If you’ve seen pictures of white sandy beaches in Thailand, the chances are they could have been taken at Phi Phi. The islands in this group are administratively part of Krabi province, Phi Phi Le and Phi Phi Don, are known for their excellent snorkeling and tropical beaches. Phi Phi Le is also known as James Bond Island for the 007 film of “The Man with the Golden Gun”. These beautiful islands are just 40km from Phuket, and is one of the most popular tourist excursions from Phuket and Krabi, both of which are huge tourist destinations in Thailand. My uncle, an ex-pat living in Thailand, had spoken fairly critically of the speedboat trip, and said that you really needed several days to do this properly, and it wasn’t great to do it by speedboat. We only had 10 days in Phuket, and only 5 with my partner there, so we didn’t have time to take the ferry or cruise boat trips; but if you’re going and you do-I can’t stress how much I would recommend NOT taking the speedboat.
Initially, it seems like a lot of fun, but these boats, literally bounce across the top of the sea, pounding your spine and ramming you hard into your seat with each bounce (a definite no-no if you have the slightest hint of a back problem). They’re also not great for the environment or your carbon footprint.
The speedboat was packed, and we chose to sit out on deck at the front. This offered us the best view, but did result in us being wind-whipped and sun-burned at the end of the day (despite wearing factor 30 sun cream). The issue is, you just don’t feel yourself burning, and you are in and out of the water.
First stop for us was a quiet bay with a picturesque beach off the deck, where we were allowed to stop and snorkel for a short time. The crew threw bread into the water to attract the fish, and it would have been lovely if it weren’t for the fact that several of us were stung by jellyfish (me included). Thankfully, they weren’t poisonous, just irritating. I had what looked like a nettle rash on my shoulder for a while afterwards.
Next we stopped at the crowded and aptly named ‘monkey beach’. The crew warned us to keep our daughter who was 4 at the time, away from the monkeys, as they can become very aggressive with young children. If you have also read my other posts about Thailand, you’ll also know that I prefer to keep my distance from these amazing animals any way. As cute, funny and amazing as they are, it’s important to remember that they are wild animals.
A monkey bite, no matter how trivial, can quickly turn dangerous. Monkeys are regular carriers of rabies; even the ones not rabid can create dangerous infections and fevers thanks to the high level of bacteria in their mouths. Macaque monkey bites have been known to cause infections such as Bacteroides, Fusobacterium, Streptococci, Enterococci and Eikenella Corrodens – all are as unpleasant as they sound. (Every bite must be checked by a local doctor who will probably recommend getting a tract of painful and expensive rabies vaccinations. You have little choice, rabies has no early symptoms and is fatal if not treated immediately). Monkey bites can be vicious and many other infections, besides rabies, are likely as their teeth are coated with bacteria. Many diseases/infections can be passed through the saliva or through contact including Herpes B Virus, which in 70% of human cases can also be fatal.
I watched uncomfortably as tourists were allowed to feed the monkeys chocolate and we even saw one monkey drinking a can of coke! If you look at Trip Advisor accounts of these Phi Phi trips, you will read countless reviews of people who were ignorant to the dangers that have been chased, attacked, bitten or scratched by the long-tailed macaque monkeys at Monkey Beach (and all over South East Asia). They are becoming so tame and expectant of tourists to provide them with food, that they can become very savage and aggressive if you don’t feed them, especially larger males. I was chased by a monkey who saw me carrying a bag of crisps when I visited the Big Buddha on Phuket just a week earlier!
Again, we were rushed off after 15 minutes or so, and whisked off to the iconic Maya Bay, which was the setting for The Beach. We were allowed to stay here for about an hour, and I did take a chance to float around again, but wasn’t able to relax much as the coming and going of passenger speedboats and long-tail boats that moored up on the beach was relentless-so I had to keep moving out of the way.
Finally we went to get some lunch, I had hoped that we would eat on Phi Phi’s main island, and be able to wander around the port (which we did stop at momentarily), but instead we were whisked off to a really nasty little island that was only about 60 metres in diameter. The beach was lined with about 30 speedboats which had all delivered tourists for the buffet lunch. The lunch wasn’t unpleasant, but having not let us spend much quality time at any of the destination beaches we had paid to go on the tour for, we were literally abandoned at this horrid little tourist trap for several hours. Our boat vanished, having assured us we could leave our things on board to collect at any time. This we did, whilst we ate lunch, and unfortunately, when we returned to fetch our beach things and sun cream-the boat had disappeared!
The beach could have been pleasant if it weren’t for the fact that people were packed into deck chairs like sardines. If you wanted drinks or ice creams or drinks, you had to pay rates that made England look cheap, and the most awful thing I saw was a man who had three very young baby monkeys (wearing nappies/diapers) who were being passed around to have tourist pictures taken with them… Whilst his might seem tempting, as they are absolutely adorable, I had to wonder how this man had obtained such young baby monkeys. I was really quite disgusted that tourists could abandon their morals and not question this, and indeed fuel this by paying something in the region of £5 for a picture with the baby monkeys which were placed on them like jewellery. I would have loved to get so close to one, and hold it, but out of principal, I did not.
We ended up getting sunburnt because the island had no suncream for sale, and ours had been hijacked. All in all, a very dissatisfactory trip that left the bad taste of feeling like a fleeced tourist who’s been taken for an idiot at the end.
Would I recommend seeing Phi Phi? Yes, but avoid these tacky speed boat tour operator trips like the plague! If you are really pushed for time, and are hell bent on going by speedboat, then I’d recommend chartering one for a higher price and choosing your own itinerary; but ideally, go by ferry or cruise and spend a few days there soaking it up properly!
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