Phuket Town made us immediately fall in love with Thailand, so we naturally were excited to continue our travels through the Land of Smiles by venturing off into the islands for a bit. When we checked into our flight back in Auckland, the attendant was from Phuket and recommended that we stop over at Koh Phi Phi (pronounced Ko-Pee-Pee) while in town. Our first local insight! Koh Phi Phi is one of the most well known Thai islands and gained popularity when The Beach, starring Leonardo DiCaprio, was filmed there. It was never on our “must-do” list for Thailand, but it was on the way to Railay Beach, where we were planning to spend a few days climbing, so we thought what the hey, let’s stop over for a night.
After our awesome experience at Ai Phuket Hostel the previous two nights, we hoped we could find something similar in Koh Phi Phi. We spent some time researching hostels and hotels in Phi Phi and came to the conclusion that everything either had horrible reviews from other travelers or were grossly overpriced. We ended up finding Sabai House, a place with decent reviews, and splurged a bit past our usual $10-$20/night Thailand accommodation budget. Since we were only spending a night in Koh Phi Phi, we settled on the 9am ferry with an 8am pickup from our hostel. We would arrive there by 11am and have the whole day to relax by the beach. The transport was surprisingly on time and extremely painless. We boarded our ferry and set off into the sea with about 200 other tourists.
As we approached the dock, we were looking around and thinking “ah this looks nice, look at all the fish swimming in the water!” Then we stepped off onto the pier. We were then required to pay a 20 baht fee to “clean up Phi Phi” and were swarmed by a hoard of Thai people with signs in our faces for hotels and hostels. I just kept thinking how thankful I was that we already booked a place. After pushing our way through the mass of tourists and turning down dozens of hotel offers, we stepped foot into the town and were greeted with the smell of rotten fish and grey water. We also took a moment to look out into what we thought was a beautiful bay to see why we needed to pay that 20 baht to clean up Phi Phi. Phi Phi was dirty and could really use a long, hot shower. The businesses lining the water were dumping their waste water directly into the ocean and trash lined the streets and floated along the shores. By now I’m sure you can tell our first impression of Koh Phi Phi was, well, disappointing. Regardless, we were on an island and we were staying for the night so we would make the best of it. Plus, this was just the first block of town, it would definitely get better, right?
We wandered down the street and started asking for directions to Sabai House when a man wearing a Sabai House shirt came walking by, pushing a cart full of bags, with several other people following behind him. We flagged him down, added our bags to the cart, and followed behind him as he weaved through the maze of narrow streets past countless restaurants, shops, and bars, before arriving at the Sabai House. Our room wasn’t ready yet but the hotel had a pleasant little cafe in the front where we had a quick drink. Once the room was ready, we entered to find our first private room with ensuite bathroom. It was nice and clean and we got to experience our first taste of Southeast Asia bathrooms where the toilet, shower, and sink are all unseparated in the same room. Meaning you could brush your teeth, go to the bathroom, and shower at the same time, if you so wished. We threw our stuff down and packed a bag for the beach and headed out to ask some advice from the staff. We learned that the water next to the pier was not safe for swimming due to the sewage disposal but there was a hiking path to Long Beach 45 minutes away where we could safely swim. Sweet, we’re in.
We stopped for some lunch (sorry, we forgot the name…probably because the food was forgettable) and bargained for some knock off Ray Bans on the way to Long Beach. After some pretty views along the trail, we arrived at Long Beach to find a bunch of other tourists lounging on the beach and swimming in a buoyed off area. We joined them and commented on how lucky we are to have the pristine beaches of the Caribbean just outside our doorstep in the states. We hoped we could find some quieter, cleaner beaches during our travels in the islands. Nonetheless, we enjoyed our relaxation time and meandered back to the main town as the sun started to set.
I became mesmerized by the sight of a man getting a Thai massage in a beautiful arch like structure by the beach during sunset and headed up some stairs toward a resort. John correctly turned left to follow the trail back to town and shouted to me that I was going the wrong way. Oops! I turned quickly to run down and catch up to him and stepped off the stair onto an uneven hill. Pop! And I’m down. The pain is intense. What in the world just happened to me?! One minute I’m on the stair and the next I’m on the ground clutching my left ankle. Tears well up in my eyes while John runs over to check on me. I’m sitting there in crazy pain and all I can think about is how mad I am because I know this is bad. My ankle is swelling up like a balloon. The trip is ruined, how am I going to travel for 7 more months with a busted ankle?! How am I going to climb in Railay?! How will I get scuba certified?! (Spoiler Alert: The trip was not ruined and I was able to complete all of the aforementioned activities.) I also had cuts on my left knee and the top of my right foot and I couldn’t stop thinking about the warnings I had heard about infections from swimming in the ocean in Thailand with open wounds. All of this is running through my mind in a matter of seconds. I’m not crying because of the pain, I’m crying because I’m furious with myself. How could I let this happen?! Ok time to man up and deal with this. We are still more than 30 minutes from our hotel and the island does not have any vehicles. How am I going to get back? With John’s help, I try to stand. No can do. Walking is not an option. Being the hero that he is, John picks me up on his back and starts carrying me back toward town. When we find an area with more people, he puts me down and runs off to make a deal with a young Thai guy to push me to the clinic in one of the luggage carts. And I’m on my way to the clinic and John’s back gets a break. We arrive at the sketchy little clinic and the doctor takes one look at me, touches my ankle (resulting in shrieks of pain), and tells me “I think 80% no fracture, you pay 2500 Thai baht for help”. To which I reply, “For what?! You don’t know what is wrong with me!” 2500 Thai baht is about 75 USD and is a crazy rip off for a guess of a diagnosis from an island doctor with no real equipment. I end up convincing him I am not taking any medicine and will only pay 500 Thai Baht (15 USD, still a rip off, but better than 75). While I am having this altercation with the doctor, John is paying the “taxi-cart” driver. He enters the clinic to find me red faced and ready to go. I explain what happened and I wait in the office while John runs next door to the pharmacy to get an ace bandage for me. Then the real fun comes! The impromptu cart taxi man is gone and we are still ridiculously far from our hotel. What is there left to do but to go on a joy piggy-back ride through the town of Koh Phi Phi for 25 minutes while dodging strange looks and getting a bit lost?! Nothing. By this point we are actually laughing at the spectacle of us running through town in this state. John was my absolute hero. Dripping sweat from head to toe, he got me back to the Sabai house in one piece. We spent the evening ordering room service and dressing my wounds and planning our next move to begin recovery.
We decided we should go back to Phuket in the morning where we could get to a recommended international hospital to make sure I didn’t have any broken bones or fractures. The nice man from the Sabai House who pushed our bags the day before pushed me and our bags to the ferry early in the morning. The crew on the ferry helped us with our bags because I wasn’t able to walk and we journeyed back to Phuket. Good riddance Koh Phi Phi! You did us wrong! I will also note that Koh Phi Phi is apparently a pretty big party area, so in the days that followed, every time I explained I hurt my ankle in Koh Phi Phi to anyone, they asked if I was drunk. So to answer that question for any of you curious folks, the answer is no. I don’t even have that consolation! Although I am not glad I injured myself, I am glad we got to see Koh Phi Phi because it was definitely an experience I will never forget. With that said, if you’re looking for some late night partying with plenty of other tourists (and manage not to mangle your ankle), Koh Phi Phi may be a fun option for you. There is even a bit of climbing and good SCUBA in the area if you have time to explore. Just don’t go to Phi Phi expecting the pristine beaches of Anguilla, as you will be disappointed! I also should mention that the island we visited is Koh Phi Phi Don. Another island exists offshore called Koh Phi Phi Leh where you cannot stay but you will find Maya Bay, the actual beach where The Beach was filmed. I have heard it is also busy and dirty, but likely much less so than Phi Phi Don.