Phi Phi after the Tsunami
Report of a visit from Phuket to Phi Phi - 14th June 2005
Now in 2015 - It was a long time ago, everything was back to normal years ago!
Until now, we had not been to Phi Phi (Pee Pee), even though we live and work here in Phuket, only 45km away. We knew that the dive sites were fine, but had not ventured onto Phi Phi Don to see the damage to the town. To be honest we were pleasantly surprised by what we found. Despite rumours to the contrary, Phi Phi is alive and well. All photos on this page were taken on 14th June 2005.
The "Paradise Cruiser" ferry from Phuket took only 90 minutes including a quick detour around Phi Phi Ley island for some sightseeing. Phi Phi Ley is uninhabited save for a few people who harvest birds nests in Viking Cave. There was no tsunami damage here - the island and it's many small bays looked as spectacular as ever. We could not check out Maya Bay, as the wind was fairly strong and Maya Bay was too rough. From Phi Phi Ley it's just 5 minutes over to Phi Phi Don. In open sea, the boat bounced around, but once into the shelter of Tonsai Bay, the waters were calm and also looked pretty clear.
The day trippers got off at this point onto a transfer boat, and there were maybe 20 people going to the town. Jamie met a divemaster who he had last seen in Utila (Honduras) in 1998. Moritz was with his girlfriend and hoping to join the volunteers. As we approached the pier in Tonsai Bay, the scale of the tsunami damage was very evident. If you have ever been before, the difference is quite shocking. Everything to the left of the pier is just gone save for the Phi Phi Cabana Hotel (not open yet) and the shell of a dive center. On the right side, some damage is visible, but a lot seemed to be intact and open. As we disembarked, a girl from Hi Phi Phi, the volunteer group, was waiting, hoping for more helpers. She told us there are around 150 volunteers there right now.
Phi Phi right now may give you mood swings. It is perfectly possible to sit at a beach side bar or restaurant overlooking Tonsai Bay, and pretend nothing happened. We ate an excellent lunch of Tom Yum Kung (full of prawns) by the beach, good service, tasty food, beautiful view, what tsunami? The contrast in Phi Phi village is quite striking. As we found out after lunch, some parts are like new - either they were not hit hard, or have been rebuilt. Some of it looks great, better and cleaner than before. There are 7 dive shops open and all seemed to have customers. Backpackers are a hardy breed! We found plenty of minimarts, an ATM, several internet shops, and bars such as Carlito's and the Reggae Bar are open. This is the good news.
What we perhaps did not realise is that the wave hit hardest from the "other side" - Loh Dalam Bay, location of PP Charlie resort and many other hotels and guesthouses. This was the quiet side, a little away from the bars and so on. This side took the main wave. So we took a walk over there. I guess the damage has all been cleaned up now, well not all, but most of it. What is left is empty space. We saw some volunteers working here replanting gardens. Businesses have not yet been given the green light to rebuild. The water reservoir is dirty and muddy. I have noticed news of this on the Hi Phi Phi website and seen pictures of volunteers digging out the mud.
Naturally, there has not exactly been a rush to visit Phi Phi in the last few months. We estimate about 30% of the village is in top condition. There are plenty of places to stay, including the fancy resorts such as Phi Phi Natural and Holiday Inn, which are located on the north side of Phi Phi Don. There are also cheaper bungalows open, and we saw others which were nearing completion. There are people staying on the island, mostly backpackers. The ferry agent told us that for now, all the ferry companies are working together, as there are not enough customers to go around, so they run only 1 boat between 4 companies. The Thai manager of Phi Phi Scuba, one of the larger dive shops, said that permission to rebuild would be granted soon, but that a building code would be adhered to, hopefully making the rebuilt areas look better than before, because some areas were not pretty.
Our visit was quite an eye opener. We have spent the last 5 months here in Phuket dealing with the business after effects of the tsunami. Most of Phuket is back to normal. The infrastructure allowed quick rebuilding and quick clean up, unlike Phi Phi, where it was a slow process. It will take at least a few more months for normal life to continue. Right now, even the school on Phi Phi is not there - most of the kids are in Krabi. They are still calling for volunteer workers, and we imagine there will be an explosion of building once permission is granted. It remains to be seen how much rebuilding is allowed, and how much will be left natural.
To visit or not to visit? Well, if you are not sure, a day trip by ferry is easy from Phuket or Krabi, both of which are far less tsunami affected, and to be sure the backpacker scene is still very evident. We are now promoting dive courses in Phi Phi for those that wish to stay there, and if not we offer a wide range of day and overnight trips for diving from Phuket. Even if you just go for the day by ferry, have lunch and a drink or buy a couple of shell bracelets, anything will help put some Baht into peoples pockets. It's been a hard time, but things are looking way better now. PhiPhi is certainly not fully recovered, but it is still a beautiful place.
Report and Photos by Jamie and Gilbert (Sunrise Divers), 14th June 2005
Traveling to Phi Phi from Phuket or Krabi
Jamie's Tsunami Memories and Thoughts
Family day trip to Phi Phi in April 2006
Phi Phi Hotel Information