by Nick Upton
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Ko Phi Phi

Cliffs, Ko Phi Phi
(Photo by Livia Comandini)
  Ko Phi Phi (pronounced Ko Pee Pee) is famous for its spectacular limestone cliff scenery and white sandy beaches, both of which will be remembered for a long time after any visit here. It is also well-documented that the movie "The Beach", starring Leonardo Di Caprio was partly filmed on Ko Phi Phi. The island also has a degree of infamy now, due to the devastation it suffered from the tsunami of 26th December 2004. However, it seems that things are pretty much back to normal here and despite the fact that large numbers of tourists come here it is still a very beautiful place indeed. There are some really luxurious places to stay here which can make Ko Phi Phi an excellent place to relax and recover from forest bird watching which can be quite tiring at times.Before the tsunami, development had made some parts of Ko Phi Phi Don quite grubby. One can only hope that redevelopment might have taken place in a manner which better blends into the beautiful surroundings.
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 Birding Highlights

These islands are not known for their birds, but there are certainly species worth making the trip for. Ko Phi Phi is the only reliable place to see Frigatebirds in Thailand and they can provide a spectacle that won't be forgotten quickly. Other seabirds reguarly seen here are Black-naped Tern, White-bellied Sea Eagle and Bridled Tern and it would be worth keeping an eye out for Sheawaters, Petrels and Tropicbirds which have occasionally been reported.

The islands themselves hold some birds of interest with Pied Imperial Pigeon being one of the most attractive, but Black-nest Swiftlet is here too, which can be tricky to confidently identify. Nicobar Pigeon should be present on these islands but I have never heard of a report so perhaps they have been wiped out.

Black-naped Terns
(Photo by Vincent van der Spek)
Click here for a checklist of the birds of Ko Phi Phi
  Bird Tours : Check the suggested itineraries for ideas on creating a tailor-made birdwatching trip to Thailand: Thailand bird tours.
 Travel Information
Ko Phi Phi  

Getting to Ko Phi Phi is a simple affair due to the thriving tourist industry there. There are many travel agents that sell tickets for the boats that go a couple of times a day from Krabi with prices the same whichever company you choose; around 400baht return. For those that have money and like to travel in style speedboats can be chartered, again via travel agents, for something like 8000 baht.

To get to Krabi it depends where you are coming from on which mode of transport you will use. If coming from Bangkok by bus I would recommend taking one to Surat Thani from the Southern bus terminal and then taking an air conditioned mini bus to Krabi. Avoid a bus going to Krabi via the West coast and Phuket as the terrain is steep and the roads small, making for a lengthy journey. There are also regular buses from Hat Yai if arriving from Malaysia.

It is possible to travel from Bangkok to Surat Thani by train and then again taking a mini bus.

The most convenient, but most expensive, method of arrival is by plane. Krabi has a small airport about 10 kilometres from the town, and there are daily flights from Bangkok for about 3000 baht return.

It is also possible to arrive here from Phuket and similarly there are numerous travel agencies prepared to arrange this for similar prices to those from Krabi. The same conditions to bus travel to and from Krabi apply to Phuket (avoid buses that go along the western coast; this will include virtually all buses direct to and from Bangkok, instead go via Surat Thani). Phuket airport is an international airport so flights to and from many countries can arranged.

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 Finding Birds

Most people do not come to Ko Phi Phi for birdwatching, but the islands have the potential for a good number of species as there is still a lot of intact and fairly undisturbed forest here. However, most birders are here to see Frigatebirds, and these are easy to find near the two sea stacks beyond Ko Phi Phi Ley: Ko Pida Nork and Ko Pida Nai. Frigatebirds and the other seabirds that can beseen in this region are best observed by hiring a long-tailed boat and driver for 3-4 hours.

Black-nest Swiftlet exists here and seems to outnumber Germain's Swiftlet, if not displace it altogether. I saw plenty of Black-nests in the small bay protected by Ko Samah on Ko Phi Phi Ley. Look out for breeding Blue Rock Thrush too.

Lesser Frigatebird
(Photo by Trevor Hardaker)
Viewpoint Trails Ko Samah Ko Pida Nai & Ko Pida Nork  

Viewpoint trails on Phi Phi Don : As far as I know no birders have walked along these trails to see what is present here. Presumably there should be a reasonable number of birds as the forest is quite intact and there is the possibility of finding something interesting, maybe Nicobar Pigeon? Given the number of migratory species that occur on other offshore islands in the region the potential for forest species along these trails is high.

Ko Samah : This tiny bay contained a number of birds when I was there at around 5 pm after all the other tourists had gone home. Black-nest Swiftlet was very obvious here and a few Blue Rock Thrushes were flitting from rock to rock. Collared Kingfisher was also present and a number of Pied Imperial Pigeons were easily seen coming in to roost on Ko Samah itself.

Apart from anything else this is a very pretty little spot, all the more so when one does not have to share it with lots of others, presumably it gets quite busy earlier in the day.

Ko Pida (Nork & Nai) : This area is an absolute must for bird watchers and is a well-documented hotspot for Frigatebirds. Lesser Frigatebird is seen by nearly all who take the trip in the winter months, but Christmas Island Frigatebird is also often encountered. Some people claim Great Frigatebird here too, but this can be extremely difficult to seperate from Christmas Island with confidence; make sure you don't jump to conclusions! I was taken here by a boatman who was very familiar with the habits of these birds and found a flock of well over 1000 birds way to the West of these islands shortly before dusk. This was an extremely memorable trip, read an account of it here: Ko Phi Phi trip Report.

Find a boatman at Ton Sai pier by asking them if they know Nok Jon Sa-Lat (this is Thai for Frigatebird) or click to see this in Thai script to print and show the boatmen: Frigatebird Thai Script. I was charged only 600 baht for this trip and the boatman was not concerned about how long we stayed out for.

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As a well-visited tourist destination Ko Phi Phi has no end of facilities from cheap backpackers' hostels to swanky beachfront chalets. A wide range of food is available to cater to tourists' needs and internet cafes allow one to catch up with friends at home.

This is an ideal place to relax and perhaps recover from the rigours of hot and sweaty jungle birding; I enjoy a trip here after slogging around the leech infested Khao Sok National Park before moving on to Khao Nor Chu Chi. It would be pointless for me to try and recommend anywhere to stay or eat as just about everything was destroyed by the tsunami of 26th December 2004, but I'm sure the whole place will be operational and receiving visitors as usual by now, but prices for accomodation are higher here than other parts of Thailand. Before the tsunami there were some very luxurious resorts here and I'm sure they have been reconstructed by now, so why not treat yourself to one of these? Ko Phi Phi Hotel Reservations.

Circling Frigatebirds
(Photo by Peter Ericsson)

In addition there are numerous places that operate diving and snorkelling tours and I understand that the quality of the underwater life here is excellent.

Plenty of places here trade in second hand books in case you've run out of reading material, unfortunately the prices favour the seller rather than the buyer.

This is a National Park so one is supposed to pay the 400 baht entrance fee, but I do not remember being asked to pay this.


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 Other Related Pages

Birdwatching Tours

Other Southern Thailand Birding Locations

Jan Wilczur's Bird Art: Gurney's Pitta, Banded Pitta & Rufous-collared Kingfisher

 Trip Reports

Ko Phi Phi, 24th March 2003

Thailand, 1-21st March 2004

Ko Phi Phi, 8th April 2006


by Nick Upton

by Vincent van der Spek

by Peter Ericsson

 Useful Books
Thailand's Islands and Beaches
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A Guide to Birdwatching in Thailand. Copyright © 2004-2015 All rights reserved.
Fatbirder's Top 1000 Birding Websites