The Phi Phi Islands (Thai: หมู่เกาะพีพี, Thai pronunciation: [pʰīː pʰīː]) are in Thailand, between the large island of Phuket and the west Strait of Malacca coast of the mainland. The islands are administratively part of Krabi province. Ko Phi Phi Don ("ko" (Thai: เกาะ) meaning "island" in the Thai language) is the largest island of the group, and is the most populated island of the group, although the beaches of the second largest island, Ko Phi Phi Lee (or "Ko Phi Phi Leh"), are visited by many people as well. The rest of the islands in the group, including Bida Nok, Bida Noi, and Bamboo Island (Ko Mai Phai), are not much more than large limestone rocks jutting out of the sea. The Islands are reachable by speedboats or Long-tail boats most often from Krabi Town or from various piers in Phuket Province.
Phi Phi Don was initially populated by Muslim fishermen during the late-1940s, and later became a coconut plantation. The Thai population of Phi Phi Don remains more than 80% Muslim. The actual population however, if counting laborers, especially from the northeast, is much more Buddhist these days. The population is between 2,000 to 3,000 people (2013).
The islands came to worldwide prominence when Ko Phi Phi Leh was used as a location for the 2000 British-American film The Beach. This attracted criticism, with claims that the film company had damaged the island's environment, since the producers bulldozed beach areas and planted palm trees to make it resemble description in the book, an accusation the film's makers contest. An increase in tourism was attributed to the film's release, which resulted in increases in waste on the Islands, and more developments in and around the Phi Phi Don Village. Phi Phi Lee also houses the "Viking Cave", where there is a thriving industry harvesting edible bird's nest.
Ko Phi Phi was devastated by the Indian Ocean tsunami of December 2004, when nearly all of the island's infrastructure was destroyed. As of 2010 most, but not all, of this has been restored.
The islands feature beaches and clear water that have had their natural beauty protected by national park status. Tourism on Ko Phi Phi, like the rest of Krabi Province, has exploded since the filming of the movie The Beach. In the early 1990s, only adventurous travelers visited the island. Today, Ko Phi Phi is one of Thailand's most famous destinations for scuba diving and snorkeling, kayaking and other marine recreational activities.
The number of tourists visiting the island every year is so high that Ko Phi Phi's coral reefs and marine fauna have suffered major damage as a result.
There are no hotels or other type of accommodation on the smaller island Ko Phi Phi Lee. The only opportunity to spend the night on this island is to take a guided tour to Maya Bay and sleep in a tent.
Impact of Mass Tourism:
Since the tsunami, Phi Phi has fallen prey to an even greater threat to its allure: mass tourism. Dr Thon Thamrongnawasawat, an environmental activist and member of Thailand's National Reform Council, is campaigning to have Phi Phi tourist numbers capped before its natural beauty is completely destroyed. With southern Thailand attracting thousands more Chinese tourists every day, Dr Thon makes the point that the ecosystem is under threat and is fast disappearing. "Economically, a few people may be enriched, but their selfishness will come at great cost to Thailand", says Dr Thon, a marine biology lecturer at Kasetsart University and an established environmental writer.
More than one thousand tourists arrive on Phi Phi daily. This figure does not include those who arrive by chartered speedboat or yacht. Phi Phi produces about 25 tonnes of solid waste a day, rising to 40 tonnes during the high season. All tourists arriving on the island pay a 20-baht fee at Ton Sai Pier to assist in "keeping Koh Phi Phi clean". "We collect up to 20,000 baht a day from tourists at the pier. The money is then used to pay a private company to haul the rubbish from the island to the mainland in Krabi to be disposed of", Mr Pankum Kittithonkun, Ao Nang Administration Organization (OrBorTor) President, said. The boat takes about 25 tonnes of trash from the island daily, weather permitting. Ao Nang OrBorTor pays 600,000 baht per month for the service. During the high season, an Ao Nang OrBorTor boat is used to help transport the overflow of rubbish. Further aggravating Phi Phi's waste issues is sewage. "We have no wastewater management plant there. Our only hope is that hotels, restaurants and other businesses act responsibly – but I have no faith in them," Mr Pankum said. "They of course have to treat their own wastewater before releasing it into the sea, but they very well could just be turning the devices on before officers arrive to check them." The fundamental issue is that the budget allocated for Ao Nang and Phi Phi is based on its registered population, not on the number of people it plays host to every year, Mr Pankum said.