Set in the sea about halfway between the Krabi mainland and Phuket, the Phi Phi Islands have long been popular with backpackers. While many of the buildings of the main island's tourist village were wiped out by the 2004 tsunami, they were quickly rebuilt, and now Phi Phi attracts just as many people as ever.
The waters around the island are generally pretty clear, and while the landscape can certainly be dramatic, it must be said that the diving is not that great. However, since Phi-Phi gets so many (mostly young) visitors, there are still about a dozen dive operators that can take you to the more than 15 sites around the islands. While Phi-Phi does have its charms, if you're looking for a good place to base yourself for diving, Koh Lanta is actually much closer to the 'better' dive sites of the South Andaman.
Phi Phi is a small island, 30 to 40 kilometers from the nearest large body of land. There was a short-lived sea plane service from Phuket, but it died a rather costly death a few years ago. So, the only way to get to Phi Phi is by boat. There is regular ferry service from Phuket, Ao Nang and Koh Lanta.
Note: no matter where you make the trip to Phi Phi from, there's a 20 Baht (about 60 US cents) 'arrival tax' to be paid on the pier after disembarking the ferry.
From Phuket, most regular ferries leave from the Rasada pier an take about 90 minutes to reach Phi Phi. There are three or four different ferry companies operating on the route. Generally, there's a mass departure of all the ferries at 8:30 am and a second departure sometime in the afternoon. I found the Phi Phi Cruiser to be quite comfortable and well maintained. Regardless of which company you choose, you'll most likely pay the same fare, which is 600 Baht (US$ 20.00). The fare from Phuket usually includes pick-up from your hotel. You can, in fact, purchase ferry tickets from most hotels on Phuket, and if yours doesn't sell them, there's probably a tour agent within a few steps of your hotel that does.
Ferries leave Phi Phi for Phuket at 11:30 and 15:30.
Speed boats can make the trip slightly faster than the ferries, but of course will cost you much more. Speed boats will only operate in daylight hours, so they generally will not leave Phuket after 4:30 pm.
From Ao Nang: Ferries depart daily at 8:30 am and leave Phi Phi for the return trip at 15:30. These ferries stop in Railay as well. The one-way fare is 450 Baht (US$ 15.00) and the trip takes about 90 minutes.
From Krabi Town: There are usually three departures daily from Krabi Town, at 9:30, 14:30 and 15:30. Return trips from Phi Phi leave at 9:00, 10:30 and 14:00. The one-way fare is 400 Baht (US$ 13.00) and the trip takes about 90 minutes.
From Koh Lanta: Ferries depart the pier in Saladan daily at 8:00 and 13:00 daily, and return from Phi Phi to Lanta at 11:30 and 15:30. The journey takes just around an hour and costs 400 Baht (US$ 13.00).
Hotels and Resorts
There are well over 40 hotels, resorts and guesthouses on Koh Phi Phi, so finding just the right one can be a bit difficult. I've made a few suggestions below, based on feedback from trusted friends and fellow travelers. One big decision you should make early on in your hotel search is which area you want to base yourself in. The Tonsai Bay / >Loh Dalum area is where a lot of the hotels are, as well as many restaurants, shops and other amenities. It's also where all the people are as well as the dive shops, so it's the most convenient area for divers to stay. Long Beach is just a short distance from Tonsai Bay, so it's handy for going out to eat, yet slightly removed from the craziness.
It can seem like there are way too many dives shops on Phi Phi, and there are an awful lot of them. Of course, some of the larger operators have more than one shop, so there may not be quite as many operators as it may appear. The shops listed below are the major ones that have a web presence, although it should be noted that most if not all of the web sites don't appear to be updated regularly.
- The Adventure Club
- Full services dive shop that also offers snorkeling tours. Operates their own 21-meter dive boat for day trips to local area as well as Koh Ha and the Hin Daeng / Hin Muang sites.
- Phi Phi Scuba Diving Center
- Un-missable bright yellow dive shop in the middle of Phi-Phi's main tourist area. Operates five boats, which includes one speedboat. However, boats are 'medium-sized' to allow for smaller groups, rather than the large boats used by other dive shops.
- Viking Divers
- Operates two of its own custom-build dive boats. Offers mostly local fun dives as well as the full range of training.
Phi Phi Area Dive Sites
Bida is a group of two small islands just off the southern tip of Phi-Phi Le island, about 30 to 45 minutes sailing out of the main harbor at Phi-Phi Don. The islands are simply known as Bida Nai and Bida Nok, which roughly translates to "Inner Bida" and "Outer Bida". Bida is easily the most popular destination for dive boats out of Phi-Phi, as it's the closest 'good' site to the island.
The two islands are essentially rock outcrops surrounded by a fringing reef. Any section of the reef can make a good dive, depending on the currents, but the favored spots seem to the southwestern side of either island.
The southern side of Bida Noi sports a shallow reef from 5 to 10 meters, with a lot of hard corals and some large boulders. There are a few swim-throughs as well. A pinnacle off the southeast side is a good place to find large schools of trevally as well as barracuda. Leopard sharks may be found on the sandy slope between the island and the pinnacle.
Bida Nok seems to be considered the better dive site, with dramatic underwater topography that includes large boulders, swim-throughs and even one shallow cavern. Leopard sharks are also seen here, as well as black tips, bamboo sharks and stingrays.