The History and People of Koh Phi Phi

You can find the Phi Phi islands squarely between the mainland of Thailand and the larger island of Phuket. These six islands have become a gathering point for tourists from all around the world thanks to the sugar sand beaches, crystal clear waters and wide range of activities available. The largest of the islands is Koh Phi Phi Don and is the only one in the group that is permanently inhabited. The other islands are for the most part just large limestone rock formations jutting out of the sea and can be interesting for their deserted beaches and coral reefs, but are not suitable for living.

The island of Koh Phi Phi has history dating back thousands of years and some historians believe it was the home of the original Thai people. While that is difficult to prove, it is known that the island became the home of Muslim fishermen in the 1940’s and later was used primarily as a coconut plantation. The population of Phi Phi Island is still largely Muslim, although it also contains a large percentage of Chinese immigrants as well as the famous Thai sea gypsies. Even though there are many groups living on such a small island, they get along well and live in harmony.

Prior to 2000 Koh Phi Phi was more of an adventurous backpacker destination than a tourist haven. Budget travelers came to enjoy life “off the grid” at a slower pace and for very cheap prices. That changed when the movie The Beach was released. This movie, starring Leonardo DiCapprio, was filmed on Koh Phi Phi Leh on a stunning beach in the Maya Bay and the rest is history. It put Phi Phi on the map as a tourist destination and as more people arrived the number of hotels, restaurants and tour operators grew.

Because Koh Phi Phi is part of the Thai National Park system tourism has been kept somewhat in check. Motorized vehicles are not allowed on the island and building do not go over a couple stories tall. In addition, the beautiful and awe inspiring marine life around Koh Phi Phi hasn’t been severely impacted. You can still come here to snorkel and dive and enjoy some of the most diverse sea life to be found.

While the island infrastructure was completely destroyed by the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami, it was quickly rebuilt and Koh Phi Phi is even better suited today for tourists than it was at that time. You may look, but it is unlikely you’ll find a more enticing natural island paradise.