Honeymoon Trip Report: Day Trip to Phi Phi Islands

Megan and I took a two-week tour of Southeast Asia during our honeymoon in August/September of last year. Now it’s time to wrap up the trip report after a holiday break. Here’s the Trip Report Index:

As discussed previously, Megan and I were looking for a way to escape the Westin Siray Bay and readily agreed to sign up for the day trip to the Phi Phi islands being promoted in the hotel lobby after dinner. The cost was 3,000 Thai baht per person, or about $100, including round-trip transportation from the hotel to the marina, a one-hour boat ride each way from the marina to the islands, and lunch at one of the island hotels.

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I don’t know that price is high or low, but it was actually a great trip and something we would have planned to do anyway if we had bothered to research this trip better. I thought the whole operation was well run, and we had a good time despite being the only English speakers on a boat full of South Americans. The guide spoke Spanish and English and was probably American, so we were fine. A Brazilian couple had the most difficulty, but you wouldn’t know it. They were so upbeat the whole time and kept insisting on taking our picture for us.

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On one of several high speed boats setting out around 9 in the morning, we volunteered to sit in the bow where we could get a better view of the minor islands we passed along the way. On the return, this may not have been a good choice because it was very choppy — I pretty much held on for dear life for an hour.

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This is my kind of bar!

Our first stop was the Viking Cave on the far side of the smaller Phi Phi Le, where elaborate bamboo scaffolding allow workers to gather the nests used for birds nest soup. No, most of the names for these places don’t make sense. It looked about ready to collapse and didn’t seem nearly large enough to support an entire soup industry, but that’s what the guide told us!

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We motored past and into a bay where everyone jumped in to go swimming. The sheltered water was very warm and would have been crystal clear if not for all the boats and swimmers mixing it up. Plus there was trash everywhere, something that fortunately was not an issue at our other destinations. There wasn’t much to see except the cliff walls and the warm water, but it was cool nonetheless.

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These islands don’t include the famous James Bond island, with the towering pillar of rock in the middle of the bay used in The Man with the Golden Gun. But they are still “famous” for something. Phi Phi Le featured in The Beach, a movie neither of us had ever seen before and is about a picturesque beach that some foreign tourists try to hide from the masses in Bangkok and various party towns, which might overwhelm it just as they did every other beach in Thailand. I can certainly understand that perspective.

In the movie, this beach is a walled off lagoon that must, somewhere have an inlet from the ocean. In fact, that inlet is right around the corner. It’s encircled just enough that it is possible from most angles to never see the ocean from this beach, which does give it a bit of a magical feeling. But like the bay we stopped at before, there were lots and lots and lots of boats. So many people.

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After most of the big boats had left. You might consider hiring a long tail boat to take you to one of those isolated bars we saw in the middle of the ocean and then come here for the rest of the day.

We played a bit in the sand, which was so fine it reminded me of powdered sugar, before stopping at a shack on one end to buy a couple of beers and walk through the forest. At the back end there is an actual lagoon with a ladder over the rocks to the other side. Some ropes have been lashed together to allow people to jump off boats there and climb their way over, avoiding the chaos of the main beach were we had docked.

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After returning to the boat, our group was off to Phi Phi Don, the much larger of the two islands. This one has several hotels on it (including a Holiday Inn) and seems like it might be a great place to stay. But my only comparison is that Westin. I’m sure there are other good hotels on Phuket that don’t require this added travel time.

We passed by a beach with several monkeys (Monkey Beach, about the only name that made any sense), and this time I didn’t have the freedom to jump off and feed them. But they also seemed more aggressive to the other tourists already there, who did get off the boat — probably because they were so isolated and had fewer visitors than Monkey Forest in Bali. I’m glad we stayed put. After watching for a few minutes we moved to the other side of the same large bay to do some snorkeling. It was an adequate location, but not worth spending more than an hour. Most of the water was too deep and the reef too far away on the bottom.

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Fortunately an hour was all we had. I think the guides did a good job of moving us along just as each stop started to lose our interest. There is a lot to see, and some of it I could have spent all day exploring, but when you are in a group sometimes that becomes difficult and you just want to move on. The timing was good enough to let us see everything there was and maybe inspire us to come back with a private boat sometime in the future.

We had lunch at some nondescript all-inclusive hotel on the north side of Phi Phi Don. The food was certainly not impressive (rice, some type of soup, and a few hot and cold dishes in a buffet), and all the beverages but water and tea had a price. Yes, I know what you’re thinking, because it was my first thought when I got food poisoning later that week. But this was over 48 hours before I got sick, and Megan ate the same food without consequences. So, suspect food, but alright in the end. We bought some ice cream for 300 baht and enjoyed the view afterward.

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Funnily enough, the shore here is really shallow and the tide went far out. We had to walk a good 500 feet through surf 1-2 feet deep to get back to the boats. One of the more amusing sites of the trip was watching all those tourists wondering if the boats were going to come to them!

Our final stop was a small, roundish Bamboo Island that had a forest (not bamboo) and camping in the middle. This was our least favorite because by this time the storm clouds were coming in and the tide had gone out, so the water was generally too shallow to swim in. And had we left for port earlier, we might have had a smoother ride back. I was so ready to get off that boat. But it was definitely some of the best money we spent in Thailand, and one of the more memorable experiences of our honeymoon.

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Scott created Travel Codex after learning how to travel better on a budget during grad school. He now flies over 150,000 miles every year.
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  • http://www.quickcityvisits.com/ Trevor

    Great post — having been to Phuket area (really Khao Lak) 3 times, we’ve contemplated a trip out, just never got around to it (and 2 of those trips were in June, not a very good time to visit with the monsoon rains and all).

  • Sagegal

    Congrats on being one of the few travel bloggers to address the trash issue in Thailand albeit a brief 1 liner. I cannot understand why your travel blogging peers tout this destination constantly other than the opportunity to travel a great distance on a superior carrier in first class because once you actually arrive at places like Phuket or Kata Beach one can easily see where tourism is destroying the natural resources. I took a boat trip similar to yours in July of 2013 and at some of the overcrowded out island beaches the trash was so bad taking photos required me to pre-pick the trash for a clean shot or crop it out later. In addition we had to wear water shoes because of all the broken glass on the beaches. The biggest clue we were given to total lack of respect of the natural resources came from the boat guide; as my group of 15 pulled up to one such out island for a swim…he told us that bathrooms were very expensive to use on the island and that we should consider the biggest bathroom surrounding us, the ocean. Before re-boarding the boat my partner and I witnessed a father holding his young child over the water to do just that, what the unsuspecting couple from another tour boat did not realize was that the fecal matter from that child was floating right behind them.

    • Jon

      While most ocean destinations I’ve been to have said the same about the ‘largest restroom around is the one we’re floating on right now”, the amount of trash in these areas would be an important note. I’m glad this post did touch on the trash, in addition to the overcrowding of some of these areas. I had been trying to find a way to get to Thailand this year due to the countless travel bloggers talking the place up.

      I’m perfectly fine going to most countries around the world and seeing dirty cities with trash and spraypaint all over. Cities being full of litter is quite normal and expected. However, what interests me in Thailand would be the natural beauty, and if that’s being forsaken for more tourism income, then that’s not something I want to support with my spending. This planet is full of breathtaking, beautiful places – many of which are not an ocean and a first-class trip award away. Some places do a pretty good job balancing tourism with maintaining the ecosystem that drives the tourism in the first place. With Thailand now being a pretty “mainstream” destination, maybe there’s not much that can be done about it anymore. Still, i’m glad to see a balanced portrayal of what I might expect traveling there.

      • notme

        Try Hawaii. While I have not been to Phuket, I have been to Hawaii at least 10 times. I also like to spend my money where it benefits my fellow citizens.

        • Scottrick

          As have I. I still prefer Hawaii to Phuket, but I will say it was an exotic destination, and I enjoyed trying something new.

  • Kalboz
    • Scottrick

      Thanks! I appreciate the share.

  • Lanny

    My Wife and I did a similar boat trip on a big inland lake in Thailand and when we had the buffet offered, I later had a bit of issues with my stomach. Thats the only time I’ve gotten sick in Thailand… but thankfully it only lasted a couple of hours.

  • Ashley

    We went to Thailand in Nov 2011 and did the same exact trip but our boat was filled with Russian Tourists and only one guide that spoke english. It was very crowded on the boat and did the same monkey beach, same questionable beach lunch, the amazing Maya Beach.
    We did two trips- One we book at our hotel called V. Marina to Phi Phi and one that we book prior to going called Simba Tours to Phang Nga. We found them on TripAdvisor and they book up way in advance. I would highly recommend going with Simba next time because they have less people on the the boat, take you to less crowed beaches and try and avoid the crowds which makes you think you are on a private island. They were very conscious of all the trash and made sure to collect the boat trash. On the Simba trip to Phang Nga we explode sea caves and private coves, James Bond Island, sea kayaked in the mangroves, explored the floating city of Koh Panye. It was an amazing trip much better than the V Marina to Phi Phi. We wish we would have booked both with Simba but they were already full for the rest of the week. They were only slightly more expensive at 3600baht. But well worth the extra $$. http://www.simbaseatrips.com/ Just a hint for next time.
    Also we stayed at Marina Phuket http://www.marinaphuket.com/home.html Which was amazing even though not on points. It sounds like it was the right choice after reading your Westin review.

  • ben

    3000? I paid 950. Once again, travel bloggers on boardingarea fails

    • Scottrick

      Wasn’t really trying to save money. Just trying to get out of the hotel.