Destination Guide: The Beach at Ko Phi-Phi

In total we’ve been to The Beach (Maya Bay) at Ko Phi-Phi, three times. Each time we started from different destinations, and travelled via three different routes. Why do we continue to return? Because each visit finds new adventures and different experiences. For this reason the best Ko Phi-Phi tours can’t be summed up in just one simple post, as it isn’t just a there-and-back destination. While this is possible, it isn’t advisable, because much of the adventure in fact comes in the scenery and excursions along the way. On this journey we follow a simpler route travelling direct from Phuket where we find seemingly endless Ko Phi-Phi tour options available. Our stay is at the more amiable beach area of Kata on Phuket’s southern coasts. We are based in a traditional Thai styled resort, Kata Palm Resort and Spa, with a convenient location on the main Kata Road. A quick walk from the hotel entrance finds handfuls of brochures to flick through, eleven in total, all with various itineraries for Ko Phi-Phi tours from Phuket. For the final decision we will need to consider a number of variables all outlined below. Note, to find the best Ko Phi-Phi tours from Phuket be sure to shop around, and never take the first offer. Haggle, and I’d start by halving what’s shown on the brochure, as this is likely the peak prices, at high-end resorts. Street kiosks and prices are very different. All tours include hotel pickup, land transfer, refreshments, English guides, snorkels and life jackets.

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Travel Options?

The iconic long tail boats will be the desired option for many, but, from Phuket they don’t make a viable option. The distances are too far, and the long tails are too slow. You will pass many along the way, but give them a miss for this journey. Also, on Kata Beach, they are only found in high season (November to early May) and are used for closer-to-home journeys. This leaves the two other options of speed boats and big boat tours. The advantages and disadvantage are obvious. Big boats are cheaper, but they are also slower and packed with large group tours. They are ideal for the budget option but I’d personally pay the extra for speed boat tours. With speed boats the tours are faster, squeezing more adventure into the day, and the groups are smaller making less cluttered photo-ops along the way. Also, unlike the other travel options, speed boats are allowed entrance to the front of the island and can pull up directly to the Beach at Maya Bay. This isn’t possible with long-tail boats, or big boats, where the route takes you to the back of the island, where a short(ish) swim reaches wooden steps to access the back of the island. If arriving by the back route, and swimming, life vests will be provided as well as waterproof bags for electronics and valuables. Do take note of how to seal waterproof bags for the return journey as we lost an SLR camera to the Andaman sea on the swim back 🙁

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Tour Options?

In many ways The Beach (Maya Bay) at Ko Phi-Phi is like a marker. It will probably be the furthest point of the tour, and there will be excursions and attractions dotted along the way. The options vary but they will almost always take in at least one snorkelling spot and a paradise sand beach. A tour favourite would definitely be Monkey Beach, a small bay which is home to wild macaque monkeys. Note, monkeys are wild here and, just seconds after taking the photo below, a mother monkey jumped on Fanfan’s head from the trees above. No harm done, but be careful. So there are many islands to choose from and, to list a couple of the more popular, Bamboo Island and Khai Island make good options. Snorkelling will also be available during these stops where shoals of yellow and black sergeant major fish are easily found throughout the entire area. While snorkelling isn’t the best in these parts of Thailand they do make for an easy introduction. A stop on most itineraries will be Ko Phi Phi Don, the largest island of the archipelago, and the closest tourist island to The Beach (Maya Bay). It is a convenient base for travel. It is also possible to stay on this island, but it is renowned as a party destination and, if planning to sleep, you’ll want to stay as far from Loh Dalum beach as possible. Ton Sai Bay and the pier side make better options. Ko Phi-Phi Don is also popular for the buffet lunch stop as, where tours take up a full day, say 08:00 to 17:00 or similar, a midday pit stop is almost certain. With larger boats the buffet lunch may instead be on-board.

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Low Season / High Season

With Phi-Phi Tours “the program may change depending on tide and weather condition” so no route is ever guaranteed. It is therefore better to plan in advance and booked for the sunnier days ahead. This will of course be easier during high season (November to early May) where everyday is almost perfect weather. In Low Season however this can be harder, which means looking ahead is essential. That being said, high season and better days for travel, will always be the busiest and, therefore, to avoid the crowds it may be best to travel off season on less predictable days. This depends on what your priorities are in travel. I actually enjoy the rainy season in the Andaman as it brings a new feel to the region, but at times excursions can be closed due to low tides and choppy seas. Some excursions will only be offered at varying times of the year and at certain times of the day. With time of day I find early morning tours can be better to beat the crowds but this is unlikely from Phuket unless chartering your own speed boat and a very early start. Therefore I suggest arriving to The Beach (Maya Bay) in the later hours of the tour e.g. 16:00 when again it is less crowded. These later arrivals will also travel back during sunset on the Andaman.

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The Beach (Maya Bay)

Tours to “Ko Phi-Phi” don’t necessarily include The Beach at Maya Bay, so be certain to read the wording carefully when booking. Some may only offer a photo-op on passing, maybe snorkeling in the bay, but not an actual visit to The Beach itself. Ko Phi-Phi is the name used for the archipelago of islands in this part of the Andaman, so it can be misleading and slightly confusing. Ko Phi-Phi Ley is in fact the given name to the island where The Beach (Maya Bay) is located and, while it is depicted as an enclosed lagoon in the movie, it in fact has a wide entrance through towering limestone karsts. The interior of the island is jungle, there’s a small lake area which is good to explore and the bay area is okay to swim in and get photo-ops away from the crowds. However, I’m not going to lie to you, the sandy Beach location, at Maya Bay, will likely be busy and this is why you should create a full itinerary of attractions to enjoy along the way. The Beach is a movie location, and it is best to be seen in this way, otherwise you maybe disappointed. That being said it is an iconic and fascinating destination and definitely worth the visit, at least once.

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