Finding DiCaprio's Beach in Koh Phi Phi, Thailand.
I first became intrigued with the beaches and islands of Thailand while reading an account about a family selling their home in those halcyon days when the real estate market was skyrocketing. They intended to cash in and escape to Thailand to live, as they put it, “the good life.”
The beaches and islands in the Andaman Sea, along the southwest coast of Thailand, are dream destinations that lure many travelers (and expats never to be heard from again) to this part of the world. One such expat, Bryan Rilinger, lured by the exquisite diving opportunities in the area, opened Good Dream Guesthouse in Krabi. This gateway to paradise is where I made my stay.
My first two days here didn’t seem particularly dream-worthy. Visions of green cliffs overlooking white sands and a deep blue ocean were washed out by a string of unrelenting storms. This wasn’t entirely unexpected. I’d rolled the dice by coming here during the summer, the rainy season for this part of Thailand. I doggedly analyzed the weather reports, wondering if I had blown it by coming here instead of Koh Samui and the other islands along the eastern peninsula. Rainy season doesn’t hit there until winter.
I really wanted, however, to see Railay and Koh Phi Phi. I had read about them and gazed at photos until they became vivid in my imagination. I scoured every website I could find to track the weather in the area.
Finally, by my third day there, my dwindling patience was rewarded with several beautiful, clear days – perfect for trips to the islands. I would, after all, experience the paradise I had envisioned.
It took about 45 minutes to reach the dock from Krabi, where we boarded a longboat for a four-island trip. We visited Chicken Island (named so because of its distinctive shape), Tup, Poda, and the coup de grâce, Railay Beach with Phra Nang Cave. Each island offered its own character and perspective.
Railay, a peninsula along Andaman Bay, was my favorite. This is the beach to visit to if you want to go rock climbing. Limestone cliffs hang overhead, providing a dramatic backdrop. There’s also a cave with the first beach temple I had seen in Southeast Asia. Phra Nang Cave is supposedly the home of the spirit of a princess goddess.
The next day we took a speedboat out to Koh Phi Phi. We made a few stops along the way, my favorite being Maya Bay (Phi Phi Ley), where The Beach with Leonardo DeCaprio was filmed.
The beach at Maya Bay is surrounded by stunningly gorgeous, green cliffs. Even though it was low season, and there are no permanent residents here, the beach was quite crowded with Thai and international tourists. This is the pattern when the tour boats come in, so if you want to avoid the throng, hire a private longboat and get there early.
The crowds did not detract, however, from the stunning gorgeousness of the place. The water in the lagoon was turquoise, warm and perfect for snorkeling. The sky was also clear blue and the sun blazing. I had finally arrived at the paradise I envisioned.
Beautiful Koh Phi Phi Don (pronounced, well…“pee-pee”) can be choked with tour boats during the day. Phi Phi Don was hit hard by the tsunami of 2004, but I saw little evidence of this. The island has been commercialized and developed to a somewhat disappointing degree, particularly around Ton Sai village. Yet it still holds its natural beauty. After enjoying a buffet lunch, I relaxed and gazed out at the stunning views, soaking in the elements and relishing my all-too-brief time in this idyllic setting.
To fully immerse yourself here and experience the mesmerizing sunsets and sunrises on Koh Phi Phi, you might consider staying here instead of Krabi or Phuket. Amazingly, budget backpacker accommodations are still available up the hill.
On the way back to Krabi, we paused for snorkeling stops at Pi Ley Bay and Monkey Bay. The water was warm and emerald green. We swam amidst a school of colorful, tropical fish.
After leaving Krabi, I made my way to Phuket. My hotel was within walking distance of bustling Patong Beach. Don’t come to Phuket if you’re looking for quiet or solitude. It’s quite touristy, but it does have a hopping nightlife. Phuket is Thailand’s version of Cancun, a resort town for youthful partiers and international jetsetters. While recovering from your all-night carousing, you can get a nice foot or back massage on the beach.
For those who prefer a more sedate setting, head to smaller, less populated islands such as Koh Lanta. This island, with its coral reefs, underground caves and secluded beaches, is a diver’s delight.
If you decide to head to this region of Thailand to explore the beaches and islands, you have the option to fly directly into Phuket and avoid the hubbub of Bangkok. Paradise, ahoy!