Thailand_PhiPhi

Ko Phi Phi (Don), Thailand

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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.

Best-ish seascape:
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Typical seascape:
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All images on this site are clickable for bigger versions.

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IN NOT-SO-BRIEF:
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All images on this site are clickable for bigger versions.

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.

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General Orientation

Mu Ko Phi Phi (หมู่เกาะพีพี) is an archipelago of six islands. (Mu means “group”).
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The only island with accommodation for overnight stays is the biggest one, Ko Phi Phi Don (เกาะพีพีดอน).
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(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.

I have to confess, I’m not a fan of highly developed, tourist places.
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Maya Bay, Phi Phi Ley

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.

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Underwater Orientation

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.

Access
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
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.

Jellyfish
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.

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That’s enough orientation – let’s get on with the area-by-area details:

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Areas 1, 2 and 3 – Southwest Ko Nai

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All images on this site are clickable for bigger versions.

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.

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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:
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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.

Between areas 1b and 1c, you start to see actual, living coral:
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Satellite pictures show area 1c as a popular stop-off for snorkel-trip boats. Here’s the reef there, together with a smattering of reef fish:
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In Phi Phi, where there are boats, there are boat anchors. Boat captains don’t seem to worry about what they do to the corals:
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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.

This is the drop-off between areas 1c and 1d:
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Here’s a Parrotfish and a Red Breasted/Maori Wrasse:
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…and a few schooling Moorish Idols:
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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.

Approaching the end of Haat Hin Khom (at area 1d), I saw some of these uncommon Twotone-Dartfish (Ptereleotris evides). Here, they are surrounded by a variety of Wrasses:
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At 1d, a couple of new coral species come into the picture:
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The stretch from 1d to 2a had scrappy corals, but some decent life in the shape of this Vagabond Butterflyfish and funky two-tone Sea Urchin:
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I also saw an uncommon Blue Spined Surgeonfish here.

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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.

Back at sea, you shouldn’t have any trouble spotting the headland where Viking Nature Resort is:
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Here’s the scene at the drop-off, halfway round Viking’s rocky headland:
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Rounding the headland into Haat Yao, at 2a:
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Centre-shot, slinking off into the distance, is the uncommon Yellowtail-Scad:
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Here is the scene about a third of the way down Haat Yao (level with Blue Sky Resort):
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..where someone has been trying to seed some new coral growth:
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This Whitecheek Monocle Bream is fairly uncommon:
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The best coral I found on all of Phi Phi was here, at the drop-off, about level with Long Beach Bungalows:
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Continuing South East down Haat Yao, there were some schooling One-Spot Snapper and Sergeant Major Damselfish:
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Towards the end of Haat Yao, I had some fun chasing around after some Orange-Spined Unicornfish:
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and saw an evil (coral eating) Crown-of-Thorns Starfish:
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Like I said – the drop-off is quite a way out from the beach and (even setting-aside the danger from boats), some folks might feel uncomfortable being this far away from dry land:
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The safer alternative is to snorkel closer to shore. Unfortunately, the corals are nowhere near as good here. The coral in these shallower waters are typically like this:
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Right next to the beach, there are roped-off safe swim-zones to keep swimmers and boats apart. It is a looong way from the edge of the swim-zone to the decent coral at the drop-off:
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But the fish-life can still be good there. I met this cheeky school of Trevally in the shallows near 2d:
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Area 3 – Shark Point

Shark Point is at the Southern end of Haat Yao. You shouldn’t have trouble finding it:
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There is a line of submerged rocks leading out to a bigger rock 100m offshore:
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(the rock is centre-right, btw, – not Phi Phi Lay, out on the horizon!)

Small blacktip reef sharks often cruise near the big rock – sometimes on the left (3b), sometimes on the right (3a).

Again, you need to be quite a way out from the beach to get to where the action is. See how far the rock is from the swim-zone?:
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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.

Don’t expect too much from the corals in the shallows:
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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:
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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.

Good luck!

Scared about sharks? Read this.

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Shark Point is not all about the sharks. I saw this Great Barracuda chilling-out in the shallows:
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…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:
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(Mouseover for species names, or checkout the Specieslist).

There are even a couple of dabs of coral:
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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.

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Area 4 – Laem Por (แหลมพ้อ)

Leaving Shark Point, I had to twist & turn to avoid picking-up an unwelcome passenger:
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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 was some living coral, at 4a,right at the end of Haat Yao:
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But, on turning the corner, everything became boring rocks:
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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.

I think that this first one is part of PP Hill resort:
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I’m not sure about this one at 4b:
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If you want to investigate those, I would suggest coming by kayak. Swimming here from Haat Yao is probably not a good idea.

The rocky seabed continues on upto the beach at Ao Por:
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When you arrive at Ao Por, there is sand and rocks underwater, but no coral:
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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.
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It was high tide when I swam past Ao Por. The beach was non-existent at high water. But here is the more expansive version, at low tide:
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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.

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Getting there:
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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):
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When you get to the Sunrise Bar, continue straight ahead (through it) and on down the hill to find the rough track to the sea:
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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.

Back in the sea, I continued past Ao Por and on Northwards towards Ao Lo Mu Dii. Soon the coral started up again. It was in quite good condition:
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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.

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Getting there:
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.

East coast (Southern half):
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All images on this site are clickable for bigger versions.

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Ao Por to Ao Lo Moo Dii

Continuing North from Ao Por (at 5a), there is a solid showing of coral, mostly in good condition, and with some species diversity:
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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.

Ao Lo Moo Dii has a beautiful, long, quiet beach, backed by coconut palms:
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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.

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Getting there:
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).

There are a few signposts on the way:
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and those two maps to Ao Por apply again: 1 2.  (One of the maps shows a coastal path from Por to Lo Moo Dii, which I didn’t find).

It is not too far until you reach the track down to Ao Lo Moo Dii:
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And the beach:
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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 best coral in Ao Lo Moo Dii is at its Southern end. Here are a couple of spots in the South, near the drop-off:
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There is even a patch of lovely soft-coral:
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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:
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(Mouseover for species names), or see the Specieslist.

Here is a shot of the coral a little further North (about halfway along the bay):
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Some daytrip speedboats make a stop here:
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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.

The restaurant/caretaker guy’s responsibilities seem to include buoy maintenance:
258_5-Buoy-Management_20150407_IMG_5948.jpg

There is also coral in the shallower waters, closer into the beach, but, like everywhere else, it isn’t as good as the deeper stuff. This is in about one meter of water:
260_5-LMD-Shallows_20150407_IMG_5931.jpg

(btw, the depth at the top of the drop-off is typically 2-3 metres, which is fine for snorkelling)

The coral continues in the North of the bay, but is in worse condition:
265_5-North-LMD_20150402_IMG_4857.jpg 266_5-Nth-Scraggy_20150402_IMG_4861.jpg

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Ao Lo Moo Dii to Ao Pak Naam

It is a 1km swim to reach the next beach to the North – Ao Toh Ko.

Here’s a coral shot from early-on:
280_5-Corals_20150402_IMG_4865GT.jpg

There are some intriguing-looking derelict huts halfway along the way:
281_5-Intriguing-Derelict-Huts_20150402_IMG_4867GT.jpg
Note the kayak parked in the driveway!

More corals, from the same spot:
283_5-Corals_20150402_IMG_4868GT.jpg 284_5-Corals_20150402_IMG_4869.jpg

A couple of interesting species-finds were this Scorpionfish, who failed camouflage class:
285_5-Scorpionfish_20150402_IMG_4872.jpg

…some vertically-unchallenged Razorfish (Aeoliscus strigatus):
287_5-Razorfish-Aeoliscus-strigatus_20150402_IMG_4873.jpg

a pretty, Long Beaked Coralfish:
289_5-Long-Beaked-coralfish_20150402_IMG_4880.jpg

and a Bluespined Surgeonfish retreating into the depths:
292_5-Bluespined-Surgeonfish_20150402_IMG_4876.jpg

Here are the corals on the Northernmost bit of this stretch, approaching Ao Toh Ko:
296_5-Corals_20150402_IMG_4881.jpg

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Ao Toh Ko (อ่าวโต๊ะกอ) is a secluded bay with a 200m metre beach and a lone resort.

298_5-Approaching-Toko_20150402_IMG_4882_.jpg
299_5-Toko-n-Rantee-from-the-Ferry_20150401_IMG_4743.jpg

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Getting there:
There is a walking track to Ao Toh Ko signposted from the track behind Viewpoint 2:
302_5-Its-a-Siiign_20150401_IMG_4774GT.jpg
(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.

Here are a couple of shots from the bay outside Toh Ko Beach Resort:
303_5-Toko-bay-Corals_20150402_IMG_4883.jpg 304_5-Beaked-Coralfish_20150402_IMG_4884.jpg

305_5-Tohko-Resort_20150402_IMG_4885GT.jpg

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:
306_5-Clam_20150402_IMG_4888.jpg
It is fairly big, but it isn’t a Giant Clam, which is a distinct species (and extinct in Thailand).

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Ao Ran Tii (อ่าวรันตี) is another secluded bay. It has 300 metre beach and a couple of mid-range resorts:
309_5-Approaching-Rantii_20150402_IMG_4891GT.jpg

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Getting there:
Walking access (like with Toh Ko) is via a track from “Junction 1” (J1 on my map):

Tezza reports that, at low tide, you can also rock-hop South to Ao Toh Ko and North to Ao Pak Naam.

314_5-Rantii-Restaurant_20150402_IMG_4897.jpg

Here’s a view of the corals in the bay:
310_5-Rantii-Coral_20150402_IMG_4892GT.jpg 311_5-Rantii-Coral_20150402_IMG_4893.jpg

Continuing Northwards, here are some coral-shots:
318_5-Corals-North-of-Rantii_20150402_IMG_4900.jpg

Most (?all) of the Andaman’s shallow-water Staghorn corals were nuked by the temperature-warming events of 2010 (and 1996):
319_5-Corals-North-of-Rantii_20150402_IMG_4901GT.jpg
These are no exception.

Some interesting wildlife found on this stretch:
321_5-Juvi-Brown-Sweetlips_20150402_IMG_4898.jpg 338_5-One-Spot-Snapper_20150402_IMG_4927.jpg 337_5-Brown-Sweetlips_20150402_IMG_4916.jpg 335_5-Jellybean-Coral-n-Clarkes-Nemo_20150402_IMG_4922.jpg 334_5-Crown-of-Thorns-Starfish_20150402_IMG_4919.jpg Thai_PPDon_330_5-Coral-Rabbitfish_20150402_IMG_4913 325_5-Juvi-Yellow-Boxfish_20150402_IMG_4907.jpg 324_5-Silver-Batfish_20150402_IMG_4909.jpg 323_5-Yellowbelly-Damselfish_20150402_IMG_4904.jpg 322_5-Moon-Wrasse-n-Bannerfish_20150402_IMG_4903.jpg
Mouseover for names.

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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).

The coast-end of the access track runs parallel to the coast, about 30 metres above sea-level. This gives you a good aerial view of Pak Naam Bay:
341_5-Pak-Naam-Bay-from-Relax-Rst-Hilltop_20150402_IMG_4989.jpg

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.

Here’s the view of Haat Pak Naam, taken from the drop-off:
342_5-Pak-Naam-Beach-from-the-Dropoff_20150402_IMG_4942GT.jpg

The corals out there typically look like this:
344_5-Haat-PakNaam-Corals_20150402_IMG_4944.jpg 343_5-Haat-Pak-Naam-Corals_20150402_IMG_4941.jpg

Some interesting sea-life here was this Varicose Phyllidia Nudibranch (a kind of sea-slug) and a small school of departing Lattice Butterflyfish:
346_5-Varicose-Phyllidia-Nudibranch_20150402_IMG_4939.jpg 348_5-Lattice-Butterflyfish_20150402_IMG_4947.jpg

The were also crowds of audacious Sergeant Major Damselfish:
349_5-Sergeant-Major-Damsels_20150402_IMG_4937.jpg
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.

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Ao Pak Naam to Ao Lo Baakao

Coral condition on this stretch is pretty good. These are from the Southern section:
357_5-Corals-Nth-of-PakNaam_20150402_IMG_4951.jpg 372_5-Coral-Nth-Paknaam_20150402_IMG_4958.jpg 363_5-Corals-Nth-of-PakNaam_20150402_IMG_4955.jpg 360_5-Corals-Nth-of-PakNaam_20150402_IMG_4953.jpg

Some interesting sea-life on the way included these schooling Sweepers:
377_5-Sweepers_20150402_IMG_4959.jpg

… a stealthy Scorpionfish:
378_5-Scorpionfish_20150402_IMG_4984.jpg

… the pookie-dancing juvenile Many-Spotted Sweetips:
383_5-Juvi-Many-Spotted-Sweetlips_20150402_IMG_4981.jpg

… and an uncommon species of Sea-Urchin, Mespilia Globulus:
384_5-Urchin-Mespilia-Globulus_20150402_IMG_4976.jpg

Further North (almost at Ao Lo Baakao), coral condition is more variable:
386_5-Corals_20150402_IMG_4966.jpg 388_5-Corals_20150402_IMG_4973.jpg

with a good showing by a Sea Fan:
385_5-Sea-Fan_20150402_IMG_4985.jpg

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This fancy resort (?Villa 360) marks the start of Ao Lo Baakao:
390_5-Fancy-Resort-South-LBK_20150402_IMG_4963GT.jpg

By now, it was low-tide and it seemed impossible to get across the corals in the shallow bay:
391_5-Ao-Lo-Baakao_20150402_IMG_4965_.jpg
so I turned around and swam back to Ao Pak Naam, ready for the long walk home.

Apparently, it is possible to walk between Ao Lo Baakao and Ao Pak Naam along the rocky coastline. It looks feasible from here:
392_5-Rock-Hop-PakNaam-LoBaaKao_20150402_IMG_4970.jpg
..but why would you when you can swim 🙂 ?

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East Coast, Northern stretch
395_5n67-Map-5n67.jpg
All images on this site are clickable for bigger versions.

Lo Baakao Area

I resumed my East coast journey the next day by taking the walking track from Ton Sai to Ao Lo Baakao.

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Getting there:
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.).

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Ao Lo Baakao (อ่าวโละบาเกา) is a huge sandy bay, dominated by a single midrange (somewhat corporate) resort:
400_5-Lo-BaaKao-Bay-n-PP-Island-Rst_20150408_IMG_5978.jpg

402_5-PP-Island-Rst_20150404_IMG_5199.jpg

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!

403_5-LBK-River_20150404_IMG_5195GT.jpg

404_5-LBK-Village-Restaurants_20150404_IMG_5196.jpg
853_ALTMAP2-Lo-Baakao-n-Environs_20150401_IMG_4783.jpg

From here North, everything is veeery expensive, with rooms typically in the 9000+THB range.

A couple of last-chance exceptions are Coral Bay Resort, set back behind the big resort:
406_5-Coralbay-Hut-2400THB_20150408_IMG_5973.jpg
But it is hardly a bargain. This hut (overlooking a dusty road) goes for 2400THB (sleeps 3).

There is also a dorm/tent/backpacker joint on the West side (more about that in section 7, Ao Lo Laana).

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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.

See what I mean?:
431_5-Coral-Sand-dropoff-conundrum-MU_20150408_IMG_5979.jpg

Here is the coral a couple of hundred metres North of Ao Lo Baakao:
432_5-Leaving-LBK_20150404_IMG_5207.jpg

Here, I saw my only Moray Eel:
434_5-Moray-Eel_20150404_IMG_5210.jpg

Continuing North, the coral is in reasonable shape:
436_5-Coral_20150404_IMG_5212.jpg

and I saw this Skunk Anemonefish playing in his Anemone home:
438_5-Skunk-Anemonefish_20150404_IMG_5220.jpg

Here is the coral about halfway to the next resort (Holiday Inn):
440_5-Coral_20150404_IMG_5222GT.jpg

Continuing up the coastline, the coral is similar:
444_5-Coral_20150404_IMG_5224.jpg

With an occasional flourish:
446_5-Coral_20150404_IMG_5225.jpg

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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.

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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.

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Getting there:
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.

Walking North from Ao Lo Baakao, the path tips-out on the beach at the South end of Holiday Inn Resort:
452_5-South-end-of-HLT-by-Holiday-Inn_20150408_IMG_5986.jpg
The beach is quite narrow down this end, but widens-out, the further you go up the beach.

Ho-tel, mo-tel, Holiday Iiiin:
454_5-Hotel-Motel-HI_20150404_IMG_5233.jpg
This is actually quite a fancy resort.

Snorkelling in Laem Thong bay itself is as dull as ditch water. It is all plain, sandy bottom. This was the major highlight:
455_5-Haat-Laem-Thong-Snork_20150404_IMG_5230.jpg

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.

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Avoiding the boats and getting back into the deep-waters at the Northern end of Haat Laem Thong, this was the view looking back at the bay:
456_5-Leaving-HLT_20150404_IMG_5241GT.jpg

Heading North, the coral wasn’t all that great:
458_5-Coral-Nr-Natural-Rst_20150404_IMG_5242GT.jpg 464_5-Coral_20150404_IMG_5246.jpg 462_5-Coral_20150404_IMG_5245.jpg 460_5-Nr-Natural-Rst_20150404_IMG_5243.jpg

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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.

It turns out there are plenty of snorkel escape-routes on both the North-East strip (seen here from a boat):
470_5-North-East_20150406_IMG_5734.jpg

..and the Northern-beach, itself:
472_5-North_20150406_IMG_5733.jpg 474_5-Northern-Beach_20150408_IMG_6000.jpg

The West coast would be more tricky to deal with – it is all steep rocks and no walking tracks.
Here is the view (from a boat), looking down the West side:
476_5-North-West_20150406_IMG_5728.jpg

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.

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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.

That North PP Don map again.

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.

The West coast is quite pretty, with big rocks all along the waterline:
501_7a-L-West-Jetty-from-7b_20150404_IMG_5260.jpg
(if you look closely, you can see the service-jetty on the left, behind the orange buoy).

Unfortunately, lots of rocks above the surface often means lots of rocks below the surface. Which means dull snorkelling:
504_7ab-Rocks_20150404_IMG_5258.jpg

Occasionally, there is a peppering of coral growth on the rocks, but, generally, this section 7a7c is dull, dull, dull:
506_7-Rocks-n-Table-Coral_20150404_IMG_5266.jpg

There seems to be some kind of Sunset bar/restaurant up on the cliff at 7b:
508_7b-Sunset-Bar_20150404_IMG_5261.jpg
from the map, it looks like it belongs to Holiday Inn.

The rocky seabed continues as far as 7c, where some coral growth starts-up:
510_7c-Coral-Reef-starts-up_20150404_IMG_5268GT.jpg
It’s a bit scraggy, though.

Here’s the view from 7d, looking towards the beach:
513_7d-LoLana-Bay_20150404_IMG_5280GT.jpg

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.

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Getting there:
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 beach is attractive and is probably the emptiest one on Ko Phi Phi:
519_7-Haat-Lo-Laana_20150404_STA_5187.jpg
(at low tides, when boats can’t get there, anyway).

The resorts over on the East side (Ao Lo Baakao) are ridiculously expensive, but back at the West coast (Ao Lo Laana) there was some building going on, which might turn-out to be lower priced:
518_7-LoLaana-Newbuilds_20150404_IMG_5186.jpg

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:
516_7-Green-Beach-Camping_20150404_IMG_5182.jpg
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.

Back in the water, the mouth of Ao Lo Laana (at 7d) is a popular stop for daytrip speedboats:
531_7d-Snorkelboats_20150404_IMG_5275.jpg

Though I really couldn’t figure out why!:
532_7-Snorkelboats-snorkelling_20150404_IMG_5278.jpg

There is a small fishermens’ village on the South-western jaw of the bay:
534_7-Fishermens-Village_20150404_IMG_5279GT.jpg

The coastline on the 7e-7h stretch is rocky. There is a cool pinnacle at 7e:
536_7e-Cool-Rock_20150406_IMG_5722.jpg

It looks similar under the waterline:
537_7e-Cool-Rock_20150404_IMG_5284.jpg

There isn’t much underwater wildlife in these rocky environments, but these tangled Jellyfish were an interesting diversion:
539_7e-Jellyfish_20150404_IMG_5286.jpg

There are a few small rocky coves between 7e and f:
540_7f-Rocky-Coves_20150404_IMG_5289.jpg

I met this colourful Crown of Thorns Starfish there:
543_7f-Crown-of-Thorns-Starfish_20150404_IMG_5292.jpg

Around 7f, there are a few caves and overhanging rocks that you can swim under:
544_7f-Rocky-Overhang_20150404_IMG_5295GT.jpg 546_7f-Cool-Rock_20150404_IMG_5299.jpg

With the surging sea rising and falling, it was quite difficult to get into this cave:
547_7f-Stalactite-Cave_20150404_IMG_5307.jpg

..but the stalactites inside were cool:
548_7f-Stalactite-Cave_20150404_IMG_5313.jpg

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Rounding the corner at 7f, you come to Camel Rock:
550_7-Camel-Rock_20150404_IMG_5305.jpg

And Ao Noi (อ่าวน้ย):
551_7-Ao-Noy_20150404_IMG_5320.jpg

The ‘cute beach plus towering rock pinnacle’ combo makes for classic island imagery and, unsurprisingly, this is a popular stop for the daytrip boats:
553_7-Ao-Noy-Boats_20150404_IMG_5316.jpg

While the daytrip boats are parked-up between Ao Noi and Camel Rock, they drop people in for a snorkel. The coral here is pretty skanky:
554_7-Ao-Noy-Skanky-Coral_20150404_IMG_5324.jpg

I wonder why:
555_7-Ao-Noy-Anchor_20150404_IMG_5323.jpg

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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.

The corals in the Southern half of Ao Noi were a little better than at the boat-zone:
556_7-South-Ao-Noy_20150404_IMG_5329.jpg
..but I couldn’t find anything (coral-wise) to support the “good snorkelling” claims I had read.

The views above the waves are much better:
557_7-SouthAo-Noy_20150404_IMG_5330.jpg

Leaving Ao Noi and swimming South, the limestone formations are the stars of the show:
559_7g-Camel-Rock_20150404_IMG_5350.jpg
560_7g-Cliff-face_20150406_IMG_5717.jpg

The underwater rocks were 95% boring:
562_7g-Rocks_20150404_IMG_5341.jpg

…with just an occasional feature to draw the interest:
563_7g-Softcorals_20150404_IMG_5344.jpg

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At 7g, the sloping shelf of underwater rocks turns into a plummeting wall of underwater rock:
566_7g-Wall_20150404_IMG_5355.jpg

..which, 5m deep, played host to some attractive Sea-Fans:
567_7g-Sea-fan_20150404_IMG_5356.jpg

Rocky terrains don’t tend to attract reef fish. They are, instead, the habitat of algae-feeders. One of these is the Lined Surgeonfish:
570_7g-Lined-Surgeonfish_20150404_IMG_5360GT.jpg
This one came-up to say goodbye to me as I was reaching the end of the rocky section near 7g.

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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:
571_7h-LoDalam-Little-Beaches_20150404_IMG_5368.jpg
Note that there is no shade from the sun.

There is some coral here, but it is in very poor condition:
573_7h-Scraggy-Coral_20150404_IMG_5367.jpg

This continues further into the bay, towards Ton Sai town:
575_7hi-Scraggy-Coral_20150404_IMG_5369.jpg

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:
576_7i-Scraggy-Coral_20150404_IMG_5372GT.jpg 579_7i-Scraggy-Coral_20150404_IMG_5376GT.jpg 578_7i-Scraggy-Coral_20150404_IMG_5373GT.jpg
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.

Standing on the beach and looking out into the bay, you can see (on the right) those shallow coral heads that make access-to-the-water a non-starter:
582_7i-LoDalam-Shallow-Corals_20150404_IMG_5380.jpg

There are some tiny swim-zones in the shallows of the beach at Ao Lo Dalam (7j):
584_7j-Lo-Dalam-Beach_20150405_IMG_5395.jpg
These are really just to separate cooling sunbathers from parascenders’ speedboats. Don’t expect to find any remarkable snorkelling in these roped-off zones.

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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.

Here it is, seen from Viewpoint 3:
600_8-n-10-from-VP3_20150404_STz_5150_MU.jpg

602_8910-Map-8910.jpg
All images on this site are clickable for bigger versions.

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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:
603_8ab-Bluefin-Trevally_20150405_IMG_5407.jpg
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).

Approaching 8b, there was a school of Black-tip Silver Biddies passing through:
605_8b-Blacktip-Silver-Biddies_20150405_IMG_5411.jpg

… and some Needlefish:
606_8b-Needlefish_20150405_IMG_5420.jpg

… and the similar (but different) Halfbeaks:
607_8b-Halfbeaks_20150405_IMG_5426.jpg
The nose on the Halfbeak is only, well, half as thick as that on the Needlefish.

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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:
609_8bc-Monkey-Beach2-boats_20150405_IMG_5438.jpg

With all those boats and people, it’s not exactly tranquil:
610_8bc-Monkey-Beach2-AM_20150405_IMG_5440.jpg
(Although it seems to get quieter in the afternoons).

If you are lucky, you might get to see some monkeys. Hopefully not surrounded by all the plastic garbage from yesterday’s throngs:
613_8bc-Nature1_20150405_IMG_5441.jpg

It is not good to feed wildlife in its natural habitat. Please don’t feed the monkeys. Here is a poster from neighbouring Malaysia giving some reasons why:
612_8-Langkawi-Monkey-Poster_P3114589.JPG

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.

Please don’t perpetuate this kind of unnatural practice:
614_8bc-Nature2_20150405_IMG_5446.jpg

Also, you might just get bitten by a monkey when you run out of food for it. Feed me, Seymour.

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Several speedboat tours make Monkey Beach a snorkelling stop, too. The coral here is in bad condition:
617_8bc-MB2Coral_20150405_IMG_5428.jpg

I wonder why:
618_8bc-MB2Coral2_20150405_IMG_5429.jpg

Also, you should maybe watch-out for the boat-dude, trying to entertain himself while his tourists are at the beach:
619_8bc-Boat-Guy_20150405_IMG_5436.jpg

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.

The coral here was in better condition, but it was still nothing special:
621_8d-Coral_20150405_IMG_5461GT.jpg

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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.

I went along the West coast on a boat. Here’s the view at the Northern end:
627_9-NW-Nork_20150406_IMG_5707.jpg

..and a long-distance shot of the whole West side of Nork:
629_9-West-Nork_20150406_IMG_5695.jpg

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.

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Area 10 – South East Ko Nork = West Ao Ton Sai

699_10-from-VP3_20150404_STz_5150_MU.jpg
All images on this site are clickable for bigger versions.

That Ko Nork map again.

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 is a steep wall at 10a – above and below the waterline:
700_10a-Currenty-Wall_20150403_IMG_5105.jpg 701_10a-Currenty-Wall_20150403_IMG_5117.jpg

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.

There were sea fans and assorted softcorals, and lots of tunicates & sponges:
702_10a-Currenty-Wall-Seafan_20150403_IMG_5114.jpg

..plus Golden Damsels and schooling Fusiliers:
703_10a-Currenty-Wall-Seafan_20150403_IMG_5106.jpg 704_10a-Currenty-Wall-Wideband-Fusiliers_20150403_IMG_5107.jpg 705_10a-Golden-Damselfish_20150403_IMG_5111.jpg

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:
706_10b-Little-Beach_20150403_IMG_5099.jpg
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:
708_10c-First-Monkey-Beach10_20150403_IMG_5125.jpg

The underwater scenery was lacklustre:
710_10cd-Corals_20150403_IMG_5082.jpg

But the stuff up top was nice:
711_10cd-Pinnacle_20150403_IMG_5091GT.jpg

At 10d, is the second Monkey Beach. Actually, at high tide, there was no beach, so these two monkeys are perched in the trees, catching the banana slices that the boatmen throw to them:
713_10d-Second-Monkey-Beach10_20150403_IMG_5085.jpg

The last Monkey Beach is the biggest (although, again, underwater here):
716_10e-Third-Monkey-Beach10_20150403_IMG_5075GT.jpg
The metal sign to the right (hanging on the cliff) is a faded “don’t feed the monkeys” job. No-one seems to take much notice.

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I like the look of the cliffs here:
719_10f-Cool-Rocks_20150403_IMG_5074GT.jpg

..and the coral was looking a little healthier, too:
722_10f-Better-Coral_20150403_IMG_5070.jpg 723_10f-Better-Coral_20150403_IMG_5071.jpg

Once, on a daytrip here from Ko Lanta, we were dropped near 10g for a snorkelling stop. The corals are in bad condition:
727_10g-Scabby-Corals_20150403_IMG_5058.jpg 728_10g-Scabby-Corals_20150403_IMG_5052.jpg
I don’t think the boat captains have much idea about what is below the waves!

Nearby was an attractive Lined Butterflyfish:
729_10g-Lined-Butterflyfish_20150403_IMG_5057.jpg

Pop-quiz: Are these Needlefish?:
730_10g-Halfbeaks_20150403_IMG_5065.jpg
No, they are Halfbeaks!

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Here are some more cool rock formations between 10g and h:
732_10gh-More-Cool-Rocks_20150403_IMG_5046.jpg

and here, at 10h, a small beach seems to serve as a car park for locals’ longtails:
735_10h-Locals-Carpark_20150403_IMG_5040GT.jpg

During the last stretch, heading in towards Mamas Resort (if your mama is Donald Trump!) the coral was pretty scummy:
737_10hi-Scummy-Corals_20150403_IMG_5032.jpg 739_10hi-Scummy-Corals_20150403_IMG_5026.jpg
The water was none-too-clean either. Don’t linger!

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.

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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.

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Walking tracks

If you want to get yourself around the island without shelling-out on expensive water taxis, there are plenty of walking tracks.

Some wide:
805_WT-General-Wide-Track_20150401_IMG_4776GT.jpg

Some not so wide:
806_WT-General-Thin-Track_20150404_IMG_5161.jpg

The tracks on my map are pretty accurate. I walked all of them (except the ones down to Toh Ko and Ran Tii beaches):
807_WT-Map-All-Walking-Tracks-1-3a.jpg
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”:
808_WT-Jx-Paypoint-North_20150402_IMG_5009.jpg
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.

Here’s that free track, marked in red:
809_WT-Map-Freeway-1-3b.jpg

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Everything else about the walking tracks should become obvious if you can find and recognise the key junctions J1-5.

Here they are:
810_WT-Map-Central-Walking-Tracks-1-3b.jpg

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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.
302_5-Its-a-Siiign_20150401_IMG_4774GT.jpg
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 2 (J2) – East End of Ton Sai Town
812_WT-J2-Sign_20150404_IMG_5381.jpg
GPS: 7° 44′ 41.034,98° 46′ 26.592 GPS 5017 on the 2nd
Comment: Near the stinky creek that runs into the sea and near to Phi Phi Viewpoint Resort/Restaurant

Junction 3 (J3) – Marked “Jungle House” on my map, there is a stall here selling drinks to thirsty climbers.
814_WT-J3-Stall_20150402_IMG_4996.jpg
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
819_WT-J4-Signpost-to-the-North_20150404_IMG_5153GT.jpg
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:
821_WT-J5-Low-Road-to-Tonsai-Junction_20150408_IMG_6027.jpg
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).
823_WT-J5-Low-Road-to-Tonsai-Track_20150408_IMG_6040.jpg
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.

The track J57h is fairly hilly, but less-so than the main track, J5J4.

Those trail maps again: 1 2 3 4

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Viewpoints:

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.

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Up top:

Accommodation:

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.

Here are some detailed maps of Ton Sai town (correct in 2015): 1 2

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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.

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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.

Some other useful linkies: 1 2 3 4 5

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Alternative Maps:
1-Phi Phi Don map from National Park HQ Map
2-Lo Baakao Area signpost map
3-Tonsai 1
4-Tonsai 2
5-TAT
6-National Park Krabi Haat Nopparatthara and Mu Ko Phi Phi (in Thai)

Those trail maps again: 1 2 3

Those Laem Por tracks again: 1 2

——————————————————————————————————————
Originally written: July 2015   . . . . .  Last updated: November 2015

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