Phi Phi Island consists of two islands situated about 40 Km from Krabi, Phi Phi Leh and Phi Phi Don. Both are part of Nopparat Tara Beach/ Phi Phi island Natural Park, though this means little in the face of blatant land encroachment taking place on Phi Phi Don.

Only parts of Phi Phi Don are actually under the administration of the Natural Park Division of the Royal Forestry Department. Phi Phi Leh and the western cliffs of Phi Phi Don are left to the nest collectors, and the parts of Phi Phi Don where the choao naam (sea gypsies) live are also not included in the park.

After Phuket this is probably the most popular tourist destination along the Andaman Coast, especially during the peak months from December to March, when hordes descend on the island and snatch up every room and bungalow on Phi Phi Don. Even so, the island still retains some of its originally beauty, though to truly appreciate it usually means a fair hike to escape the crowds.

Phi Phi Don: It is the larger of the two islands, a sort of dumbbell - shaped island with scenic hills, awesome cliffs, long beaches, emerald waters and remarkable bird and sad life. The "handle" in the middle has long, white-sand beaches on either side, only a few hundred metres apart. The beach on the southern side curves around Ao Ton Sai (Banyan Tree Bay), where boats from Phuket and Krabi dock. There is also and untidy Thai Muslim village here. On the northern side of the handle is Ao Lo Dalam.

The uninhabited (except for beach huts) western section of the island is called Nawk Island (Outer Island) and the eastern section, which is much larger, is Nai Island (Inner Island). A the north of the eastern end is Leam Tong, where the island's choao naam population lives. The number of the choao naam living here varies from time to time, as they are still a somewhat nomadic people, but there are generally about 100. With stones tied to their waists as ballast, choao naam divers can reportedly descend up to 60m while breathing through and air horse held above the water surface.

Hat Yao (Long Beach), facing south at the south-eastern tip of the island, has some of Phi Phi Don's best coral reefs. Ton Sai, Ao Lo Dalam and Hat Yao all have beach bungalow. Over a ridge north form Hat Yao is another very beautiful beach, Hat Ranti , with good surf. For several years the locals wouldn't allow any bungalows to be built here out of respect for the large village mosque in a coconut grove above the beach - but money talked, and the choao naam walked. Farther north is the sizeable bay of Ao Lo Bakao , where there is a small resort, and neat the tip of Leam Tong are three luxury resorts.

Park administrators have allowed development on Phi Phi Don to continue unchecked; though it's doubtful they ever had the power or influence to stop the building. Rumour has it that many parks of facials won't dare even set foot on Phi Phi Island for fear of being attacked by village chiefs and bungalow developers profiting from tourism.

Beautiful Ao Ton Sai is more of boat basin than a beach and more and more bungalows have crowded onto this section of the island. A tourist village of sort has developed in the interior of the island near Ao Ton Sai and Hat Hin Khom. If you have already been to Pha-ngan island's Hat Rin, you may experience a bit of déjà vu. For solitude and scenery, this place falls short. On the other hand, those in search of a lively social scene will be rewarded by a wide choice of restaurants, beachfronts bar and upmarket accommodation.

Other parts of Phi Phi Don aren't so bad, though the once-brilliant coral reefs around the island are suffering from anchor drag and run-off from large beach developments. The least-distributed parts of the island are those still belonging to the few choao naam who haven't cashed in.

Phi Phi Lah: It is almost all sheer cliffs, with a few caves and a sea lake formed by a cleft between two cliffs that allows water to enter into a bowl-shaped canyon. The so-called Viking Cave (officially called Tham Phaya Naak or Revered Naga Cave) on Phi Phi Leh's north-east shore contains prehistoric paintings of stylised human and animal figures alongside later paintings of ships (Asian junks) no more than 100 years old. The cave is also a collection point for swiftlet nests. The swiftlets build their nests high up in the caves in rocky hollow that can be very difficult to reach.

Ao Maya and Lo Sama, scenic covers on the island's western and south-eastern shores, are favourite stop for day-tripping snorkellers. Although once pristine, the corals at these covers have been marred by bad anchoring and the beaches littered with rubbish jettisoned by people on tour boats.

  :: How to get there

Phi Phi Islands can be reached by boat from either Phuket or Krabi at about the same distance.

1. From Krabi

  • Chao Fa Pier: Passenger boats leave Chao Fa pier twice daily at 10 a.m. and 2.30 p.m. The trip takes about 2 1/2 hours.
  • Ao Nang : There is one express boat trip leaving daily at 9 a.m. taking 40 min.

2. From Phuket
Many tour companies in Phuket organize one-day trips to Phi Phi Islands. Tickets can be obtained from any hotel.