The dream of visiting the Phi Phi Islands, in the South Thailand province of Krabi, is one that most keep in the drawer for a while. The day finally comes, you travel to Krabi, settle in your hotel, you are ready to book a tour. But how do you fight the prospect of having to share your dream destination with hundreds of other tourists who have the same dream and come on hordes of speedboats, longtail boats and diving boats, claiming a share of the long-awaited sandy beaches and shores? Easy: chose the Phi Phi Islands Early Bird Tour with Siam Adventure World. This company was chosen for its extra advantage of leaving early to avoid many of the crowds and experience more time around the Phi Phi Islands. This was in line with my preferred way to experience Krabi paradise islands.
Set inside the Noppharat Thara/Phi Phi National Park, the Phi Phi Islands archipelago is simply stunning. There are white sandy beaches, rugged towering limestone cliffs, crystal clear waters and magnificent hidden coves sheltered from the outside world. It was with these great images in mind that I ventured out of my hotel at 7am to wait for my minivan pick up. At the Noppharat Thara pier I boarded the speedboat and made introductions to my fellow travelers; Captain Bao started the engines and we were soon on the way. James, the chocolate-skinned tour guide, made introductions and the multilingual guide gave us an account of the program of the day.
The sea was quite rough, with huge waves challenging experienced Bao who rode with no fear, jumping on the waves and following their line as the boat rocked and jumped, but without a worry on his face.
Arrival time at Maya Bay was 8,30 am, and we were glad to have woken up early as we were amongst the first visitors of the day to step on a nearly empty world famous beach. This is truly a magnificent place: a sheltered cove protected by two 100 meter tall jagged cliffs with a narrow entrance from the outside ocean. The sand is pure white, and there were a number of picturesque traditional longtail boats anchored along the shoreline.
James went to settle the National Park fee, included in the price of our Phi Phi Islands tour, and we were given time at ease. The guide made the way inside the tropical rainforest which serves as the background of this great bay, completing the postcard picture. We passed the National Park headquarters and the rangers bungalows, and soon reached the back of Loh Samah bay. The whole area is populated by dozen of amazing pandanus trees with prop roots emerging from their stem.
The day was glorious, the sun intensified the palette of greens, blues and turquoises so typical of the Andaman sea, with the forests perched on the vertical walls of the giant limestone rocks reflecting on the waters.
By the time our boat left Maya Bay, one hour later, the place had already started to fill up. At the front of Loh Samah Bay, on the other side of Phi Phi Leh, the crew decided not to stop as there were already too many snorkeling and diving boats anchored there. Instead, we proceeded to reach Pileh Bay lagoon, which is everyone’s favorite stop on a tour to Phi Phi Islands. This breathtaking emerald green lagoon is surrounded by towering cliffs and it is only accessible during high tide. Captain Bao cruised the speedboat slowly into the lagoon, while James assisted us in the choosing and fitting of fins and masks. The area is well sheltered from the open sea, hence it is the ideal snorkeling spot. We swam and snorkeled for a good 20 minutes, then returned to the boat where the guides were sharing anecdotes and knowledge of the area.
All islands and locations have Malayu names, from the sea-gypsies original inhabitants of these places. The name Phi Phi refers to the original Malay name Api-Api, the Fiery Grey Mangrove which is found throughout the island. Pileh means room, since seafarers used this enclosed lagoon for protection in case of a storm.
Next stop was Viking Cave, just 1 km north of Pileh Bay, so called as legend tells that pirates used to shelter there. Viking Cave gets its unusual name from some of the 70 ancient cave paintings found there depicting long boats that resemble those of the Viking people. But the real reason Viking Cave is famous for is that it is home to Swiftlets birds that make the bird’s nests so famous in asian culture for their healing and health properties.
The caves are guarded and it is forbidden to go inside, so we took a few pictures from the boat and continued on to Loh Dalum Bay, where we were given three options: trek to the famous Phi Phi Don view point, relax at the beach or take a walk through the Phi Phi Village.
As most of us chose the trek to the viewpoint, the guides got set and led the strenuous march up 321 steps along a forest cleared at some points, thick and green at others. A sweaty exercise on this humid day, one that rewarded us with a spectacular view over the island, its bays and the surrounding sea.
The high tide forbade our mooring at Monkey Beach, so instead Bao cruised to Bamboo Island where the crew served us a fresh lunch brought over by the company speedboat from Phuket, confirming once more the logistic perfection of these tours. The super beach lunch buffet is delicious and it has something for everyone; special requests like vegetarian or vegan will be catered for but should be mentioned at the time of booking.
Bamboo Island is famous for its powdery soft sand and warm inviting waters. After coffee, some of us snorkeled in the bay, while others went for a swim, strolled along the long beach or relaxed on the sand. We were given 2 hours to spend on Bamboo Island, which is quite enough, considering that after one hour the number of boats and consequently of people easily tripled.
The last stop of the tour was at Hin Pae, an underwater reef featuring crystal-clear water, lots of fish and colourful coral; James jumped in the water with us, pointing us to the best spots and having fun with the group.
During the return journey, we had a good sight of Taleh Wae, which thanks to the receding tide it joined the islands of Koh Poda and Chicken. The sun went slowly down and the waves continued rocking the boat when we arrived at Noppharat Thara at about 16,40 – where the minivan awaited to deliver us back to our hotels.
I found the Phi Phi Islands Early Bird Tour to be a well-structured and unique tour. The experienced guides are all from the Krabi area and have been working together for 2 seasons already so they interacted very well and ensured all went as per plan, which increased the quality of the wonderful experience. The multilingual guide on board was also attentive to everything, answering every question and attending every need.
The speedboat is modern and feels safe, and the pilot is skilled (especially on this day of high waves), and the Thai food and the way it was presented made us feel pampered.
The early rising was worth it: most of our arrival times meant destinations were not yet overwhelmed by tourists. In fact, we were informed that the Phi Phi Islands Early Bird Tour itinerary is flexible and can be inverted or totally changed by the crew according to tides, weather and situation of boats/people on each visited spot.
Overall, thumbs-up to Siam Adventure World!
Distance: Koh Phi Phi Le is about 45 km’s east from Phuket and about 37 km’s south from Krabi.
Departure Time: 07:30am from either Ao Nang beach or Noppharat Thara Beach, returning at approximately 05:00pm
Available: from Phuket and Khao Lak whole year
Available: from Krabi from November to May
Included: Air conditioned transport to/from your hotel, National Park fees for your stop on Maya Bay, soft drinks, fresh seasonal tropical fruits, lunch, professional licensed English speaking Tour Guide, full snorkeling equipment (mask, snorkel and fins), Tour Accident Insurance.
Boats leaving from Phuket offer photographic service, where a photographer on board immortalize the most cheerful moments and puts them together in a DVD that can be purchased by the tourists on the tour.