Visiting The Beach movie location may not be the paradise you think. It was initially closed from June-September 2018 to allow its coral reefs and environment to recover from over-tourism but Thailand’s Department of National Parks, Wildlife and Plant Conservation announced on 2nd October that it would remain closed. The most famous beach in Thailand is now closed indefinitely to allow the beach and ecosystem to recover.
Imagine a stunning beach cove, located 30 minutes away from a populated island. A cove whose crystal blue waters are almost glowing, the sand silky soft under your feet, the surrounding cliff faces beautifully dominant in a protective hug and where the surrounding choppy waters protect the enclave from human invaders.
Welcome to Maya Bay on Ko Phi Phi Leh, a pocket of paradise on the coastline of Koh Phi Phi Leh island – the smaller sister island of Thailand’s sun, surf and snorkel haven of Koh Phi Phi.
The Beach. Sounds idyllic, doesn’t it?
Except Maya Bay was made famous as a setting for where The Beach was filmed. A blockbuster screenplay based on Alex Garland’s novel of the same name. A story I too wanted to seek out as a traveller, despite knowing the consequences that its fame had brought.
“You fish, swim, eat, laze around, and everyone’s so friendly. It’s such simple stuff, but… If I could stop the world and restart life, put the clock back, I think I’d restart it like this. For everyone.” – Alex Garland, The Beach (film)
The beach movie identified the joys of a secluded haven. In reality, the ‘beach from the beach’ became a victim of its fame, with the closing of Maya Bay highlighting the imploding nature of over-tourism.
What Happened to Maya Bay?
Now imagine the 200 boats and 5,000 people a day visiting Maya Bay and the consequences that have come with the surge of interest and bad tourism practice. Because that push came from a single question from the majority of visitors to Koh Phi Phi: “Where’s the beach?”
Travel to Maya Bay was easy, via the advertised boat trips available to book on Koh Phi Phi. Half days trips to Koh Phi Phi Leh started from 400 Baht and all-day tours, which included a stop at ‘the beach’, ranged from 700 Baht upwards.
Incredibly stunning, yet ruined; spectacular but over-crowded, seeing Maya Bay in its natural state is now almost impossible. Unless you were incredibly lucky many years ago. It’s disappointing at the same time as being expected, and a shame that tourist numbers were not capped and controlled.
Those boats arrived here every day, dropping off tourists like lemmings, who appeared to multiply before your eyes, pushing past you in excited curiosity as if they are expecting Leonardo to jump off the cliff ridge and shouting, “I’ve found it!”
The emerald blue water no longer contains the twinkling mysteries of its submerged beauty but instead was flanked with a row of longboats floating idly while the sands rapidly become covered with a scattering of feet and the air fills with nothing but uncontrolled mayhem and the screams of boat captains. Garbage and sunscreen have polluted the water, destroying a huge part of the ecosystem that makes this area so naturally stunning.
Our boat to Maya Bay was too large to dock directly on the shoreline. Instead, we anchored a few meters further around the island where we had to swim through the strong waves in order to reach the spider-web of rope, constructed to help pull yourself in and up into this stunning hideaway. For those less adventurous, your boat provided you with a canoe, because at least you can then say you lived ‘The Beach’ adventure for a few minutes.
The Beach Scenes are Immediately Shattered on Dry Land
But I expected this, and you should too. Don’t think you are going to get lucky visiting Maya Bay in its undiscovered, immaculate ‘Beach’ form. If you do, once it opens again, it’s a bonus. Heavily marketed as a single trip or as a small part of an all-day boat cruise around the islands, the popularity of Maya Bay will never, ever dwindle.
Besides, you are just the same as every other tourist landing there, making your mark and impacting on the landscape. Although you may be one of the only few that actually saw the movie.
I decided to people watch the people who were trying hard to get their best snap on Thailand’s most famous bay. Many completely unaware of where they were, what spectacle of nature they were standing in. This, to me, was what summed up the Maya Bay setting perfectly. The chance to get that bucket list picture, regardless of the cost to the environment.
And when you found a moment where the coast was clear, literally, you had a few seconds to imagine the pure immaculate beauty this once was. Those few precious seconds are all you will have.
Or did have, now Maya Bay is closed.
Thinking of Thai island hopping? READ MORE: A Quick Guide to the Best Thailand Islands to Explore