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The Phi Phi Islands

The scenery at the Phil Phi Islands is stunning: monolithic rocks rise from the sea to heights of more than 500 meters and provide a wealth of opportunities for photography enthusiasts. The marine environment is just as interesting and ideal for snorkelers and scuba divers at all levels. Highlights include the islands' extraordinary topography, leopard sharks, underwater caves and a variety of multi-colored coral. Numerous accommodation options are available, ranging from simple beach bungalows to luxury resorts.

The Phi Phi Islands form the Mu Ko Phi Phi National Marine Park and rank alongside Richelieu Rock and the Similan Islands as one of the most popular dive locations in Thailand. The largest island, Phi Phi Don, lies at the north of the group; the smaller Phi Phi Leh lies to the south. Both feature spectacular limestone cliffs, numerous caves and caverns, swim-throughs, underwater pinnacles teeming with fish, and beautiful, shallow bays. The variety of dive sites is such that divers of all levels can enjoy this spectacular location.

The Phi Phi Islands have grown enormously in popularity over the past few years and these days are one of the busiest tourist destinations in Thailand. The islands were hit badly by the tsunami of December 2004, but the dive sites suffered little damage and marine life is as bountiful as ever. Most of the coral is healthy, except in the more popular shallow areas where damage has occurred due to boat operators dropping anchor. While scuba diving here is not on a par with, for example, Richelieu Rock and Ko Tachai, it nonetheless ranks as a "must". Visibility is sometimes limited, averaging 5-20 meters.

The most common type of transportation available in the Phi Phi Islands is the long-tail boat. For hire practically everywhere, these taxis will take divers to any of the scenic areas around the islands. Many dive operators use these boats for diving trips. They are usually inexpensive, safe and quite comfortable to dive from.

Maya Bay

Maya Bay is an extremely popular dive site located on the southwest tip of Ko Phi Phi Leh. The bay is fringed by a semicircle of huge limestone rocks which are every bit as stunning below the water as they are above. The site became famous a few ago thanks to the Leonardo DiCaprio movie "The Beach". These days it is probably the best known snorkeling spot in the Phi Phi Islands. The site is not especially deep and therefore suitable for all levels, particularly beginners.

This site has mainly hard coral cover which, while not as prolific as at other nearby sites, hosts a multitude of reef fish. Look out for lobsters and many different kinds of nudibranchs along the wall of this dive site; moray eels and scorpionfish can be found hiding in the rocks. Leopard sharks can be seen here, along with small rock groupers and oriental sweetlips. Colorful fish such as Moorish idols, angelfish, butterflyfish, anemonefish are also common. This is also the best dive site in Phi Phi for seeing hawksbill turtles.

Several swim-throughs are located throughout the dive site. The north side of the bay has a sloping reef, some dramatic rock formations and a good chance to see a turtle. Cave and wall dive enthusiasts should head to the southwest corner of the bay to find one of the largest underwater caves in the area.

Losamah Bay

Losamah Bay is located on the east side of Ko Phi Phi Leh. It's a favorite place for snorkelers as the dramatic scenery, clear blue waters and shallow coral (at depths of at depths of 2-12m) are ideal. At the entrance to the bay is a towering limestone pinnacle that can be circumnavigated in one long dive. The south side of the pinnacle plunges to a depth of 20 meters. Currents here can sometimes be quite strong. The north side of the pinnacle drops to about 8 meters and is adorned with giant clams, sea whips, fan coral, angelfish and scorpionfish. Seahorses are sometimes found here, too.

The highlight of this diving site is a narrow 15 meter deep canyon on the east side. The canyon is wide enough for divers to swim-through single file, and is spectacularly adorned with colorful gorgonians, soft corals and sea whips. Turtles can also be found, coming to feed on the bubble coral. Losamah Bay is best as a night dive when shrimps, painted lobster and decorator crabs venture out from their nooks and crannies.

Ko Bida Nok

The most popular dive site in the Phi Phi Islands, Ko Bida Nok is a small islet with a huge diversity of marine life. It lies about two kilometers south of Phi Phi Leh; depths range from about 8-28 meters. Dives normally begin in a shallow bay on the eastern side of the islet, where divers are rewarded with vast, healthy growths of staghorn and star corals, and a profusion of anemones and anemonefish. This is one of the best places in Thailand to observe the rare and uncommonly aggressive saddleback anemonefish. These fish are noted for their attempts to bite (albeit harmlessly) unwary divers!

Southwest of the islet, just outside a large sheltered bay, is where the most beautiful coral and rock formations can be found. It's also the best area for seeing banded sea kraits and hawksbill turtles. The cliffs descend straight into the sea and are covered with soft corals and anemones of purple, green, blue and pink. This creates superb, colorful wall diving. Look closely into the crevices and zigzag clams for all types of moray eels, the most common being the white-eyed moray. Caverns and overhangs abound, with a beautifully diverse finger reef replete with gorgonian sea fans, sea whips, giant brain corals, table corals and bubble coral. Ko Bida Nok is also home to lionfish, bearded scorpionfish, bird wrasse and moon wrasse, Moorish idols, parrotfish and honeycomb grouper. Leopard sharks are common here too, as are blacktip reef sharks.

Ko Bida Nai

Ko Bida Nai is located one kilometer south of Phi Phi Leh and, along with Ko Bida Nok, is regarded as having Phi Phi's best diving. The northern side of the islet has beautiful golden sea fans and soft coral; the east side consists of fringing reef sloping gently outward to sandy areas; the west side consists of intriguing rock formations leading to an easy swim-through. The south area leads out to a coral outcrop called Fantasy Reef (sometimes called Fantasia Reef), where lionfish make their homes around the barrel sponges, sea whips and gorgonian sea fans, and schools of trevally and jacks feed on teeming hordes of baitfish.

Other species commonly seen at Ko Bida Nai include chevron barracuda, yellow-edged morays, batfish, snappers, groupers and porcupine puffer fish. Oceanic nomads such as tuna and rainbow runners also frequent the area, and blacktip reef sharks can often be seen patrolling the sandy bottom at the outer edges of the reef.