Known the world round for its beautiful beaches, especially after a young Leo starred in the namesake movie The Beach, Koh Phi Phi is a one of the most popular tourist destinations in southern Thailand. And for good reason. The beaches are surrounded by beautiful views of the mountains, and there are plenty of nice restaurants, hotels, and bars in town to live comfortably. The night life is pretty active here as well, with lots of party-hard bars and fire spinning shows along the beach. Oh yeah, and there’s some world-class climbing lurking on the fringes of all this indulgent tourism.
The main climbing area on Koh Phi Phi is Tonsai Tower, which sits proudly on the west side of the beach on Tonsai Bay. There are a large number of high-quality moderate climbs here, with a concentration in the 5.10 range, and even a few multi-pitch sport climbs in the harder grades. The bolts are mostly stainless steel glue-ins in generally good condition, with some threads and titanium glue-ins mixed in. To get to Tonsai Tower, just head to the beach, walk to the end, and a short trail leads up to the base. Watch out for monkeys that come looking for things to steal while you’re climbing.
The Hin Tak cliff has a great multi-pitch called Happy Banana that’s very worthwhile, though you need to take either a long-tail boat or rent a kayak to get out there. The kayak option is highly recommended, as there’s some great snorkeling along the way, and it’s a beautiful place to float around and check out the jungle. The last pitch of this route is wild, overhanging jugs that climb out over the beach a few hundred feet up. Makes for a great shot when lowering back down to the belay ledge:
The access on Koh Phi Phi has historically not been stable. We climbed there without any problems in January 2017, though you might have better luck at Tonsai Tower where you’re alone than on Monkey Beach (Hin Tak cliff), where overzealous tour guides may give you a hassle.
- Gladiator 5.10d
- Happy Banana 5.11a
- Severed Garden 5.12b
Fall and Winter (Nov-Feb) are the best times to climb in Thailand in general. Spring is too hot and summer brings rain until the end of August. Watch out for Chinese New Year, when hordes of Chinese tourists descend upon the island and light off fireworks outside your hotel room all evening.
Too many to mention. It seems the cheap bungalows on the beach that you hear stories about have been gradually replaced by fancier hotels and resorts, so the options are not as cheap as Tonsai Beach, maybe more similar to Railay Beach. If you want to avoid the noisy parties every evening, pick a place away from the center of town closer to the mountains on either side. Agoda is a good resource for booking ahead. You’ll get barraged by people trying to sell you hotels when you get off the boat, so having something booked already is nice.
Fill up at your hotel or buy water at one of many ubiquitous convenience stores around the island.
There are tons of good restaurants around the island, with prices a bit higher than elsewhere in Thailand due to this being a tourist hub. I unfortunately was smitten by a case of “Tonsai Tummy” while here on Koh Phi Phi, so be careful where you choose!
In your hotel room!
There’s some pretty fun activities to do here if you’re all climbed out. You can pretty easily rent a kayak on either the north or south beaches for between 600-1000 baht/day. Renting snorkeling gear is also pretty easy, and there’s some pretty amazing fish and coral to check out within a quick ride from the beaches.
Hiking up and over the mountain on the north side of the island will bring you down to Rantee beach, which is very quiet and has some nice snorkeling. Beware of the fish though – when the tide gets low, they start snipping at your legs, but only when you walk and the ripples in the water mask their approach – sneaky little buggers!
By Tyler Wellman