A Crowded Paradise

There’s this old movie i saw when I was a kid called “The Beach“. That movie was a mess, even more so when I watched it again when I’ve grown older. But man the sights were amazing. Ever since I saw that movie, I told myself that if ever I find myself in Thailand I definitely have to visit Ko Phi Phi.

For most travelers, Phuket is the jump off point to Koh Phi Phi (others prefer Krabi which is more laid back and receives less tourists). There are three ways to get there. The fastest way is by plane, obviously. However it is also the most expensive, especially if you don’t purchase your tickets way in advance. Still it’s not that expensive since there are lots of flights to choose from. You can still get fairly priced tickets several days before the day of departure as long as you don’t mind taking the earliest flights.

For most backpackers, flying would not be an option due to the cost. The cheapest way is to take a bus. There are lots of buses heading to Phuket from Bangkok since this is a very popular route. The downside is, it usually take about 16 hours. I don’t mind sitting in a bus for 16 hours— heck I rode a bus for almost 20 hours in Africa. But understandably, some people may find it very uncomfortable. This is why some travelers take a train first to Surat Thani, then take a bus to Phuket from there. The train ride is about 8 hours long, while the bus ride is around 4-5 hours. A lot of backpackers take the night sleeper trains so they could get some sleep. This also saves them from paying for another night at some hostel. A dorm bed at a hostel in Thailand is very cheap though, even at the most touristy places so you won’t be able to save much money this way. So if you are really on a tight budget, taking a bus for 16 hours is still the best option.

Phuket is a huge region and it is bustling. Phuket City is a modern city and everything you’ll ever need can be found there. Most travelers stay in Patong, the main resort town. Here, there are still signs of the tsunami that devastated the place in 2004— there are still some deserted areas, some empty buildings, a couple of dilapidated and wrecked structures, all serving as reminders of that nightmare a couple of years back. Otherwise, the place seems to have fully recovered. Particularly along Bangla Road, where most of the bars, ping pong shows, and night clubs are located, you wouldn’t think a tsunami devastated the area a little more than a decade ago. A lot of backpackers also choose to stay in Patong instead of hostels in Koh Phi Phi. I guess it’s because there’s a lot more happening here. There’s also a bustling night life in certain areas of Ko Phi Phi, but the nightlife can’t compare to Patong. Just walking along Bangla Road around midnight, you can clearly see the difference. The entire street is packed with people. In Ko Phi Phi, the music stops at around 2 AM. This isn’t the case in Patong. Some bars and clubs stay open until sunrise, and the parties can get wild. The nightlife is pretty similar to Bangkok, only you’re near the beach. Understandably it can get really rowdy, good thing most of the bars are clustered in this one area. It’s pretty quiet in those areas far from Bangla Road.

bangla road

To reach Ko Phi Phi, there are ferries leaving from Phuket. If you’d rather do a day trip instead of spending a night or two there, there are lots of day trips offered. Prices are varied, depending on the package. The most expensive ones are on high speed boats with fewer people, and they come with unlimited drinks and you’d get a buffet lunch at some island restaurant. The cheapest ones come with packed lunch, and the boat is also packed with people lol. But hey, for backpackers on a budget it doesn’t matter. As long as you get to see the islands, the way you get there doesn’t matter.

We did one of these tours, and frankly I can’t recommend them wholeheartedly. No matter which package you take, the boats will pretty much take you to the same islands and same snorkeling sites. Since there are lots of people going to each site, the time you spend on each one is really limited. Depending on the site, you’d only spend 30 minutes to one hour, and this really seemed rushed. Many times I’d just want to lie down and relax on the beach. Then the guide would tell us it’s time to go. I understand that on day trips it’s great to see as many places as possible, but it seemed that they packed too much on the itinerary. For me, it would have been better to skip one or two sites. We thought of just doing the trip on our own, but private tours are terribly expensive. Perhaps a cheaper option would be to take a ferry to Ko Phi Phi, and from there rent a boat to Maya Bay (aka “The Beach”). A half day trip costs around 1500-2000 Baht from there. Tours from Phuket are much more expensive, you get charged about same rates per person.  It can even cost triple that amount if you take the more expensive options. If you rent a boat from Ko Phi Phi you can split the cost with other people.

If you are gonna be taking a trip from Ko Phi Phi though, Maya Bay may not be the best option. Since it’s the place featured in the movie, the beach is always packed. There were so many people it was hard to find a place to relax. It’s hard to take pictures without people ruining your shots too. I’ve managed to take shots with only a few people in them, but those took a great deal of effort lol. It’s a really beautiful place, and if you really want to set foot in it then it’s totally worth it. Just don’t expect a serene and idyllic place. If you’re looking for a place to relax and chill, there are other beaches that the guides can take you. Those beaches may not be as beautiful, but they won’t be as crowded.

As a whole Thailand is an inexpensive country, but you have to expect everything to be quite expensive around Ko Phi Phi and Phuket compared to the rest of the country, particularly in the northern areas. If you’re on a really tight budget, the country has lots of other places to explore, and those place are arguably better and definitely cheaper too. But if you’re like me who definitely had to tick something off his bucket list, Phuket and Ko Phi Phi are must visit places. Many travelers feel the same way and it’s not hard to see why.

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