Sitting in the Andaman Sea between the west coast of mainland Thailand and the island tourist mecca of Phuket, Ko Phi Phi Don is an idyllic island measuring little more than 8km in length. Ever since Danny Boyle (Trainspotting, Slumdog Millionaire, 2012 Olympics Opening Ceremony) turned Alex Garland's famous 1996 novel, The Beach, into an even more famous film of the same name, this palm-fringed paradise has been on the to-do list of twenty-somethings around the world, with the neighbouring isle of Ko Phi Phi Leh providing the setting for much of the film's action.
Hundreds of limestone karsts jut out from the turquoise waters as you near Phi Phi, with the islands' respective silhouettes providing a stunning vista. As the ferry drops anchor, those travellers seeking out the island's famous whiskey bucket-fuelled beach parties hop off at Ton Sai Bay, destined to dance the coming days and nights away in any number of open-air bars full of Scandinavian, European and Antipodean backpackers. This time though, we're heading for a calmer locale, another 45 minutes by longtail boat around the coast to the island's northernmost point.
As the longtail pulls up to Laem Tong beach, Zeavola's exact location is not immediately evident. Set back in lush green vegetation that fringes a perfect white sand beach, this boutique eco-resort's scattering of hand-hewn teakwood huts have been cleverly disguised by an extensive network of palm-laden gardens, linked by meandering sand paths. The hotel's staff greets you on the sand to take your bags, insisting you carry your luggage no further. As you make your way up the beach, the rustic but luxurious architecture of Zeavola becomes apparent.
Guests are encouraged to ‘step back to simplicity’ here. Zeavola is one half design hotel, one half beach shack. Each of the resort's 52 freestanding villas is carefully disguised by the surrounding gardens, so you feel like you have your own private beach house but can still enjoy the comforts that come with being part of a bigger, managed property. Open air showers give you access to the outdoors when you want it, and remote controlled shutters around the bungalows do the opposite when you need to sleep off your lunchtime Singhas.
Zeavola's menus offer contemporary interpretations of traditional Thai cuisine alongside smatterings of western options at Baxil, the resort's main restaurant (where breakfast is served each day), and Tacada, a breezy restaurant and bar right on the sand. Closer to the water sits a line of bright yellow beach umbrellas with oversized pillows and triangle cushions, the perfect place to spend extended periods of time reading, sleeping, drinking and just being.
Further down the beach at Jasmine, a simple restaurant owned by a charming young family from Phuket, you'll be served authentic Thai food for a smaller price in a jovial atmosphere created by some of the island's sea gypsies next door.
Phi Phi's beaches, reefs and surrounding islands are the most popular attractions to see, and the best way to see them is to head down to the nearest cluster of longtails and bargain for the best hourly, half day or full day rental rates. The service is as basic as it gets, but the local boatmen will happily take you anywhere on the island at anytime of the day and night, including around to Ton Sai Bay and back in the wee hours if you want to join the heaving masses.
If a trip to The Beach (Maya Bay on Phi Phi Leh) or Monkey Bay is on your list, head there early before the tour boats arrive. But for something a little slower, hightail your longtail to Mosquito Island or Bamboo Island. If you're lucky, you'll even find your own private slice of paradise for a few hours.
Double rooms from 8000 baht (AUD$240), +66 7562 7000, www.zeavola.com. The writer stayed courtesy of Zeavola.
August 14, 2012 by Rich Fogarty