Limestone mountains, aquamarine sea, secluded bays of soft white coral sand: southern Thailand’s Phi Phi islands have been on the backpacker bucket list since Leonardo DiCaprio partied here in his board shorts in The Beach. Stays might be more luxurious now, but Phi Phi is still a place to pitch up with fellow travellers on all budgets: for light adventures, spa soothing and seaside al-fresco parties under the stars.
You’ll only be alone on Phi Phi if you want to be. With strings of hotels and hostels, beaches brimming over with bars and heaps of organised activities, Phi Phi is a solo travel hotspot. The vibe is beach party meets boutique hotel, with beach lazing time between light adventures ranging from snorkelling to hiking. The main island, Koh Phi Phi Don, where the hotels proliferate, is for push bikes and pedestrians only – there’s a tiny well-lit tourist village cut with sandy streets and heaps of boat taxis to the outer beaches.
While Phi Phi’s laid-back beach and party scene keeps people here for weeks, a few days is enough to see the sights and sample the nightlife. Don’t miss a boat trip to popular Maya Bay – the beach framed by towering cliffs which DiCaprio made cinematically famous. Snorkel around Bamboo Island marine park, and tour (or climb) the vertical cliffs that loom everywhere – they are most spectacular on the islets of Koh Bida Nok and Koh Bida Nai. Avoid wet October and November, and come instead from December to March, when the temperatures are balmy, and skies are blue.
All accommodation is on the main island, Koh Phi Phi Don; but there’s a huge spread of places to stay. To meet people, opt for the main village – squeezed between Phi Phi Don’s famed twin half-moon beaches of Loh Dalum and Ton Sai – it has plenty of hostels and value-for-money hotels, with booming bars on the doorstep. For boutique tranquillity, choose the beaches in the north – say Laem Tong or Loh Ba Kao Bay – where you’ll find toes-in-the-sand palm-thatch shacks and self-contained mini resorts. Want parties but serene slumber, too? Stay on Long Beach. It’s backed by tree-frog-serenaded forest and has sunset-over-the-sea views, but it’s only 20 minutes’ walk from the bars. See Culture Trip’s Best Places to Stay in Koh Phi Phi for hotel tips.
With snorkelling, climbing, scuba diving, kayaking and myriad boat trips to beaches and islands, there’s no shortage of adventurous things to do on Koh Phi Phi. For something more sedate, laze in a spa, sip cocktails in an oceanside bar or take a cooking class. No matter what your preference is, don’t miss these three Phi Phi essentials…
Take a hike
Hike the half-hour trail to the Phi Phi Don viewpoint. You’ll sweat buckets, but the panorama of twin bays, craggy rainforest-swathed mountains and turquoise coral sea will leave you gasping – especially in the late afternoon when the sun sinks orange behind the hills, and the sky fades through deep orange to violet and star-speckled deep-blue.
Drink and dance on the sand. Phi Phi is one of Southeast Asia’s beach-party capitals. Solo travellers flock to Ao Lo Dalam beach for non-stop pool parties, Muay Thai bouts at the Reggae Bar and fire shows on the sand at Slinky, which is still the island’s top dance spot.
Post-pandemic, with coral rested and recuperated, Phi Phi’s coral is vibrant with life. There’s never been a better time to snorkel or scuba dive the Garang Heng reefs, the King Cruiser shipwreck and Hat Noppharat Thara-Mu marine park.
Ready to explore? You can travel through the Koh Phi Phi region on Culture Trip’s Life’s a Beach Thailand tour.
Phi Phi is one of Southern Thailand’s most popular beach stops, so you’ll find food to suit all tastes and budgets – from boutiquey waterside Italian and French restaurants with candlelit tables to burger bars and street stalls sizzling with woks. Head to Pum Thai, just behind Ton Sai Beach, to sample unmissable local Thai dishes like tangy prawn massaman curry and then learn how to prepare them at one of their popular cooking classes.
Acqua has the best Mai Tai cocktails on the island and a menu of upscale Thai and Western food at tables strewn with tropical flowers, all low-lit for intimate evening dining. The morning after, head to Unni’s, which serves a much-lauded hangover-cure breakfast, and quality Western comfort food, including bagels and burgers, throughout the day.
Phi Phi has no roads and no vehicles, except for push bikes, which are offered free or for next to nothing at most of the island’s resorts and hostels. It’s a 10-minute pedal or a 20-minute walk to anywhere around the central village. Beaches in the island’s north are a 20- to 30-minute ride, or a short boat hop away. Regular taxi boats can drop you off at any beach en route.
Phi Phi is too small for crime, which is limited to pick-pocketing and opportunistic theft from hotel rooms. The biggest dangers are from aggressive monkeys stealing food on the beaches, and drinking too much alcohol, which is literally served by the bucket in the rowdier bars.
Phi Phi sees a lot of tourists, and locals are laid-back and liberal. But there are a few don’ts. Avoid sitting on the prow of a boat – touching the head even of an inanimate object is taboo in Thailand. Cover upper arms and legs above the knee in temples, and don’t make comments about the Thai royal family. Nudity, including toplessness, is strictly prohibited.
Fancy exploring the Koh Phi Phi region and beyond with a small group of like-minded travellers for a 10-day adventure? Join Culture Trip’s Life’s a Beach Thailand tour – highlights include swimming with tropical fish, sampling the most delicious Thai food and spotting exotic birds and bears on a longtail boat ride.