photo of Koh Phi Phi, Thailand

Sunset in Koh Phi Phi, Thailand (Karen Chen)

What to do in Koh Phi Phi

The six Phi Phi Islands (koh means "island" in Thai) are a group of otherworldly limestone islets dramatically rising from the western Andaman Sea about 500 miles south of Bangkok and 100 miles southwest of Phuket. You've probably seen Koh Phi Phi before, since their striking beauty has been featured in a few Hollywood and James Bond movies. The secret of these islands is out: There are numerous world-class resorts and they are a popular—some say too popular—day trip from nearby Phuket and Krabi.

The largest and only inhabited island in the group is Koh Phi Phi Don. Shaped like a barbell, the central isthmus was hit hard by the tsunami in 2004, but it has since recovered. All overnight visitors arrive at the busy ferry port in Phi Phi Don's Loh Dalam Bay. The sandy beaches at Ton Sai (just opposite) are good for sunbathing when they're not packed liked sardines, which is usually the case during the high season from December to March. In fact, you may want to book any Phi Phi hotel well in advance of your stay, as this has become one of the most popular spots in all of Thailand (with the high rates to prove it). The island has a good selection of lodgings from luxury to backpacker, not to mention a hearty beach bar scene. Needless to say, unregulated growth and rubbish are an ongoing concern. Numerous snorkel, dive, kayak, and hiking tours can be easily booked by vendors on Koh Phi Phi Don. Divers will relish the area's reefs, and wreck divers will like the sunken 280-foot King Cruiser ferry.

Ko Phi Phi Leh (or Ko Phi Phi Ley or Lee) is the second-largest island in the group and a short boat ride from Koh Phi Phi Don. The island, specifically its gorgeous Maya Bay, is a main focus for hoards of tourists, although no hotels are located here. Koh Phi Phi Leh also houses the Viking Cave, where there is a thriving bird's nest soup industry.

The rest of the islands in the group, including Bida Nok, Bida Noi, and Ko Mai Phai (Bamboo Island), are not much more than large limestone rocks jutting out of the sea, all protected as a marine reserve by the Thai government.

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