One of the most popular destinations in Thailand, Ko Phi Phi Don might also be one of world’s best-known islands. Every day ferries deposit scores of sun-worshippers and partygoers on the shores of this limestone landmass in the Andaman Sea. I made my own trip there with some friends a few years ago, and plan to go back before 2011 is over. It really deserves the hype. And although you don't have to stay long to appreciate its appeal, Phi Phi also has a few secrets to reveal to those who come looking.
- The Soundtrack. Forget the beach—well, not entirely—and acquaint yourself with the marine life inhabiting the lagoons of Ko Phi Phi Leh, Phi Phi Don’s little brother next door. While tour groups crowd the strip of sugary white sand seen in The Beach, grab fins and a snorkel to hear one of the most remarkable sounds beneath the waves: hundreds of blue parrotfish munching and crunching on coral.
- The View. Sure, cocktails and camaraderie are great for a while, but don’t fall into the trap of spending all your time in Ton Sai Village. Swap out your flip flops for sturdier footwear and head uphill for stunning views above Ao Loh Dalum and Ao Ton Sai. The walk to the top is no more than 25 minutes and adventurous visitors can descend the east side of the island to reach a trio of secluded beaches.
- The Scenery. Sunbathing and swimming definitely have their merits, and Phi Phi doesn’t lack for nightlife. Yet with its tranquil coves, busy docks, plentiful sea birds, and favorable lighting, it’s also a photographer’s dream. Do some scouting when you arrive, and then wake up early the next morning for an hour or two of shooting.
- Peace and Quiet. Given the crowds, Phi Phi might not seem like a place to get away from it all. But many day-trippers and overnighters stick to the sandbar connecting the cliffs of Ko Nok with those of Ko Nai. For a more relaxed environment, hire a longboat to Laem Tong at the north end of the island, where the accommodations offer a refreshing alternative to the busy bungalows in the south.
- Its History. Not far from Laem Tong a community of chao ley, or sea gypsies, have established a small village just beyond the hotels. For several hundred years these nomadic people have made a living fishing, collecting shells, and bird-nesting in the waters of the Andaman. The chao ley retain a distinct language and culture in spite of efforts by the Thai government to promote assimilation.