Asia, Thailand, Travel

Backpacking Thailand’s Southern Islands – Phuket, Koh Phi Phi and Krabi

maya bay

After spending the last month and a half in Chiang Mai building a new website it was time to hit the road again and my destination was Southern Thailand.

First stop on the trip was Phuket, the main island to the south. If you’re headed to Southern Thailand there’s a good chance Phuket will be your arrival airport as well. It’s a large international airport that serves a ton of flights each day.

Phuket is actually the name of the island. On the island there are many smaller ‘towns’ that you will be headed to. I use the term town but the entire island of Phuket is pretty well built up and geared toward the tourism industry. So these towns are less ‘townsy’ and more like small cities.

Food Poisoning and a Flight to Phuket

The trip almost ended before it started thanks to either some bad fruit or bad chicken. I’ve never had food poisoning before but I can promise you it’s no fun.

I not only managed to make it to the airport for my 6am flight but also managed to survive the flight without serious incident. There were definitely a few close calls mid-flight.

Landing in Phuket, I grabbed a taxi to my hostel in Karon, a town on the southwestern part of the island. Karon is a fairly nice resort town that caters to the tourist crowd (all of Phuket does).

I saw a lot of Russian, Eastern European and Asian tourists. For a USA comparison, I would compare it to Puerto Rico or other Caribbean Islands.

cof

I spent the day on the beach trying to burn away the food poisoning. When that didn’t work I rented a scooter and sped off to a couple other beaches down the coast and that seemed to help.

I spent the rest of the day resting and relaxing and not doing much, which was perfect.

A Ferry Ride to Koh Phi Phi

The next day I grabbed a taxi over to Phuket Town (original, I know) to start the next leg of my journey.

I jumped aboard an overcrowded ferry and spent the next 1.5 hours en route to Koh Phi Phi.

Koh Phi Phi is an island that’s famous for Maya Bay and Maya Bay was made famous by Leonardo DiCaprio in the movie ‘The Beach’. More on this later.

Koh Phi Phi’s coast is lined with steep, 100 foot cliffs and its west and east sections are connected by a low lying isthmus.

koh phi phi

This low lying part is where you’ll find the only town on the island, aptly named Koh Phi Phi Town.

It’s here that you’ll find the majority of hotels, hostels, restaurants and resorts and will probably be where you’re staying. There are some fancier resorts that are only accessible by boat.

Koh Phi Phi Viewpoint

After settling into the hostel I set out to see what I could find. From the center of town, I headed northwest, towards the viewpoint.

The hike up is well marked and paved but it still was a bit more strenuous than I was expecting. It didn’t help I was still recovering from the food poisoning.

koh phi phi viewpoint

But, upon making it to the top, you’re rewarded with the best view on the island and the town below. I got there just before sunset and wasn’t disappointed. It does get quite busy, so I recommend heading up a bit earlier than you think to snag a good spot.

koh phi phi sunset

Koh Phi Phi Nightlife

I think what surprised me the most about Koh Phi Phi was the nightlife. I had no idea that it was party island first and relaxing island second. Make no mistake, people come to Koh Phi Phi to party…and some never leave. I saw many former tourists that picked up bartending or ‘promoter’ jobs. After talking with a couple, they all had similar stories. They came for a couple days, loved the scene and haven’t left.

Honestly, I’m not sure how they can do it on a nightly basis. The island partys hard.

In the center of town there is a bar called ‘Reggae Bar’. It’s nothing special really but there is a boxing ring in the middle so I stepped in to see what it was all about.

It turns out that they allow patrons to fight Muay Thai (winner gets free drinks of course). It actually makes for some pretty good entertainment. The ‘tough guys’ can go in and duke it out and you get to enjoy a beer and laugh. Oh, and the girls fight as well.

Besides Reggae bar, there are a ton of bar/clubs in town and people usually start their nights here. From there, people start to migrate towards the beaches where the parties continue throughout the night.

koh phi phi fire show

Cool light trail feature shot with my camera phone

It’s not always a pretty sight. Backpackers and vacationers alike had a few too many and there were multiple projectiles being hurled into the ocean and onto the beach. Long story short, don’t swim or lay on the main beaches of Koh Phi Phi.

Monkey Island and Maya Bay

After making an early exit from the beach parties, I headed back to get some sleep and get ready for an early morning. Waking up, I went to one of the many tourist operators in town to book the day’s trip, Maya Bay.

Most of the tour operators will sell you a bundle. In fact, I didn’t see any that just sold you a trip to Maya Bay. The half day tour will take you to Monkey Beach, snorkeling, Maya Bay and the Viking Cave. It set me back about $15 and the mode of transportation was a longtail boat. Not terrible in the grand scheme of things.

First Stop, Monkey Beach

About 15 minutes after boarding my boat we came to our first stop, Monkey Beach. As you probably guessed, there are a lot of monkey’s on the beach.

A photo posted by Tyler (@_life.of.ty_) on

While they might look fun and cute and cuddly, don’t be fooled. These guys are experts in psychological warfare and recon missions. They’ll lure you in with their cuteness and antics and then when you’re not aware, they’ll snag your water bottles, any food you might have or anything else worth grabbing.

It doesn’t help that eager tourists are constantly feeding and teasing the monkeys in the hope they’ll perform some sideshow trick.

A video posted by Tyler (@_life.of.ty_) on

Maya Bay, Worth It or Not?

Interesting fact, Maya Bay isn’t even located on Koh Phi Phi. It’s located a couple miles due south on Koh Phi Phi Lee.

koh phi phi lee

Koh Phi Phi Lee was the highlight of my trip to Koh Phi Phi. The island juts out of the Andaman sea and the cliffs rise 100’s of feet. It’s an uninhabited island and for good reason. It really isn’t accessible because of the cliffs.

koh phi phi lee

As we traveled around the island we finally saw our opening and this was none other than Maya Bay. This really is the only accessible part of the island that I saw. By the way, the movie makes you believe that the beach is secluded and totally surrounded by cliffs. Not the case, that was special effects.

maya bay

Maya Bay is pretty awesome. It’s a beautiful bay with a white sand beach. You might think that it’s the perfect place to spend the day. The problem is that the secret is out, ‘The Beach’ is to thank for this. Ever since the movie, Maya Bay has become a top tourist destination in Thailand. While you’re hoping you’ll have the bay all to yourself, you won’t. There will be hundreds of others there too, all trying to snag their next profile pic (I did :)).

maya bay

The verdict? Fighting the crowds was worth it and still remains the main attraction of Koh Phi Phi.

maya bay

On To Krabi and Railay Beach

After a couple days on Koh Phi Phi, I was ready to get out of there. The town is too small and the nightlife is too much.

I boarded a ferry early in the morning and headed north to Krabi, my next stop. Krabi, again, is the name of the Province while the main town is called Krabi Town. We really need to work on these names.

Upon arriving in Krabi, I found it to be a nice change of pace from the mayhem of Koh Phi Phi. Krabi Town is less touristy and where I was staying.

krabi

The hostel I was staying at made a mistake in the booking and all they had left were single rooms, which I gladly took at the same cost of the dorm rooms. It was definitely nice having my own room for those couple days.

I spent the rest of the day exploring Krabi Town (not really much to see).

Railay Beach

The main reason I wanted to visit Krabi was because it has world class deep water soloing (rock climbing over water without ropes). My plan was to wake up early in the morning and go do it! Unfortunately, there was a recent tourist death and all deep water soloing trips were on hold. This was definitely a bummer but life goes on.

railay beach

Instead, I spent the day at Railay Beach which was beautiful. I spent time watching the rock climbers (top rope climbers, different way of climbing, not on hold), swimming and hiking.

There is a very strenuous hike on the point of the beach that takes you to this cool plateau with a nice viewpoint. If you continue, you can hike down into the center of this plateau and find a lagoon.

Now, I say hike, but it’s a bit more than that. There are times where it’s borderline rock climbing and other times where there are ropes you have to climb down and up. On top of that, the trail is made of clay which gets wet and very slippery. So only do this hike if you’re semi physically fit and confident scrambling rocks. Otherwise, skip this one.

Thoughts on Phuket, Koh Phi Phi and Krabi

Phuket didn’t do it for me. It’s very built up and touristy. It really doesn’t offer itself to the rest and relaxation crowd or the outdoors and adventure crowd. I’ve been to plenty of beach towns that are much closer to home that I prefer.

I have mixed feelings on Koh Phi Phi. I enjoyed the scenery and Maya Bay but wasn’t too keen on the excessive nightlife there. Needless to say, I was very content with my two days I stayed.

Krabi and Railay were welcome retreats after Koh Phi Phi. I would definitely visit Krabi again if they re-opened the deep water soloing activities and I much prefer Railay Beach over the resorts of Phuket or Koh Phi Phi.

Next stop: Koh Phangnan and the famous Full Moon Party.

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2 Comments

  • Reply Agen Sabung Ayam February 12, 2017 at 11:12 pm

    I love traveling specially to thailand, thank you for sharing

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