Saturday, 21 February 2009

Phi Phi Islands

Last weekend a gang of us spent the weekend at the Phi Phi islands. It is funny that somehow, with such a beautiful place only an easy boat ride away, that I have only been out there a handful of times and have not stayed overnight since my first visit to Thailand 9 years ago.

Well this weekend everything slipped into place for a trip away. We had a few friends around who were free for the trip so 11 of us set out for Phi Phi. You get the ferry at Rassada Port, which is the other side of Phuket Town. They leave about 8:30 in the morning and the return fair is about 600-baht.

Phi Phi has changed a lot since the first time I stayed and jeez, Phi Phi is busy. With the rest of Thailand suffering a tourism downturn, I assumed things would be relatively quiet at Phi Phi. How wrong I was. Phi Phi seems to be immune from the credit crunch. There are at least a dozen ferries doing the return trip daily from Phuket and also from Krabi and Ao Nang. There are dozens of speedboats buzzing day-trippers around the islands. Maya Bay (made famous in the movie ‘The Beach’) was crammed.

Still there is no denying the beauty of the place. The limestone cliffs are stunning and at this time of the year, the sea is flat, blue and inviting. There are some good diving sites and some of the snorkeling is quite sumptuous.

The ferry docks at Tonsai Bay. I saw this area not long after the tsunami and it was flattened. You would never know now. There are two bays here that almost meet. They are separated by a sandy plain only 200-meters wide. This entire strip of land has now been developed with hotels, guesthouses, restaurants and bars.

We wanted some cheap beach bungalows, which we thought would be easy enough to find. Well it wasn’t that easy. We found a few basic bamboo huts starting from 800-baht a night but we ended up settling on some slightly plusher bungalows for 1,500 baht. They were next to the beach (the one opposite where the ferries land). This area also seems to have become a bit of a party area for the young crowd. They have nightly beach parties with disco music and spinning flame sticks.

In the evening, we looked for a relaxing restaurant. Every restaurant was full, they are all doing great business. We finally found a place where they could squeeze in 11 people and had a decent meal. Then we drank beer on the beach while watching the party revelers and the spinning flame sticks.

The next day we hired a longtail boat to look around Phi Phi. It was a lovely trip. We visited Monkey Beach and despite the number of people, we still found a couple of isolated coves that were beautiful and quiet. We found some lovely snorkeling. Ben may only be 5 but he wasn’t going to be left out so he soon had his life-jacket and mask on and was swimming amongst the fish.

We all thoroughly enjoyed the trip although it wasn’t exactly what we had expected. Phi Phi is certainly changing. There are more 4-star hotels and less backpacking accommodation. It seems that Phi Phi is going a bit more up-market. There also seems to be a large young party crowd. In fact, there is quite a crowd, full stop.

Despite the crowds, Phi Phi still has a lot to offer and I hope it will not be another 9-years before we go and stay over again.