As our team headed for Phuket, we had some vague plans. Mostly we were just looking forward to enjoying the sand and the sun, eating spicy Thai food and visiting some of the best villas in Thailand.
One wish, however, was very clearly formulated and non-negotiable: we wanted to visit Phi Phi Islands.
Phi Phi is a cluster of islands scattered in the Andaman Sea between the island of Phuket and Krabi on mainland Thailand. By speedboat, you can reach Phi Phi Islands in about one hour from Phuket.
The islands, of course, became world famous after appearing in the 2000 film The Beach. After watching Leonardo DiCaprio and Virginie Ledoyen find paradise (and then seeing it all crash and burn) on these small Thai islets, people wanted to experience it for themselves.
Since the movie was first released, visiting the islands has becomes something of a Phuket cliché. But you know what they say – clichés are clichés for a reason. Both the islands and the waters surrounding them are every bit as beautiful as every Instagram post you’ve seen would have you believe.
Our day starts bright and early at 7 am with a breakfast served at our villa, the Malaiwana Residences in Naithon. The driver picks us up at 7.45 and we’re on our way to Phuket Royal Marina.
The cost of the trip depends on your itinerary (i.e. how many spots you want to visit), number of people and mode of transport. We were seven people and joined a group tour on a speed boat. The price tag came to THB 1,700 (USD $ 51) per person. This included transfers to and from our villa in Naithon, unlimited water and soft drinks on the boat and a buffet lunch on one of the islands. The initial quote you get will often be around THB 3,000 so don’t forget to bargain.
After departing from the marina, our first stop is at Monkey Beach. Travelling in Asia, I’ve developed a real love hate relationship with these creatures. They’re cute from afar but can get mischievous and even aggressive up close. My suspicions are confirmed as we are warned that the Phi Phi monkeys are “very naughty”, so it’s best to keep your valuables close at hand.
I can’t help but give a small sigh of relief when I find out we’re not actually getting off the boat on Monkey Beach. Most likely, the feeling is mutual – after all, monkeys deserve some private beach time, too.
Snorkelling at Phi Phi Islands
After Monkey Beach, it’s time to lower our anchor for some snorkelling. For me, this was definitely the highlight of our trip. The underwater views are quite simply exquisite. The water is crystal clear and you could easily spend hours just marvelling at the vibrant coral and rainbow hued fish darting between the seaweeds.
A snorkelling mask and tube were provided free of charge as part of our tour. Though renting fins is optional, I would definitely recommend getting them as its’ very easy to nick your feet on some coral or a sea urchin while exploring the waters, especially during low tide. Wearing fins also allows you to stay in the water longer, as you don’t wear yourself out as quickly. The fin rental was THB 200 (USD $6) – worth every penny.
Visiting Maya Bay
After lunch on the main island of Koh Phi Phi Don, we’re off to see the main event: Maya Bay. This is the famous spot where scenes of The Beach were filmed. We were there with the crowds, but if you want to experience the beach in private, you might want to consider booking private transport and arriving super early. In this case, you would be booking a long tail boat (the kind you see on every postcard of Phi Phi Islands) which might be a tad more expensive with no drinks or food included in the price.
Despite the crowds, Maya Bay is undeniably beautiful. The turquoise ocean lagoon is hugged by forest clad islands and the sand is incredibly soft and white like flour. It’s really no wonder this exact spot was used to evoke paradise on the silver screen.
From the beach, we stroll inland. After you leave the beach behind, the world gets quiet – literally. We walk beneath the palm trees and marvel at the lack of sounds – it almost feels unearthly. The surreal feeling is amplified by the black cat curled up on an old office chair stranded beneath a coconut tree.
This shady walkway brings us to a rickety viewing point that looks like part of an old pirate ship. From here, we gaze at Sama Bay, with a whimsical round islet jutting out of the ocean. Sama Bay is also a popular spot for snorkelling, but climbing down the splintered ladder down to the rocks waiting down below doesn’t seem like the best idea.
Pit Stop at Khai Nai Island
Our last stop for the day is at Khai Nai Island. This small patch of sand is minuscule in size and seems to be lifting its head from the sea only to sink back beneath the waves before too long. It’s been a long day and a few of us spend our time on the island simply relaxing on the soft white sand. I can’t resist heading out for some more snorkelling and spend a good while in the water.
Honestly though, Khai Nai was the most underwhelming spot we visited. If you have a choice, look for a tour that includes a stop at Bamboo Island instead, or simply spend more time snorkelling in the open waters.
But there was something that made a stop at Khai Nai more than worth it for me. It is here that I finally spot Nemo, or actually, three Nemos. The orange clownfish are nestled amidst the coral and for a moment, I simply float above them and hear my own laugh escaping from the breathing tube.
On the boat ride back to the marina, no one is talking much. We sit back, tired and happy. With the fresh sea breeze blowing in, you can’t help but feel drowsy. It’s been one of those days where you go to bed sun kissed, with a big smile stretchered across your face.