Koh Phi Phi – The Party Island that Survived Leonardo DiCaprio and The 2004 Tsunami

You can’t read about Koh Phi Phi without reading about ‘The Beach’ and how Leonardo DiCaprio put this little Island on the map. What’s incredible is how the movie, shot in 1999, revolutionized the Island and has since seen thousands of twenty-something year olds follow in DiCaprio’s footsteps.

‘The Beach’, written in 1996 by English author Alex Garland, follows the journey of a young backpacker who is searching for an idyllic paradise, untouched and away from tourism – kind of ironic now that Koh Phi Phi has become such a popular tourist destination. Apparently the book was influenced in part by such works as Lord of the Flies and Heart of Darkness.

The movie came out in 2000 and since then Khao San Road, the popular backpacker hang out in Bangkok, where the movie opens, and Koh Phi Phi, have been the stars of backpacker travel.

On Phi Phi travellers come to party and meet other international travellers and their travels often lead to Maya Bay where the movie was filmed. Though the island is still only accessible by boat, hundreds of thousands of tourists visit it each year. Maya Bay is a National Park and you can’t stay there overnight. The young party-goers that come to the Island and know of the movie often leave with a tatoo of the three Phi Phi lines, usually across their upper arm, just as Leonardo did.

There has been a lot of criticism that filming on the Island not only brought tourism, which has brought more garbage and damage to the environment, but also that while filming the crew bull dozed land and planted palm trees to create sets to more closely resemble descriptions from the book – of course this has been denied.

Not only has Phi Phi survived the filming of ‘The Beach’ and it’s after shocks, but it also survived the 2004 tsunami that hit the west coast of Southern Thailand.

When the tsunami struck, it was reported that a 10 foot wave hit Phi Phi destroying the infrastructure and habitation on the Island. It was also reported that about 800 people went missing, while 5000 died in the giant wave.

Nowadays the Island has been restored to its original beauty and flourishes with tourism, but it is cautious of the events of 2004 and now has a tsunami evacuation system in place to warn against another potential disaster. On many parts of the Island there are signs explaining if the tsunami bells sound, climb to higher ground.

Despite its relatively new-found notiriety (before The Beach Koh Phi Phi was unheard of) I think it’s safe to say that Tonsai Village, the main tourist area on Phi Phi is ¬†thriving and managing very well as a place to party all night and laze away the day.

giant wave
sweeps away palms –
tsunami hits


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