It is a two hour boat ride from Phuket to Ko Phi-Phi Don (the larger of the two scenic limestone islands of Ko Phi-Phi) which lays 40km offshore from Krabi in midst the Andaman Sea. A short boat ride south the through National Park status protected Phi-Phi Leh is totally undeveloped.
Ko Phi-Phi rates as the most popular tourist destination on the Andaman coast after Phuket before the Tsunami in 2004 happened. While I was on Phi-Phi locals and help organizations were rebuilding Phi-Phi and there is still a lot to do as the Government has declined any international monetary help. Help International Phi-Phi (www.hiphiphi.com) has organised a network of volunteers that help villagers on the island to rebuild their businesses and infrastructure as well as collecting rubble from land and sea. If you like to volunteer like I did, please come to Phi-Phi as help is needed and appreciated. Your help makes a difference even if it is for 3 hours a day.
It was my first visit to the island despite the destroyed houses the island is still beautiful. Phi-Phi has a relaxed vibe and is certainly a party place between December and March where hordes of young backpackers enter the island. I decided to stay away from the crowds on the quiter end of Ao Lo Dalam, the northern beach. My choice was viewpoint bungalows and I got a nice and simple fan-bungalow forty metres above the sea with tremendous sunset-sea views from the bedroom and balcony. The surrounding birds and other animals here are very loud sometimes but after one night it is beautiful to sleep to the sounds of frogs, crickets and geckos. Just natural.
I suggest to go uphill to the island's viewpoint on the first day you arrive. It is a 15 minute hike and you will be drenched by sweat, but hey it's a tropical island. From the viewpoint you will see both parts of the island with its two nice sandy bays and it gives you a pretty good idea of what Phi-Phi looks like from an eagles view. Don't forget to bring a camera.
My initial plans were to stay only three nights in Phi-Phi and then continue to Ko-Tao to do a dive course. Unfortunately I caught an Ear infection and diving does not speed up the healing process, which means I have to stay out of the water. Phi-Phi with its several dive-operations (there were 5 centers running here on the island, already) is a pretty good place to go diving, too. The dive-sites include Hin Bida (Shark Point) which is a merged pinnacle with gorgonians, turtles, leopard-sharks and occasional whale-sharks. The King Cruiser is another interesting site. The wreck of an 85m long car ferry with numerous juvenile fish. The car ferry sank midway between Krabi and Phuket in 1997.
Other than Scuba-diving and snorkeling there is rock-climbing and sea-kayaking here on Phi-Phi. The main climbing-areas are Ton Sai Tower at the western end of Ao Ton Sai, and Hin Taak, a short longtail-boat ride away.
I consider Phi-Phi a nice place just before high-season if you want it a bit more quiet. The island is definitely absolutely over-developed and if you imagine that before the Tsunami happened an average of 8000 people a day competed for 3 kilometres of sand, it gets very busy. Around 700 people lost their lives on Dec. 26th 2004 in Phi-Phi alone and 1300 are still missing.
This is the report of a tsunami eye witness which I found in the Talang Guesthouse in Phuket:
"That morning the sea level was higher than usual. The sea was very flat, no wave, but it was choppy on the edge. There was a strong stream even in 50cm deep water and a wide spot in the middle of the bay where earth was mixed with water. All that seemed pretty bizarre, but as we had a storm the previous night, I thought it to be the reason. Suddenly the water receded in seconds, leaving five metres of sand dry. It stayed like that for a few seconds, than came up again in seconds. The next two minutes nothing happened. Afterwards the water receded about one hundred meters, so fast that the fish were stranded on the dry sand. THIS SIGNALS AN IMMINENT TIDAL WAVE, ANYWHERE IN THE WORLD! It took ten minutes for the wave to come. We would had have time to flee as fast and high as we could. Instead we went to play with the stranded fish."
The wave came first from the south with 2-3 metres and hit Ao Ton Sai and seconds later from the north, hitting Ao Lo Dalam with its 10 meter height and wiping out almost the entire island.
Ko Phi-Phi was my last stop in Thailand before going back to Bangkok and continue traveling in India.