Ko Phi Phi: Thailand’s Most Dangerous Island

the moon in ko phi phi thailandThis is a guest post by Sean Ogle.

When you think of dangerous islands, you might think of earthquake prone and poverty stricken Haiti. Or maybe it’s Australia with it’s deadly spiders and snakes. Or perhaps it’s someplace even more remote like the jungle wilderness of Borneo. Yet there is an island out there that is far more dangerous and far less obvious. That island is Ko Phi Phi off the coast of Thailand.

Ko Phi Phi is one of Thailand’s most famous islands. It’s one of the biggest tourist destinations in the country and is where the movie “The Beach” was filmed. Every year, thousands of people flock to this island to relax in the sun, swim in the ocean, and dive the surrounding reefs. But despite its international reputation as being a world class travel destination, for many young travelers it can often be the most dangerous place you visit on your trip through Southeast Asia. What makes Ko Phi Phi possibly so dangerous?

Two words: buckets and fire.

For those of you unfamiliar with the Thai bucket, it’s a combination of Red Bull, Thai Whiskey, and Coke or Sprite. They get their name from the small sand pails in which they are served and are a staple on the Thai tourist trail.

My personal bucket and fire story started seemingly harmless enough with a burning rope landing on my foot. Originally, I thought nothing of it. I cleaned it up and took care of it. Yet three weeks later when I had an infection half an inch deep and was forced to make my first visit to a Thai hospital, I realized it was more than nothing.

Others get it much worse, getting mangled on flaming jump ropes or falling on top of fiery limbo sticks. I saw one British guy be forcefully removed from the activities because he was too drunk to feel the constant burns he was inflicting upon himself with the rope.

buckets in thailand

The combination of buckets and the fire antics that take place at beach bars such as Ibiza and Apache put inebriated travelers in a position to have the best nights they’ll never remember, yet leave them with scars that will never let them forget the nights they spent on Ko Phi Phi.

On any particular night you can head down to any of these beach bars around 10pm and find an exciting display of poi fire dancers, fire jump ropers, and even a fire limbo. You watch in awe as you sip on your first drink, wondering how anyone could possibly have the nerve to participate in such an acrobatic display of fire mastery. The Thais doing these moves seem to be masters at it, catching balls of fire thrown at them from across the beach. They have real talent.

buckets in thailand

However, as the night wears on, something begins to change. The locals begin to invite tourists to participate in a little jump roping. Promising to go slow, and always ensuring you that you won’t get hurt. Yet as the night wears on the audience gets more excited, more drunk, and more daring. They want to go faster and sometimes two at a time. As they get drunker, their reflexes so down and that’s when people get hurt.

As the alcohol continues to flow, the fire seems to disappear as you show off your flexibility, and ability to dive head first into the flames. The next day, it seems like everywhere you look in Phi Phi, travelers have bandaged arms or heads. They’re on crutches or perhaps have a couple casts on various appendages. After your first night on the island, you’ll understand where those came from.

The time I spent on Phi Phi was among the best I’ve had in Thailand. I loved the beaches and the people I met. [Editor’s note: I did not like Ko Phi Phi.] Yet it’s important to be aware of what goes on there and not to be influenced by your friends or your nightly “liquid courage.”

Sean Ogle is a location independent entrepreneur who teaches people how to overcome fear in order to live the lives they really want.

  1. Jenni

    Funny post. Note on the Editor’s note – Two days ago it was Vietnam, today Ko Phi Phi…your next post should be about somewhere you do like! :-)

  2. Nice post, Sean! I always thought the fire rope jumping was limited to the Full Moon Party, but I guess not!

    Come back to Thailand around February. I’ll be the bandaged one who did too many body shots the night before.

  3. Koh Phi Phi definitely has it’s share of buckets and fire but I think Koh Phangan definitely takes the cake.

    Plus, you also have the added element of drunken people on motobikes!

  4. The place koh Phi Phi looks exciting, thrilling and also dangerous. I love Thrill which makes your life memorable and different from others. I think Thailand have all those stuffs which attract the tourists.

  5. The combination of alcohol and fire is never going to be good, and quite right throw in a few scooters on the roads driven by drunks and the outcome will never be a good thing…

    I think that the problem is that a lot of people think they are Superman/woman when on vacation and nothing bad will ever happen to them.

    I have often seen these scenarios described above and very few turn out okay.

    Have fun, but do try to have a modicum of common sense.

    Something that a lot of people don’t know is that the bar and restaurant owners will often give you a ride home for next to nothing. They put you on the back of your bike with a sober driver and have another bike follow you home, drop you off and then head back to the bar with bike #2. Just ask and probably they will…not many owners want people to get hurt…

  6. Lori

    Now although I realize your sense of humor in this post, I do have a question about overall safety in general in Thailand. I am looking into a trip that is heading to Koh Samui Island and although I am aware that safety issues are a concern regardless of where you are or travel, I was wondering about your take or thoughts on the safety of Thailand, or specially Koh Samui, are?

  7. Have they officially banned the fire activities? I was just on Phi Phi, and they were using these tame strings of colored lights instead of fire to do the same things (jump rope, limbo)! It’s kind of silly looking, you’d think they would just cancel the activities altogether because the fire aspect was kind of the point (not that I disagree with the ban).

  8. Yeah Danna, the fire skipping rope, fire limbo and fire hoop have been banned now from Koh Phi Phi. Probably for the best. It did make excellent late night drunken entertainment but at too high a cost (I saw one dude get the rope entangled on his plastic wristband for quite a few seconds and he had to get severely bandaged up). I agree that it’s sort of pointless now though, with the fluorescent skipping ropes and fluorescent limbo – might as well just scrap it altogether.

    For anyone who desperately wants to see some fire related activities, they still have the fire skipping rope, fire limbo and fire hoop in Koh Pha Ngan.

  9. I remenbered those nights in Phiphi… unforgettable…
    Koh Phangan is much more dangerous with its scary road.
    Anayway, great idea to share your experience for those who plan to come there.

  10. francois williams

    In the 1990’s Thailand was great, but it was already on the slopes slipping ever faster…when I visited my last time 2007, I decided that would be my very last trip, as by that time the whole place has turned ‘ugly’…had a cocked gun in my face twice, was involved in an altercation involving a meat chopper…this was in a coffee shop, a friend was killed on his bike by a 16 year old Thai kid drunk and careening in dad’s car…and the Thais themselves had turned mean…real MEAN…my best advice:

    • Sam

      Francois, Sorry for what had happened with you and your friend. This accident can happen anywhere in this world, even at your home country. If this happened in your mother, will you hate your coutry? Maybe..you need to grow the ball….

    • Jay

      Man, that sounds real bad… I’m going to Koh Phi phi next year in january and i’ve been to Koh phangan and koh Tao two years ago. I must say i have not seen anything like that on the Islands. Even though the Thai people there did have a pretty bad image of us westeners and in their own passive way made fun of them (and really i cannot blame them as what they see are our worst sides, drunk, respectless and in some cases rude) as long as you just behave and show respect and interest in their culture i’ve found them to be quite nice and pleaseant to hang out with. I remember seeing some scooter- taxi driver all upset because the guy who took a ride with him refused to pay (he was drunk and thought he had already paid him). Then i talked to him a bit, asked him about his family and stuff and we got along real well. In the end he endes up making sure that i got back to the hostel safe and sound and scared off some rude guy who was trying to hit on me. Another time i talked to a real nice lady who offered that i’d have dinner with her family. I think we need to start behaving ourselves better round there, respect has to be earned. Now that being said I’m really sorry for what happened to your friend and I’m in no way saying that he might have been responsible in any way, what i am saying though is that the way most westeners behave in a country with a different culture is responsible for the way we are perceived (and treated) in Thailand

  11. Nikola Georgiev

    Australian people are fucking animals. I see them every day here. I just hate them in the guts. There’s no others like them. Absolutely rude fucking junkies. I don’t know how Thai people allow them to enter this beautiful country. They drink and take drugs all night on Full Moon parties, steal money for more parties. Tourists here are the disease of this country.

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