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Koh Phi Phi: Into the Tourist Beach Party Vortex

Tonsai was a paradise for me, and I was very sad to leave. However, in the spirit of continuous travel and exploration, I decide to move on, and head north through the Thai islands to the Thai party central island of Koh Phi Phi Don. PP (as the locals write it) lies in the Andaman Sea, just north of Tonsai, and south of Phuket. It’s fairly central location and beautiful setting make it a very popular spot for vacationers and partiers. Although the reported beach party vibe wasn’t ultimately what I was after, I figured PP was worth at least stopping in to see. Additionally, it gave me solid access to a few of more beautiful SCUBA diving spots in the Andaman.

Transfer from Tonsai to Phi Phi was via a mix of traditional Thai Longtail boats and higher speed ferries. To start out the day of travel in adventurous Tonsai fashion, we hoised out bags above our heads, and waded out into the water during high tide to where the boats were parked – on the edge of the deep water. I loved that the boat drivers simply assumed that everybody was wearing flip flops and was fully prepared to wade out into the shallow tidal area – we certainly all were, and everyone loved it.

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Upon arrival in Koh Phi Phi Don, the vibe changed completely. Gone was the laid back climber vibe of Tonsai. Now, it was all tourism and partying, all the time. The second I got off the ferry, I was immediately hit by a barage of touts from nearby guesthouses and bars, offering me cheap rooms, free drinks, “special” massages, and tour packages. They came out to the very edge of the dock, and the line of touts extended down the pier and into the maze of shops covering the island. Certainly the island is beautiful, but was immediately way too overrun with the party-backpacker vibe for my tastes.

From Wikipedia:

Ko Phi Phi Don is now squarely on the tourist map, and tourists from all over the world (especially Europe, Japan, and the wealthier Southeast Asian countries i.e. Chinese, Singapore and Malaysia) flock to the island. Accessible from Phuket and mainland Krabi province, all tourists must arrive by Ferry. (The trip from Phuket takes around 90 minutes.) This has essentially turned the island into a rush of day trippers who overpopulate the island from 11AM-3PM. The island still holds much charm that can be enjoyed in the hours that the flocks from Phuket are not there.

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King-Cruiser-shipwreckSo, my first order of business, after fining a low key guesthouse at the back of a restaurant, was to arrange to get off the island and go SCUBA Diving. I’ve been a SCUBA Diver for a long time – since I got my Jr. Open Water certification when I was 12 or 13 at summercamp in Maine. Back then, my diving was limited to frigid dives in a dirty, shallow lake using age old gear. However, since then, I’ve been fortunate to do some of the better dives in the world, in locations such as the Blue Hole Belize, Sea of Cortez Mexico, Bora Bora French Polynesia, British Virgin Islands, and Dutch West Indies. So, in the past few years of diving, I’ve tried to refine my taste a little bit, and focus my time and energy on doing dives that are really interesting to me. Sure, reef dives to see fish and coral are nice, but I’ve seen a ton of that. Nowadays I prefer more technical dives, such as wrecks. Luckily, closeby the PP was one of the more famous wrecks in the area – the King Cruiser Shipwreck. I arranged a day of diving with Island Divers, who were great. My guide from Island Divers was PADI Instructor Adam Jordan, instructor #611002. King Cruiser wreck was great, and the sealife living in the wreck was astounding. Although I did the dive mainly to see the wreck, I’ve gotta say that the sealife on this dive, as well as the Shark Point Dive I did next, was some of the best I’ve seen in the world.

From Wikipedia:

The King Cruiser wreck is the wreck of the car ferry of the same name that sank off the West Coast of Southern Thailand on 4 May 1997.
The ferry was operating between Phuket and the Phi Phi Islands in southern Thailand when she hit a submerged collection of rocky pinnacles at Anemone Reef, 10 miles off Phi Phi Island. The impact tore a large hole in the hull, and the vessel sank within two and a half hours.[1]
All 561 passengers – including both Thai locals and foreign tourists – were rescued. They were picked up by the two police patrol boats and four or five fishing boats which had raced to the rescue in response to an emergency call. One elderly woman sustained a broken back and several others suffered shock.

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After a day of Diving, I briefly surveyed the party scene with friend Peach. Of note, popular on the Thai party scene is the concept of the “bucket”. For as little as 200 Baht, you can get from a street vendor a small plastic bucket, a flash of cheap alcohol, and some mixers. It’s cheap, potent, and the kids who come to the islands to party seem to love it. Not really my style, but an interesting phenomenon nonetheless.

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For my final day in PP, I did a hike from one end of the island to the other. Once I had left the main tourist center of the island, the island was much much more beautiful and manageable. I started my day long hike going up to the viewpoint, and then headed north along the ridge. Hiking across the middle of the island felt very much like an episode of LOST – I continuously encountered small villages in the mountains, mysterious pathways, strange electrical lines running overhead, and a bunch of other strange structures all over the forrest. Finishing my hike, I stopped into the incredibly large and complete Outrigger Resort, which is on its own secluded beach on the northern section. This place felt more my style, versus the dirty partygoer accommodations.

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One comment

  1. Diver Dave says:

    Great post on visiting Phi Phi.
    Cocktail buckets on the beach – quite a contrast to the Antarctic Research station!
    Your photos are excellent.
    But gotta say that pier area is starting to look very hectic and developed, not fun.

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