One of the most sought-after activities that all travelers want to experience when visiting Thailand is to take a boat tour out on the water. The Phi Phi Islands are the perfect place to do this as the rugged jungled mountains on the main island of Ko Phi Phi Don makes it nearly impossible to explore on foot. The other smaller islands that surround Phi Phi, like Ko Phi Phi Lee and the uninhabited Bamboo Island, draw in people from all over the world, vehemently seeking out the exploration of sandy beaches tucked between lush limestoned cliffs.
I had the chance to experience 3 different types of boats while on Phi Phi. In this post, I’ll outline those three options as well as give my experience with each so you’re able to get an honest review of what would be worth your time while on the island.
Here’s Exploring the Phi Phi Islands by Boat:
Half Day or Full Day Longtail Tours
How to Book
Most hotels have a partnership with local tour companies so you’re able to get a discounted rate upon check-in. Otherwise, walking through the village of Phi Phi, many different storefronts operate as tour companies. There’s usually always someone sitting out front of the business, advertising the various tours they offer, handing out brochures and answering questions.
The Company We Used:
What We Saw on the Tour:
The first stop on the boat tour was a lush cliffside full of monkeys, only my favorite animal. These monkeys weren’t the nicest though; even our tour guide was uncomfortable when the apes would get too close to the boat. While I was trying to take a photo about 5 feet from a couple, one momma monkey screamed at me and that was enough for me to get back on the boat. It was still an incredible experience to see them in their natural habitat like this!
Snorkeling in the Corals
I’ve never seen a coral reef… Crazy, I know! So, I was more than happy to jump out into the waters in the rain to see the marine life. As soon as we anchored, hundreds of colorful fish could be seen over the side of the boat swimming around in the waters. Getting up close and personal to them via a snorkel was an unforgettable experience.
Ko Phai (Bamboo Island)
Described by locals as the most beautiful, unspoiled, uninhabited island in the entire area, Bamboo island is the type of paradise you only see in movies. Ko Phai is a National Park of Thailand so there is a 400 Baht ($12) landing fee per person upon arrival to the island. Unfortunately, we were only here long enough to take a quick dip in the sea and use the restroom before a tropical storm came through and we had to evacuate the island.
Lo Sama Bay
Some of the richest corals in the area exist in Lo Sama Bay and I was more than happy to get the opportunity to snorkel up close and personal to them.
Possibly the most famous area of the Phi Phi islands is the location for Leonardo Dicaprio’s movie “The Beach.” Sadly, the Thai government shut Maya Bay down for 4 months beginning in June of 2018 to try and let the corals recover and to clean up the litter, all contributed to over-tourism. Because of this, we could only see Maya Bay from the water. In October of 2018, Thailand announced that they are keeping Maya Bay closed indefinitely because the corals are still far from salvaging themselves.
I personally don’t understand why Thailand waited until this place was completely damaged to start cleaning it up, especially when we’re talking about something so fragile like a coral reef. They can blame the tourists and we can blame the locals but, it really comes down to society being proactive about these issues to ensure this doesn’t happen to more unequivocally beautiful places in our world.
One of my favorite parts of our boat trip was this gorgeous lagoon. Swimming in crystal clear waters sheltered by the forested limestone cliffs was an absolute dream.
This entire boat tour experience was a bittersweet one for me. While it was an unforgettable experience seeing everything we saw, there were many portions of our day that contributed to my overall opinion about the tour.
In the months leading up to our Thailand trip, we made multiple attempts to book a private boat tour in Phi Phi (which has been a dream of mine forever) but we never received confirmation from any of the companies. We figured we would just try to find something once we arrived and, at our accommodation at check-in, they offered the option to book a half or full day tour with U-Rip. We were all for it, paying the 1600 Baht ($50) per person right there and reserving it for our second day on the island.
The next morning comes and it’s storming like crazy. I considered trying to reschedule it for our third day but, since tropical weather changes so much, we thought maybe it would clear up. We meet at our hotel’s reception office and, to our surprise, multiple other parties of people were there too. I was totally confused as we were under the impression that we booked a private tour. Maybe they’re on a private tour too? We walked about 15 minutes with our guide to the south side of the island where U-Rip boats depart from.
The company had a breakfast buffet set up but we had already ate at our bungalows so we just grabbed some coffee and waited for departure. They called out full day tours so us, along with about 40 other people, stood up and walked out to the boats. Yeah, we definitely weren’t getting a private tour.
In a nutshell, I would recommend an all day boat tour but I would NOT recommend the U-Rip company and would not recommend doing a group tour.
Being completely honest here, as you can always expect from me, this tour company is not the best option for multiple reasons. First, communication about where exactly we were going all day was close to nil. While I do understand that there is a major language barrier, that doesn’t excuse the fact that our itinerary was changed multiple times without our knowledge. Half of our day was spent sitting on the boat waiting to see where we were going next and without any clue about when we’d arrive. When we would stop at different places, the feeling of being rushed was overwhelming, in the sense that we weren’t able to swim for more than 10 or 15 minutes before the guides were ushering us back onto the boat.
On top of this, we were told specifically we would be visiting Monkey Beach and we definitely did not make it there, even though they were trying to convince us that we did. Monkey Beach is on the north side of Phi Phi Don and, instead of taking us there, our guides took us to a cliff that had monkeys on it but there was no beach. We also never got the chance to see the Viking Caves as promised.
And now, for the main reason I would never recommend the U-Rip Boat Tour: we definitely got scammed. We paid upfront for a full day sunset tour so obviously we were expecting to be out on the water in the evening to watch the sunset come in. Well, apparently we finished our itinerary early but we had to figure that out on our own because nothing was said to us. Now get this: instead of waiting for sunset time inside the calm waters inside one of the bays, the operators took us a mere 3 minute boat ride OUT of the calm bay and into the choppiest of open waters, telling us that it would be an hour until the sunset and this is where we were waiting. In all reality, this was their way of convincing us to finish the tour early and go back to the island. Within minutes, people started getting seasick. Andy and I tried to stand our ground, saying we paid for an all day sunset tour and that’s what we were here for but, the other 10 people on our boat began getting very angry with us, yelling at us in all these different languages, ostracizing and intimidating us to the point where we ended up giving in and our tour guides got what they wanted: we went back to the island before sunset even began. Possibly one of the worst tour experiences I’ve ever had!
Moral of the story: Say NO group tours and NO to the U-Rip Company!
How to Book
Head to the beach of Loh Dalem Bay and walk up to one of the kayak operators. You should see them sprinkled all along the beach.
The Company We Used
We actually used a local who lived near where we were staying!
What We Saw
The fact that we were scammed out of seeing Monkey Beach the day before was a big reason we decided to rent a kayak. There are 2 workers who sit at Monkey Beach to collect a landing fee but they didn’t come to us since we were on a kayak so I’m not exactly sure how much it was. The beach was crazy dirty; so much litter, plastic bottles, fishing nets and ropes scattered the shoreline, it was hard to even walk without stepping on something.
As we began scaling down the rest of the beach to check out a group of monkeys in a tree, we heard some commotion behind us. Low and behold, I turn around to find a monkey ravaging through our things! He cracked open our water, spilling over half of it out all over the ground, then scavengered through the rest of our things for whatever we could find. Pure cultural experience to say the least!
Honestly, I’ve never been in a kayak before this day. I’ve paddled around in canoes in the past but that’s normally done on some channel or lake somewhere in the midwestern US. This was a completely different experience for me and my arms were dead before we even got to Monkey Beach but it was worth every ounce of energy. We paid the local 200 Baht ($6) for 2 hours on the kayak.
YES! If you’re okay with being out on the water and paddling against waves, kayaking was a perfect way to see the closer areas of Phi Phi. We enjoyed being on our own the most I think but it’s just something awesome to do if you have time to kill and are a little adventurous.
How To Book
Well, if you bought an all day sunset boat tour through a company then you SHOULD be able to already knock this one out. But, since we got screwed out of our sunset tour, we ended up having to pay for one ourselves.
Ask any of the tour companies in Tonsai village if they offer sunset tours or head to Tonsai pier and you’ll be approached by people. Try and have a bottom dollar in mind and attempt to negotiate with one of them. If they quote you too high a price, move on and find another; someone WILL take it.
Company We Used
We stumbled upon a random local by the pier!
This was probably the highlight of our entire time on Phi Phi. We walked up to the Tonsai pier and were approached by multiple men asking where we were going. We said we wanted to see the sunset by boat and one guy offered up his boat for 800 Baht (around $25). I asked him what his boat looked like and, honestly it was pretty ugly; I was specifically looking for a wooden long tail. Once I denied him, another man patiently waiting said he’d do it for 700 Baht. I told him I had someone that would do it for 400 Baht ($12) and so he said 500 ($15) Baht and we could leave right now. OK good enough! (I didn’t have anyone else in mind, just wanted to negotiate).
We headed out on the boat just away from the Tonsai pier when he stopped and said we’d wait here by the corals because a little further out is too choppy. Needless to say, I trusted him a whole lot more already! He took us by the limestoned cliffs we had visited the day before on our crappy boat tour and, since the tide was low, the corals were exposed and the monkeys were crawling all over eating from them. It was so interesting to watch!
Our guide let Andy and I sit at the front of the boat, chat and drink our beers without bothering us one time except to point out the monkeys.
When the golden hour started, he revved up the engine and took off out into the open waters.
The sunset started and, let me just say, I have never seen a transformation of day turning into night as beautiful as I did on this night. The colors were so insane, a rainbow popped out between the clouds and the entire sky turned a crazy sort of color.
I’ll let the pictures tell you the rest…
Like This Post? Pin It!
Shop What I’m Wearing & My Thailand Style!
*Note: This article contains affiliate links. If you make a purchase after clicking on an affiliate link, I could receive a small commission at no extra cost to you.