“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
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.
Sounds idyllic, doesn’t it?
Welcome to Maya Bay on Ko Phi Phi Lay, an enclave of paradise on the coastline of Koh Phi Phi Leh – the smaller sister island of Thailand’s sun, surf and snorkel haven of Koh Phi Phi.
Except it was made famous as a setting for the blockbuster film, ‘The Beach’, based on Alex Garland’s novel of the same name – a story I still love to analyse (from a traveller’s perspective) and a destination I have wanted to always visit, despite knowing the consequences that its fame has brought.
Incredibly stunning, yet ruined; spectacular but over-crowded, seeing Maya Bay in its natural state is now almost impossible. Unless you are INCREDIBLY lucky. It’s disappointing at the same time as being expected, and a shame that tourist numbers are not capped and controlled.
Dozens upon dozens on boats arrive here everyday, dropping off tourists like lemmings, who appear to multiply before your eyes, pushing past you in excited curiosity as if they are expecting Leonardo to jump off the ridge shouting “I’ve found it!” The emerald blue water no longer contains the twinkling mysteries of its submerged beauty but instead is 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.
Our boat was too large to dock directly in the bay. 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 will provide you with a canoe, but for a few minutes I was living ‘The Beach’ adventure.
Which was immediately shattered once on the dry land.
But I expected this, and you should too. Don’t think you are going to get lucky and if you do, 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. But anyway…
Instead of taking it all too seriously, or getting frustrated trying to get the perfect picture – which, let’s face it, is NEVER going to happen here – I decided to people watch the people who were trying hard to get their best snap on Thailand’s most famous bay.
This, to me, was what summed up the Maya Bay setting perfectly. What pose? What angle? What backdrop?
When you find a moment where the coast is clear, literally, then you must make a run for it. A big, freedom-fuelled run.
Those few precious seconds are all you will have…
You can visit Maya bay via many of the advertised boat trips advertised and available to book on Koh Phi Phi. Half days trips start from 400 Baht; all-day tours, which include a stop there, range from 700 Baht upwards. Enjoy your photo shoot.