Early bird DAY SNORKELING TRIP on Phi Phi island – Thailand

Recently my brother and I decided to do a full day snorkeling trip on Phi Phi island (pronounced pee pee), which is part of Thailand, off the east coast of the mainland. This post will cover everything that we did and what I thought of it all. There’s also a quick guide at the end.

Early bird or normal trip?

There are many different snorkeling trips you can do, ranging from half day to three days. All the main places of interest are covered, with the longer trips taking you to some of the more out of the way places. We decided to do an early bird full day trip. The only difference with the early bird is it leaves at 6am and gets back at around 2pm, the day trip leaves at 10am and gets back around 7pm.

The early bird trip let’s you see the sunrise and get away from the crowds, the normal day trips are by far the most common and the sites can get quite crowded. The full day trip includes breakfast, lunch, fruit, water and snorkeling gear.

Phi Phi island snorkeling sunrise
Before sunrise leaving the pier in a long boat

Going in the long boat to see the sunrise

The early bird day snorkeling trip on Phi Phi starts quite early, you meet at the Mc Donalds near the main pier at 6am and set off at 6.30am. There were seven people in our group which was a nice amount. The breakfast was basic and you eat it before you set off, it was instant coffee or tea and some fried donut things, not the biggest or most healthy! 

Traveling in the dark and dawn

It’s still dark at 6am in the winter on Phi Phi, so when you get on the long boat the sun’s light is a soft yellow and deep purple starting to fill the sky. It was really very beautiful. It’s also still quite cool at the time, at least I thought it was, so I wore a t-shirt and a light full sleeve top as I got on the boat.

The wooden boat is simple but effective, essentially it’s a 20 foot long boat with 4 rows of wooden bench seats under a tarpaulin. The back is where the skipper sits and the front is where you get on and off the boat. You have the option of doing the trip on a speed boat, but I observed these were much more busy and had an air conditioned cabin. I preferred to feel the wind and sea on my face and body!

Phi Phi island snorkeling sunrise
Sunrise

Sunrise on the water

We traveled about 20 minutes away from Phi Phi into the open ocean and then the skipper stopped and we got to watch the sunrise. It really did look beautiful, and by this time you’ve been awake a little while so you’re able to take it all in without being sluggish or yawning. The sun rose about 6.45am.

Viking Cave and Pi Ley bay

After sunrise we got to see Viking Cave which was used as a storm shelter for early sailors and is also where they harvest the bird’s nests to make the famous Chinese soup. We didn’t see any harvesting, but there’s a lot of big wooden and bamboo structures in and around the cave.

We then went to Pi Ley bay which is a massive fjord like lagoon that is only accessible during high tide. Think of it as a large body of water surround by cliffs hundreds of feet high. It’s was awesome to enter it and be surrounded by the rock. The boat stopped and we got to swim, the water was cool but it was an excellent place for a dip, and it was quite refreshing.

I recommend you bring a towel or extra dry clothes as during the early hours it can get cold when you’re wet traveling from island to island. Plus you’ll want to cover yourself up from the sun later.

Pi Ley bay swimming Phi Phi island
Entering Pi Ley bay
Pi Ley bay swimming Phi Phi island
A morning swim in the bay

Maya Bay – made famous by the movie The Beach

Maya bay is now closed to the public. After the movie came out tourists flocked to the site and it soon started to get destroyed, so the Thai government closed it indefinitely. However, you can see it from the water when the boat stops. Maybe you need to get closer to appreciate the beach, as from the boat it just looked like a sandy bay. I wasn’t that impressed but it was still nice to see. We spent about 15 minutes there then headed off to a snorkel site.

Snorkkeling at Loh Samah Bay

We pulled up at Low Samah Bay and told we could snorkel here. I put on my mask and jumped in. The sea life was quite good, lots of different species of fish and starfish and clams. The coral was quite white which was surprising, maybe it’s like that all the time or it’s a result of too many tourists and rising sea temperatures, I’m unsure.

I saw a shark here, it had a black tip and was about 4 foot long. It looked quite small but it was great to be in the water with a shark.

Swimming to the isolated beach

After a short boat ride we got closer to the beach. It was about 100 meters to the beach from the boat and all of it has marine life. You had to swim over a hundred meters of coral to get to the beach.

I noticed the large amount of hand sized yellow and black fish that would swim in massive schools near the surface. The water seemed to have a lot of small bits of ‘stuff’ in it, making the water not as clear as the other sites. I don’t know what it was but it seemed to sting! It was like lots of chopped up jellyfish tentacles floating around. It wasn’t painful, just irritating.

After reaching the beach another girl who made it to the beach mentioned this. Once I got out the water the stings seemed to lessen. It was very weird to be on the beach because there was no sign of human contaminate there. It was completely natural and alien because the sand was white from crushed coral, and the only way to get there was to swim from a boat.

Phi Phi island snorkeling long boats
Long boat skippers take a rest while their passengers snorkel

Monkey Beach

This was a much larger and hospitable beach. We got about an hour there to snorkel or lay on the sand. My brother and I quickly got in the water and explored the entire bay. You can swim right up to the cliff edges. It was a similar variety of sea life we saw at the other sites, but still just as amazing to explore. An added bonus was there was a beach you could sit on and rest if you wanted.

We didn’t see any monkeys but apparently sometimes you can see them in the trees or on the beach.

Monkey Beach Phi Phi island
A long boat pulled up at Monkey Beach
Monkey Beach Phi Phi island
Perfectly clear water to snorkel

Bamboo island – the highlight of the trip

We stopped for lunch near Bamboo island, and dropped off all the half-day trippers back on Phi Phi. This was great as it now meant my brother and I had the long boat to ourselves.

Bamboo island was defiantly the highlight, and what we really wanted to see. After jumping in the water you saw a world teaming with sea life. The water was probably 20 foot deep where the boat stopped and crystal clear. There were hundreds, perhaps thousands of fish, all swimming at different depths. A larger school swam slowly at the bottom, above them was a big group of tiny fish darting around. Above them was the common yellow and black fish I’d seen everywhere.

We got a decent amount of time here, perhaps 40 minutes. I saw another shark, a scorpion fish, an eel twisting and slithering around a rock, jelly fish, parrot fish, red tree like coral, sea enemies with fish living around them, occasionally poking their heads out. It really reminded me of the Great Barrier Reef in Australia.

Bamboo Island snorkeling
Bamboo Island has a lot of good snorkeling
Bamboo Island snorkeling clear water

Shark Point and home

The last snorkel site was shark point, you can guess how it gets its name. This is off Long Beach which is close to where the journey began. I was really hoping to see some sharks here, given its name. I’d imagined them swimming around in abundance. Unluckily I didn’t see a single shark here, but it was a great place that had multiple depths and a lot of sea life.

I thought it was curious that the small yellow and black fish seemed to gather around me if I didn’t swim. They came extremely close to my mask and my whole body, I felt that if I snapped my hand out I could grab one, in fact I tried this but of course a fish is quicker than me. After this snorkel the skipper took us back and we got off about 2pm and that was then end of the trip. It was an amazing day trip.

Shark Point snorkeling Phi Phi island
My brother looking for sharks

Tips for a day snorkeling trip on Phi Phi island.

– Take extra clothes or a towel/shawl with you. They’ll keep you warm in the early hours and keep the sun off in the later hours.
– Bring sunscreen and a hat and apply the sunscreen regularly. I put sunscreen on my back a couple of times and wore a shirt, but my back still got quite burnt. This was the only thing that sucked about the trip. Take care of your skin as the water will keep you cool, so you won’t feel the strength of the sun burning you until it’s too late. Remember to put it on the back of your legs!
– Do a full day trip as that will include Bamboo island which is by far the best snorkel site.
– Try and wear a shirt when you snorkel as this will help protect your back from the sun.

Early bird full day snorkel trip on Phi Phi island – quick guide

What’s included? Mask, snorkel, breakfast, lunch, fruit, life jacket.
What to bring? Sunscreen, hat and extra clothes/towels to protect you from the coolness in the morning and the sun during the day.
How many snorkel/swimming sites? Six, five of them snorkeling.
Cost – A longboat costs 650B ($25USD). A speed boat is 1,500B ($48USD)
Trip length? Leave at 6.30am, arrive back around 2pm 7.5 hours.
What to expect? An abundance of sea life, 20-30 minutes boat trips between islands, a strong sun from about 10am onwards, lots of great photo opportunities.

I really recommend you do a day snorkel trip, it’s a great day out and also a great way to see the islands. You should also read about other great trips you can do on the mainland on my Thailand page, such as the smallest temple in Thailand, getting a sleeper train from Chiang Mai to Bangkok and much more.

Phi Phi island snorkeling, my brother Ben
My brother Ben disembarking the long boat

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