In Danny Boyle’s 2000 cult classic film, The Beach, a youthful Leonardo DiCaprio journeys to discover a secret island idyll off the coast of Thailand. With dramatic cliffs, fine white sand, and crystal clear turquoise water, the film’s jaw-dropping setting has led visitors to Thailand to seek out this tropical paradise for themselves.
This is how Maya Bay – where The Beach was shot – became one of the country’s most popular tourist attractions. Well, until it closed for four years in 2018. The Maya Bay reopened on January 1st, 2022 and has generated much excitement: but why did it close in the first place? And should we still be going to this heavily visited spot?
Join us as we take you through everything you need to know about the May Bay reopening.
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Why was Maya Bay closed?
Maya Bay was closed because it simply became too popular. The beach is relatively small, at only 15 meters wide and 250 meters long. Yet every day hundreds of boats carrying thousands of tourists visited the spot to experience its natural beauty.
According to official figures, the bay was receiving an estimated 5,000 visitors per day on average in 2018. Visitors left behind rubbish, damaged local wildlife and harassed animals, meanwhile, boat anchors are thought to have destroyed as much as 50% of Maya Bay’s coral – a concerning example of the ecological cost of over-tourism left unchecked.
One photo of May Bay that circulated widely in Thai media triggered outrage from Thai citizens for its depiction of the natural paradise completely overrun by smartphone-clad tourists. Local authorities quickly closed the bay in response to the public pressure.
Maya Bay has been continuously receiving interest from tourists around the world. But this has also caused (the natural area) to deteriorate, especially the corals,” said Natural Resources and Environment Minister Varawut Silpa-Archa in a statement for CNN. “After shutting down Maya Bay to revive and restore it, up until the present, it has returned to a good condition.”
After assessing the extent of the damage, what was initially expected to be a 4-month closure of Maya Bay turned into 4 years. Throughout this time, park officials have worked to replant coral in the bay and build greater infrastructure for visiting tourists. The Maya Bay reopening came into effect from January 1st, 2022, with new restrictions and infrastructure in place to ensure that history doesn’t repeat itself for this small island paradise.
Why is Maya Bay so popular?
Maya Bay owes its popularity to its feature in Danny Boyle’s incredibly famous film, The Beach, which propelled the small stretch of coastline to international fame. High-profile actors such as Leonardo di Caprio and Tilda Swinton star in this cult film that follows the trials and tribulations of a group of travelers that set up a secret community on this well-hidden island, much to the distaste of local Thai farmers. The invasion of great swathes of tourists that forced the closure of the bay could indeed be seen as life imitating art.
Even if you haven’t seen The Beach, it’s likely that if you visit the Thai islands of Phuket and Koh Phi-Phi, you’ll be greeted with the opportunity of visiting Maya Bay. The promise of unrivaled natural beauty, star appeal, and a picture-perfect Instagram shot has historically attracted thousands of visitors to this small bay. However, the realities of over-tourism: decimated coral reefs, litter, and polluted water paint a different picture of Maya Bay, one of the damaging consequences of over-hyping a destination.
What are the new entry rules for Maya Bay reopening?
The Maya Bay reopening comes with terms and conditions. Park officials are putting measures in place to protect the local ecosystem and ensure that the bay doesn’t return to its old ways. To protect the replanted coral, boats are not able to enter the bay. Instead, drivers have to drop passengers off at a pier set at the back of the island away from the famed cove.
There will also be limits on capacity. Only eight speed boats are allowed to dock at the pier at a time, and visits are capped at one hour, with a maximum of 300 tourists allowed per round, from 10 a.m.-4 p.m daily. This is a striking reduction from the 5,000 tourists that were visiting per day before its closure in 2018. For the moment, visitors are not allowed to swim in Maya Bay.
Where is Maya Bay?
Maya Bay is located in the Andaman Sea, in the Strait of Malacca in Krabi Province of Thailand, and is a part of the Hat Noppharat Thara–Mu Ko Phi Phi National Park. It is on the island of Koh Phi Phi Le, one of the two main Phi Phi islands in the Krabi province.
How do you get to Maya Bay?
It’s not possible to stay on Koh Phi Phi Le as it’s an uninhabited island, so visitors to Maya Bay come for day trips from nearby islands such as Koh Phi Phi Don and Phuket. It takes between 30 to 40 minutes to visit Maya Bay on a speed boat from Koh Phi Phi Don, and around 90 minutes from Phuket.
Tips for avoiding over-tourism
With the climate crisis in full swing, looking after the planet should be on everyone’s agenda right now. And while tourism brings a lot of economic benefits to destinations across the globe, it also contributes to the pollution of the planet and the decimation of local ecosystems. The Maya Bay reopening highlights the need for people to take a more responsible approach to exploring new destinations. So as a tourist, how can we avoid perpetuating the ills of over-tourism?
Avoid following the crowd.
- It’s really easy to base your travel plans on bucket list destinations – whether that’s heading to Maya Bay to stroll the same sands as Leonardo Di Caprio, or planning a romantic getaway to Venice. But simply following the crowd to the most popular tourist destinations places incredible strain on the resources and infrastructure of these places, as well as damaging local ecosystems and sometimes degrading local people’s quality of life. It’s why local people can no longer afford to live in the center of Barcelona, and Venice is introducing turnstiles to its main attractions.
It’s more responsible to pause to consider the types of destinations that fly under people’s radars and therefore suffer less with the ills of over-tourism. Rather than heading to the capital every time, why not opt to visit a second city? Rather than Lisbon, head to Porto, for example. Or you could opt for Glasgow, over the incredibly popular Edinburgh. As an added bonus, steering clear of the well-trodden tourist path often means fewer crowds, cheaper prices, and a more authentic experience of the local culture.
Post fewer photos.
Posting photos on social media has become an integral part of most people’s vacation experience. But did you know that social media can have a damaging effect on destinations by fuelling over-tourism? The desire to snap the perfect travel picture – and the social clout that comes with it – has led to great surges in visitors to places famed for their photogenic nature. In 2019, the small town of Lake Elsinore received an unprecedented influx of 66,000 tourists in just one weekend, as people flocked there to take photos with the poppy fields. This caused gridlock, standstill traffic in the streets, and the trampling of local nature.
If you plan to visit after the Maya Bay reopening keep this in mind: posting fewer pictures, or at least not tagging the destination, could help to reduce your contribution to over-tourism in the area.
Always show respect.
- It goes without saying that tourists are guests to the destinations that they visit, and should behave accordingly. But the sad reality is that many people forget their manners when they travel abroad. Leaving litter, behaving in a rowdy nature and not obeying local rules and laws are common complaints that local people often make towards tourists. In order to reduce the negative environmental and social consequences of visiting Maya Bay, and anywhere else in the world, tourists should make an effort to leave the place as they found it. That means respecting the local environment – from taking rubbish home with you, to not harassing local wildlife for photos, and respecting the rules of the area you are visiting. As well as showing respect for the environment, it’s important to show respect from local people, too: make an effort to engage with tour guides, hotel staff, and hospitality workers. You’ll probably get more out of your trip this way too!