last updated: November 2015