This was my third time on the island, and as I was there, I was reminded of how much I dislike it. I hate Ko Phi Phi. It’s one of the most overrated islands in all of Thailand. I spent the last four days there with some friends of mine from Bangkok. Originally, we were going to go to nearby Krabi, but when it was too quiet for them, we moved to Ko Phi Phi.
Ko Phi Phi is one of the most well-known Thai islands, and during the high season, it’s flooded with people. The island was a tragic victim of the 2005 tsunami and more than 2,000 people were killed here, but the island has been so rebuilt that you would never know such a tragedy took place. Everything is right back where it was beforehand, there’s a brand new and bigger pier, and even more hotels blight the island. It’s obvious nothing was learned from the tragedy.
For the life of me I can’t figure out what people see in the island. It’s only good for one thing: partying. Since it sees so many young travelers, the alcohol and music flow continuously, even during the low season. Yet people swear by the beauty of the island, and I don’t know why.
For starters, it’s overpriced. You pay double what you would anywhere else in Thailand. During the low season, a beach bungalow is 800 baht, double what I paid during the high season on Ko Phangan. A bucket of booze (the quintessential Thailand drink) is 400 baht, double what it is in Bangkok and a bit more than double what it is on most other islands. A cheap Thai meal is around 100 baht, triple the price of Bangkok.
Then there are the beaches and the water. This is where Ko Phi Phi is supposed to shine. But it doesn’t. From afar the blue water and white sand beaches look like paradise. Yet when you look closer, you realize that looks are deceiving. One of the beaches is used by all the boats, so it’s a no go. There’s the main one in the bay opposite that a lot of people go to, but when the tide recedes, all that’s left is dead coral, boats, and ankle-deep water. That wouldn’t be bad—if it didn’t happen during the day! This leaves the most popular beach, Long Beach, which is a 15-minute walk from town. There you’ll find tons of people vying for the decent spot of beach.
Yet unless you are on the private resorts on the north end of the island, you can’t be saved from the one thing that truly kills this island: the mass of long-tail boats. There are simply too many boats and too many engines choking the water. The worst is on the beach with the pier, and the best is Long Beach, but even that beach can’t escape the boats. The fact it’s the “best” doesn’t really say much. No matter where you go, you’ll notice that the water has a funky smell to it. Or that white foamy bubbles of waste and chemicals from too many boats and engines float on the surface. Or maybe you’ll notice the oil slicks and weird brown stuff in the water. Whatever you notice, you’ll notice that the water up close just isn’t as good as it was far away, and suddenly the cool dip in that blue tropical water won’t seem like such a good idea.
Ko Phi Phi, like many Thai islands, suffers from mass overdevelopment. It’s simply too small to handle all the people brought to it. Hotels are thrown up, boats brought in, and ferries arrive to fill as many rooms as possible all while coral reefs are dynamited and overfished and as many tourists as possible are brought to gawk and feed the wild monkeys and take their photo where Leonardo DiCaprio filmed The Beach. And since the tourists don’t complain, nothing gets changed.
I can’t figure out why anyone would consider this paradise when there are hundreds of untapped and unspoiled islands all over Thailand. Good marketing, pretty pictures, and a reputation for a good party keeps Ko Phi Phi alive, but if you want beautiful and unspoiled tropical islands, Ko Phi Phi is not the place for you.