Island Time: Koh Phi Phi & Krabi
Following some great adventures and cool experiences in Chiang Mai, it was time to begin the much anticipated part of my trip and head south for the beaches! I was looking forward to kicking back on ‘island time’, getting in a few water activities, and venture off on some great hikes – and so far, my time down south has far exceeded my audacious expectations.
I flew directly with Air Asia from Chiang Mai to Phuket, which was only about a 2-hour flight. The landing into Phuket was probably the worst I’ve ever experienced (I seriously think the plane bounced we hit the ground so hard). I happened to be filming the landing from my window seat in the plane, as the landing is quite neat with the runway starting right after the ocean and beach. It just so happened that when the plane took it’s forceful landing, the Chinese man sitting next to me let out a loud “WOOOOW”, which you can clearly hear at the end of the video I took… some comedic relief, to say the least.
I quickly became glad that I was only spending one night in Phuket and catching the ferry the next morning to Koh Phi Phi. Phuket was quite grungy (at least the part I was in) and I did not get the best first impression of the island. However, as it is a large place, I am sure there are nicer parts with more to do and fun to be had. I stayed at Tee Pak Dee, which was quite nice and a place I would recommend and stay at again. I chose to stay here as it was close to the pier where the ferry left the next morning, however it took over an hour to get to the hotel from the airport.
After the quick night in Phuket, a van picked me up in the morning from the hotel and took me to the pier to board my ferry to Koh Phi Phi, one of the most famous islands in Thailand. After the 2-hour journey across the Andaman sea, I arrived in Phi Phi and quickly fell in love with the island vibe. Seeing all the longtail boats, beautiful stretches of sand, and breathtaking cliffs surrounding the island, I knew I was going to enjoy my next few days. It is a shame to think that this beautiful piece of land was almost completely destroyed, along with it’s infrastructure, during the 2004 Indian Ocean Tsunami. 14 years later, the island has recovered wonderfully and remains a beautiful spectacle for tourists to visit.
One of the things that makes Phi Phi so unique is the complete absence of vehicles and any traffic on the island. All of the accommodations, restaurants, bars and shops are within walking distance, or for the few hotels on the other side of the island, there are 100’s of taxi boats waiting to swift you away to your accommodation. I stayed at Twin Palms bungalow – a bamboo hut just off the beach. At first, I was excited and thought it was a neat place to stay but that feeling did not last long. For one or two nights it’s pretty cool, any more than that and I don’t recommend it… It’s all part of the experience though, right?
One of my highlights in Phi Phi was getting up early one morning and hiking to a viewpoint that allows you to see the entire island and it’s natural surrounding jungle. It was quite magical, especially doing it in the morning; watching the sunrise, adding color to the ocean and waking up the rest of the island. After spending time at the top viewpoint (and enjoying a delicious nutella and banana pancake from the small restaurant at the top!) the adventurous side of me kicked in and I was eager to find a secluded beach on the other side of the mountain. I started hiking past the viewpoint and found small jungle trails (with very poor signage) that eventually led to the beach after some 30-45 minutes of wandering through the thick, lush jungle terrain. The hike was worth it! The beach was beautiful and quiet, with only one other small hotel sharing part of the beach. I ended up spending the day here, kicking back on the beach, snorkeling and truly enjoying island time. When it was time to hike back to my hut, as I entered the jungle terrain, I had my first encounter with monkeys, an animal found frequently throughout Thailand. At first I was quite startled as I was alone in the jungle and didn’t know what these cute looking furry animals would do. After watching them for a bit I decided to walk right passed them on the trail and see what they would do… thankfully they didn’t do anything and left me alone!
Two other highlights from Phi Phi was the snorkeling and the nightlife. I hired a longtail boat driver to take me to a few of the surrounding islands to do some swimming, snorkeling and sightseeing (including the famous Maya bay from the movie The Beach – which they just announced on Feb 16 that this popular tourist beach is forced to close for 3 months due to environmental damage from overcrowding). The boat driver took me to the best snorkeling spots where I swam for hours in amongst schools of tiny fish and coral reefs. Pretty neat! Although he barely spoke any English, he was still a great guide and I enjoyed my time.
Phi Phi is known more as a backpacker, tourist and party island, so when the sun goes down, the lights come on and the party begins! Every night there are a number of locals who put on some amazing fire shows as they juggle, throw and dance with flaming sticks. The most impressive was one of them (who is apparently rated the #2 fire guy in Thailand) who climbed up a pole to a tight rope, about 15 feet in the air, and while balancing on the rope, did some crazy things with the flaming sticks of fire. That was impressive!
Other than renting a kayak for part of the day, and exploring the island, I didn’t do too much else on Phi Phi other than relax. Overall, I enjoyed the island but it was a lot more touristy and expensive compared to other places in Thailand. I am glad I visited the island, but after 4 nights, I was ready to leave and move on to the next adventure.
With it's curvy, bleached beaches and stunning jungle interior, Koh Phi Phi is definitely a precious part of the Andaman coast. As a hedonistic paradise where tourists prance around in sky-blue seas and party all night long on the soft sand, this small piece of land overseen by the soaring, jagged cliffs is a site to see. If going to Phi Phi, tread lightly, manage your expectations and Phi Phi may seduce you as it does to so many travelers; or equally so, with the loud thumping club music coming from every bar on the island until 2 am, you may find you can't wait to leave. Regardless, it's a place that can't be left off any itinerary on a visit to Thailand.
From Phi Phi I took another ferry (this time heading East toward the mainland) to Krabi. After another 2-hour ferry ride, I arrived in Krabi and checked into my new accommodations for the next 3 nights at Krabi Pitta house, which I really enjoyed and was in an awesome location right in Krabi town. The 2 main things which Krabi is known for, is the Tiger Cave Temple and rock climbing at Railay Beach (which is pretty close to Krabi). On my first day I visited the Tiger Cave Temple which is a real tiger cave from many years ago that has been turned into a temple. It was quite cool to see and learn about it’s neat cultural and wildlife history. The main attraction at the temple is not the cave, instead it’s a hike up the more than 1,200 steep and winding steps through the jungle to the top of a mountain that has an enormous Buddha statue and a phenomenal view! The hike was exhausting, especially in the high heat (luckily I did it in the morning…) but totally worth it as the view from the top is breathtaking. I spent quite a bit of time at the top taking in the views and watching those that were out of breath and look ready to faint as they made their final few steps to the top of the mountain. Quite the hike.
On my last day in Krabi, I went on a full day rock climbing and cave tour adventure in Railay beach. I had a blast! It was my first time rock climbing and was almost surreal to climb the towering vertical limestone cliffs right along the beach overlooking the ocean. After a number of climbs, a few scratches on my legs, and very sore arms, I came to the conclusion that rock climbing was one of my new favorite things! It was such a thrill, a great workout and an overall fun activity. I can’t wait to do it again! Following the climbs, my guide Surat (who was hilarious by the way) took me on a hike through the surrounding jungle to this cave (that was pitch black, and had no trail – just big boulders and handmade bamboo ladders to climb), which not many people do as it is quite a tough trek. There was even one point in the cave where I had to clip on to a rope (in the pitch black, might I add…) as an extra safety measure incase I were to fall… luckily I didn’t! Once we got through the darkness of the cave, we came to an opening 500 feet above the ocean, overlooking the beach and the surrounding jungle. Wow! As Surat said it best, welcome to paradise! It was the coolest thing, and the best view I’d seen yet, despite all the hikes I had done up to this point. After taking in the view for a bit, the adventure wasn’t over… we didn’t walk back down through the cave, instead we self rappelled out of the opening of the cave down the cliff! What a thrill, what a day.
The lively Krabi Town is magnificently situated among pointed limestone karst formations jutting from the mangroves, but mid city you're likely to be fascinated by the number of phenomenal restaurants, hotels, parks and food carts that are crammed into this compact town. It's a transport hub, and 3 nights here is more than enough. The fairy tale limestone formations come to a dramatic culmination at Railay, the ultimate climber’s paradise and some of Thailand's prettiest beaches - same as Koh Phi Phi, a visit to this part of Thailand should be on every traveler’s itinerary.
I have now headed North of Krabi and am writing this blog as I sit amongst tall towering bamboo trees, listening to the surrounding waterfalls and chirping birds in Khao Sok National park, the oldest evergreen rainforest in the world. I am excited to be here and I look forward to exploring the jungle, it’s diverse wildlife and everything else it has to offer, including the small, quaint, quiet surrounding town. By the looks of it, I think this will be a great place for my next adventure and to continue getting lost in Thailand.
Until next time,