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Thailand Island Hopping Guide: Phuket + Phi Phi Islands

Mar 7, 2020 | Asia | 0 comments

Pristine sand. Crystal-blue waters. Rugged mountains dotting the landscape. When you go to Thailand, island hopping is an absolute must. There are few places in the world where you’ll see such stunning views, and none are paralleled by the budget options in Thailand.

Here is my advice for what to expect on your own west Thailand island hopping adventure, how to plan, and my experience traveling there as a woman!

*You can find in-depth advice on how to plan your trip to Thailand, including phone service options, travel insurance, and accessing money abroad in my post about visiting Bangkok!

Disclosure: This post contains affiliate links. If you purchase any of the products or services from the links below, I receive a small commission at no additional cost to you. I only recommend products and services I love!

How to Get to Phuket from Bangkok

I started my time in Thailand in Bangkok, where I stayed for 5 days before flying to Phuket. Unless you select to fly directly to Phuket or Krabi, you’ll likely start your island hopping trip in Bangkok as well.

Here are your options to get to Phuket from Bangkok:

  • Budget: Overnight bus ($20+)
  • Mid-range: Fly with a budget airline out of DMK (~$50+)
  • Expensive: Fly with any airline out of BKK (~$80+)

I chose to fly to Phuket even though I debated about taking the bus, because the journey would take over 12 hours. While I don’t mind giving up comfort in order to maintain a budget, I do believe that time is money.

Flights from Bangkok to Phuket take about an hour, and most Asia-based airlines include meals and checked luggage for all their flights, including domestic. The only exception is budget airlines like Air Asia, which is the airline I flew with to Phuket.

However, Air Asia impressed me for budget standards. I paid double for my plane ticket than I would have for the bus, but the flight was much more comfortable, the staff was very friendly, and I got to Phuket 10x faster than I would have otherwise.

Bottom line: I recommend flying to Phuket. If you want to go budget, fly from DMK. If you’re more flexible, fly from BKK since it’s easier to reach from Bangkok.

*You can also find my advice for how to get to DMK and BKK airports in my post about Bangkok!

If you’re interested in taking the bus, search for your dates using (and read the reviews on there!) and then book directly with the bus company. They’ll issue an e-ticket which you can print off at your accommodations before you arrive to the bus station.

Pink flowers of Viewpoint 3 on Koh Phi Phi Don, Thailand, with water and mountains in background

Phuket Airport Transfer to Patong Beach and Phuket Old City

Phuket airport (HKT) is small and pretty relaxing, which I appreciated after a long work and travel day. Just like any other airport, that relaxation ends when you walk outside the airport and everyone wants you to get in their taxi or minibus.


There is a bus that is cream-colored with a light blue stripe that only costs 170 baht per person. It leaves every hour on the hour, and you can find it if you turn left once you leave the airport. There should be a sign outside showing you where exactly to walk to catch it.

The bus has nice leather seats, it’s air-conditioned, and it takes about an hour to reach Patong Beach from the airport. It’ll take a little bit longer to Phuket Old City.

I saved so much money by taking this bus, because taxis cost about 700 baht from the airport. Minibuses don’t cost much more than the larger cream bus, but you’ll probably have to wait for the staff to fill the bus with other passengers unless you have a large group.

Beach of Koh Phi Phi Don at sunset, Thailand

Where to Stay in Phuket

For some reason, I drive myself crazy researching accommodations when I’m going to a new place. Phuket was no exception.

I don’t want that for you.

If you’re a young traveler (or young at heart 😉), I highly recommend staying at Lub d. My friend and I stayed there for three nights and absolutely loved it. Not only were the beds the most comfortable I’d slept on in Thailand up until that point, but this place is just so cool.

The pool is very nice, and I loved having a menu to select my free breakfast from instead of a buffet. There’s a tour desk that can help you book local tours if you want to, and Patong beach is a 5-minute walk.

If you’re not interested in staying in Patong Beach area, then I saw many wonderful properties in Phuket Old City on Agoda and Airbnb.

*Just because a property has 4 stars or higher in reviews doesn’t mean the recent reviews are positive! I always, always search for the most recent reviews and if they’re bad, I don’t book that property. You don’t want a terrible accommodation to ruin your time in a new destination!

What to See + Do in Phuket

Soak in the Sun on Patong Beach

Without a doubt, the most popular area of Phuket for visitors is Patong Beach. I stayed five minutes from there, and lounged on the beach every day I was in Phuket.

Would I go back to Patong Beach on a future trip to Phuket? Not necessarily.

Patong Beach is very touristy and crowded. I didn’t hate it, but I also didn’t love it. If the crowds aren’t your thing, then you may not enjoy Patong Beach.

Go Shopping

If you’re a shopaholic, and especially if you’re a budget-conscious shopaholic, then Phuket has plenty to entertain you.

There are street vendors offering food, clothing, jewelry, handmade (and not handmade) souvenirs, designer knock-offs, and more for you to buy. Haggling is common, but some sellers will stand by their price.

Many sell identical (or almost-identical) items, so if you’re not willing to pay one’s price, respectfully decline and move on.

Stroll the Streets of Phuket Old City

I didn’t get to visit Phuket Old City on my short 3-day trip to the island, but I wanted to!

As if the photos of beautiful brightly-colored buildings weren’t enough, this area has a ton of vegan restaurants listed on HappyCow. Sounds like I’ll be staying there next time!

Take a Day Trip to Coconut Island

I didn’t learn about Coconut Island until after I’d already moved on to the Phi Phi Islands, but it looks like a stunning destination.

There are several tour providers on Phuket Island that will take visitors to Coconut Island for a day trip at varying prices. You can find some at GetYourGuide or book through your accommodations.

There are also tour provider booths all along the streets in Phuket, but I can’t verify the fairness of their prices or the quality of their tours since I didn’t book anything through one of these providers.

It’s worth checking out if you’re interested, and compare to what your hotel quotes!

Rent a Motorbike (responsibly!)

Because Phuket Island is so large and has so much to offer, renting a motorbike is a great way to see more of the island than just the area near your accommodations.

If you do rent a motorbike, drive responsibly, wear a helmet, and lock the bike if you leave it to go sightseeing. You don’t want to have to replace a motorbike because it went missing or was damaged by someone else while you were renting it. This can happen anywhere!

Patong beach, Phuket, Thailand

What NOT to Visit: Elephant “Sanctuaries”

I will preface this section by acknowledging that I did not see an elephant sanctuary in Thailand with my own eyes.

However, this is intentional.

I did plan to visit an elephant sanctuary that does not allow visitors to ride elephants, but instead to feed and play with them.

After doing some more research, I understand that these sanctuaries can also be harmful to the elephants. I decided not to spend any money supporting these until I learn more from experts.

I encourage others to do the same before supporting any form of animal tourism.

Where to Find Vegan Food in Phuket

Mae Orathai Vegetarian: I loved this place. Be sure to order your curry without spice unless you’re familiar with the heat level of a traditional Thai dish. Trust me on this–I love spicy food, but I though these curries were going to burn the lining of my stomach!

I ordered a few curries over rice from a set buffet, and had some delicious local dishes. This gem is in the area of Patong where signs are only written in Thai (a good indication that the price point is more local) and it was about a 15-minute walk away from the beach.

Bootlegger: This place has very mixed reviews on HappyCow, but I was craving a Beyond Meat burger as a treat (since they’re not the healthiest…).

I had a great experience at this little food stand. My Beyond burger was delicious. However, this place is not at all a budget destination. It is expensive by local standards, but affordable at Western standards.

Coconut ice cream from a street vendor: There are street vendors all over Phuket selling coconut ice cream inside of a coconut! However, some of these vendors do put dairy milk in their ice cream, while others only use the coconut itself to make theirs.

There is a lady in Patong area who sells coconut ice cream without any added dairy, and we stumbled across her stand near Tiger Inn on Thanon Ratuthit Songroipi Road. It was wonderful!

Coconut ice cream, Phuket, Thailand

How to Budget for Phuket

Phuket is an island paradise that can be experienced on a range of budgets. You can visit on as little as $15 per day, and on as much as thousands of USD per day. It’s up to your preferences and what you’re interested in as a traveler.

I am more of a mid-range traveler, so I like to experience some things on a budget, while others on a more luxurious scale.

While in Phuket in high season for tourism, I spent more on accommodations than I did in Bangkok, but less on transport since Patong is more walkable.

Food prices were similar, but a little more expensive in Phuket.

In total, I’d recommend a comfortable mid-range budget of $40-$50 USD per day for traveling on Phuket Island.

Closeup of pink flowers, Koh Phi Phi Don, Thailand

What is Phuket Like for Female Travelers?

I found Phuket to be safe for the most part, but I do recommend to watch your surroundings just as you would anywhere else.

I was warned by a family friend who is familiar with the area about sex tourism in Phuket before my trip. However, I did not personally witness any signs of such activity while I was there.

That does not mean it’s not happening in Phuket, so always protect yourself regardless of where you are in the world, including at home!

Taking Ferries on your Thailand Island Hopping Adventure

My friend and I booked our ferry to Koh Phi Phi Don through our hostel for 600 baht, including pickup from the lobby. Because the ferry terminal is a good 45-minute drive from Patong Beach area with no local bus (that I know of) making the trip, you’ll likely have to book a ferry + minibus transfer.

We chose to do so through our hostel since it was easier and the tour desk manager could give us our tickets in advance, but you can also book these from the numerous tour companies in Phuket and online.

Although the distance is not great, this will be at least a 4-hour travel day between being picked up, the bus ride to the terminal, and the ferry ride itself.

The ferry takes about 2 hours from Phuket to Phi Phi. The boat I was on was air-conditioned, and everyone’s luggage was at the front of the boat. This made for quite the mess with trying to exit the ferry after we arrived to Koh Phi Phi Don, but the ride itself was enjoyable with beautiful views.

There is a bar and snack area on the boat if you’d like a bite to eat or a drink, as well.

Phi Phi Cruiser ferry life vests

Phi Phi Islands: Koh Phi Phi Don

For the second part of your Thailand island hopping adventure, I recommend a stop in the Phi Phi (pronounced pee-pee, not fee-fee) Islands!


Let’s just say a Google Image Search of Phuket is actually a photo of the Phi Phi Islands. And getting there from Phuket is easy!

The Phi Phi Islands became my favorite destination of my trip to Thailand, and I’ll 100% go back there some day. They are mesmerizing in beauty, charming in quaintness, and have something to offer travelers of every budget.

Pro tip: Many people visit the Phi Phi Islands on day tours from Phuket. Because of the distance and all there is to see on the Phi Phi Islands, I wouldn’t rush like that! Staying on Koh Phi Phi Don is well worth your time and money.

Closeup of pink flowers with taxi longboat and beach in the background, taken on Koh Phi Phi Don, Thailand

Where to Stay in the Phi Phi Islands

Koh Phi Phi Don is the main inhabited island within the Phi Phi Islands. On Koh Phi Phi Don, most hotels are located in the main walking area of the island that is close to the ferry terminal.

There are some resorts located in more isolated areas, but I wouldn’t recommend them unless you’re interested in eating, sleeping, and being entertained at your hotel the whole time.

We stayed at Phi Phi Indigo Hotel and absolutely loved it. And when I say we loved it, we extended our stay from 3 nights to 8.

We started out in a twin standard room, which had plenty of space, a TV, a mini fridge, two comfortable twin beds, a bathroom, and a window. After our first night, we moved to a villa on the third floor.

I’d stay in the twin standard room again, because it’s a nice room!

But, the villa is on an entirely different level. We had two twin beds and all the other amenities of the standard room, but we also had a flower garden and outside seating area. This made our stay so, so wonderful.

Aside from the nice rooms, the staff at Phi Phi Indigo Hotel are amazing. They go above and beyond to ensure you have a great stay, and are some of the sweetest people I’ve ever met. They send a representative to meet you at the ferry port and carry your luggage in a wheelbarrow (since Phi Phi is pedestrian-only!).

Bottom line: stay at Phi Phi Indigo. You will have a wonderful time!

What to See + Do on the Phi Phi Islands

Boat tour

Boat tours are the way to see multiple islands in the area. We booked through our hotel, which I recommend. It cost 600 baht for the tour itself, which was for a full day including sunset, cold bottled water, and two meals.

{Note: The lunch our tour provider offered was vegetarian fried rice with egg, so I was glad to have leftovers from dinner with me!}

Half-day tours are also available for 450 baht, but aren’t as good of a value as the full day.

Our boat’s captain took us to Maya Bay, Bamboo Island, Monkey Beach, and to several snorkeling spots. Snorkel gear is provided.

I don’t have the words to convey how magical this day was. I’ve seen many beautiful places, but none can rival seeing reefs and such brightly colored fish right before me.

I’d recommend doing a tour like this towards the beginning of your trip, and then hire a taxi boat independently to revisit your favorite spots from the tour!

Taxi longboat with ribbons and flowers; water and mountains of the Phi Phi Islands, Thailand in the background

Hike to the viewpoints

The viewpoints on Koh Phi Phi Don are famous for a good reason. There’s no view quite like what these offer.

What most don’t know, however, is that there are actually four viewpoints on Koh Phi Phi Don, not just two.

We went to all four of them, and this is how I’d rank them:

First Place: Viewpoint 3 🏆

All provide stunning panoramic views of the island, but Viewpoint 3 was my favorite because it was more private than Viewpoint 2, but the scenery was just as amazing. The hike is a few minutes longer and a little more uphill, but it’s worth it.

There is a small restaurant at the top and there are places to sit. I did notice that the prices are inflated, so keep that in mind.

{Note: This viewpoint is on private property, so there is a 20 baht fee to enter. You also must remove your shoes at the entrance.}

Viewpoint 3, Koh Phi Phi Don, Thailand

Second Place: Viewpoint 2

This is the most famous one, which is understandable. The panoramic views of the islands are better from here than from Viewpoint 1, and it’s easy to find. The hike to reach this one is difficult and straight uphill in some parts, but the views are unbelievable.

Like Viewpoint 3, there is a restaurant where you can dine and take in the views if you’re hungry. This one has more offerings and is larger than the one at Viewpoint 3, likely because there is more foot traffic through this viewpoint.

{Note: There is a 35 baht conservation fee to enter at the top.}

Viewpoint 2, Koh Phi Phi Don, Thailand

Third Place: Viewpoint 4

This one is the most isolated of all the viewpoints, which made it even more special to me. The only area to sit is a large rock, but you can enjoy a beautiful sunset or afternoon picnic here (just be sure to bring your trash back with you!).

Viewpoint 4, Koh Phi Phi Don, Thailand

Fourth Place: Viewpoint 1

Again, nothing against the views offered at Viewpoint 1, but it’s not the best of the four. Because it’s the easiest to see from the ground, there are always people here. The I Love Phi Phi sign is cute for pictures, though!

gardens of Viewpoint 1, Koh Phi Phi Don, Thailand

Rent a kayak and snorkel gear

There are tons of local operators at the beach that offer kayak rental by the hour. The most common price I heard was 200 baht for the first hour and 100 baht per subsequent hour, so I wouldn’t pay more than that.

If you want a little exercise, rent the kayak for a day and visit a nearby beach. Monkey Beach, my personal favorite for its pristine sand and clear waters, is just a 45-minute kayak ride away from the main beach of Koh Phi Phi Don.

Pack a lunch and plenty of water, rent some snorkel gear, and spend the day in paradise on your own schedule!

Go scuba diving and get your certification

There are so many scuba diving centers on Koh Phi Phi Don that I saw at least one on every corner. Each operator offers dives that anyone can do without needing a certification.

Most of these are half-day dives, where the scuba diving center will send a couple of guides to go with your group on a boat and you’ll get to dive in a few sites before coming back to Koh Phi Phi Don.

If you’re interested in more challenging dives that require more diving knowledge, there is the option to get your certification from any of these diving centers. The two most common are PADI Open Water and Advanced Open Water, both of which can be completed within six days.

The price, however, is steep compared to other islands in Thailand. Scuba diving certification courses in the Phi Phi Islands will run you at least $100 more than the same courses in Koh Tao, for example.

If you really want your certification and only have time to visit the west islands of Thailand, then it’s worth considering while you’re in the Phi Phi Islands!

Must-Visit Beaches in the Phi Phi Islands

Monkey Beach: After taking the all-day tour and visiting several beaches, Monkey Beach is the best. The sand is so soft it doesn’t feel real, and it is white as flour. The water is also the clearest I saw in all of the Phi Phi Islands. It’s perfect for a good swim!

It is possible to see the monkeys that live there, but they may not come out of the trees. If they do, please be respectful of their habitat. When tourists crowd around them for photos, they can become belligerent (for good reason).

We loved it so much that we went back on our last day!

Bamboo Island: Bamboo Island is a little farther away and there is a 400 baht conservation fee to visit, but it’s worth it. The island is stunning, with pristine sand and waters. I did notice that there is a trail where you can do some walking or hiking, and there are picnic areas.

It’s not as amazing as Monkey Beach, IMO, but it’s worth a visit!

taxi longboats anchored on Bamboo Island, Phi Phi Islands, Thailand

How to Visit Other Islands from Koh Phi Phi Don

Hire a taxi boat: Because the majority of Koh Phi Phi Don is untouched forest (and should be), it is not possible to walk from beach to beach around the main island. You can hire a taxi boat easily in the center, but I wouldn’t pay more than 300 baht per person roundtrip.

Kayak: Like I mentioned above, kayaking is a great way to see the beaches if you have a little stamina and want a loose itinerary.

Operators on the beach can overcharge, so don’t be afraid to barter if their price is over 100 baht per hour (with the first hour being 200 baht).

Where to Get Vegan Food on Koh Phi Phi Don

Veggie Vegetarian Cuisine: We ate at this place at least once per day the whole time we were on the island. The food is delicious, and it’s a good value for the portion size. I tried the veggie burger, falafel wrap, tofu shawarma, and meatball sub. All are amazing!

Tom Yam: This is a small locally-owned restaurant on a side street of Koh Phi Phi Don. My favorite dish I had in Thailand was Tofu Masaman Curry over rice, and this place has the best! It’s a coconut milk spice curry with potatoes, carrots, onions, broccoli, and a protein of your choice.

Thailand Natural Coconut Ice Cream: Similar to the ice cream stand in Phuket, this place has delicious natural coconut ice cream. There are also toppings if you want sprinkles, nuts, or other assorted toppings. The price here is a little higher for the portion size, so I only went once. It’s worth a visit!

Tofu masaman curry from Tom Yam, Koh Phi Phi Don, Thailand

How to Budget for the Phi Phi Islands

Compared to Bangkok and even to Phuket, you’ll likely spend more on a good accommodation on the Phi Phi Islands. We spent roughly $60 per night on our villa, but it was worth it to have a nice home base for our stay. This is still a great price considering what we got in return!

Water is also more expensive on the Phi Phi Islands since it is more costly to have water brought there. We spent about 10-15 baht more per water bottle.

Transport is no charge aside from boat tours, and food is a similar cost to Phuket.

In total, you can have a wonderful vacation on the Phi Phi Islands for about $50 per day!

garden at Viewpoint 2 of Koh Phi Phi Don, Thailand

What are the Phi Phi Islands Like for Female Travelers?

As a cautious, and even anxious, female traveler, I felt very safe in the Phi Phi Islands. As always, watch your surroundings and keep your valuables safe.

I did not witness any pickpocketing or other petty crimes while on the Phi Phi Islands for 8 days, so it is one of the safer destinations I’ve had the pleasure to visit.

Phuket vs. Phi Phi Islands: Which is Better?

In my opinion, the Phi Phi Islands are the better of the two. The beaches are nicer, the downtown area is more quaint since it’s pedestrian-only (aside from the occasional golf cart ambulance or policeman on a motorbike) and the beauty is unparalleled.

That being said, you can still have a wonderful beach vacation in Thailand if you only get to visit Phuket.

However, my main piece of advice is this: don’t gloss over the Phi Phi Islands or just visit them on a day trip. They were the highlight of my own Thailand island hopping trip, and I will return multiple times.

The winner in my book? Koh Phi Phi all the way!

rock mountains on a lagoon of the Phi Phi Islands, Thailand

. . .

Whew, this was a long post! I want to share all my knowledge of visiting the western islands of Thailand, so that you can know in advance how to plan your own Thailand island hopping trip.

I hope this post was helpful for you as you decide which islands to visit, how to budget for this trip, and what to see when you’re there!

It’s time to say “Sawadi-ka” to the Thai islands! 🏝️

Pin this post and save it for later!

Background: Koh Phi Phi Don
Text: Guide for Island Hopping in Thailand


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Hi, I'm Sarah

Girl on boat with turquoise water in background

Welcome to my oasis! I am a writer and budding entrepreneur with a love for caffeine, capital gains, and seeing the world. If I'm not writing, you can find me reading a good book, trying out a new vegan recipe, or adding to my coffee mug collection. My goal in life? To see every country in the world. Come along for the ride!

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