Earlier this year, it was announced that Maya Bay, arguably Thailand’s most popular beach, was to be closed until September 2018. This was necessary for the island’s ecosystem to recover from the millions of tourist that have visited Maya Bay over the last few years. Then, in early October, Maya Bay closed indefinitely to tourists. So, anyone visiting ‘The Beach’ in 2019 has no idea whether or not Maya Bay will still be closed or open for their trip to Thailand.
I visited Koh Phi Phi Leh, the island where Maya Bay is situated, in November this year. And I’m here to tell all you Leonardo DiCaprio fans that the situation might not be as dire as you think!
Visiting The Beach in 2019: What can you expect?
What is The Beach (2000) and why is it such a big deal?
The Beach is a film directed by Danny Boyle starring Leonardo DiCaprio and featuring Tilda Swinton. It’s based on the popular book by Alex Garland. Leonardo DiCaprio plays Richard, an American solo backpacker travelling to Thailand to have the ‘ultimate’ travellers experience. He becomes intrigued by a deranged Scotsman who gives him a map to paradise, the most beautiful and remote island in Thailand. However, once Leonardo DiCaprio finds the island, it’s not quite the utopia he was lead to believe.
It’s actually a critical flop (currently holds a 20% rating on Rotten Tomatoes). However, Leonardo DiCaprio’s recent Titanic (1997) popularity probably helped The Beach survive at the Box Office. And in the last 20 years, it has become a seminal solo backpacker film. You would not go to Thailand without watching The Beach. Which is probably why the real-life filming location of The Beach, Maya Bay on Koh Phi Phi Leh, is so popular.
Before Maya Bay closed in February 2018
Prior to the closure, Maya Bay was flooded with tourists on a daily basis. Boat after boat after boat would dock on The Beach and tourists would snorkel and take thousands of selfies on the sand before getting back on their boat to check out the rest of Koh Phi Phi. It’s a really popular excursion to sail around Koh Phi Phi from Phuket for the day. It’s no wonder that the environment suffered a lot of damage.
But of course, as a filming locations aficionado, there was no way I was travelling to Thailand and not checking out Maya Bay. So, when I heard the closure had been extended to include my holiday, I was really gutted. Of course, saving the ecosystem of Maya Bay was very important, but I still frustrated.
And I had a lot of questions. So… do boats just skip it on their tours? Is Maya Bay still closed when I visit? Can we visit Koh Phi Phi Leh at all? Having never been to Thailand, I had no idea how much the rules would be enforced and what it would be like visiting The Beach in 2019.
What to expect visiting The Beach in 2019
But I shouldn’t have been so gutted. When booking the Koh Phi Phi Lei excursion (you can definitely still go to the island), I noticed all the tours still had Maya Bay on their tour routes. Probably just haven’t reprinted leaflets yet, I thought. But once I was on the tour, the boat actually pulled into Maya Bay. And there were a couple of other boats too, but not tonnes. We could see there was a yellow line in the water surrounding The Beach itself, like a pool divider, so no one was allowed near. But we could still snorkel in the water around The Beach. We just weren’t allowed near it, or to go on The Beach itself.
So what’s different about visiting The Beach in 2019? Not a lot. I don’t have any close-up photographs, but at least they’re all free of people. And I wasn’t too bothered about the fact we couldn’t snorkel in the same vicinity of The Beach as there is another beach in Maya Bay you can swim to. So The Beach might be closed, but technically Maya Bay isn’t.
But is this a good thing?
It turns out visiting The Beach in 2019 won’t be so different for tourists. And for film fans like me, you can still see The Beach. However, I can’t help but think that this relaxed approach to fixing the damage means The Beach is just going to be closed for much longer. Cigarettes are still thrown into the sea by tour guides and tourists, tourists are still disrupting the fish and coral in Maya Bay by snorkelling.
I’m in two minds. I’m pleased in a purely selfish way that I got to see The Beach from The Beach in real life. I’d been looking forward to visiting The Beach for so long and now I’ve finally done it. But at what cost? I just hope that the Thai authorities are actually doing what is necessary to try to reverse the damage already made by tourists. But this should be a lesson for other places of natural beauty to not let things get so far.
And that’s everything you need to know about visiting The Beach in 2019 and if Maya Bay is still closed! Have you visited Maya Bay in Thailand when it was open? Or do you plan on visiting The Beach in 2019? Let me know in the comments below!