Three years ago (almost to the day) a ridiculously attractive Brazilian man told my sister and I that Koh Phi Phi was the closest thing this planet has to heaven. “It’s aaahhhhh-maaa-zzzz-innng guuuurrls,” he enthusiastically purred in that oh-so-charmingly flirty Brazilian way. He seemed rather educated in the niche subject of beaches and surfing, listening to his adventures was basically like reading a list of the world’s best beaches and surf spots. So, we took his word for it and his enthusiasm for the Thai island remained fixed in the back of our heads.
When it came time to plan our own Thailand trip, there was no doubt in my mind that Koh Phi Phi would be part of the itinerary. In fact, I was so blinded by the numerous incredible reviews I had heard about the island that I uncharacteristically did no research into the details.
Boy do I regret that.
I absolutely hated Koh Phi Phi. Hated it. As in, in all these wanderings I have not been anywhere that I hate more than Koh Phi Phi. I am still so disappointed that we chose it as the destination for the island part of our trip, so I wanted to write a post explaining why I hated it, hopefully preventing you from making the same devastating mistake!
1. It is depressingly overdeveloped.
Koh Phi Phi is one of the most well-known tourist islands in Thailand. The island was tragically a victim of the 2004 tsunami with more than 2,000 people killed here. However, in the decade since, the island has been entirely rebuilt to the point that you would almost not know that such a tragedy took place. I personally hadn’t visited prior, but the rebuilding of the island has led to an even more dominating pier, an increase in the number of hotels and bars, and a lot less character and charm.
Boats dock at Ao Ton Sai and then everyone is shuffled to a narrow path, crammed full of tour operators, restaurants and souvenir shops. This central area is a cramped, chaotic mess of dogged construction and overpriced accommodation.
2. It is uncomfortably crowded.
The island has seduced many travelers over the years. Both through word of mouth and the movies — the Leo DiCaprio movie The Beach popularised the uninhabited island of Koh Phi Phi Leh to the south. Especially in high-season, the island is filled to the brim with the type of tourists who are solely interested in getting absolutely wasted (aka my least favourite type of tourists).
The actual area of the island is restricted to the narrow sandbar separating two of the island’s most prominent beaches. This slither of land holds up both the overdevelopment and the overpopulation of the island. The narrow streets are so difficult to move through that while I was there I couldn’t help but feel perpetually claustrophobic. Add in humidity, constant fumes from building projects, and large groups of drunk British males and it is very uncomfortable.
3. It is an ecological disaster.
The stunning looks of Koh Phi Phi have become the island’s down-fall. The lack of limits and restrictions on travel in Thailand have allowed these islands to become terribly trashed. Technically this entire region is part of a marine National Park. However, it is clear that while the Thai government enjoys the extra revenue this brings (you have to pay National Park fees), they haven’t exactly done much to maintain and sustain the ecology of the area.
We did a day-long snorkeling boat tour, and were shocked to find that all that was to be seen underwater was a mass of bleached, dead coral. Some paradise, eh?
One of the biggest issues is the mass of long-tail boats that dominate the waters and transports tourists from one island to the other. The overdevelopment + overpopulation = ecological disaster. It is heartbreakingly sad to see what happens when tourism revenue overshadows the protection of the land.
4. It is shockingly overpriced.
On Koh Phi Phi you pay basically double what you would pay on any other Thai island. For example, a bucket of booze (the only way to drink in Thailand) is about 400 baht, double what it is in Bangkok and a bit more than double what it is on the other islands and in smaller cities like Chiang Mai.
We actually ended up staying in a hotel while we were on Koh Phi Phi because it was only a tiny bit more expensive than staying in a dirty, badly-reviewed hostel. Everywhere else in Thailand has amazing accommodation at unbeatable prices, Koh Phi Phi was the only place where we had an issue.
In addition, Koh Phi Phi was the only place where we had consistently terrible, overpriced food. Goodness I hated this place.
5. It is boring.
Basically the only thing to do on this island is drink over-priced, shitty drinks. “Fireshows” (which were the most lacking in actual culture/ ridiculous thing ever) and Thai boxing matches (drunk tourists fighting each other) take place each night on the beach; but, I didn’t think either were anything to write home about and neither were anything more than just something to entertain tourists with.
The same snorkel-trip that I mentioned previously took us to Maya Bay, the area made famous for its role in The Beach. The bay would have been beautiful…if we could have actually seen it. The whole bay was filled with thousands and thousands of tourists snapping photos and rushing to find the correct boat. It was mayhem, and the farthest thing from beautiful and serene. Our photos from that day are actually solely of the amount of Chinese tourists on the beach.
The coolest thing we did was to hike up to the Phi Phi Viewpoint — an amazing panoramic view of the island. The view was incredible (there were of course a gazillion other people there) but definitely not enough to warrant a trip to the island.
I have never written scathingly about a place. I tend to focus on and mention places that I love and highly recommend. But sometimes knowing where not to go can be just as helpful as knowing where to go. In this case, do yourself a favour and don’t bother going to Koh Phi Phi. There are plenty of other Thai islands that have yet to fall to this level of neglect and demise and there are many other cities that I highly recommend.