Maya Bay, ‘the Beach’ that was made famous in the 2000 movie starring Leonardo Di Caprio and has since seen a phenomenal surge in tourism as a result, is finally being closed off to tourists as of June 2018 because of environmental concerns.
The beach that sparked the inspiration for thousands of gap years might be closing.
According to various sources, Thai authorities have finally decided to act after decades of overtourism has almost irreversibly damaged or destroyed a lot of the natural coral and surrounding environment in Maya Bay on the Thai island of Koh Phi Phi Leh.
This surprising move comes after almost a decade of travellers – myself included – and environmental experts who have seen the sheer growth in unsustainable tourism to the tiny beach over the years have been calling for authorities to take action. But as always in Thailand, the right thing is not always given enough priority.
The dream versus the reality.
Any traveller who has visited Maya Bay in recent years all tell the same story of how shocked they are at how crowded it has become.
Over 5000 tourists flock there every single day, and the dream of recreating the idyllic scene in the movie ‘The Beach’ is destroyed when they see hordes of package tourists standing shoulder to shoulder on the entire stretch of once pristine sand, litter everywhere and whole flotillas of tourist boats from resorts on Phi Phi and Phuket filling the bay.
As a result of that some people have even called for it to be closed off completely.
That in my opinion is a little extreme. Maya Bay is popular for a reason and there is a reason it was chosen for the filming location of The Beach, it is a truly stunning destination and travellers should be able to see it, provided they aren’t causing harm, and that is key.
When the local population, so reliant on tourism as Thailand is, has that tourism taken away, they lose their income and have no incentive to take care of the natural environment that once drew tourists and travellers alike, so closing it off entirely seems counterproductive.
But it does need time to recover and the coral and marine life needs space and time to heal and rejuvinate, and that can only be done if it is closed off for a good portion of time so that the authorities can try and undo decades of damage caused by overtourism.
As a result, closing it off for a limited period seems like the logical and best solution.
A responsible future for Thailand’s islands?
At the moment the ban will only be in place until September 2018, encompassing what is Thailand’s low season, but it is my hope that this is the start of the Thai authorities seeing sense and realising that they have to protect the natural environment that their tourism industry relies on, and I hope that this ban is only the start of a sensible rotation system that allows limited tourists access for a short period every year, leaving the remaining time for the environment to recover.
This way everyone wins. The authorities get their tourism trade, travellers get to experience this unique and stunning destination, and the environment gets looked after and cared for. That is true responsible tourism.
Unfortunately the Thai authorities do not have a good track record in this department, and some are already starting to try and backtrack on the idea, with certain members of the Tourism Authority of Thailand even calling it fake news, but they are considering it apparently according to the same source.
I just hope that they aren’t allowed to once again let greed and mass tourism overrule common sense and responsible tourism practice.
Maya Bay truly is a stunningly beautiful destination, or at least it used to be. This closure – if it actually happens – just ensures it stays that way for future generations to enjoy too.
So what do you think? Should Maya Bay be closed to help repair the coral damage? Do you think the Thai authorities will even go through with it?
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