Following a recent quality inspection tour to Phi Phi with one of our operators (in the supposed “low season”), we were shocked to see how busy the place was. And then this snap of Maya Bay taken in July 2016 came out and went viral: boats lined up along the shore and standing room only on the beach. It turns out we are not the first to remark upon this.
While this scene is not typical, there are endless negative customer reviews of island tours in Krabi on TripAdvisor and most tend to focus on the crowds, complaining of “too many people” and “hundreds of boats”. It’s true that, compared to 10 years ago – when most of the brochure pictures were taken – the islands in Krabi are now incredibly busy throughout the year and, due to natural restrictions on itinerary (tidal and sea conditions), almost all tour boats follow each other around on the same routes.
The islands in Krabi, it seems, have become a victim of their own popularity. Phi Phi, for example, once a hidden gem, is now well-known as one of the most beautiful places in the world, so it stands to reason that it will be mobbed. Remember, everyone else who is there wants to see it as much as you do! The whistle-stop tours cater to the vast majority of them and as demand has increased, so too have the boats. The National Park itself places no restriction on visitor numbers, provided fees are paid and boat safety standards are met.
The best tip then, to enjoy your island tour in Krabi, is to revise your expectations: tourist brochures peddling the fantasy of a deserted island are responsible for a lot of the disappointment – nobody would bat an eyelid to find other famous places such as the Eiffel Tower, or the Taj Mahal heaving with people. And it is always still possible – by swimming a little further away, or by snapping your pictures at a certain angle – to block out the background hordes and enjoy the view.
Note that an overcrowded beach when you arrive is not the same as an overcrowded boat: you should not accept the latter under any circumstances. There are sadly some unscrupulous tours – mainly from Phuket, but also in Krabi – that overload their boats, making for an unpleasant and dangerous journey. Avoid all agents that try to sell you a “bargain” tour to Phi Phi. If it sounds too good to be true, it usually is.
Do expect a lot of people on your boat however, even if you travel on a good group tour. Most speedboat operators now use 4 – 5 engine, 50 – 90 seater boats for the Phi Phi itinerary. Important to note is that the seating on these larger vessels is not all equal: some places have a much better view than others.
Our top speedboat seating tips: out at the very front of the boat is the best place to sit if you don’t mind the occasional bump. It has the only open air seating, and the only place you will get a decent view; but as mentioned it can be a rough ride if there are big waves. Always wear a hat and sunscreen if you sit out here as there is no shade and the sun is fierce. If you get motion sickness or don’t like bumps, sit at the rear of the boat. Never choose to sit in the middle section of a large speedboat; you will see virtually nothing at all. The side benches give you the option of kneeling up and looking out at the scenery, not the most comfortable, but better than nothing.
It is worth pointing out that, despite the crowds, all of the Krabi islands are still worth visiting. The locations are the very definition of tropical paradise, if you can imagine them without the string of boats. The scenery is majestic; the colour of the water, astonishing. It is like nowhere else on earth.
So to answer – finally – the condundrum in the title of this post: other than being very lucky, realistically there is only one way to avoid crowds on Phi Phi and the other islands, which is to go at a different time to everyone else.
You could get up very early, or go very late in the afternoon with a privately chartered boat. (See separate article on how to do this.) Or, during the high season months, join-in sunset tours to the local islands are available and there will be significantly fewer boats on each island you visit. Overnight camping trips to Maya Bay are also possible, departing from Phi Phi Don only, and will virtually guarantee a deserted beach (apart from your fellow campers) at sundown and sunrise.
Another option is to go out to sea on a dive boat or fishing boat. These have a primary focus of diving, or fishing (obviously) but are happy to welcome non-diving, non-fishing passengers on board. The main advantages of this are:
1) A far more comfortable boat, usually with a deck to sit out on and watch the amazing scenery.
2) Taking less travelled routes and visiting less busy locations, often with excellent snorkelling (due to less traffic)
The main disadvantages of this are:
1) No beach stops
2) More expensive
For more information, itineraries and guide prices for all of the options for island-hopping departing from Krabi, please see the individual island pages:
These also include listings for alternative island tours (diving, fishing etc.)
See also our island-hopping overview page.
Please also visit our page on private boat charter in Krabi, if you wish to avoid the join-in tours altogether.