Koh Phi Phi – The Beach

Not all beaches in Thailand are created equal.  Thanks to the country’s seriously strong marketing skills, I was under the impression that the southern part of Siam is covered in pristine white sugar beaches.  That’s… not entirely accurate.  Those ’10 out of 10’ beaches exist, sure.  Just not where we were (giant black eels lurking in the wet sand, lots of hard coral, problems with plastic).

That’s how I came to focus in on Koh Phi Phi – a bunch of little islands between Phuket and the west Straight of Malacca coast.  It’s home to “that beach”, the one from the movie The Beach with Leonardo DiCaprio.  Maya Beach.  

As luck would have it, Thailand decided to close Maya Beach (a national park) for 4 months to allow it to regenerate and detoxify itself from all the humans starting on 01 June.  We arrived in the south on 29 May.  I always take serendipity as a clue that I’m on the right track.

48 hours to get out there.  Not even a challenge.

When the monsoon season moves in, the sea gets rough so the private long boats stop making the daily trek out to the islands.  I really wanted to go out on one of those – the traditional way.  Old school is best school.  Instead, we booked ourselves on a massive “speedy” cigarette boat with about 50 other tourists.  Not ideal, but not horrible.

First stop – Maya Beach  

It was everything it’s cracked up to be.  It’s the best, prettiest, most serene beach setting we’ve ever seen.  It’s jaw-dropping.  It’s breathtaking.  I’ve been a lot of places.  This one lives up to the hype.  The pictures speak for themselves and it’s even better and brighter in person.  So many greens and blues…

The only downside to Maya is the massive (and I truly mean massive) numbers of tourists.  I’ve never been to a beach that was so crowded and the boats just kept coming.  No wonder they have to close the beach.  We were there for about an hour and saw thousands of people.   We could barely play in the water without getting bumped and jostled.  As the bigger boats (like ours) loaded up to leave there were periodic lulls so I was able to snap some shots that look like there weren’t that many people.  That’s not at all accurate.  It was wall to wall people.

Surprise! There’s More

Later that day we made several other stops on the boat (which were fun little surprises for us since we never asked to see an itinerary).  We found ourselves throwing Evie into the ocean with a mask and snorkel after a 5 second tutorial for her very first snorkeling excursion.  Good thing she’s a quick learner and a relaxed adventurer.  She did great and – bonus – now she can snorkel!  That will come in handy.  We tried to do the same with Jack but he wasn’t quite as quick on the uptake.  He’s also only 3 and he hadn’t been swimming in the open ocean before, so I cut him a little slack.  But word to the wise, next time the expectation is that he put his game face on and get out there an have fun snorkeling. No boat anchors in this family. {Kidding – I put him the boat where he could watch us swim about 10 feet away.}

Then we stopped at another national park.  This must be one of the ones they put on all the postcards.  It was a perfect island peninsula paradise.  We had a yummy grilled lunch right on the beach followed by more swimming.

After all that amazing fun, we ended the day with a big fat… stop to go shopping.   I could literally hear the flat note.  What!?   Boring.  Couldn’t have been a bigger letdown (for us).  Why anyone would care about shopping when in the middle of exotic islands is beyond me.  It wasn’t even cool native stuff… all junk from China.  But we were in the minority with our opinion and so we respectfully sat at a cafe while everyone opened their wallets (which was a good thing – I felt zero pressure to buy anything).  Weirdos.  🙂

In retrospect, I think I would have been happier if I’d understood the difference between Koh Lanta and Koh Phi Phi and planned accordingly.  The former is more economical and more local.  The latter feels like you’re inside a postcard (but there are more people, prices are sky high and there’s a lot more partying).  Either way, things worked out.  Koh Phi Phi is a do not miss.  It’s worth the hassle and the cost.  It’s absolutely stunning.

Departing on the speedy boat (Jack’s words):





Maya Beach:







The real deal:



Leaving Maya:









Scott and the kids:


Scott and Evie – middle right – next to the lady in the orange vest, in front of the dude in green shorts.




The other national park:


This isn’t a photoshop image.  I took it with my iphone. Me – the not good photographer.




In the town, while others shopped: