The Phi Phi Islands (Thai: หมู่เกาะพีพี, Thai pronunciation: [pʰīː pʰīː]) are located in Thailand, between the large island of Phuket and the western Andaman Sea coast of the mainland. The islands are administratively part of Krabi province. Ko Phi Phi Don ("ko" (Thai: เกาะ) meaning "island" in the Thai language) is the largest island of the group, and is the only island with permanent inhabitants, although the beaches of the second largest island, Ko Phi Phi Lee (or "Ko Phi Phi Leh"), are visited by many people as well.
The rest of the islands in the group, including Bida Nok, Bida Noi, and Bamboo Island (Ko Mai Phai), are not much more than large limestone rocks jutting out of the sea.
Phi Phi Don was initially populated by Muslim fishermen during the late 1940s, and later became a coconut plantation. The Thai population of Phi Phi Don remains more than 80% Muslim. The actual population however, if counting laborers, especially from the north-east, from the mainland is much more Buddhist these days.
The islands came to worldwide prominence when Ko Phi Phi Leh was used as a location for the 2000 British-American film The Beach. This attracted criticism, with claims that the film company had damaged the island's environment, an accusation the film's makers contest. The film's release was attributed to an increase in tourism to the islands. Phi Phi Leh also houses the 'Viking Cave', from which there is a thriving bird's nest soup industry.
Ko Phi Phi was devastated by the Indian Ocean Tsunami of December 2004, when nearly all of the island's infrastructure was destroyed. As of 2010 most, but not all, of this has been restored.
From archaeological discoveries, it is believed that the area was one of the oldest communities in Thailand dating back to the prehistoric period. It is believed that this province may have taken its name after the meaning of Krabi, which means sword. This may have stemmed from a legend that an ancient sword was unearthed prior to the city’s founding.
The name Phi Phi (pronounced ‘pee pee’) originates from Malay, the original name for the islands were Pulau Api-Api (The Fiery Isle). The name refers to the Pokok Api-Api, which literary translated as the Fiery Tree (Grey Mangrove) which is commonly found throughout the Island. They were incorporated into the national park in 1983.
There are six islands in the group known as Phi Phi. They lie 50 km south-east of Phuket and are part of Hadnopparattara-Koh Phi Phi National Park which is home to an abundance of corals and marine life. There are limestone mountains with cliffs, caves and long white sandy beaches. The national park covers a total area of 242,437 Rai.
Phi Phi Don and Phi Phi Le are the largest and most well-known islands. Phi Phi Don is 28 sqkm: 8 km in length and 3.5 km wide. Phi Phi Le is 6.6 km.
The islands feature beaches and clear water that have had their natural beauty protected by National Park status. Tourism on Ko Phi Phi, like the rest of Krabi province, has exploded only very recently. In the early 1990s only the most adventurous travelers visited the island, staying in only the most basic accommodation. Nowadays, however, the place has turned into one of the major destinations for visitors to Krabi. However, it is still significantly less developed than the nearby island of Phuket, or Ko Samui, on Thailand's opposite coast.
Ko Phi Phi is a popular place for diving and snorkeling, kayaking and other marine recreational activities.
Culture & life-style
Krabi province the home of Ko Phi Phi is a melting pot of Buddhists, Thai-Chinese, Muslims and even sea gypsies. The majority of the population in the rural areas is Muslim. The province however, does not suffer from any religious tension and the folk live in peace and harmony. Outside of the provincial town, the rural folk speak with a thick Southern dialect which is difficult for even other Thais to understand. With this kind of mixture, the province is often celebrating something be it part of Thai Buddhist, Thai-Chinese or Thai-Islamic tradition. Visitors can also enjoy the annual boat-launching ceremonies of the sea gypsies and various long-tail boat races.
Events and festivals
Krabi Boek Fa Andaman Festival (งานกระบี่เบิกฟ้าอันดามัน) This is annually held in November to inaugurate the province’s tourist season. Water sports competitions, cultural shows, and good-natured fun are the schedule.
Laanta Lanta Festival (เทศกาลลานตา ลันตา) The festival is usually held in March every year at the Old Community in Ko Lanta called Ban Sanga-Au, which has a very old history of more than 100 years. Ancient Chinese style houses can still be seen here. In this festival, tourists can see the traditional culture, previously unseen ceremonial demonstrations, Southern local performances, folk games, water sports competitions and enjoy the tastes from various kinds of food booths which are provided by prestigious hotels on the island.
Sat Duean Sip Festival or Festival of the Tenth Lunar Month (งานประเพณีสารทเดือนสิบ) This is the southern traditional merit making occasion to honour one's ancestors. Food offerings such as Khanom La, Khanom Chohu, Khanom Phong, Khanom Ba, and Khanom Kong or Khai Pla, are made offer to Buddhist monks.
Chak Phra Festival (งานประเพณีชักพระ) The original waterborne procession, where Buddha images are put on elaborately decorated pulpits on boats are pulled along on the river, has been replaced by a land procession. The festival was formerly accompanied with a performance of traditional boat songs. However, the traditional waterborne songs have since disappeared.
Loi Ruea Chao Le Festival (ประเพณีลอยเรือชาวเล) This old ritualistic tradition takes place on Ko Lanta during the full moon of the sixth and eleventh month in the lunar calendar. This is a religious rite performed by the sea gypsies of Ko Lanta, as well as, from other neighbouring areas, who gather on the beach near Sala Dan Village. They dance their famous "rong ngeng" round the boats of misfortune to be set adrift. Ceremonies feature singing and dancing. This festival is expected to bring prosperity and happiness to the participants.
Even though it is Indonesia in origin, the art of batik has embedded itself within the local culture. There are also a lot of Krabi and Ko Phi Phi handicrafts such as pineapple paper.
Experts have climbed up many rock faces both on the mainland and Ko Phi Phi. Railay and Phra-nang Beaches are renowned with climbers as one of the most favoured rock-climbing destinations in South-East Asia. A countless amount of schools have sprung into business over the past decade or so, most of which are located at Railay, with some on Ko Phi Phi. There are now more than 600 routes.
Krabi has turned into one of the most popular dive spots in Thailand due to its clear water and colourful coral. Ko Lanta is known to be (amongst divers) as the best spot in the province. There are an abundance of diving schools with courses for all levels of diving.
Phi Phi island offers excellent conditions for learning kiteboarding. There are beaches on all sides of the island so any wind direction is suitable. There is only one school on the island and they provide IKO beginner courses as well as advanced lessons. Tours are also provided to nearby islands.
In general, Southern Thai food is renowned for its spiciness. Much of the cuisine has its origins in Malay, Chinese and Indian food. Favourite dishes from the south include Indian-style Muslim curry (massaman), rice noodles in fish curry sauce (Khanom Jeen) and chicken birayani.
As for Ko Phi Phi, reasonable priced and tasty seafood is obviously what most tourists long for when visiting a coastal province like Krabi. In this connection, the wing shell (หอยชักตีน) is the province’s famous cuisine. In addition, stirred fried Spotted Babylon (หอยหวาน), which is found in mangrove forests, with chilies and basil is also famous. This cuisine is common in Ko Phi Phi’s restaurants. Another great provincial taste is seafood.