Phi Phi Don Island, Thailand: Life After Tsunami

Phi Phi Don Island has experienced a rebirth. Located in Southern Thailand between Phuket and the mainland, Phi Phi suffered a significant hit during the 2004 Asian Tsunami. Despite losing nearly all its infrastructure, six years later Phi Phi has nearly completed its rebuilding and is once again a prime spot for travelers looking to sample the paradise that has been rumored worldwide. Phi Phi Don is the largest of the six islands that comprise the Phi Phi National Park, and the only island with permanent inhabitants. As roads are minimal and cars practically non-existent on the island, you become quite familiar with your surroundings as you hike through the small city center. Consisting of several main streets, there are alleyways of market goods to explore, showcasing fresh water pearls and carved picture frames, but it’s the tsunami escape route signs that routinely catch your attention.

Where to Stay:

Depending on your budget and your preferred closeness to island activity, hotels can be found near Tonsai Bay and Long Beach for a range of $25-$250 a night. Both locations are in reasonable proximity to the pier. As a middle range resort, Phi Phi Cabana comes with great personal recommendation, just a couple hundred yards from the pier. It saddles both Tonsai Bay and Loh Dalum Bay on the opposite side of the island sand bar. The Phi Phi Cabana showcases amazing views as its pool lies parallel to Loh Dalum Bay leading into the Andaman Sea. As it sits seaside, you are just feet from the beach with private access to play in the warm salty waves.

Where to Eat and Drink:

There is no need to travel far for a great meal, restaurants are plentiful on the island, and a perfect place to indulge in fresh seafood. Most hotels maintain their own restaurants; at Phi Phi Cabana you can enjoy authentically cooked Thai food, or indulge in a steak dinner. Take an evening walk up the beach on Loh Dalum Bay before the tide comes in and you can enjoy dinner while dusk settles over the quiet bay. After dinner enjoy drinks at any one of the bars along the shore, traditionally constructed out of bamboo you can settle in and enjoy the atmosphere while getting to know the locals. For a livelier time and busier atmosphere, head further down the bay to ‘Slinky’, an outside bar that hosts fire shows and lets you sit back and enjoy the entertainment, once you are filled with enough liquid courage the performers will even persuade you to jump in.

What to Do:

Known for its coral, and controversially popularized in the 2000 movie, “The Beach”, Phi Phi beholds beauty that demands to be explored. With no shortage of boats, you can easily find a guided tour with a local to show you the views you absolutely cannot miss. Whether you snorkel with sharks or dive to discover the colors of the island coral, the opportunities to experience sea life are bountiful. Hike through Phi Phi Leh to reach the famous Maya beach. Other activities include rock climbing, scuba diving, and cliff diving. Although it can be easy to get carried away in the spirit of paradise, cliff diving does not come recommended by locals who admit that more often than not it leads to trips to the emergency room.

Getting There:

If you’re traveling to or around Thailand, Phi Phi is a must see, and can be reached by ferry leaving from the Southern Krabi town. Planes and buses both travel direct from Bangkok and Phuket to Krabi town. Keep costs low by traveling during the low season, May to November and you’ll be sure to enjoy a quieter island and amazing deals.

Kirsten Ruyter Written by:

Kirsten Ruyter was born in small town Iowa, and raised in a small fishing village south of Bangkok, Thailand. After running wild with neighborhood children for a few years, her mother eventually enrolled her in a British International School. Upon graduation she returned to Iowa, enrolling in the University of Northern Iowa at the age of fifteen. Having grown up in the slums of Thailand, and volunteering her time at an orphanage in Peru, Kirsten was inspired to study Social Work, and earned her B.S.W. with a Minor in Health Promotion. After graduation, Kirsten and her now husband migrated their way west, first settling in Sioux Falls, SD before relocating to the Bay area in California to be near family. She took a position at an agency that offered employment services and job training to the mentally ill, but before long she was once again faced with an opportunity to return to Thailand with her husband to work for her parents as a company translator. She took this opportunity to study the language, and began writing about the experiences they had. Kirsten and her husband will be returning to the Bay area in early December of 2010.