There are plenty of islands to choose from, and we did some pretty extensive research before settling on Railay Beach and Koh Phi Phi in Krabi Province. Some islands are more chill and remote, others are more party atmosphere, and still others fall somewhere in between.
Additionally, there can be drastically different weather patterns depending on which islands you choose, so make sure to look into average weather and rainfall when you plan to visit.
And also remember... at the end of the day, you're in the tropics, so it can rain at any time. Just be ready to go with the flow!
Where to stay in Railay Beach: Railay Village Resort
If your budget allows, I would recommend staying on the west side of Railay because that's where the beach is located. (The east side is also flanked by water, but there's no usable beach.) However, it's a very short walk between the two, so you might find more affordable accommodations on the east side. (Most of the bars and restaurants are located over there as well.) Railay Village was a solid option in Railay West with air conditioned villas, two pools, and a substantial breakfast buffet (complete with an omelette station!) I also looked into Sand & Sea, which was a little further walk down the beach, but it does have a spa, a pool facing the water and was slightly cheaper. If money is absolutely no object, you should definitely stay at Rayavadee, it looked incredible. (More on that in a bit.)
**One thing I noticed: many of the resorts on the west side are Muslim-run, so you will not be able to get alcohol (or pork) at the resort. We didn't find this to be a problem as we did most of our drinking on the beach or at the bars, but just a heads up.
Getting there: Although Railay Beach is not technicallly located on an island, it is only accessible by boat. You will need to fly into Krabi airport (several of the Thai airlines offer flights, just check Kayak.) From there, you can either take a taxi to the pier, and hire a long tail boat... OR, what we did (and what I recommend) is booking a transfer through the hotel, which will cost slightly more. They will show up at the airport holding a sign with your name on it, and provide both the van and boat transfer. They will also take you to the east side to a dock so you do not have to wade through water and they will also cart your luggage to the reception desk.
**Keep in mind, if your flight lands after sunset, this will be slightly more expensive than daytime, and it will be quite the adventure! (The boats have no lights...)
What to do at Railay Beach: R-E-L-A-X. Up until this point, our trip had been go, go, go, so it was nice to have absolutely nothing planned. And as it turned out, this was the nicest weather day of our trip! Because we had arrived at night, we didn't see the beach until the next day, and it was sort of like a kid waking up on Christmas morning. As I walked out to the sand, giant limestone cliffs shot up from bright turquoise water (yes, it really is that color)... truly a postcard in real life. In fact, you can actually climb those cliffs with many of the rock climbing companies at Railay. There are also several nearby islands you can visit.
However, we opted to stay put and spend most of the day drinking "coco loco's" out of coconuts with faces, soaking up the rays and taking in the ridiculous scenery. If you want to duplicate our experience, simply hang a right out of the resort, find the conveniently located bar that sits where the walking street meets the beach (Flame Tree Restaurant), and order yourself a frozen tropical drink served in a coconut (with a face, duh.) Take lots of obnoxious photos. Post on social media to make all your friends at home jealous. Rinse and repeat.
We REALLY liked our Coco Locos.
Catch the sunset: Railay West is a stunning spot to watch the sun disappear behind the ocean, so don't miss it! This photo was literally taken right in front of our resort, so you couldn't pick a more perfect location.
Have drinks in a cave: So this is a slightly unfair recommendation, because we
Where to eat at Railay Beach: After all of the amazing food we had in Chiang Mai & Singapore, the food in both Railay and Koh Phi Phi was underwhelming to say the least. To be completely honest, perhaps the best thing I ate in Railay was one of these "chicken kebab Thai chicken wraps." They sell them at a little stand in the middle of the walking street (which connects Railay West and East.) Perfect beach snack and only 100 baht (less than $3.)
Additionally, we had a pretty solid meal at Kohinoor Indian Restaurant, which is rated as the #1 restaurant in Railay Beach. But a word to the wise... stick with the Indian dishes. Not surprising, the pizza was horrible (just ask Dana.)
Nightlife in Railay: If you want a memorable evening, definitely head down to The Last Bar on Railay East. As you can probably guess from the name, it's literally the last bar on the strip. (If you are coming from the Railay West, either take the walking street or the little alley way behind Railay Village to Railay East, turn left and walk all the way to the end.) They have Muay Thai boxing every night in high season around 10pm which is followed by a fire show. It was here we also got our introduction to "buckets" and experienced the worst bathroom of our lives. (Seriously, AVOID at all costs and bring hand sanitzier if you have it.) One more word to the wise... skip the food here. (Think crappy Thai bar food.)
Koh Phi Phi
"Koh" means "island" in Thai, so most islands you will consider visiting will have "koh" in the name. Koh Phi Phi (pronounced "pee pee") actually consists of six islands, the majority of which are uninhabited. Koh Phi Phi Don is inhabited, and where you will stay if you decide to visit. Koh Phi Phi Leh is uninhabited and home to Maya Bay, which is literally the setting for the Leonardo DiCaprio movie "The Beach." (And if you can believe it... it's even more breathtaking in person.) Phi Phi Don was hit pretty hard by the Tsunami, but the island has slowly rebuilt. There are also no cars on the island, which makes for a unique experience. You either walk everywhere (if it's close) or take a boat. Phi Phi is located about halfway between Phuket and Krabi, so you can access it from either location.
Getting to Koh Phi Phi: Unless you plan to do a day trip only (there are some offered from Railay), you will need to take a ferry to Koh Phi Phi. There are a couple that leave throughout the day from Krabi (and Phuket for that matter), but if you are specifically coming from Railay Beach, I highly recommend taking the 9:45am direct ferry. It picks up from Railay West (in front of Sand and Sea Resort). You will have to wade through the water to get to a longtail boat, which will then shuttle you to the large ferry boat. Tickets are 450 baht (around $12.50) and you can buy them directly through Railay Village Resort.
We had not planned on this, and when I went to inquire at around 9:40 as to the best time to take the ferry from Krabi... the concierge said we should to take the 9:45 from Railay. It was a bit of a fire drill packing up our belongings and getting to the boat in 5-10 minutes, but we made it! If it's nice out, people will drink/party on the roof deck of the ferry. It was a little overcast the day we went, so we took naps below instead. Ferry time is approximately 90 minutes. For complete ferry schedule, click here. (No need to book in advance unless it's a holiday.)
Where to stay in Tonsai Village: Throughout all the traveling I've done over the last 3 years, this is the only accommodation in which I would probably like to have a do-over. (Which I guess is a pretty decent batting average.) Dee Dee Beach House wasn't a bad place to stay by any means. It just didn't suit our needs the way I thought it would.
First, you should know that unless you plan to stay far away from Tonsai Village (which would be an inconvenience if you want to go to the beach parties or take a tour leaving from the pier), your options are going to be less than ideal. (I don't think any hotel in the vicinity get higher than 3.5 stars on Trip Advisor, so set your expectations low.) Dee Dee was great in that it was clean, inexpensive, and close to the beach bars. Think of it as a nice step up from a traditional hostel. However, the proximity to the beach clubs also makes it VERY loud at night. I knew this going in, but you don't really have a true understanding of how intense that deep bass until you try to sleep through it (bring earplugs!) My initial thought process was: "Who cares? We'll be out until the music stops anyways." However, I didn't account for sickness, sea urchin stings and bug bites forcing us to bed early our final night (more on that in a bit.) It's also a bit of a tight squeeze for 3 people, so I would really only recommend two people per room max.
So anyways, long story long... Dee Dee was great for what it was. The rooms were air conditioned, there were safes in the room, they brought bottled water each morning, and they lit mosquito coils at night. It costs the equivalent of $20 per person per night (so $60 for our party of 3), which is an awesome price. Our room looked out to the water and there's a cute central garden/communal courtyard. However, it's about a 10-15 minute walk from Tonsai pier, and if you happen to get caught in a rainstorm (which we did), that feels like an eternity. The other hotel I was considering was Phi Phi Banyan Villa. It's verrrry close to the pier, and looked nice and inviting when we walked by, so I would consider checking it out. (Though it will be about twice the price, and I believe reviewers complained of poor wifi, no safes in the rooms and a dirty pool.)
What to do in Phi Phi: Bob's Booze Cruise! If you do one thing on Koh Phi Phi, go on this boat tour! Because success breeds copycats... you will find no shortage of Booze Cruise options on Koh Phi Phi... but Bob's was the OG. It's run by an awesome crew of people, and you will have a freakin' blast rain or shine. Best of all, they hit all of the major attractions on this island, and of course alcohol is included all day long.
You will visit Monkey Beach to feed... you guessed it, monkeys! (But be forewarned these little primates have become quite aggressive from all the tourist traffic.) You will cruise by Viking Cave and stop in Loh Samah Bay to snorkel, paddle board and "diaper drink" amidst turquoise water and towering limestone cliffs. And a day trip on Phi Phi would be remiss if it did not pay a visit to Maya Beach, setting for Leonardo DiCaprio's movie "The Beach." Depending on the tide, you might also have the chance to climb through "snake cave" while wearing rock shoes... though be careful not to plant your hand on a sea urchin (just ask Dana.) Weather permitting, your day will end with a view of the sunset before returning back to Tonsai Pier. The trip generally lasts from 1pm until 7pm.
All of the equipment is provided, and more importantly... the booze! (and also, food) Bob charges slightly more for guys than girls, but this results in a lot more ladies on the trip. (So guys... if you're reading this, just one more reason to book with Bob's!) For women it's 2500 baht, guys it's 3000. ($70 and $84 respectively.)
**Special shout out to Momo, Jen, Marco & Sebastian for giving us an unforgettable day despite some unfavorable weather conditions.
Where to eat in Tonsai Village: As I mentioned in the Railay Beach section above, the food quality was seriously lacking at the beaches. Our philosophy for picking restaurants in Phi Phi was generally: if it looks "cute," let's try it. This paid off as we got pretty decent meals, and one of our boat guides (the Italian, Marco) confirmed that we had indeed chosen the best spots on the island. I will note, we were pretty burned out on Thai food by this point, so we ordered a lot of western dishes. Definitely check out the veggie burger at Acqua (random, I know, but very good), along with the pasta. The wraps here looked solid as well. At Unni's, the mashed potatoes that came with the Swedish meatballs were bomb and the "avocado smash" seemed popular. We actually ate at Grand PP Arcade twice because of the proximity to our hotel, and it was really good. The Massaman curry was a standout in the Thai department, and surprisingly the bolognese and carbonara were both really good here if you are in the mood for pasta. (Or perhaps just really sick of Thai food.) The only place we didn't have a chance to visit that Marco recommended was Anna's, so add that to your list as well.
Nightlife in Koh Phi Phi: A stay in Phi Phi just wouldn't be complete without a visit to some of the beach clubs. Just follow the thumping music down the beach around 9 or 10pm and you will have your pick of several. They all seemed fairly similar, as all of them had some sort of fire show as the main attraction. (Though you mayyyy accidentally get hit with a fire stick, just ask Dana.) Similar to the Last Bar in Railay, they all sell "buckets"... aka really large drinks... so pace yourself. In the words of one of our boat guides: "you can have one, but after that you must share." (That's some sound advice, trust me.) More advice: be aware there are sand flies on the beach and they bite! (Again, ask Dana.) There are also some lively bars in the village (Reggae Bar has Muay Thai, but we never made it here.) Other bars/beach clubs I bookmarked: Banana Bar (rooftop), Beach Bar, Sunflower Beach Bar, Carlitos Beach Bar, Slinky Bar and Apache (site of the fire stick incident.)
Even though we had a great time on Phi Phi, our trip ended on somewhat of a sour note. I woke up the last day with some sort of bacterial infection and Dana was battling a sea urchin sting and a rash of sand flea bites all over her body. To add insult to injury, we got caught in a torrential downpour on our walk to the ferry, and it was so packed that we nearly didn't find seats. Of course our flight to Bangkok was delayed, and we hit major traffic on our way to the hotel. We had reservations at Gaggan (#23 restaurant in the world), but sadly had to cancel. Shout out to the Banyan Tree Bangkok for their impeccable service and helping to nurse me back to health with ORS packets (oral rehydration salts) and plenty of water. (They supposedly have a kick-ass rooftop bar which we never saw.) I tell you all this only as a reminder that even the best laid plans can't account for these types of unpredictable events... so just be prepared!
**On that note, consider packing the following on your trip: a Rx of Cipro (this saved me), Immodium, Advil, some sort of hydrocortisone or anti-ich creme, ORS packets (available on Amazon), ear plugs, hand sanitizer (most bathrooms don't have soap) and of course sun block and bug repellent (I like this one, which is creme based.)
Overall, it was truly an unforgettable and amazing trip that I would recommend to any seasoned traveler who is up for adventure. Thanks to Dana and Kate for being great travel companions and for sifting through my annoying "research" emails. And if you missed my first two posts, make sure to read about our stay in Singapore and our second stop in Chiang Mai!
As they say in Thailand... "Same Same. But different."