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Monday, August 19, 2013

Snorkeling Thailand’s Ko Phi Phi Islands

Ko Mai Pai (Bamboo Island), Thailand
Our lunchtime view during our day of snorkeling the Ko Phi Phi Islands with Simba Sea Trips.
No trip to the Phuket, Phang Nga Bay, or Krabi areas in Thailand can truly be complete without a boat ride to the Ko Phi Phi Islands and, if you are a fish and water lover, a day of snorkeling or scuba diving around the Ko Phi Phi Islands.  There are multiple options for traveling to the Ko Phi Phi Islands: ferries from Phuket or Krabi, large tour companies offering huge boats filled with dozens to up to 100 passengers, longtail boats that can be hired to make the trip privately, and, as we chose, smaller tour companies with boats for groups under 20 people. 

Simba Sea Trips is based in Phuket and privately owned by husband and wife team Geoff (American) and Jenny (Australian).  They have two boats, Simba II and Simba III.  While the boats can hold up to 26 people, Simba limits the number of passengers to 15.  We booked the Phi Phi Sunrise trip, which is designed to start earlier in an effort to beat the crowds and provide optimal snorkeling conditions.  Jenny led our small group along with a licensed local Thai tour guide and two other staff members, all of whom were incredibly friendly.  

Our first stop was Maya Bay on Ko Phi Phi Leh, where The Beach was filmed.  Since the day started early, we were given a snack of fresh fruit, including my new favorite fruit, mangosteen.  After soaking in the beautiful view of the bay and having pictures taken of us jumping in the air (I felt kind of dorky but what the heck), we had some time to walk around the island.  We took a short trail that cuts across to Loh Samah Bay.  We then got back on the boat and rode around the island to our first snorkeling spot in Ko Phi Phi Leh's Loh Samah Bay.

Maya Bay, Ko Phi Phi Leh, Thailand
Maya Bay, Ko Phi Phi Leh
There are so many things to love about snorkeling in tropical locations like the Ko Phi Phi Islands of Thailand.  First and foremost, the water is so warm you can just slide in with no discomfort.  Second, the water is so clear.  And then of course there’s all the colorful fish!    

Snorkeling Ko Phi Phi Islands, Thailand
I just love that this fish photobombed me.

Fish in Loh Samah Bay, Thailand
Fish like bananas.

Fish in Loh Samah Bay, Ko Phi Phi Leh, Thailand

After snorkeling for a while, we boarded the boat again and cruised further around Ko Phi Phi Leh to Pileh Lagoon, another picturesque cove where we jumped off the bow of the boat (I’m not sharing that picture) and floated in the water under the bright sun.

Pileh Lagoon, Thailand
Pileh Lagoon
We also motored by Viking Cave, which is where birds’ nests are harvested to export to China for the famous birds’ nest soup. 

Our next stop was Monkey Beach on Ko Phi Phi Don.  We disembarked long enough to feed the monkeys a couple peanuts and take a few pictures, but we didn’t stay long because they are aggressive little buggers.  Jenny told us about one that jumped on her arm and bit her, which has made her very wary of them.

Monkey Beach, Ko Phi Phi Don, Krabi, Thailand
Can someone tell me if Thailand or Family Guy came up with this monkey first?
I happened to find a picture of this sign on the Internet before our trip and made sure Romeo packed his shirt.
We rode by Ko Yung (Mosquito Island) and then crossed the water to Ko Mai Pai (Bamboo Island) for our buffet lunch.  Lunch was delicious and included Jenny’s homemade potato salad, quiche, pasta salad, rice, chicken, and more.  While not a traditional Thai meal, everything was excellent.  We relaxed on the beach, took in the view, and had some interesting conversations about the differences between Australia’s and the United States’ government as well as issues in Phuket and the tuk tuk mafia.

After we rested we headed to our last snorkeling destination before returning to Phuket.

Snorkeling Thailand's Ko Phi Phi Islands

Underwater video of snorkeling Thailand's Ko Phi Phi Islands.

Simba Sea Trips offers multiple tour choices, including Phi Phi, Phi Phi Sunrise, Phang Nga, and Krabi trips, as well as private charters.  Prices are provided on their website and include round-trip transfers from hotels in Phuket’s Patong, Kata, and Karon areas, beverages, snacks and lunch, and snorkeling equipment (we brought our own snorkels and masks but used their fins).  I suggest booking ahead, since these are small group tours that can sell out.  When booked ahead, a deposit is required.

Jenny and her team were wonderful people, and the company provided excellent customer service.  When planning our day of snorkeling Thailand's Ko Phi Phi Islands, I was choosing between two companies.  I reached my final decision through my research on Trip Advisor.  My decision was influenced more by the two companies’ responses to traveler reviews than by the reviews themselves.  Both companies had excellent reviews, but had also received negative comments from travelers who were upset excursions had been cancelled because of weather (obviously something neither company could control and a matter of safety), but I felt Simba Sea Trips' responses were more professional, even if the reviewer was potentially being unreasonable, while the other company’s responses were not as nice.  I believed this was a good indicator of the customer service that would be provided by Simba Sea Trips.  When I corresponded with Simba Sea Trips via email to make our reservations, all emails were responded to professionally and promptly.

I used Lonely Planet Discover Thailand to plan our Thailand trip.
 

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Katherine Belarmino is the author of Travel the World, a travel blog for the everyday working stiff. She works full-time in a non-travel related job, but she and her husband Romeo take every opportunity they can to travel the world during their limited vacation time.