Koh Phi Phi Leh. Thailand, February 2011.

Phi Phi Leh, the beautiful island


  Cambodia and Thailand - February 2011

Dear English-speaking readers, this page is an automatic translation of an article originally written in French. I apologise for any strange sentences and funny mistakes that may have resulted. If you read French, click on the French flag below to access the original, correct text: 

Koh Phi Phi (pronounced pi-pi) is in fact two islands. The biggest, Koh Phi Phi Don, where we live. And the smallest, Koh Phi Phi Leh, uninhabited. Which keeps, in spite of the cargos of tourists to unload there, allures of island with the treasure, of island of cinema.

Excursion in long-tail boat

Let's be clear: it's not an "adventure" at all. All the tourists worthy of the name make the stroll in Phi Phi Leh (tourists of which we are obviously part, my travel companion and me, what we totally assume during this mini Thai stay of 2011).

The excursion is not an expedition. In short or long version, in speed-boat or long-tail boat, chartered or private, in the morning or in the afternoon, it is sold by all the agencies, hotels and guesthouses of the island...

Nevertheless. I love this landscape of spectacular karst cliffs...

When, after having skirted the cliffs of Phi Phi Don, we see Phi Phi Leh approaching, in the axis of the bow of the long-tail boat, one has the impression of discovering a mysterious island, inaccessible, lost in the ocean... An illusion that I savor with delight.

Excursion in long-tail boat. Koh Phi Phi, Thailand, February 2011.
Koh Phi Phi Leh. Thailand, February 2011.
Excursion in long-tail boat. Koh Phi Phi, Thailand, February 2011.

So beautiful on the horizon

And she is beautiful, Phi Phi Leh. Even from afar. Before as after the excursion, I never tire of photographing its so singular silhouette, which appears on the blue, from the beaches of Phi Phi Don.

Beaches not so crowded, moreover, contrary to what I feared. It is rather a good surprise. Even on those accessible by foot from Tonsai, the tourist "village" of Koh Phi Phi Don, you can still find quiet corners, take pictures without fearing the crowd.

Koh Phi Phi Leh. Thailand, February 2011.
Koh Phi Phi Leh. Thailand, February 2011.
Long-tail boat in front of Koh Phi Phi Leh. Thailand, February 2011.
Koh Phi Phi Leh. Thailand, February 2011.

Ploufs in the emerald water

So yes, I am very happy to have done it again, the walk in Koh Phi Phi Leh. To have bathed again in the emerald water of its creeks and beaches dominated by stunning cliffs. To have been able to observe some fish, already, in flippers-mask-tuba. And to have been able to see a lot more.

The rocky walls plunging almost sheer into the water are vertiginous. Their sight always gives me the same euphoric feeling, a little exhilarating. I have seen them many times on previous trips, it is not a discovery. But I notice with pleasure that I am not blasé. The sensation does not dull.

Of course, we are not alone. Of course, we are startled when a group of Asian tourists, a few meters away, starts shouting from their speedboat at the time of the photo-souvenir. Of course, we find it a bit ridiculous, to have to go wading in the water all at the same time, at the same places, on order of the boatman.

"Now, swimming and snorkeling. Fifteen minutes. One, five. » He wouldn't want his pronunciation to make us confuse 15 minutes with 50 minutes. We'd just have to extend our watery frolics! Apart from that, he's not a talkative or jovial guy. Well, it's true that he's working... And walking tourists, that can't be a fun job every day.

Koh Phi Phi Leh. Thailand, February 2011.
Phi Phi Leh. Thailand, February 2011.
Phi Phi Leh. Thailand, February 2011.
Koh Phi Phi Leh. Thailand, February 2011.

Maya Bay, the beach neither secret nor deserted

The last stop, before the sunset, is Maya Bay, aka THE Beach.

Yes, this is the famous beach where the (bad) movie was shot The beach, with Leonardo Di Caprio and Virginie Ledoyen.

Maya Bay is a superb white sand beach, at the bottom of a bay defended by impressive cliffs. A real movie beach, a Hollywood dream. Unfortunately victim of its success...

This time, we get more than half an hour. So nice.

Well, I had no illusions about what was waiting for us at THE beach. It's confirmed: there are as many people in Maya Bay as in during my last visit, in 2007. I had warned the other girl, so that she would not be too afraid... The crowd is dense on the tongue of flour sand, so soft under the feet.

Update 2022: Maya Bay, suffocated by overtourism, was closed in 2018 by the Thai authoritiesThe explosion of tourism from China, in particular, which now represents nearly a third of visitors to Thailand, has not helped matters. Thailand was planning to reopen Maya Bay in 2021, it will finally be the 1er January 2022by limiting the number of people. To protect ecosystems, quotas are effective, we saw it in Sipadan in Malaysia. So, it's a good initiative. By the way, two to three months after the closure of Maya Bay, the sharks came back: "We went from 5,000 tourists to about 60 sharks." sums up a Thai marine biologist, specialist of the issue, interviewed in a report for Correspondent on France 2. The association Ocean Quest began replanting coral "cuttings" in the area by fixing them to the glue, with success.

Fortunately for my friend and me, we are at the end of the day and the speedboats come from Phuket start to leave. Soon remain only the long-tail boatsOne by one, they too leave. The beach regains a semblance of calm.

It is in the shade, the setting sun illuminates only the cliffs at the entrance of the bay. It would probably have been better to come very early, at dawn, before the daily crowd. Another option: you can also camp at Maya Beach, which allows, in principle, to enjoy it a little bit outside the busy hours.

Crowds of tourists begin to leave the white sand of the famous beach of Maya Bay, in Koh Phi Phi Leh. (Thailand, February 2011)
Crowds of tourists begin to leave the white sand of the famous beach of Maya Bay, in Koh Phi Phi Leh. (Thailand, February 2011)
Maya Beach, Koh Phi Phi Leh. Thailand, February 2011.
Iconic image of the emerald waters and karst cliffs of the famous Maya Bay beach, Koh Phi Phi Leh, with a "long-tail boat" in the foreground. (Thailand, February 2011)
Iconic image of the emerald waters and karst cliffs of the famous Maya Bay beach, Koh Phi Phi Leh, with a "long-tail boat" in the foreground. (Thailand, February 2011)
Maya Beach, Koh Phi Phi Leh. Thailand, February 2011.

At the end of the day, we find a more serene atmosphere, which reminds us of what Maya Bay was, before the movie The beach and the tourist frenzy.

When we leave, the Moon is already visible and the shaving sun gilds the cliff. Ultimate looks for a beautiful wooden sailboat that we cross the road ...

Maya Beach, Koh Phi Phi Leh. Thailand, February 2011.

It is understood: Phi Phi Leh is neither a mysterious nor a secret island. But we can pretend that it is, for the time of the crossing... before coming across the other boats on excursion!

And to dream of the day, when, perhaps, Maya Bay will become again as beautiful under the surface as above...


  Cambodia and Thailand - February 2011

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  1. I had prepared myself, I had seen all the ads, everywhere, for the trips to Maya bay, you may have warned me, I may have imagined... Aaaaaaaahhhhhhhh! 😮 The crowds in Maya bay scared me!
    It spoils the pleasure a bit with this concentration of tourists (of which we are, neither better nor worse). It is worthy of Palavas-les-Flots anyway. Well, fortunately, the setting has nothing to do with La Grande-Motte!
    We feel that the setting could be magical, we would like to play Robinson, but when I had both feet on the beach in the middle of hundreds of other people who had both feet on the same beach ... I was especially fascinated by all these people in swimsuits, of all nationalities, all gathered on this island at the same time, (almost) all because of a movie ...

    There were a few minutes of calm after most of the other boats had already left. So much the better. We crossed Ursula Andress! 😉 I saw the landscape differently.

    But it's true, I preferred Phi Phi Leh from the boat, circling around and despite the too short jumps in the water that we were allowed! 8)

  2. @The other girl: Next time we will go to less crowded islands, promised!

    @Fabrice: You must not have read the paragraph above about Maya Bay... 😆 It is indeed the beach of "The Beach", where the movie was shot. Hence the tourist influx, ever since, at all hours of the day. Koh Phi Phi is probably the most famous island in Thailand, especially since this movie, and also because of the tsunami of December 2004.

  3. Imagine, Maya Bay, the first time I walked on it was in February 2005. Because of the recent tsunami (50 days before), there was only one boat, ours, and a really deserted beach... great, isn't it? 8)

    My daughter and I were trying to do the same tracking shot, when Leo pushes the brush aside and sees "the beach" for the first time. It worked well. It was exactly the feeling of living 5 seconds movie 😆

    I went back there twice and there... all the Taiwanese and Koreans in Southeast Asia had given themselves RV in yellow wading pool... 😡

    @The other girl: I met Christopher Walken in Maya Bay during the "Russian roulette" era in Journey to the End of Hell. It was in fact a lady between two ages, a little muscular and with the same scarf tied around the head. 😮
    We've been laughing for a week... just the appearance of CW in a bad movie on TV triggers a laughing fit.
    Clearly Maya Bay attracts all the legends of the cinema. 😉

  4. Ah, but of course I know this island. As you put Leh at the end, the local word for island, I didn't make the connection. Well, I shouldn't blog so late...

  5. @ Wet & Sea / Ludovic: I love your memories of Maya Bay!!! 😀

    @Fabrice: Well, let me start my explanation again, so I must not have been very clear... 😡
    1 -> "Island", in Thai, is called "Koh". Hence Koh Phi Phi, Koh Lanta, Koh Tao, Koh Yao Noi, Koh Chang, Koh Bon, etc. etc. I had even written a post about it when I discovered that there was a Koh Rin (Corinne):
    https://petitesbullesdailleurs.fr/je-suis-une-ile-corinne-koh-rin-20081117/ 😆
    2 -> Koh Phi Phi Don and Koh Phi Phi Leh are two quasi-twin islandsThey are often referred to as "Koh Phi Phi" or "Phi Phi", without distinction, to make things go faster. "Leh" is the name that is added to the uninhabited island, the one where there is Di Caprio's beach. "Don" is the name added to the main island where tourists stay.

  6. @Ludovic/Wet&sea Wow, Christopher Walken dressed up as a woman! 😆 I love it. Must have been a great meet 😉

  7. It's true that seeing the trailer of the film... it doesn't give you much desire to go see a Koh Lanta in Hollywood style.

  8. Frankly, Koh Phi Phi, it scared me.
    Too many people, too many tourists ghetto.
    Not too far, Koh Lanta has much more pleasant places ...

  9. @Pierre: That's right. It's a film that you can totally do without seeing without being worse off...

    @Lemerou: Yes, it can be scary. In spite of the crowd, I keep a certain attachment, almost sentimental, for Koh Phi Phi, which I have known for a long time, since before the tsunami... In spite of the "ghetto for tourists" side of the village of Tonsai, one can find calmer corners towards the northern beaches.
    Koh Lanta is also touristy, and there, it is towards the southern beaches that you have to go to be quiet. And for my part, I find the island less beautiful, it does not have landscapes as amazing as the islands of Phi Phi, with these spectacular limestone cliffs plunging into the sea ...

    @Melissa: There are indeed splendid corners in the "tourist" Thailand (impossible to miss), but to discover a more authentic Thailand do not hesitate to leave the beaten tracks too...

  10. Yes, I had the chance to spend 3 weeks in Phi Phi 15 years ago, I can tell you that it was something else... I keep beautiful memories...

  11. And there is also :

    Koh Ka Kola
    Koh Fi Dis
    Koh Péh Del Ump
    Koh Mé Dhie

    I couldn't help myself ^^ Bah what, it's almost the we!

  12. @ Ducal57: You too... (sighs) 🙄

    @Piotr: You're doing the right thing... 😆 And then it reminds me that it might be time for me to get back to work a bit. The weeks and months are flying by, and I still haven't finished telling the story of this little Thai journey...

  13. Hello, at the end of the year we want to go to Thailand and I would like to know the ideal is to stay how long in PHI PHI LEH. I would also like to know the most interesting places to visit.