The Beach: Koh Phi Phi vs El Nido

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Living in a tropical country made up of 7,107 islands makes it impossible not to find a private patch of paradise. When I say paradise I refer to the beach. You would probably notice by now how much I love the beach. I can say the Philippines has the best beaches in the world, that's why I can't help but compare it to other countries. I know it's wrong to compare, but because a lot is asking which one is better, I decided to create this blog post. 
L - Photo taken at Maya Bay R - Photo taken at Shimizu Island
I was lucky to visit both El Nido (Philippines) and Koh Phi Phi (Thailand) this year. Making a comparison of these two destinations is included in my bucket list. To make it more objective, I came up with 6 criteria and I will choose between the two based on my own experience. But before we do that, let's have a quick intro :)
Purple Marker - Koh Phi Phi
Koh Phi Phi is a small archipelago comprised of six islands located in the southern part of Thailand. It is administratively part of the Krabi province, not Phuket. Koh Phi Phi leh, one of the six, is the home of the famous Maya Bay.  'Koh' means island in Thai language.
Purple Marker - El Nido
El Nido, on the other hand, is a big archipelago comprised of 45 islands and islets. It is situated in the northern part of Palawan in the Philippines. The town was first called Talindak and later renamed by the spaniards as Bacuit. In the 1950s, the name of the town was changed from Bacuit to its present name El Nido, which means "The Nest". These nest, found mostly in the crevices of limestone cliffs, were used as a main ingredient for an expensive gourmet soup.

Maya Bay is the filming location of the movie "The Beach" starring Leonardo DiCaprio. They say the novelist Alex Garland actually took the inspiration from EL Nido where he lived for six months. I'm not sure though why he chose Koh Phi Phi, Thailand as the setting of the film. So now which one is better? Koh Phi Phi or EL Nido?


Let's find out!

ACCESSIBILITY

Note: Refers to the ease of reaching the destination, access to public transport, travel cost and distance from point A to B. Point A is Manila.
Manila to Koh Phi Phi
There are no direct flights from Manila to Krabi, where Koh Phi Phi is situated. There are two options if you are coming straight from Manila. It's either you fly to Phuket or you fly to Kuala Lumpur. From KL, you can fly to Krabi which takes about 45 minutes to an hour. From Krabi International Airport, you can take a bus going to the port. Then catch a ferry to Koh Phi Phi Don, the only inhabited island in Phi Phi. Total travel time is approximately 7 hours. 
Manila to EL Nido
El Nido has its own airport that serves Manila to El Nido route. This route is the fastest way but very expensive. Most tourist would fly to Puerto Prinsesa, the capital of Palawan, then take a bus or van to reach El Nido. Total travel time is approximately 7-8 hours.

Verdict: El Nido has a very slight edge against Koh Phi Phi. Transfer in the latter is quite exhausting, whilst in the former, you just have to endure the long bus ride.


BUDGET

hire your own speedboat in Koh Phi Phi
Thailand is one of the cheapest travel destinations in the world, but in Koh Phi Phi, almost everything is expensive. For first timers, it maybe a challenge to travel on a budget. 

Contrary to what most people know, El Nido is not an expensive destination. This quiet and laid back beachside town offers several budget accomodation, cafes, pretty decent restos and carinderias. Tour operators have standard rates for island hopping. When I traveled in August 2013, I only spent Php 6,000 for a 4D/3N stay including airfare. 

Verdict: El Nido is the winner.


ACCOMMODATION


Note: I used the Thai Baht Conversion rate as of April 2013 (1 THB = 1.38 PHP)
The White Hotel in Koh Phi Phi Don
Most tourist would opt to stay in Koh Phi Phi Don, the only inhabited island in Koh Phi Phi. There are several accommodations for every budget and taste, but don't expect as much cheap as is in the rest of Thailand. We stayed in a budget guesthouse that goes for THB 1,500 per night during Peak Season (Nov to April) and THB 1,000 during Low Season (May to Oct) good for 2 people.  So that is Php 1,400  approximately. 
Marina Garden Beach Resort
El Nido offers a wide selection of accomodation. The cheapest I found goes for Php 300 per night, a very basic room with shared bathroom. Most resorts are beachfront giving you the stunning view of the Bacuit bay. My personal recommendation is Marina Garden Beach Resort. A native cottage  good for 4 people costs Php 1,340 per night during low season (June to Sept) and Php 1,420 during Peak season (Oct to May).



Verdict: For me, the biggest bite in Koh Phi Phi is accommodation. Most beachfront accommodation costs an arm and leg. Sure there are cheap accommodation below 1000 THB per night, but the location is far from Ton Sai pier. Who the hell is going to trek with a 15+ kg backpack on their back? El Nido wins!


ISLAND TOUR

note: we take a look at package inclusions such as free meal/lunch, use of snorkel set and kayak

going to Maya Bay

The Phi Phi islands can be explored in one day. There are three island tours that are commonly being offered by travel agencies. These are the Plankton Sunset Tour, Maya Bay Camping Tour and Phi Phi Day Tour. The day tour would normally include free lunch, snorkel set and use of kayak. The price depends on the type of boat you require. The most expensive is the speed boat. For budget travelers, you may choose the public tour boats and the iconic long tail boats.
at Shimizu Island
El Nido is famous for its island hopping tours. Tour operators offer 4 different kind of island hopping tours, which they call Tour A, B, C and D. Each would take you to different parts of the Bacuit Archipelago. Boat rental, tour guide and snorkel set are all included. At noontime, the boatmen will turn to cooking masters. They would serve grilled pork, fish, rice, veggies and fresh fruit platter with watermelon, bananas, pineapple and a lot more. Take note, lunch is included in ALL island tours in El Nido. 
free lunch in El Nido
Verdict: For me, El Nido wins. I was really disappointed with the free meal included in our Maya Bay day tour. We were served with a meal box with mixed rice and about 7 tiny pieces of meat. In regards to the tour, there's really not much to see in Phi Phi except for Koh Phi Phi Leh and Maya Bay.

FOOD

There is a wide variety of food choices in Koh Phi Phi Don. If you don't fancy thai food, there are several restaurants catering to foreign tourists. Seafood resto, buffets, bakeries, pizzerias, steak house, fruit shake stalls and ice cream shops are among your other choices. My personal recommendation is Ton Sai Seafood. Check out some food photos here.
at Ton Sai Seafood
El Nido also offers a wide array of good value restaurants. Altrove Pizzeria is one of the famous restaurants in town. Another must try is El Nido Boutique and Art cafe, a quirky place known for pizzas and pasta.



Verdict: For me, the winner is Koh Phi Phi. I really like Thai food and everything I ate when I was there. It was refreshing to eat something new. I splurge in Thailand which was a deviation from my usual scrimping on food. 


THE BEACH

For many, a perfect beach depends on the quality of the sand and clarity of the water. The scenery must also be extraordinary and it should offer variety of activities for all ages. With that in mind, we now take a look at 'The Beach' of Koh Phi Phi and EL Nido
at Maya Bay
Maya Bay in Koh Phi Phi Leh is far from the booze soaked crowds of Koh Phi Phi Don. However, because of its popularity since 'The Beach' was filmed here in 1999, this very picturesque place was somehow ruined by the huge number of tourist who flock to its pristine sands and turquoise water. If you want to avoid the crowd, your best bet is to avail Maya bay camping tour. Though crowded, I still appreciate Maya Bay's Grandeur. I love the stunning stretch of fine white sand, towering limestone cliff and turquoise water. 
at Shimizu Island
If you like your beach vacation on the quiet side, El Nido's tranquil charm is a perfect fit. As you sail to Bacuit Bay, you may feel as if you are being transported to paradise. Trimmed with 45 Islands and Islets, you can find your own secluded beach where you can refresh and rejuvenate. 



Verdict: The beaches of El Nido wins! Unlike in Koh Phi Phi where I can only name one single island as gorgeous, in El Nido there's a lot to choose from. My favorites are Shimizu Island, Hidden Beach and Talisay Beach. 


The Winner
Yosh! Based on the vote count, EL Nido wins this battle! 

5 stars for El Nido!
If you want the best bang for your buck then choose El Nido. Its laid back vibe is just perfect for me. But I must say, Maya bay is one of the best I have seen. :) We all have different preferences and my choice might be different from yours, so if you think the other is better, then I'd love to hear your thoughts. ^__^

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8 comments

  1. I totally agree with your conclusion. I too have been to both, Koh Phi Phi: http://mithunonthe.net/2010/01/29/thailand-2009-day-7-%e2%80%93-touring-koh-phi-phi-maya-bay-monkey-island-bamboo-island/ & El Nido: http://mithunonthe.net/2011/11/29/philippines-2011-el-nido-island-tour-small-big-lagoons-miniloc-simisu-las-cabanas-sunset-photos/



    Maya Bay is undoubtedly the highlight of touring the Phi Phi islands -- that said, I hope to go back and spend time on the beach before the scores of tourists come as part of the many, MANY tour boats. The crowds ruin the beauty that was first projected in 'The Beach'.



    But generally speaking, I would say El Nido has better beaches, clearer waters and awesome snorkeling/diving spots.

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  2. Maya Bay is really gorgeous. If only it is secluded like the beaches of El Nido, I would love to go back. Thanks for dropping by Mithun! :)

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  3. bias? kidding! i have been to el nido and planning to visit koh phi phi but upon reading your article i am thinking if its worth it to visit kho phi phi, any other suggestion? thanks!!!

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  4. Hello Alfred! Yes I am biased with El Nido :) But still, Koh Phi Phi is worth a visit. You'll find it more appealing if you love partying and meeting people from different parts of the globe. Maya Bay is stunning despite the crowds. You can avail Maya Bay camping tour so you could spend some quiet time alone. Or you can visit other islands/beaches like Railay Beach :) It's just one boat ride away from Koh Phi Phi Don.

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  5. yes i love partying but of course without my girlfriend haha! i will just reserve the place for my friends and make sure that my gf is busy at that time :)

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  6. just about what I expected. The author is from Philippines, I doubt she would pick Phi Phi as the winner. ha

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  7. Thanks for sharing! Ive been to Krabi last month and will fly to el nido this summer. Super excited!

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  8. You're welcome kachich! When you come back from El Nido, please share your experience here! :)

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