Ko Phi Phi, Thailand – Paradise ruined

Ko Phi Phi, Thailand, header
I almost wanted to cry when I saw what had become of Ko Phi Phi. When I first came here in 2001 all the hotels were bungalow-type operations on the strip of sand that made up Tonsai village. Coming in, you could barely make out the bungalows among the tall palm trees.The island was a lush paradise of palm trees, white sand, high cliffs and emerald water. There were no “paths”, walking around meant walking through sand. It was the most beautiful place I had ever seen. I came back in 2002 with a girlfriend and it was still gorgeous, we snorkelled for a few days on Long beach and it was just magical.

Longtails on Ko Phi Phi Don

The Tsunami hit Phi Phi hard in 2004.

So I didn’t know what to expect when I came back in February of 2008. I was shocked. The palm trees are gone. The bungalows have been replaced by swanky 3 or 4 level concrete hotels and Tonsai village is now a mini-Phuket with massage parlors, bars, internet cafes, and tons of stores and restaurants. Backpackers have been replaced by young, package-tour travellers from Phuket. Tonsai village is PACKED. They even have a Muay Thai stadium. The scary thing is that only half of the isthmus connecting the two bays has been rebuilt, the rest of Tonsai is a barren landscape which the developers are only getting started on. Tonsai beach is no longer a beach between the new pier they are building – and it’s a big one – and the hundreds of longtail boats parked on the sand. I walked around, my mouth gawking and I must have said “I can’t believe it” about a hundred times. I felt like I was bleeding on the inside. I can understand that the tsunami would have wiped out the island – but instead of letting the vegetation grow back the developers further razed the place. There is no sand or trees left in the isthmus between the two coves. I caught a whiff of sewage close to the hotel, saw oil slicks from all the longtail boats and just thought of how they’ve ruined this place. Excuse my French, but it’s a fucking crime what they’ve done. The people who died here must be turning in their graves at what has happened to the island. I spoke to a local and asked her what she thought of the changes. She said it was good for the economy but that they all miss how it used to be.

Most of these pictures are from Long Beach which resembles what Tonsai used to look like. This is the place I would stay if coming back to Phi Phi. It’s quiet, has great views (that’s Phi Phi Ley in the background), a beautiful beach, some small family owned restaurants, and great snorkling. But I honestly doubt that I would ever come here again.

photos of ko phi phi, thailand

colorful longtail boats on Ko Phi Phi Don, Thailand

Don’t bother with the visit to neighboring Phi Phi Ley – it’s become a zoo. In 2001 I hired a longtail and the two of us bounced our way to the island over rough waves. I saw 3 tourists on the island that day. In 2002 I remember thinking it was getting popular because there were about 10 other longtails in the bay at the same time. This is what Maya Bay looks like now…they’ve even closed the Viking Cave because of too many tourists.

ko phi phi paradise ruined


Somehow, through it all, the Thais here are still friendly and smiling. I just felt dissapointment and anger at the greed that has transformed this place. A rare piece of paradise has been ruined probably foreever.

Phi Phi Don before (left) and after (right) the tsunami:

Old vs New Ko Phi Phi Don, Thailand


Addendum: I’ve gone back to some old video of Phi Phi. Sorry about the poor quality. You should however get an idea of what Phi Phi used to look and sound like.

This first one was shot in 2001. Can you hear the sounds of nature? Gorgeous.

I went again in 2002. You can already see that it’s getting a bit busier than the previous year.

2015 update. Holy crap.


 Have you been to Ko Phi Phi? What did you think of it?



If you haven’t subscribed yet and want to get our posts and newsletters sent to your email, just insert your email address below:




  1. I have been to Thailand several times and plan on returning again in January. Ko Phi Phi was on my list of things to do this time, but I may think twice now!! It’s too bad that Maya Bay is not ‘The Beach’ it was!
    Constance recently posted…Spectacular Sunsets in Taiwan – Part 1My Profile

    • Thanks for your comment Constance! Yes, I agree about Maya Bay. Actually, all of Phi Phi was beautiful, one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever been. Long beach is still very nice if you are curious about coming here – but there are a lot of islands in S. Thailand that are a lot more pristine and I would recommend exploring some of those instead.

  2. Yes, yes, yes, you are right one hundred times! My impressions was the same: awfully.
    It is pity, but seems this is a destiny of all good places of this word. You find a paradise, then another man, another and another, and during your second visit you see the big commercial center instead of “your” place.
    Victor recently posted…Why You Will Love Summer RovinjMy Profile

  3. Ugh, that’s one of the downsides of more people traveling these days is that all of the “hidden” places have become known. It’s getting harder and harder to find the off-the-beaten-path, secret places….but still, at least you have the memories and are on the move towards the next hidden treasure 🙂
    T.W. Anderson recently posted…Comment on The Secret of My Success – Travel, Experience, Live by T.W. AndersonMy Profile

  4. I’m in Ko Phi Phi right now and after reading so many posts along these lines (meaning: “the place is now spoiled”) I honestly thought it was going to be way worse. I obviously don’t have anything to compare it to, but it’s not as trashed nor as packed as I have read. I think a person just needs to get away from the centre of Tonsai (the Bay is for boats, yes, barely a beach as such) and explore a little further. Also, the fact that it’s not high season right now probably makes a huge difference too!
    Might not be what it used to be once upon a time, but this island is still beautiful!
    Zara recently posted…Summer day in Etretat, Normandy (VIDEO)My Profile

    • Thanks Zara. Everything is relative and if you’re coming from Patong for example you might find it a relief. But for anyone who was here prior to 2004 the place is unrecognizable, and while some of the views are still beautiful the natural beauty has (mostly) been destroyed by overdevelopment. I’m working on getting video on the site, I have a short clip on Phi Phi prior to the tsunami and it would shock you. You hear the insects and the water, see the palm trees all around. Incredibly peaceful. And if I sound like I’m denigrating Phi Phi it’s only because it makes me upset to see this raping of the island by greedy developers. I wish everyone would have had a chance to see the island prior to the tsunami – maybe that’s what it takes to comprehend what they’ve done here.

  5. Beautiful photos – (well, except for the crazy, over-packed party boats)
    Maria recently posted…Wordless Wednesday – ReflectionMy Profile

  6. I have to agree with your views on Phi Phi…so sad…

    I prefer Koh Lipe now. There’s not even a 7-11 on that island!
    Val-This Way To Paradise recently posted…How To Plan Your Finances For This Year’s TravelMy Profile

  7. So pretty. I would love to visit some day.
    Ellen Christian recently posted…Christmas Party Favors to MakeMy Profile

  8. Completely agree! Phi Phi is Paradise Lost!! Theres no doubt in my mind that back in the day this place was the best thing since sliced bread. I think it’s become a victim of its own success. The more people know about a place, the more stories people tell of how amazing it is. the worse it becomes..

    .. there are many many more places in South East Asia which are exactly like phi phi was years ago.

    Koh Rong in cambodia is one of them.. What an Amazing place!! I went last year but I am going to write a post regarding my time there in the next few days.

    If you follow my travels then you will see some of them.. http://www.adventure-backpacking.com

    I set off for the Philippines and Indonesia in less than a month

    … but shhhhhhh. some of them will remain always remain secret 😉

    • Thanks Sam – those places are all on my list and I’ll definitely check out your site. Hmm, Koh Rong, interesting!

      • honestly.. an island the size of Samui. No roads. A handful of fishing villages. and the most amazing beach i have ever seen. 7km of untouched, footprint-less, white, powdery sand!!

  9. I haven’t been to Phi Phi yet. It was a place i had looked at longingly for ages, but as a young teenage girl i never got the chance to go before the tsunami hit. It’s a shame that tourism has ruined another place – i don’t think many people realise that people travel to these places to see them exactly as they are. Undeveloped, quiet and… Pure.
    This is why i like visiting the smaller islands such as Koh Samet, Koh Chang etc. Much less foot traffic and still places of untouched beauty!
    Amy recently posted…The Grand PalaceMy Profile

    • Thanks Amy! You mentioned Koh Samet – I went there back in 2001 and really enjoyed it. It kind of gets forgotten when people mention Thai islands. I heard something about an oil spill there though, don’t know what the situation is now…

  10. Shame that the island is so touristy! I was quite surprised at how tourist Koh Samui was, which I really wasn’t expecting. But the real pleasant surprise of our Thailand trip was Koh Phangan, which wasn’t touristy at all! Perhaps because it is harder to reach…
    Jennifer recently posted…Chiang Rai’s Night MarketMy Profile

    • Oh yeah, Ko Samui really touristy. It was my least favorite island in Thailand actually. We also really liked Koh Phangan; Hat Rin is the only place on the island that is touristy. We were in a really tiny village called Chalok Lam on the northern end of the island, staying in a $3 shack for 4 nights (discovered it by accident – girlfriend at the time got simultaneous diarrhea/vomiting after bouncing around the island in the back of a pickup truck..)

  11. this is a beautiful beach!

  12. This is so interesting. I completely understand your sentiments as I have seen this happen in other places, but it’s strange because I have a completely different opinion about Phi Phi. But it’s because I went for the first time in Jan of 2013, much later than your serene paradise that you discovered in ’01. I LOVED it. I thought it was so beautiful. We stayed at a quiet end of the bay on the opposite side which helped I’m sure, I definitely didn’t appreciate the big city club sounds at night, but I think I was able to see through it all. It’s such a beautiful place. We also went to maya bay, and it was actually a highlight, simply because te place was incredibly beautiful. I think it’s a must see. Yes it’s busy, but so gorgeous. I’m glad I went. I’m sorry the paradise is gone, that’s so sad really. It’s interesting what perspective can do. You know what it was, and I’ve only seen how it is. Still beautiful, I think 🙂 great post though.
    Jackie Laulainen recently posted…BMT 003 : How to Properly Choose a DestinationMy Profile

    • Thanks for the comment Jackie. You’re right, all about perspective. But having seen the place as it was, and seeing it now, I could never go back – in my mind it just wouldn’t measure up to how it was. Glad you had a good time though!

  13. I’m sorry to hear that. I’ve never been to Kho Phi Phi, but I completely understand where you are coming from. Judging by your photos though, the island is still so beautiful.
    Agness recently posted…Stockholm On A Budget – How To Survive The Capital Of Scandinavia With $25 A DayMy Profile

  14. I can’t believe Ko Phi Phi used to look like that. The transformation had already taken place when we visited and we hated it. I know tourism brings in the money, but it’s sad to see what it can do to the place.
    Savi of Bruised Passports recently posted…How Much will that Road Trip in Iceland cost?My Profile

  15. That’s a shame. It’s on my list to check out the Thai beaches. May have to look into Long Beach like you recommend.
    Britnee recently posted…FIRST SCOOTER RIDE IN CHINAMy Profile

    • Hi Britnee. If you’re going at least you know what to expect – I find its always worse when you expect one thing and get something totally different. It is still a beautiful place however, just nowhere close to what it used to be.

  16. Couldn’t agree more. Maya Bay has become a boat parking lot, I’m surprised no swimmers have been hit! Good luck finding a space on the beach, let alone some peace and quite. Such a shame, hopefully one day it will return to it’s former glory.

    • You’re right actually about the safety aspect. One thing I remember – in 2002 when I went with a girlfriend we decided to swim from the longtail, which stopped about 100m out, to the beach. The water was crystal clear, it was gorgeous. You could never do that now between the traffic and all the fuel that must be in the water…

  17. I went 12 years ago now and in some places it was still idyllic. But I’ve heard it’s much more developed now 🙁 .

  18. This is so incredibly sad. I have wanted to visit Maya Bay and Koh Phi Phi for many, many years. A trip throughout Thailand from Bangkok to Chiang Mai to the islands has been at the top of my wish list for nearly a decade. Alas…I have not yet made it. I know that there are still many other beautiful Thai islands to see but I have always had my heart set of Koh Phi Phi. Can someone please provide a list of their favorite islands on both coasts? That would be a huge help! I think I will finally make it to Thailand next year for my honeymoon and any advice would be greatly appreciated.

    • Frank (bbqboy) says:

      Lots of beautiful islands but favorites always subjective. I’ll give you some of mine as well as others that seem to be favorites among blogger friends (which I’ve linked):
      Around Bangkok: Ko Chang near the Cambodian border a favorite. A smaller one, closer to Bangkok is Ko Samet (went there 10 years ago and loved).
      Lower Gulf of Thailand: Ko Tao, Ko Samui, Ko Pha-Ngan are popular. I personally didn’t like Ko Samui (touristy) but thought Ko Pha-Ngan was beautuful (when you get away from Hat Rin). Ko Tao from what I hear though is fantastic, especially if you enjoy diving/snorkling.
      Andaman Sea: Ko Phi Phi off my list. I was in Railey near Krabi and the beauty knocked my socks off. That was 10 years ago and was more of an upmarket resort scene than what Phi Phi has become. Gorgeous. Ko Lanta seems to be a new favorite down south and many backpackers rave about it. Its a place we want to check out. If you want totally chilled out and few tourists see Ko Yao Noi.
      Lots more islands but these are some of the more popular ideas.

  19. Phi Phi Ley certainly is a circus. I visited for the first time last year. Maybe it’s a blessing I don’t know what it was like before. Despite boat after boat of tourists pouring onto the beach, it’s still a gorgeous place. That lagoon over there is stunning. One of the highlights for me.
    skins recently posted…The Day My Life Changed ForeverMy Profile

  20. Hi Frank,

    Sorry to hear the less than ideal experiences that you had at Koh Phi Phi. Honestly, I was quite keen to venture to Northern Thailand, such as Mae Hong Son, Chiang Khan and Pak Chombut but I am quickly realising that I might be better off skipping the beaches in Thailand and going straight to East Malaysia, Indonesia or Philippines for a secluded island getaway. I know this sounds like an added hassle but unfortunately, it sucks when islands like Phi Phi are ruined by the hordes of tour guides, boats and tourists. I heard similar stories about the issues of over-development and a marked increase in tourists in islands like Koh Samui and Koh Lipe. I would much prefer the experience that I recently had at a private B&B beach resort at Redang island in Malaysia, it was just perfect. Honestly, it was such a nice place to stay, very Robinson Crusoe like. I had an amazing beach view from the chalet that I stayed in and I saw the powdery white sands and the crystal clear blue waters from a close distance. The beautiful thing was that the beach that I saw and swam in was nothing short of amazing, it was lukewarm and so clear with stunning underwater visibility. The beauty of it was that you had the beach to yourself (no tour guides, or abundance of boats and tourists on the beach) and it just felt….amazing. For a moment, I even agreed with one of Richard’s quotes from “The Beach” and said to myself “trust me, it’s paradise”. I just hope that these places will last the test of time, but sadly, once a paradise is found, people will find ways to exploit its beauty. Truly tragic!!!

    ad.phantas.adventuris recently posted…A trip to MalaysiaMy Profile

    • Frank (bbqboy) says:

      Great tip. Malaysia often falls off the radar for travellers. We ourselves haven’t gone in a very long time…Redang island huh? Just googled and and looks beautiful.

      Ko Samui was a huge disappointment for me and I could never understand why people go there. Haven’t seen some of the other popular islands like Koh Lipe, Ko Tao, or Ko Lanta. Ko Samet near Bangkok was a surprise favorite though and as far as geography goes Railey and Ko Yao Noi are beautiful (I wrote about Ko Yao Noi – not many people are aware of it).

      Thanks for the comment!

  21. I think I love you:) your views are exactly the same as mine and I only just got back from my first thailand visit. I was so disappointed at the commercialism and overcrowding.

    It was like living inside an open air club for a few nights… Drunk people everywhere, people everywhere, very loud music everywhere, etc. It really made me so sad to see. I envisioned phi phi to be the way you described it pre tsunami. And my friends couldn’t understand why I was so unhappy there.

    Natural beauty totally ruined:(

    • Frank (bbqboy) says:

      Isn’t it nice meeting people who share the same opinion?? 🙂 And that post was in 2008, I don’t want to think what Phi Phi would look like today. What a horrible shame.

      Thanks for much for your feedback Celeste.

  22. Visiting at xmas time is a bad idea due to peak season .Go May to July. Less tourists and cheaper hotels. They are many uncrowded spots if you avoid the tourist traps. Just do some reading.

    • Frank (bbqboy) says:

      I’m not quite sure what you are referring to. Are you talking about Phi Phi? We didn’t go at Christmas time. And many uncrowded spots? I don’t know if we are talking about the same place.

  23. Celeste said how crowded it was. Seriously avoid the tourist spots if you dont like crowds.

  24. Phi Phi was bad 10 years ago. Too small to cope with mass tourism and now the Chinese have increased the problem. Even Phuket I find overpriced and not worth it. Krabi and Trang are much better value and far less tourists.

  25. Ko Samet is also seriously overdeveloped.

    • Frank (bbqboy) says:

      Is it? I went back in 2002 and loved the place. Of course Phi Phi was totally different back then too…

  26. Youre exactly right, I had the same impressions… Unfortunately more and more places are getting ruined like this. There are a few left, like Albania, but there is a lot of development there on some beaches, so Im afraid it wont last long…

  27. Alex Rossi says:

    Hi everyone… I’ve found your page while browsing here in the hotel where I’m staying in Phi Phi, because I am so sad, maybe like you were when you came back in 2008… I heard a lot about the island and I was expecting to see a natural paradise. I started to be suspicious when I’ve seen on youtube some videos taken around the market (well, let’s define them SHACKS!), but I still believed it was a small piece of touristic area on its own, with still noce beaches and natural beauty. Well, it’s not. I even had to change room in my hotel and move to the other side as there is a club playing loud music until 2am. Now I am in my quite room, but I feel surrounded by chaos. You go out and you walk through these smelly alleys, smell of shit (yes, literally) and you don’t even see the beach until you are 10 meters away from it. I feel sad, I know the island itself is bigger and there are areas that are still beautiful and immaculate, but right now I feel so let down by people that I even hoped for another tsunami 🙁 I know it is bad to say it, but to be fair it would clean this mess. I am angry at people, why coming to paradise to drink and party all night, why ruining the place… I don’t know, so far I am angry and the only thing I know is that next time I’ll go on holiday somewhere else. To relax now and see some paradise I will have to take the boat to leave this sewage dream every day, hoping not to find a created zoo type paradise (but I think I will be let down, like Maya Bay). Maybe I am just negative now as me and my girlfriend have just arrived and we are staying in Tomsay, maybe tomorrow with new light and moving away during the day from here I will feel different…

    • Frank (bbqboy) says:

      Hi Alex. So sorry to hear. It is very misleading, all over the internet I see ads on Phi Phi that use photos over 10 years old when it was completely different.
      Try Long beach. I don’t know what it’s like now but it was still nice in 2008. The rest I’m afraid has gone to shit (as you have well described…)

      • Alex Rossi says:

        I have to admit I was quite angry yesterday because of the loud music and having to change room. I wouldn’t like any disaster to happen or people to get hurt, but I still believe the place has been ruined, that for sure. I’ll try to walk around today and possibly get a boat or walk to long beach and see how it goes, maybe also take some boats to other islands. Sad anyway, because I am sure this would have been paradise for real… Humans are usually the cause of their own problems eheheh

  28. And to think the land developers probably took advantage of the earthquake to look like the ‘good guys.’
    “We’ll help you fix your village out of the kindness of our hearts.”

Thanks for reading! Feedback is always appreciated!


CommentLuv badge