Should I visit Maya Bay and Phi Phi Don, Thailand?

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Me at Maya Bay – not too shabby…

There are all kinds of stories you will hear before you set off on your travels, anywhere around the world. Some will have the potential to put you off a place, that may have previously been high on your list. One such place with a foreboding reputation is the combo of the Koh Phi Phi Don, the largest of the Phi Phi islands and Maya Bay, on Koh Phi Phi Ley: both located between Thailand’s island of Phuket and the west coast of the mainland. Listen to a few tales and you will hear stories of overcrowding and westernisation having taken over both locations…

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But. If, like me, the draw of those scenes from The Beach, released in the year 2000, (at the height of my Leonardo Dicaprio obsession) is calling you, taking a dual-destination day trip can pay dividends. Before the film was released, the Phi Phi islands were considered ‘off the beaten track’. Some environmental activists are campaigning to have Phi Phi tourist numbers capped, which could potentially be good for visitors, locals and, obviously, the environment. If you don’t make it to Phi Phi’s islands, there are a number of other beaches and bays in Thailand which match it in terms of natural beauty. If you are still keen, my top tip, for now, would be to take a trip as early in the day as possible. These destinations attract those tourists for one good reason: they are incredibly beautiful…

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Pre-2004, Maya Bay had escaped development of any kind, but now it is part of a national park and charges a 200 baht entry fee per person. We booked our day trip through our hotel where we were staying in Koh Lanta, which I guarantee every hotel has a similar manifestation of. Anytime after 11am, you can guarantee that Maya Bay will be swarming with tourists. Something I would definitely be keen to avoid.

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Watersports like scuba diving, snorkelling and kayaking are popular around the Phi Phi islands. After the tsunami in 2004, which became a catalyst for all kinds of development, around 70% of the Phi Phi Don buildings had to be reconstructed. A tsunami early-warning alarm system has now been installed by the Thai government.

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Snorkelling in the island’s clear waters

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The low viewpoint at Koh Phi Phi Don

On to Phi Phi Don, where all roads are pedestrianised. The only traffic you encounter is the carts hotel staff use to transport guests backpacks. Tourists pay a small fee on arrival, which is then used to transport waste off the island. It literally is a warren of small shops and bars, and fresh fruit shake stalls, which are delicious (pineapple and coconut, gets my vote). We didn’t have long on the island, before our boat would set sail back to Koh Lanta, but I was determined to see the view from the famed viewpoint. This area is manicured, and kept so by a group of locals. There is a small charge to visit when you reach the top – so do take small change. I walked up in a bikini and flip flops, (I would recommend trainers) as it was so hot, and we had a few steps to tackle…

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It’s a long way to the top (Phi Phi Don’s viewpoint), but, it’s worth the sweaty climb…

You can climb even higher to see a better view of both bays, but we just didn’t have time. Always leave somewhere you like with a reason to go back, I like to tell myself. Phi Phi Don is filled with a lot of bars selling cheap alcohol buckets, and it does attract a young, lively crowd. So it might be best to stay on one of the smaller islands, if that’s not for you.

But, as with most of Thailand’s islands, you are never too far from a quiet beach corner, so you can stay at the far end of Phi Phi Don‘s bay, and enjoy the best of both worlds. Whatever you choose, if you are visiting Thailand’s west coast, Phi Phi and Maya Bay are an iconic sight, for a number of resounding reasons.

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Beautiful Phi Phi Don

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Maya Bay is close to Phi Phi…

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