Phi Phi Island, Thailand
Follow Thailand's long leg of land stretching down to Malaysia and you'll find Phi Phi Island to the west of the "knee" in the Andaman Sea. Technically, Phi Phi is two islands: Ko Phi Phi Don, where Long Beach, or Hat Yao in Thai, is located, and Ko Phi Phi Leh, which is smaller and only accessible by tour or chartered fishing boat. Ko Phi Phi Don is home to several dozen seafood restaurants, and even more reggae bar and coffee shops, but no motorcars. If you are looking for a beach where you can play Gilligan's Island, this is it.
Nearest major international airport: Phuket for Asian and European routes, and Penang, Malaysia, for direct flights from North America. It is common for travelers to fly into Bangkok and combine a stay on Ko Phi Phi with a visit to other destinations in Thailand.
The only way to Ko Phi Phi is by boat.
From Phuket: Boats leave at 8:30 a.m. and 1:30 p.m. Most boat trips take slightly longer than two hours, although the 8:30 a.m. "Jet Cruise" makes the trip in 50 minutes.
From the Penang airport: Take the #83 yellow bus to the ferry/bus station. From there, the most straightforward route to Ko Phi Phi is to take the frequent bus to Hat Yai, Thailand (5 hours, avoid the train on this route as it takes significantly longer to clear customs), then another bus to Krabi (also 5 hours). From Krabi, you will take a boat to Ko Phi Phi. The last boat departs Krabi at 4 p.m. (others leave at 8:30 a.m., 10:30 a.m. and 2:30 p.m.) so it is difficult making this entire trip in a single day. Krabi has plenty of accommodations around the ferry, however, if you don't make it.
Ko Phi Phi at its most pleasant, and at its most crowded, from November through mid-January, when the skies are clear, the water is calm, and the air is at its least humid. During the rainy season, between late May and late September, Ko Phi Phi still sees long patches of sunshine, but the water is slightly wavy (fine for swimming, poor for snorkeling) and the air humidity will make you sweat buckets.
If you plan on staying in an upper-class hotel in Phi Phi during the busy December season book well in advance. Beach huts are always available - we arrived an Christmas Eve without reservations and still managed to find a vacant hut with its own lonely stretch of sand.
The most common type of lodging on Ko Phi Phi - and the only option on Long Beach - is a basic bamboo beach hut. Generally speaking, as you move farther from the boat docks, the huts become less expensive and better. Even if you are a well-heeled traveler, do not discount a stay in a hut. They can be more comfortable than their modest exteriors suggest, and you'll never mistake it with being at home.
Ko Phi Phi also has several mid-range hotels of the brick and mortar variety. We suggest avoiding these hotels on weekends when they tend to be packed with partying Thais.
To the relief of many, Ko Phi Phi has no large all-inclusive resorts. The closest option is the Phi Phi Island Cabana Hotel.
For obvious reasons, the staple food is fish or "plaa" in Thai. We are partial to the shellfish curry, "geng hoi." When ordering, establish whether they plan to prepare your food "phet." Any dish can be spicy, but if it is "phet" it will demolish your taste buds.
Especially if you are traveling with children, be aware that there is relatively little to do during the day at Ko Phi Phi, so bring some good books and plan to relax the days away.
While you are there
Krabi, which is a two-hour boat ride from Ko Phi Phi, and its environs have some nice beaches in their own right, but what is so striking about this region of Thailand is the jagged cliffs and limestone outcroppings.
The Similan Islands, about 80 miles away from Ko Phi Phi, offer some of the world's most amazing diving. The islands can only be visited with an extended cruise. A few companies on Phi Phi run such tours to the Similans offer 5 day / 4 night cruises with 1 or 2 dives. Tours departing from Phuket are also available.
To fake that you've been there
Talk about how you only planned to stay there for a few days and ended up staying a month. Ko Phi Phi is the sort of place that sucks one in; once there it is difficult to leave.
Linking for a better vacation
The Thai Tourist Authority page on Ko Phi Phi has an online hotel booking service, though the travel information is more oriented towards nearby Krabi.