Family trip to Phi Phi - 16 months after the Tsunami
As we had arrived just a few minutes before departure time, the boat was packed. No room upstairs, and the only places we could find to sit were cramped down in the front of the boat with a headroom of about 4 feet! Not real comfy. I was not expecting it to be so crowded. The trip over was calm, and I did get upstairs for the last 20 minutes to show mum and dad the islands and be their tour guide.
A bit of a scrum to get off and I could not get back inside to help my wife carry baby boy. If you have kids on these boats, keep them close. The water looked clear, even right off the jetty. A man was throwing bread into the water, and a melee of colourful sergeant major damselfish raced for a mouthful.
The first 10 minutes on the island were spent trying to work out what our friends wanted to do. A friend with her 3 year old son and 4 month old baby, her sister and cousin had decided that morning to join us, but it was clear they were slowing us down! Getting from the boat to the main street in Tonsai you have to pass about 20 touts for tours, boat hire, etc. and the area is a bit crowded. We were already hot and thirsty, so I stopped at a little shop to buy drinks.
Realised right away that Phi Phi is expensive. In the little shop, canned drinks were 30 Baht - the normal price in Phuket is somewhere from 13-15 Baht. Once we were a hundred meters from the jetty, the touts were gone and we could walk unmolested. That part of the village is rather cramped, with buildings on both side of the narrow street. There are no cars on Phi Phi, but you do need to look out for locals on bicycles and the occasional motorbike (can't be more than a few on the island).
The main street opens out a bit after a hundred meters, and you have a clear view of the bay. I was vaguely aiming for the viewpoint, never having walked up there despite many visits to Phi Phi. Looked like a fair walk, and I knew the girls with the young kids were not up for it. Finally they decided to go find a place for a drink. We soldiered on, crossing over to Loh Dalam Bay, after letting my daughter find some shells on the beach. She always loves that.
Towards the end of Tonsai Bay is a path going over a small hill to Loh Dalam Bay (the "other side"). Up on that road you have some small guesthouses and some local houses. A path leads off to the right saying "small view point 400m", but this is not the main view point. When you get to the other side, first thing you see is a big mess where the water treatment plant is being rebuilt. Not pretty, but looks way better than when I was there last in June 2005, when everything was still covered in mud and sand.
The path to the viewpoint carries on to the right (a small sign points the way). We passed a few more rooms and cafes, then came to a steep stairway. Someone said it would be a 20 minute climb. I am supposed to be fit, but was feeling rather hot and was carrying my 13kg "little" boy. Dad's knee playing up, wife was carrying a much-too-big bag....in short, we chickened out and went to find a place for lunch near the beach.
Charlies was almost empty and close to the water. Its a simple structure, built since the tsunami with nice wooden furniture (always a bonus - I hate the plastic chairs and tables) and the staff seemed friendly too. Dad looked a bit knackered. Some ice cold coca cola revived him. The varied menu showed us again that Phi Phi is not so cheap - and remember this is coming from someone who lives in Phuket... But then I reminded myself that an average tourist would be saying "Wow this is cheap". I mean we all ate for 600 Baht - less than 10 pounds, at a restaurant with a view over the beach. I'm sure you can eat way cheaper in Phi Phi, but hell, we're on holiday!
Mum and I ordered some fried rice and a chicken with cashew nuts. Dad had some "real" food - cordon bleu with chips, and he was happy to see some carrot too. Food was tasty and plentiful. After eating we headed for the beach. It was low tide and many longtails were stranded on the sand. Time for little boy to run around. He always enjoys getting free and loved getting dirty. I had to put a stop to it when he started throwing handfuls of wet sand in the air, landing in his hair. I think he liked the view. Daughter was looking for more shells.
There were not so many people on the beach (see photo of dude playing keepy uppy). Quite pleasant and quiet. What I had to remind myself was that this area was once full of guesthouses. Now very empty (which I think is nice). Some places we walked, you could see tiles on the ground that had obviously once been the floor of a hotel room. I could not help but stare out to sea across Loh Dalam Bay and think how horrifying it must have been. With no warning, there is just about nowhere to run. There's a sign up just along from Charlies that says "Hazard Zone - in case of earthquake, head inland"...but along most of the beach, there is no "inland", you walk 2 minutes and you are on the other side of the island at Tonsai Bay...
As a day trip just staying in Tonsai village, it's a wee bit too tacky for me. Lots of day trippers (it was Sunday, so lots of Thai daytrippers too). We had wanted to hire a longtail boat, and I think we will go back sometime again. The weather was not great - see dark skies above dads head, and if you really want to see the beauty of Phi Phi Ley island, blue skies help a lot!
I have stayed overnight in Phi Phi many times on dive trips and in the evening all the day trippers are gone, the bars open and I always enjoyed the evenings. On the dive trips we normally stay at the nice Phi Phi Bayview Resort. Was there for Christmas one time and remember dancing half drunk in Apache Bar. Many times getting rather p*ssed on free tequilas in Tin Tin's bar (which I think has gone now). There's always a good crowd in the bars, and no bar girls molesting you. I do think Phi Phi has to be careful where it's going. Certainly heading more up market, nicer hotels, less for the backpackers who "made the place what it is today", for good or worse. There are still cheapish bungalows, but a lot more mid price resorts with pools, plus on the other side of Phi Phi, you have top quality resorts like Holiday Inn, Phi Phi Erawan Palms, Phi Phi Natural - all very nice places indeed. You also have the excellent Phi Phi Island Village. For more hotel info, you can click on the hotel names above.
The diving is also not as cheap as it used to be. Dive centers all charge the same prices now, and its quite a bit more than the average on Koh Tao, though the diving is better. Things change, and Phi Phi is starting to squeeze the backpackers wallets.... More day trippers coming from Phuket, and I have a feeling coming BECAUSE of the you-know-what, to see if there's any damage left to gawk at, or because they feel they should "do their bit" to support the island. For me a day trip from Phuket is a bit tacky, as you don't have time to do anything much. I would like to do the blacktip shark snorkeling, which is meant to be very good. Well, one of these days, we'll do another trip and stay overnight, hire a boat to see the more beautiful parts of Phi Phi. You cannot deny that a place like Maya Bay or Losamah Bay is spectacular, though in the middle of the day it can be crowded. Staying overnight and getting a boat nice and early is a good option so you get there before the boats from Phuket. Early morning is a great time for travel, great light, cool air and nobody around... Got to do another trip soon!
(update) In 2008 we took a seaplane from Phuket to Phi Phi (and back), a great experience, got some great photos too:
• Phi Phi Islands by Seaplane
Going to Phi Phi? Some useful links...
• Ask Easy Day Thailand about Phi Phi tours
• Phi Phi Island Hotels - Rates and Availability at Agoda.com
Family trip to Phi Phi - 16 months after the Tsunami | Jamie's Phuket Blog