Krabi, Southern Thailand
The Phi Phi islands in southern Thailand are part of the Krabi Administrative District. These islands have been booming with tourists over the last decade – and with good reason. I first visited Phi Phi about 4 years ago and enjoyed open spaces and grand views. Today, those open spaces are covered with hotels, guesthouses, hostels, restaurants, bars, and shops with lots of useless stuff. In other words, the place is booming. On this visit, I had to wander down to the beach to see the views.
The great allure of the islands is the karst limestone islands and cliffs. These cliffs drop directly from heights of 100 to 200 meters directly into the sea. The views are dramatic, stunning, and awe-inspiring. The first time I visited the islands I sat on the beach, mesmerized by the cliffs, for an hour. This time I took a full day-trip around the islands to see them up close. It was a day well spent.
When you sign up for the day tour, you need to be forewarned: Not all the vendors who sell the island tour tickets will tell you that there is an additional charge to visit the national park. The fee is not big but it can come as a shock when you’ve been sold a package that is “all inclusive.”
In addition to the cliffs which are visible from the distant horizon, the islands have over-sized limestone mountains, caves, and long, white sandy beaches. These islands are so special and fragile, the Thai government has established a national park on the islands that covers nearly 40,000 hectares.
There is even a hippy quarter to the island – although the hippy area is not advertised on any of the tourist brochures I came across. If you show up on the island with a pack on your back, little money in your pocket, and the willingness to ask where the budget accommodations are, someone will point you up the side of one of the mountains to an area that suits your traveling style and budget. The construction and painting styles come straight out of the 1960s! Interestingly, the views of the islands are far more dramatic from the hippy area than they are from the mid-range and up-scale areas on the lowlands.
The beaches are lined with long tail boats. These long, narrow boats acquired this designation because they have poles on their sterns that are 5 to 8 meters long. These sturdy poles have automobile engines at one end and rugged propellers on the other end. The pilots keep the propellers only about 80% submerged when they are cruising. This creates a big rooster tail wave that trails behind the boats at high speed.
Gold Finger and The Beach
Movie buffs will certainly remember the 2000 movie The Beach as well as the James Bond movie Gold Finger. Both were filmed here in the Phi Phi islands. In fact, the island where Gold Finger was filmed has been unofficially renamed “James Bond Island” and is on every boat tour of the islands.
It was these movies that sparked the initial interest in the islands. Tourists wanted to see the places where these movies were filmed and walk the beaches themselves. This led to a booming tourist trade that has been soaring every year.
Pollution is Becoming a Problem
Hotels and guesthouses are required to treat their own waste water. However, the processing requirements are based on the permanent population – not the transient population that is several times as large as the permanent population at any point in time. This, of course, is leading to a dramatic increase in pollution. I’ve come across this same problem – a direct result of poor government planning – in other tourist sites in Thailand. It is not clear how the solution is going to play out.
Here are a few more photographs from my visit to Koh Phi Phi.
All photos by Jan Wall – All Rights Reserved