Ko Phi Phi is one of the most popular islands of Thailand and is on the bucket list of many. Sabbatic year travelers run from Bangkok to Ko Phi Phi, chasing the unique experience and uncontaminated landscapes of ‘The Beach’, the movie that forever changed the imagery of Thailand. Millions of tourists are attracted by that clichè turquoise water, white sand beaches, and unspoiled jungle, and everybody wants to enjoy a piece of that paradise. Of course, I was one of them, and while cutting the placid clear water of the Andaman Ocean on one of the many boats that unload tourists on the island every day, I was bursting with excitement.

As I started to spot the coast, the reality started to hit me and it didn’t take long for me to realize that the lost paradise is actually an overcrowded party island. The younger crowd spend the night partying on the beach and drifting the day away while sipping on beers and making new friends. Nothing wrong with that, except that with long boats, bars, and the amount of people, there is hardly any space on the beach, and in the water there are debris and drains. The bamboo huts alternate with more fancy accommodations to satisfy the needs of the stream of tourists of every kind that every day hit Ko Phi Phi. Not the paradise I was expecting.

Ko Phi Phi pier

 

Ko Phi Phi is actually an archipelago of six Islands, of which the bigger one is Ko Phi Phi Don and is the one where the bigger boats dock. The island has a very characteristic shape which create two bays with calms and warm water, perfect for the tourism development. Here is where Ton Sai Village is and this is the part to avoid if you are looking for a beach getaway. The east side of the island, in fact, is much less developed and Ao Toh Ko is completely different from the rest! Here there is just one accommodation option, Toh Ko Beach Resort, which became my home in Ko Phi Phi. The golden beach has coarse sand and it can be rocky, depending on the tide. The water was perfect and it’s one of the best spots of the island for snorkeling. A short longboat ride away, there is Bamboo Island with the whitest and lightest sand ever.

Bamboo Island's Beach

Bamboo Island’s Beach

There were lots of fishes in

There were lots of fishes in Ao Toh Ko

The real star of the archipelago is Ko Phi Phi Leh, where Maya Bay is located, alias ‘The Beach’.

Maya Bay Boats (1 of 1)

Do you remember that unbelievably clear water where Di Caprio was hunting sharks during the day and swimming with plankton at night? Do you remember that thick lush jungle and the limestone that was framing the bay like a perfect painting? Do you remember that sand that looked so thin and light and soft? Well, ladies and gentleman, that is all real and it’s gorgeous! The only problem is that along with you, there are about a thousand people that want to enjoy that very small beach.

It’s a bit crazy to think how strong the power of a movie can be and how it was able to blow up tourism in this small beach. Everybody wants to catch a glimpse of this paradise and there is just one way to do it, which is the Maya Bay Sleep Aboard Tour. The island is a protected park so no one is allowed to sleep on the actual island. Every day there are boats taking people on day tours to the beach for few hours. With the sleep on board tour, people can spend the night on the boat in the middle of the bay and manage to enjoy that beautiful beach without the crowd. The tour is composed of a maximum of 25 people and it gets to the island in the late afternoon, in time to enjoy the sunset, and then all the rest of the people start to leave until the beach is empty. At this point the magic starts! The sun was down, but the sky still had some pink shades that warmed it up. People started to relax and sit together, a little booze and a couple of guitars appeared while the food was getting ready. In no time, the sky was completely dark and there were so many stars that I felt like I could touch them. People were playing some music, singing and chatting away, and the atmosphere was perfect. A deserted island at night is magic.

Maya Bay  (2 of 8)

People leaving the beach

People leaving the beach

Maya Bay  (1 of 8)

Maya Bay evening

Maya Bay

Maya Bay guitar (1 of 1)

Between the music, stars and drinks, 10 pm arrived soon and is was time to go back to the boat for the highlight of the trip: swimming with the plankton!

Imagine jumping from a boat in the pitch dark water to be welcomed by an explosion of sparkles that follow every movement you make, leaving behind a shining trail. Unreal!

After the “shine bright like a plankton in the sea” moment, with the heart pounding with joy, it was time to sleep on the boat deck, under the stars.

The next morning, I woke up a bit stiff because of the humidity of the night, but when I saw the sun rising and painting the sky, and the calm waters bathed in pink, I forgot all of my aches and I was ready to enjoy a few more hours on the empty beach.

Maya Bay  Sunrise

Ko Phi Phi’s beautiful beaches and natural landscape has been its curse, and the fast development and tourism industry has forever changed its appearance, but I still brought with me some unforgettable memories.