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I have always dreamed of visiting the Phi Phi islands. I first read about these beautiful remote islands off the coast of Phuket about 10 years ago and then, like everyone else, I was mesmerized by the beautiful scenery shown in the movie, The Beach, with Leonardo DiCaprio. After watching the movie a second time, I decided that Phi Phi would be my honeymoon destination one day.
You can imagine my feeling of anticipation when I finally got there with my girlfriend a few weeks ago. Most tourists arrive by sea from Phuket or Krabi, but we decided to fly there from Phuket airport using a new seaplane service, Blue Water Air. As we descended to land, I beheld the splendid sight below: towering cliffs and dense forests bordering stretches of golden sand. We boarded a speedboat and a few minutes later we reached the charming village of Ton Sai Bay.
Although it is commonly called the “island” of Phi Phi, pronounced Pee-Pee, there are actually two islands. The larger of the two, Phi Phi Don, is where everyone stays, as the smaller Phi Phi Lei is uninhabited. The great attraction of Phi Phi Lei is Maya Bay and its beautiful beach, where the movie was shot. In Phi Phi Don there are some beautiful resorts scattered along the coast, but most of the accommodation is in Ton Sai village. The settlement is perched on a stretch of sand between two steep hills, with the sea on either side.
My first surprise upon my arrival was that there are no cars on the island. The porters use hand carts to carry luggage from the pier to the hotel room, and the fastest means of transport is the bicycle. Small, winding streets run between the hotels and bungalows, lined with small shops that offer everything from 24-hour internet services and dive packages to pizzas and pancakes.
After booking at our hotel, the Phi Phi Island Cabana, we headed out for a swim in Loh Dalum Bay, just a few meters away. It was surprisingly shallow and we went out with the odd sea kayak or a Thai fisherman for company. As the sun set, we lay in the water and watched the lights from the beachfront cafes and bars glow under the palm trees. We were in heaven!
Later that night we celebrated our first night on Phi Phi with a cocktail at the Jungle Bar, a fabulous torch-lit beach bar. We met some young Scandinavian backpackers and they advised us to go to the beach at an Italian restaurant, Ciao Bella, for “the best pizza in Thailand”. My wife opted for the fresh fish shrimp on display, but I ordered a pizza, which lived up to her reputation. Then I spoke with the Italian owner, who told me that he has lived in Phi Phi for over 10 years. His family lives in Phuket during the week, but he prefers the simple life in his bungalow on the beach.
Early in the morning we rented a speedboat and set off to see Maya Bay, the bay where most of the movie was shot. Surprisingly, it has remained intact despite the crowds that visit it every day. Get there early, or just before sunset, and you should have at least a portion of the beach to yourself. When the first hiking ferry arrived, we went snorkelling on the other side of the island. I have dived before, but this was very special. I felt like I was floating on a beautiful ocean world, with brightly colored fish swarming around me. My wife was nervous at first, but then we struggled to get her out of the water! We then took a tour of the island, stopping in small quiet bays for a swim.
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When we finally got back to the dock, I was ready for a late afternoon nap, but my wife had a different idea. “How about a Thai massage?” she asked. We head to one of the little massage shops and, for the next 90 minutes, we fell half asleep.