Getting from Phuket to Phi Phi seems to be on every tourist’s mind, the place is heaving with people and the islands seem to be getting more popular every day. During the high season the island produces 40 tonnes of rubbish, and thousands of people rush by ferry and speedboat to get a glimpse of the naturally beautiful surrounds. We were shocked by how touristy the islands were and it was difficult to enjoy the scenery when everywhere you looked someone was taking the ‘perfect selfie’. Although your trip to Phi Phi will never be secluded or without the hoards of people, there are ways to maximise your enjoyment of the islands and make it worthwhile.
Whether it looks like you experience sand and seclusion, or selfies and speedboats, depends on your camera angle. At the end of the day the Phi Phi Islands have fallen victim to mass tourism, but we feel that the stunning natural beauty of the islands still makes it worthwhile visiting.
Day trip or stay over?
This depends on how long you want to spend on the islands and how much money you wish to spend. The accommodation on Koh Phi Phi is generally expensive and not terribly good if you’re a budget traveller. If you are willing to spend a bit more, you can stay on Koh Phi Phi Don and hire longtail boats to get around the islands and visit the different beaches and snorkelling areas.
We decided to stay in Old Town Phuket because it was substantially cheaper and just do a day trip out to Phi Phi. We liked this decision for us because we saved quite a bit of cash and still got to explore the islands, snorkel and swim. Our private room in Ai Phuket Hostel (lovely hostel with great facilities) set us back $20AUD a night together, whereas accommodation on Koh Phi Phi would be more and you would still have to pay for a boat to take you there and back.
Which method of transport?
Ferries are pretty reliable and leave regularly from Phuket to Phi Phi. A single ticket will cost you around 500 baht and get you to Tonsai Pier. These ferries are packed with people and are not comfortable; their purpose is to get as many people from A to B as possible. The ferry takes you to Koh Phi Phi Don which is the accommodation area, so if you want to sight-see and visit Maya Bay, you will need to buy a ticket for an additional journey with either a longtail boat or speedboat.
Many companies offer tourists a ‘big boat’ or ‘cruise’ to from Phuket to Phi Phi which is a lot cheaper than the speedboat option, but when reading the reviews online we found out why it is so cheap. Packed with up to 500 (often seasick) people these boats do not sound like fun. They are too big to actually dock at a lot of the beautiful locations, so you don’t actually get to get off the boat. We felt that this was not worth it… What’s the point in coming all this way just to see it from a crowded boat? But if you are really strapped for cash, then perhaps this option is adequate.
After a lot of research we decided upon going by speedboat from Phuket to Phi Phi, which is the most expensive option (totally unlike us to go with the most expensive, but it seemed worthwhile according to reviews). The standard of speedboat companies seems to vary a lot from 2 stars on TripAdvisor to 5 stars, and you will pay accordingly. The company we went with capped the number of passengers to 20 on a boat licensed to carry 50 and this was great. However, some of the speed boats we saw docking were unloading people like one of those clown cars – they just kept on coming. When paying extra for a speedboat, consider which company you are going with and their reviews.
With the reputable speedboat companies, you tend to leave Phuket quite early to avoid the crowds at Maya Bay when the ferries roll in. This is good because it allows you to have some space on the beach whereas after the other boats arrive apparently it becomes like a mosh pit. Our company, Phuket Sail Tours, seemed to run about 30mins ahead of the schedule of the others which meant we were able to enjoy places before they were completely inundated.
Our number one advice is to check TripAdvisor because there are hundreds of tour operators that vary in price sometimes tenfold. There are some basic things to check before choosing a company:
- What is their rating on TripAdvisor?
- Do they leave early enough to avoid the crowds?
- Are they safe?
- Are meals included?
- Can we actually get off the boat?
- How many people do they allow on the boat?
- Are they an owner operated company?
Phuket Sail Tours were amazing and although a bit pricey at 3900THB, everything went so smoothly and we had the most fabulous day! We rarely say this, but we were so happy to pay extra and make sure everything was sorted. Our guides Anna and Miss Universe were hilarious, informative and so professional. The primary aim of the day was our safety and enjoyment. We were provided with sea sickness tablets, life jackets, snorkels, flippers, sun matts, towels, and lots of free drinking water, snacks and soft drinks. Everything was well looked after and lunch was impeccable – we even got two free stubbie holders!
Other reputable companies include Simba, La Moet, and Offspray. We’re sure there are more but these are the ones we checked out.
But basically go onto TripAdvisor and see which companies are rated well because there are a lot that are 5 stars, it is worth spending the extra money for your safety and the ability to actually get off the boat and enjoy the islands, not just take a photo from a distance.
Where should I buy tickets?
A lot of people have their tickets already bought by a travel agent back home. However there are lots of travel agents in Phuket that will sell you tours but the tours they sell are not very reputable and you will have to pay an agent fee on top of it.
Owner-operated tours are far safer and care more for your enjoyment. Tickets can be booked for these tours off their personal websites, and the email correspondence is speedy.
What was your experience?
My opinions and experiences are only one in a million, so if you have been from Phuket to Phi Phi let us know how it went. If you have any comments, recommendations or experiences that were different to ours, leave a comment below and I’ll get back to you.