Koh Phi Phi - Let's go to the beach... Part One

That film The Beach has a lot to answer for.

It prompted a huge exodus of backpackers to descend upon Thailand in search of adventure, mystery and Leonardo DiCaprio. In particular, it made a hugely popular destination out of Koh Phi Phi Le the island where the film was shot. Because this island remains uninhabited, it is nearby Phi Phi Don which is left to manage the flood of tourists, backpackers and other holiday makers, not to mention the party people who maintain the supply and demand balance which justifies the huge numbers of bars and pubs on the island.I'm not saying that all of the tourists, of which there are many no matter the season, who make the journey are all there because of the film but it certainly gave the island huge exposure and thus Phi Phi Don has changed remarkably from the sleepy fishing island it was 20 years ago. I was warned that the authentic Thai hospitality, remarkable natural landscapes and beautifully blue water have become muddied and muddled by over eager Thai and Western entrepreneurs who rightly spotted that there was money to be made on Phi Phi and indeed I was actively warned by many, including NewMan who was there only 20 months ago, to cross it off my list of Thai destinations.

And that is what The Beach has to answer for...

Which is strange because I didn't even like the film that much.

However, with a couple of days to kill before catching a flight from Phuket and with a strange need to get off the mainland again (after 6 nights in Railay Beach and Krabi accumulatively) we made a last minute decision; let's go to the beach.As is always the way, when somebody tells me I will not like something I go out of my way to find ways to like that place, though it wasn't really hard work. And so here follows five reasons why I do like Koh Phi Phi.

It's beautiful. Both Phi Phi Le and Phi Phi Don have dramatic coast lines, white sand beaches and views which will humble the hardest of characters. Despite Loh Dalum beach now resembling a busy strip of coast on the Costa Brava, there are other beaches on Phi Phi Don to enjoy. Koh Phi Phi Le is now a national park and thank goodness because this and the 200 Baht you have to pay to step foot on the beach has kept the island in remarkably good natural condition, even considering the hundreds, if not thousands of people who visit on a daily basis. Even on Phi Phi Don, if you're willing and able to look above and beyond the party people and their hangovers littering the  beach there are some really beautiful views to be enjoyed. It is fairly unique. Because of Phi Phi Don's size and shape, and maybe thanks to a brilliantly brave decision by someone high up enough, there are no roads on the island and the main part of "town", found between Ton Sai Bay (where the ferries drop you off) and Loh Dalum beach is a maze of "walking streets" housing more bars, restaurants, dive shops, tattoo designers, massage parlours and groceries you could ever dream of frequenting even if you did a full season there. Despite crowds of people shuffling along these streets and the numerous bikes that intercept - all ringing their bells constantly - there remains a charm to this car free zone and I for one am glad to have experienced it. It is cheap.  Arguably one plus side of the vast business development that has taken place, is that there is now a lot of competition between long tail boat taxis, restaurants, grocery stores, bars, hotels and even street vendors and market stalls; though we found food, goods and services of varying quality accordingly. It also follows that there will be people vocally and sometimes physically chasing you for your custom though we found a polite smile and a "No, thank you kap/ka" will solve that problem. Needless to say that the price of food and alcohol goes up the nearer to the beach you are and if you've got a view you will pay for it! It is one of the best places to dive. With sites in and around Koh Phi Phi Le and at nearby islands (they're actually just big rocks really) Bida Nai and Bida Nok, you will struggle to find diving so accessible and so impressive. Again thanks to a number of schools and shops fighting for your custom the prices are kept low and are roughly the same no matter where you go. These sights include some of the ones where I learnt to dive so take it from me, there's a lot to be seen under water there. It has a good vibe: Though there is a real mix of people on Phi Phi ranging from young families to big boats of mixed aged Russian, Chinese and Japanese tourists. And then, of course, you have the steady flow of the backpacks and Gap Year Gang, to whom  Phi Phi is akin to Mecca. For this reason you are guaranteed the most entertaining and most fulfilling people watching wherever you may rock up and let the world pass you by. During one short evening on Loh Dalum beach, NewMan and I were amused watching a small gang of Thai kids splashing in the sea, a group of French tourists practising various circus skills with more experienced Thai fire performers as well as innumerable girl and boy groups engage in predictable mating rituals (oh the hair flicking). Despite the brilliantly awful soft rock in the background and the overpriced beer we could have stayed there forever.

And maybe that says it all; it wasn't our best trip, but it certainly wasn't our worst and I took a lot away with me from Koh Phi Phi.

So what's the moral of this story? Well, don't always assume other peoples' opinions are gospel - go find out for yourself. And furthermore don't bother watching The Beach. Coming soon: How to make the most of Koh Phi Phi - though I've covered this in some of this post I want to expand and give you a few extra reasons and ways to really enjoy the island.

Frances M. Thompson

Londoner turned wanderer, Frankie is an author, freelance writer and blogger. Currently based in Amsterdam, Frankie was nomadic for two years before starting a family with her Australian partner. Frankie is the author of three short story collections, and is a freelance writer for travel and creative brands. In 2017, she launched WriteNOW Cards, affirmation cards for writers that help build a productive and positive writing practice. When not writing contemporary fiction, Frankie shops for vintage clothes, dances to 70s disco music and chases her two young sons around Amsterdam.
Find Frankie on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest, and Google+.

Posts you may also like:
Family Travel: How to Travel with Kids - My Golden RulesFamily Travel: How to Travel with Kids - My Golden RulesAmsterdam Travel: Best Luxury Hotels in Amsterdam - Reviewed!Amsterdam Travel: Best Luxury Hotels in Amsterdam - Reviewed!Solo Luxury Travel: Best Caribbean Islands for Solo TravellersSolo Luxury Travel: Best Caribbean Islands for Solo TravellersNew Zealand Travel: 51 Interesting Facts About New Zealand AotearoaNew Zealand Travel: 51 Interesting Facts About New Zealand AotearoaAmsterdam Travel: Accessible Travel Guide for AmsterdamAmsterdam Travel: Accessible Travel Guide for Amsterdam