AsiaDESTINATIONSThailand

Why I Hated Koh Phi Phi – Until It Redeemed Itself

This is a story of expectations, disappointment, and frustration.  It includes public meltdowns, tears, anger and sadness.  But this is also a story of redemption.  This is the story of Why I Hated Koh Phi Phi, Thailand.

Title Photo: Why I Hated Koh Phi Phi

Why I Hated Koh Phi Phi

You know the place.  A quick google search will show you towering limestone karsts, crystal blue water, white sand beaches, and filming locations for Leo DiCaprio’s “The Beach”.  It is the postcard photo of Thailand.  And you can’t possibly visit Thailand without visiting Koh Phi Phi, right?

Now, don’t angrily close this window.  Don’t hate me for saying such a horrible thing.  If you have been to Koh Phi Phi and loved it, I think that’s awesome.  I’m just sharing my personal experience and telling you why it wasn’t all that I had hoped for.

When we spent 5 weeks in Asia in March of 2014, we saved the best – Koh Phi Phi, obviously – until last.  We had just spent a peaceful 4 days on quiet and beautiful Koh Lanta, so when our boat arrived at the dock on Koh Phi Phi, we were stunned.

I do believe that Koh Phi Phi and I got off on the wrong foot.  And to be fair, I can’t place the blame entirely on the island itself.  My boyfriend and I hardly ever fight, but we bickered all the way to Koh Phi Phi.  And you know how it is.  First impressions mean a lot, and when you arrive somewhere in a foul mood, that’s bound to affect your initial impression.

Sean and I had been having a disagreement earlier that morning about asking for directions.  My research had told me that Koh Phi Phi was a hectic island without motorized traffic, and we would have to walk to our accommodation from the ferry terminal.  “How big of a place can it be, then?”  He argued.  “I’m sure we’ll be able to find it.”  Ha.  Ha.  Ha.

Photo of the streets of Koh Phi Phi
The streets of Koh Phi Phi

After a two-hour ferry journey, we were hot, exhausted, hungry and thirsty.  Sean’s coworkers at home have lovingly given him the nickname “Captain Hangry-Pants”, because they know how much of a wiener challenging he can be when he’s hungry.  And if he’s the captain, then I’m the queen.  Let’s just say that neither of us function well on empty stomachs.  (If you aren’t aware…Hangry = Hungry + Angry.)

We wandered the streets of Koh Phi Phi, 40-pound backpacks in tow, for about 20 minutes before I began to get extremely overwhelmed.  It was crowded, loud, and there were men pushing carts and people riding bikes constantly yelling “BEEP BEEP” as they made their way through the crowds.  Every shop stall that lined the dusty sidewalks contained an array of technicolor sunglasses, Chang T-Shirts and classic thai ‘buckets’ of liquor.  EDM music thumped from every bar on every corner.  Nobody seemed to know where our hotel was.  The whole situation was claustrophobic and frustrating beyond belief, and I was getting fed up.  So, I did what any hungry, overheated, culture-shocked western princess would do in this situation.  I started crying and yelling at my boyfriend in the middle of the street.

photo of push cart on koh phi phi
Push Cart
photo of thai liquor buckets
Thai “Buckets” for sale

When Sean and I tell this story now, we laugh.  We laugh a lot.  We have been together for nearly 5 years, and we’ve known each other for another 10, but this is one of two of our major “fights” that we’ve ever had.  (The other one was at a Farmer’s Market.  Hilarious.  Maybe I should write about that one, too.)  Don’t get me wrong – we bicker like an old married couple.  But we just never let things escalate into a full-on fight…unless we’re battling our alter-hangry-egos.  Then, all bets are off.

I dramatically threw my backpack down in the middle of the road, hating Sean, hating that island, hating myself for not googling directions before we left.  I said some really stupid things, sobbing loudly as passers-by stared at us with eyebrows raised.  Sean said some stupid things, too, before he hoisted my sweaty backpack on to his free shoulder and stormed off to find our hotel on his own.  “This is it,” I thought.  “This is how it ends.  He leaves me in the middle of the road on an island in a foreign country.”

Eventually, he came back.  And we did find our hotel.  After another hour of yelling at each other and crying in the hotel room, I stomped out of the room and down to the hotel bar.  No, not to drown my sorrows in alcohol – I needed a smoothie.  Something refreshing and nourishing so I could feel like myself again.  After about 20 minutes of fuming with my banana-pineapple beverage in hand, Sean sheepishly sat down across from me, handed me a water bottle and a sleeve of pringles, and said “I think we both need this.”  After a few minutes, our bellies were digesting our snacks and we were laughing about the whole situation.  And we never spoke of it again.

Phi Phi Beach at Sunset

Koh Phi Phi wasn’t what we had hoped for.  Neither of us are big partiers, so we wanted nothing to do with the nightlife, and we soon found that Koh Phi Phi was about two things – beaches and nightlife.  And the beaches were just as full of drunk 18-year-olds as the nightclubs were.  It was definitely beautiful, but the empty bottles everywhere and the vomiting in the streets really took away from the ambience of the place.  Our hotel was not good.  The bass thumping from the surrounding nightclubs shook our room until 4am every night.  Simply put…Koh Phi Phi was not our jam.  We should have known better.

Photo of Phi Phi beach
You could get a beautiful photo of the beach if you woke up early enough!

Aside from an awesome Bioluminescent Plankton experience with Maya Bay Tours (highly recommended!), Phi Phi had worn us down.  We grumpily killed time on the crowded beaches for two days, and we couldn’t wait to switch accommodations.  I had heard about Viking Nature Resort several months earlier, and now I was unbelievably grateful that I had booked us a few nights in one of their executive treehouses.  We met the longtail boat as early as we could on the morning of our check-in, and a 12 minute boat ride later, we had been transported to paradise.

photo of the long tail boat ride
Heading to Viking Nature Resort. Can you see the excitement on my face?

…And How It Redeemed Itself

The distant noise of central Phi Phi faded into our memories as we stepped off the boat and into the silky white sand.  Soft music drifted down from the resort lobby, an open-air wooden structure where a restaurant and a sitting area were.  Tree trunks converted into tables and chairs lined the beach.  Hammocks blew lazily in the breeze.  Our room wasn’t ready upon our arrival, but we didn’t care one bit.  We sat in blissful silence for a few hours, enjoying our beautiful new home.

photo of "Viking" spelled in flowers
Upon Arrival at Viking Nature Resort

When we did arrive at our room, our jaws dropped.  The treehouse was a stand-alone building constructed right into the trees above, complete with a hammock on the balcony overlooking the resort’s private beach.  There was a wash basin for our feet at the bottom of the stairs, and then we climbed up into our abode as the birds sang all around us.  It felt like something out of a dream.

photo of viking nature resort executive treehouse
Our Treehouse

The executive treehouse had a double bed complete with bed net and a beautiful, natural bathroom with a bamboo shower and a big stone sink.  The simplicity of it all is what made it so beautiful.  We spent the next two days catching up on sleep, doing some serious hammock napping, snorkelling around the private beach, reading and reflecting on the past 5 weeks as we prepared for our journey home.

photo of snorkelling on koh phi phi
I look sexy when I snorkel.
photo of sleeping in a hammock
Hammock Napping HARD.

If you’re considering a stay at Viking Nature Resort, there are a few things to consider beforehand.  First of all, it is a NATURE RESORT.  This means there are plenty of critters around.  Expect bugs, lizards, and lots of birds.  Let’s just say that the jungle really does come alive at night, and the bed net was a welcome addition to the room.  Bring insect repellant.  Secondly, the resort is quite spread out, and is built into the rocky hillside of the island.  A moderate level of physical fitness is required to get around and climb up and down all of those stairs.  This wouldn’t be the place for somebody with mobility issues.  But if you’re looking for a unique experience where you can truly appreciate and experience the beauty of Koh Phi Phi in a quiet, private and serene setting, then Viking might be the place for you.

While I can’t say that I would ever go back to Koh Phi Phi, I am thankful that our time there ended on a high note.  The island truly is beautiful, and I remember saying to Sean as we took our last boat ride across the bay, that I can’t believe water exists in that colour.  Our experience there was a perfect example of the expectation vs. reality conundrum.  We both had extremely high expectations because of what we had read and saw online.  If you’re after lots of late-night action, wild parties and lively beaches, you’ll probably love Koh Phi Phi.  But if you’re after something with a bit more serenity, choose wisely.

Travel is a constant reminder to go into everything with an open mind.  Maybe if we had done that, our first two days on Phi Phi would have been a bit more enjoyable.

photo of long tail boats on the beach
Phi Phi’s Redemption

Have you ever gone somewhere that you didn’t like?  How did you deal with it?

How do you manage your expectations before a big trip?

Join the discussion in the comments below, tweet me, or head over to the Adventure To Anywhere Facebook page.

Ashley Dempster is a twenty-something Canadian Travel and Adventure blogger based in Calgary, Canada. Her passions include good food, minimalist packing, running, music, and chasing down every opportunity for adventure.

7 Comments

  1. I always enjoy reading such honest stories! 🙂 Thanks for sharing. I had a similar sort of experience last year.
    My friend and I had been on Koh Phi Phi for about four days and had really enjoyed it (although we are not big partypeople (and found alcohol way to expensive), we do like to have a drink and dance for an hour). We also found Long Beach, which was much more quieter than the centreal beaches, and we liked to lay at the beach, read a book etc. plus everything was walkable.
    Then we decided to take the boat to Koh Lanta. When we arrived there we were overwhelmed. It was so big, we needed tuctucs to get everywhere. No pavements next to the roads…We were walking in the heat with our backpacks looking for a hostel, but the few we came across were dirty.
    So we went to a resort, booked it for one night and felt miserable(very very miserable) for the rest of the day. That evening we decided this was not the place for us. There was hardly anyone in the resort, there were no good restaurants nearby and the center was far away I guess.
    We booked a boat back to Koh Phi Phi. And the next day we went back to Koh Phi Phi for a few more days.
    x

    1. Ah! I am so sorry to hear you didn’t love Koh Lanta! But I can see why, based on what you told me. When you arrive at the ferry terminal you’re in the middle of nowhere. It’s definitely not walkable like Phi Phi…we did a lot of research before-hand (a blessing and a curse) and booked a little hut at this beautiful resort on Koh Lanta called Mook Lanta. It was walking distance to a few good restaurants and had a gorgeous beach. One day, we rented a moped and cruised around the island, which was really fun. It always amazes me how different our experiences can be as travelers! Thanks for sharing your story, Stephanie.

  2. My husband and I never, ever fight…. unless we are hangry, tired, or totally overwhelmed. All of which seem to happen frequently whenever we arrive some new place with our heavy backpacks in the sun after a long days travelling! I totally get it!

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