CONSTRUCTION OF NEW FACILITIES SET TO BE BUILT AT MAYA BAY, AS THE BEACH GEARS UP TO REOPEN TO TOURISM.

EIGHTEEN MILLION BAHT TO BE INVESTED INTO NEW TOURISM FACILITIES AT MAYA BAY. BUT IS THE BEACH PREPARING TO REOPEN?

 

Back in August 2018, news broke worldwide that Koh Phi Phi Leh’s Maya Bay, for the first time in history, would be closed to the public. 

 

The closure of the beach came as a shock to many local residents and tour operators. The initial closure was implemented with immediate effect. In order to prevent protests from tour companies. 

 

To ease the news tour operators were informed that the beach would be closed for a period lasting three months. However, it quickly became apparent that was not going to be the case. 

 

Less than 30 days into the initial closure, Chongkhlai Wongphongsathon, deputy director-general of Department of National Parks made the announcement that a three-month closure would not suffice and the beach must remain closed indefinitely

 

However, things might be changing once again. With new facilities set to be built. Sustainability is now the main focus. New plans show that local authorities will be undertaking a development project which will see the bay reopened, whilst maintaining the hard work and preservation that has been taking place over recent years. 

 

It’s a waiting game, no official announcement has been set for the beach to open, but local speculation believes it could be as soon as late 2020.

 

Not all tour operators agree with plans to re-open the bay, with most believing it would be detrimental to open the beach to the masses once more. With so much hard work that has been put into the Maya Bay restoration project. Is it all about to go to waste, and can tourists control themselves this time?

 

Maya Bay is big business, it’s a massive money-spinner, estimated to rake in 30 million baht each month for the local economy. So it’s inevitable, that the bay will re-open. 

 

So, what, if anything will be done differently this time around? And what preventive measures can be taken, to prevent Maya Bay from falling into the same state of disrepair all oven again?

WHY DID MAYA BAY CLOSE

crowds of tourists at Thailand popular Maya bay beach
Before the closure of Maya Bay, Thailand - for rejuvenation, the beach had become an unbearable tourist trap. The short 250-meter strip was overrun with tourists at all times of the day.

Photo Credit: Bangkok Coconuts

maya bay packed full with tourists
“Up to 5,000 people used to visit here. Now it’s a ghost town” - Maya Bay was ruined by mass tourism. Here speedboats can be seen lined up next to each other on the bay. Not so much the paradise beach, which is depicted in the movie ‘The Beach’.

Photo Credit: Five Star Travel (Photograph taken in 2016)

 

Maya Bay rose to fame in the early 2000s, after being used as the filming location for the blockbuster movie: ‘The Beach’ starring Leonardo DiCaprio.

 

This release of this movie brought the bay into the public eye for the first time. Just as James Bond’s ‘the man with the golden gun’ saw Phang-Nga Bays ‘Khao Phing Kan’ island dubbed the ‘James Bond Islands’. 

 

Maya Bay quickly became known as ‘The Beach’, in reference to the film, rapidly becoming a tourist magnet. 

 

Maya Bays ever-rising popularity saw more and more tourists desperate to visit the bay during vacations in Phuket, and Krabi, Thailand. 

 

And with Koh Phi Phi Leh Island sitting in close proximity to the two provinces (Phuket & Krabi). Tens of thousands of people, holidaying here, have the opportunity to book onto a Phi Phi Island Tour to visit the iconic bay.

 

Koh Phuket is becoming ever more popular, year after year, with a whopping nine million tourists landing at Phuket Airport in 2017, a 12% increase from the previous year. Similar numbers are reported from Krabi Airport.

 

Phi Phi Islands are a short one hour ride (by speedboat) away from Phuket, and even closer from Krabi. So with evergrowing international arrivals, it is easy to see how Maya Bay rose to fame so rapidly. It is clear that careful planning and strict restrictions must be introduced before the bay is opened.

 

Despite popular belief, Maya Bay Phi Phi is a small beach, sheltered by limestone cliffs. The beach itself is just 250 meters in length. The short strip of sand cannot handle the high volume of tourists numbers that once visited, on a daily basis.

 

It’s estimated, on average, Maya Bay was taking on over 6,000 tourists every single day during peak season months. Similar numbers are also reported in the ‘out-of-season’ months. Whilst most other National parks in Thailand have a quiet period during the green season, the tourism tap at Koh Phi Phi keeps on flowing. With an average of 5,000 visitors each day during the low season.

 

The first boats arrive to the island as early as 6 AM. And the last boats leave by sundown at 7 PM. The beach was a chaotic and hectic destination at all hours of the day- From sundown to sunrise, visitors are not permitted to visit the island.

 

Maya Bay is incapable of supporting such a high number of tourists, and it did not take long for the effects of this mass tourist to begin showing.

Maya Bay was once rich with nature, the greenery that was once so prominent, faded away once the bay became a popular tourist destination. The DNP has to act and close off Maya Bay. Before it was too late.
mayabay before and after
In this Maya bay before and after - changes which have taken place in recent years are mind-blowing. Nature is reclaiming the area, not only in the ocean but also in the jungle which sits behind the beach.

Thailand’s Department of National Parks made the correct decision to indefinitely close the bay. Drastic action had to be taken before irreversible changes set in. With most tour operators petitioning against the closure it was a daunting task. Not to mention the loss in revenue for the DNP themselves. 

WHEN WILL MAYA BAY OPEN

When will Maya bay reopen? Sadly, it won’t be long until Maya Bay is opened up to the public once again. With a new development project in the works- it looks that local authorities are gearing up in preparation for reopening.

 

Is Maya bay closed 2019? – Yes, Maya Bay closed in June 2018, remained closed for the entire year in 2019. 

 

Is Maya Bay open now? No, however, new infrastructure plans are taking shape, and a loose date has been set and confirmed for the beach to reopen. Is Phi Phi Islands Closed? No, the Phi Phi Islands are not closed- everything is operating as normal in Koh Phi Phi. Only Maya Bay beach is currently closed.

 

Coral rejuvenations have been lead by respected marine biologists. Each and every biologist who has spoken out about the progress at Maya bay can all agree that while positive changes are starting to show after years of work. The bay is nowhere near ready to be reopened to the public.

 

Thailands DNP has brainstormed a creative solution which will allow Maya Bay to begin welcoming tourists while continuing to preserve the site and maintain the incredible restoration efforts put in by local dive teams

 

The creative plan involves building new infrastructure at the bay, the infrastructure will including tree-top viewing platforms and a new boardwalk. Tourist will be limited to the boardwalks preventing any further damage to the environment.

 

The Maya Bay restoration project has been documented at the largest natural coral restoration ever to have taken place.

 

While most local tour operators on the island of Koh Phi Phi, belive the bay should not be opened, tour companies in negborng provinces share different views. 

Coral rejuvenation at closed maya bay
Coral can be seen pictured at low tide in Maya Bay. Tagged and documented, Marine biologist Dr Thon Thamrongnawasawat claims corals are regrowing. But does not believe it’s in the best interests of the environment to reopen the bay.

Photo Credit: The Phuket News

maya bay without any people during the beach closure
This Maya beach Thailand photograph was shot on boxing day 2019. It is amazing to see Maya Bay making a comeback. Without hosting thousands of tourists, the bay finally has a chance to reclaim its former glory.

Photo Credit: Five Star Thailand

WHAT CHANGES WILL BE IMPLEMENTED ONCE MAYA BAY OPENS

NO MORE BOATS WILL ENTER THE BAY

One of the biggest causes of damage to the reef and to the bay is boats entering from the front of the bay, with speedboats and long-tail boats pulling right up onto the beach. 

Damage can be caused, by shameless and careless operators or boat owners, dropping anchors into the reef. 

The Bangkok Post has estimated that over 50% of the coral in the bay had been destroyed, either by boat anchors, tourists walking over the coral, bleaching. And in some horrific cases, tourists have been known to snap off pieces of the coral to take home as souvenirs.

Unfortunately, some tourists do not see any harm in taking coral with them to their home country. In a discussion on Tripadvosr’s forums, discussing taking coral home as a souvenir, one TripAdvisor user suggests that “It’s not the Thai airport you have to worry about. It is your own country and it’s custom’s regulations you have to worry about.”.

Reading this, it’s incredible that the number wasn’t closer to 100% of coral destroyed at Maya Bay.

SO HOW WILL THE BAY BE ACCESSED IF BOATS CANNOT ENTER

A new entrance to Maya Bay will be artificially created at Loh Samah Bay. Loh Samah Bay already connects onto Maya Bay, through a short jungle trek. Making it the perfect spot to build a new entrance. 

 

Using the back-passage to the beach will prevent the need for boats to enter the mouth of the bay. Further helping to preserve the area.

 

Loh Samah Bay had historically been used as an access point to reach Maya Bay, at times when the beach was inaccessible due to low tides.

 

The current setup at Loh Samah (seen pictured) has been heavily criticised by tourists due to safety concerns. The current method to access Loh Samah involved scrabbling up a cargo net. 

 

While this might have seemed harmless on a calm day at high tide. It’s a different story at low tides when jagged rocks are exposed below, all while being bashed with waves of ocean water.

 

secret back entrance to maya bay at loh samah bay
The treacherous and challenging rope climb will soon become a thing of the past. In the coming weeks, the cargo net is scheduled to be removed in order to make way for a newly constructed boardwalk.

In January 2020, a development contract was awarded to improve the facilities at Maya Bay. Two projects have been commissioned and awarded to the Suchardti Karnchang Co., Ltd.

 

The first project dubbed ‘THE MAYA BAY AREA FACILITY DEVELOPMENT PROJECT’ involves constructing a pier at Maya Bay’s back entrance, the new pier will extend into a ramp allowing access into Loh Samah Bay over the top of the cliffs. And thus eliminating the need to dock boats on the beach, or scramble over a cargo net. 

 

Initial plans were to install a temporary floating pier, however, in order for the bridge over Loh Samah’s Cliffs to remain stable and safe, a rigid structure fixed to the sea bed is necessary. 

 

The Maya Bay pier will provide a mooring spot for speedboats and longtail boats in order to further preserve the coral in the bay. The new pier is expected to have the capacity to dock a maximum of eight boats at a time. In a bid to cut down on visitor numbers and aid ongoing preservation attempts. 

 

The new plans have raised some concerns amongst locals, with many believing that such a structure will become unsafe during periods of bad weather. It is common for harsh storms, strong winds and powerful waves to hit the island during out of season months.

Thailand’s Department for National Parks has invested ฿6,050,000THB (200,000USD) for the construction of the new pier. Work is set to commence and be carried out in 2020.

new pier to be built at maya bay the beach set to open
The new rigid pier which will be constructed at Loh Samah Bay will incorporate a ramp elevating over the cliffs at Loh Samah Bay. This ramp will lead directly out onto a boardwalk. Leading through to a viewing platform looking out over Maya Bay Beach. A genius solution to reopen the way without giving tourist access to the beach. The new ramp will eliminate the need to climb the cargo net currently in place and will allow access to the bay without the need for boats to drop anchors on the corals.
closed maya bay plans ready to open new pier
This 3D render shows the new pier, which will be built behind the bay. The new pier will make recording visitor numbers to Maya Bay a much easier task for Thailand’s Department of National Parks. The number of boats able to stop here each day will be limited. And only pre-approved, licenced tour companies will have access to use the new facilities.

The second project comes at a cost of ฿11,580,000THB (375,000USD)

 

Codenamed the ‘LANDSCAPE IMPROVEMENT PROJECT’ the project will see the construction of an elevated boardwalk running right through from Loh Samah Bay, leading out onto Maya Beach, the tree-top boardwalk will host large viewing platforms to overlook the bay.

This boardwalk will replace the existing infrastructure and prevent the need for tourists to access the beach area at Loh Samah Bay. Keeping all tourists on the walkways will ensure that nature in the area will not be destroyed and growth can be continued.

 

It still remains unclear as to whether tourists will be allowed to swim in the ocean (potentially damaging corals) or have access to Maya Bay Beach

 

An ideal scenario would see all tourists keeping to the boardwalks at all times, however, it is rumoured that a limited number of visitors will be allowed access onto the beach by paying an additional charge. 

The genius solution from the Department of National Parks should allow the beach to open again, whilst protecting the fragile beach and allowing preservation works to continue.

new boardwalk built at maya bay plan
3D rendered graphics show how the new boardwalk is predicted to look. The boardwalk will run from the pier on Loh Samah Bay all the way through the mangrove jungle before emerging at Maya Bay.
maya bay construction project
Keeping tourists on the boardwalk will help to maintain the environment and will assist with the preservation of the beach. While still allowing tourists to visit the bay.
new boardwalk built on maya bay
The wooden walkway will emerge on the now deserted Maya Bay beach. It is unclear and plans have not yet been made, on whether tourists will have full access to the beach and to the ocean. Or if restrictions will be enforced to stay on the designated pathways and lookout points.
map showing new entrance to maya beach
Where is Maya bay? Maya Bay is on Koh Phi Phi Leh Island. As seen on this map from openstreetmaps.org The new infrastructure will connect Loh Samah onto Maya Bay, in an essential bid to preserve the area for future generations.

KEEPING THE BEACH CLEAN

A sickening issue Maya Bay faced before the closure, was high volumes of trash, thrown into the ocean by disrespectful visitors. Thankfully, the green light has been given to impose heavier fines for anyone caught littering on the beach, smoking at Maya Bay will also be prohibited. Banning smoking on other popular Thai beaches has proven successful in recent years.

NO MORE LAST MINUTE BOOKINGS

Last-minute bookings will become a thing of the past, due to the limited number of just 8 mooring spots on soon to be built pier. Parking spots will be leased to tour operators. Who can then sell seats on their boats for their Maya Bay Tours.

Boats will be limited to 90 minutes at the newly built pier, in order to allow for more operators to make use of the facilities. There will be a maximum of eight boats stopping at once. 

One triple engine speed boat can carry 45 people, meaning there could well be up to 360 people descending on the bay at once. 

360 is a relatively small number of visitors, in comparison to the five thousand people Maya bay would put up with before the closure in 2018.

In order for a tour operator to dock at the pier, they will need to have been authorised and registered with by the Department of National Marine Parks. All tour operators using the new facilities must hold a travel and tourism license. This is in an effort to crack down on illegal tour companies, operating uninsured tours. 

Concerns surrounding the leasing of docking permits for the new pier have been raised by tour companies operating from Phi Phi Don Island itself. The common belief is that as tour operators in Phuket have larger budgets, higher volumes of visitors, and are in a much better position to bid a much higher price for boat parking. There are fears amongst local businesses on the island itself, that they will miss-out due to the fierce competition from nearby Phuket.

TOURIST NUMBERS ARE TO BE LIMITED

Maya Bay or even Koh Phi Phi Leh as a whole is not capable of accommodating anywhere near the same number of tourists who had previously freely visited the bay. The stress that these volumes cause to the bay is unsustainable.

 

With Maya Bay’s global recognition, after worldwide media coverage surrounds the closure. You can bet, the second the bay reopens tickets will be in hot demand. And there will be thousands of tourists itching to go and f*** it up again.

 

Previous estimates claim that around 5,000 – 6,000 tourists visited at Maya Bay, every single day.

 

Allowing history to repeat itself would be detrimental for the bay, and for everyone who has worked so hard on the restoration project.

Exact numbers have yet to be confirmed by the Department for National Parks, however, it’s rumoured that a cap of just 1,000 tourists per day will be permitted to visit the bay.

ENTRY FEES ARE EXPECTED TO RISE

With such a high demand to visit the iconic beach, it has been predicted that entry fees will increase. At the time when Maya Bay closed, the Marine Park fee was set at 400 THB for every foreign visitor, (40 Thai Baht for Thai visitors) a mandatory fee which also included entry to Bamboo Island (Koh Phai).

 

Entry fees for the beach are predicted to double to 800 baht a person (around 25USD), in a bid to reduce demand and preserve the bay.

 

While 800 baht might not sound like a lot, if you consider Phi Phi Island Tours can be booked for as little a 300 baht, the higher charge will certainly be off-putting for tourists. 

 

And may encourage tour operators to take their customers to other beaches instead. Thus reducing the strain to Ao Maya.

drone view map maya bay phi phi leh island
Seen pictured from this aerial view of Koh Phi Phi Leh Island. Maya Bay beach stretches back to Loh Samah Bay. Loh Samah Bay is set to become home to a new pier, boardwalk and viewing platform. Looking out over 'The Beach'.

IS IT POSSIBLE TO VISIT MAYA BAY DURING THE CLOSER PERIOD?

Maya bay can still be visited and access to the bay itself is not prohibited, nor has it been prohibited at any point during the closer.

 

Maya Bay plays host to three beaches, the famous Maya Bay Beach (which is closed), and two smaller beaches inside the cove. One of the smaller unnamed beaches can still be reached, and swimming and snorkelling in the bay are permitted.

 

Hundreds of tour boats and thousands of tourists, still flock to see Maya Bay, daily. Even though the beach remains closed. The closure has done little to deter tourists from coming.

 

A rope and buoys strung across the bay cordons off no-entry zone. With DNP patrol boats, constantly monitoring the area. They are quick to pick up anyone who manages to breach the no-entry zone. 

When the beach initially closed the rope was strung some 300 meters out from the beach, at an angle making the beach almost un-visible from the cordon. The coordinates were later revised moving the buoys to 250 meters from the beach. Thus allowing tourists and ‘Instagrammers’ to capture much nicer shots of the once packed, now deserted beach.

maya bay is open the beach is closed
Drone photograph of Maya Bay, showing the revised no entry zone move 50 meters closer to the beach, due to complaints from tourists who were unable to see the beach on their Phi Phi Tours. Boats line up at the cordon every day. Even with access to Maya Beach being restricted. Tourists are undeterred and remain visiting in hoards.

The Department of National Marine Parks are on constant high alert. Boats patrol the area to ensure everything is in order and no one breaches the no-entry zones. It’s incredible to see, the amount of care, passion and dedication the DNP has for the environment.

speed boats at maya bay
Two speedboats can be seen waiting just behind the no-entry barrier. Buoys floating in the sea mark the closure point.
tourists eagerly waiting to fuck up maya bay
This photo, taken from the smallest beach in Maya Bay, (which remains open). Shows countless boats waiting at the cordon. Tour companies will get as close as the can to the beach. It’s estimated that over 50 boats arrive at the bay per hour. The beach is closed, yet tourists refuse to stay away. When the beach is reopened, there will be carnage. Perhaps, it’s for the better, that Maya Bay should not be reopened to the public. Can we be trusted, not to **** it up again?

IS PHI PHI ISLAND CLOSED

Is Phi Phi island closed? No, Phi Phi Island is not closed. Far from it. So Phi Phi Leh island closed? No, it is not. Contrary to popular belief, Phi Phi Island is not closed. 

 

Koh Phi Phi Is made up of three main islands, Koh Phi Phi Don. Koh Phi Phi Leh & Koh Phai (Bamboo Island). Koh Phi Phi Don is open, this is the largest of the islands, and the only island where overnight stays are possible. 

 

Koh Phi Phi Leh is the smaller island to the south, this island can only be reached by boat. And it is here that Maya Bay is located, the island is also home to the Monkey Beach, Viking Cave, Pilleh Lagoon & Loh Samah Beach. 

 

This island is not closed, in fact, Maya Bay is not actually closed. Entrance to the beach is restricted, but there are no restrictions on entering the bay.

 

Surprisingly Maya Bay was not the first location to close in Koh Phi Phi. Mosquito Island (Koh Yung) was quietly closed back in 2016. The island was quickly removed from tour maps, tour routes and promotional materials. 

 

The closure of Mosquito Island is rarely spoken about, even with the closure of the entire island, taking place two years prior to the Maya Beach closure.

are phi phi islands closed

HOW TO GET TO MAYA BAY

If you’re desperate to become part of the statistics, travelling by boat is your only option. Maya Bay is located on Phi Phi Leh Island. There are no vehicles on the uninhabited isle.

 

But don’t expect to be there alone. Even taking a Maya bay early morning tour, to beat the crowds will still see there with plenty of other tourists all with the same idea.

 

The secret of Maya Bay is out, it’s popular, it’s busy. And while everyone is gushing over Maya Bay, you wouldn’t think for a second, that there are some much nicer alternatives to Maya Bay, you can visit on Koh Phi Phi. 

 

While all the focus is on Maya Bay, some of Phi Phi Islands prettiest beaches are untouched, secluded and have no visitors.

MARINE LIFE RETURNS TO MAYA BAY

Probably the greatest effect that the Maya Bay closure has had is the positive impact of sea-life returning to their natural habitat in the bay.

 

For years Black Tip Reef Sharks had not been sighted in the bay, and with the sheer number of tourists around, it’s hardly surprising.

 

While the species of reef-dwelling Shark have always been around the waters of Koh Phi Phi, seeing them return to their rightful home is a phenomenon.

Hawksbill turtles have also been sighted in the area, and on the Tsunami Memorial day 2019, nine more sea turtles, bred in captivity, were released into the bay.

sharks seen returning to maya bay
black tip reef shark koh phi phi maya bay

WHAT CAN WE LEARN FROM THE MAYA BAY CLOSURE?

Eco-friendly, sustainable travel must be prioritised by all. And sadly, some travellers really couldn’t give a s***. 

 

Education plays a huge role in this and the effect can be seen. 

 

Something as ‘harmless’ as feeding the fish causes a domino effect, preventing sunlight from hitting the coral when too much algae builds up. Essentially killing off entire reefs.

 

But without education on WHY its wrong, changes cannot be made. 

 

Education is key, in the case of Maya Bay, this education should fall onto tour operators. Unfortunately most either couldn’t give a s**** or they themselves, don’t understand what is wrong. 

 

Until we can solve these issues, Maya Bay shouldn’t be opened to the public.

 

It’s saddening, sustainable travel is a group effort, it takes all us. To take responsibility for our own actions. More than ever, when visiting a foreign county, when you’re in someone else’s country, someone else’s home. It pays to have some respect.

 

The travel industry is one of the fastest-growing markets in the world, we all share the same planet, we are all citizens of planet earth – we’re in this together. So If one group of people choose to f**k it up it then we’re all screwed. 

 

We all have a responsibility to do all we can to reduce our impact and even reverse it where possible. We can, and should be doing our part.

 

There are many reasons why we should always have the environment at the front of our minds while travelling. If we successfully destroy all the beautiful and inspirational places on our planet, killing off natures incredible marine life, sea life and wildlife. What are we going to leave behind for others for future generations? 

 

It is fantastic the DNP stepped in when they did, implementing a tourist ban on the beach. It’s also a shame, thing reached such a level that authorities were forced to step in. At the rapid rate of which Maya Bay was declining, there wouldn’t have been much left within a few years if the DNP did not make such a bold move.

 

Collectively as human beings, we should feel disgusted when we visit a natural park to find trash littering the sands and waters. We should be wanting to make a positive impact.

 

We should be ensuring our planet and our Maya Bay lives on for future generations to enjoy and experience – we shouldn’t take anything for granted because one day after we’ve collectively destroyed and taken what was never ours. There won’t be anything left to take for granted.

 

People cannot be trusted with such a beautiful gem, two years after the beach has closed. Hundreds of boats still pull into the bay on a daily basis. Waiting like greyhounds in a trap. Waiting for the moment the hare is released, so they can pull back the throttle on their speedboats and all race forward, eager to destroy years of hard work.

 

The closure of Maya Bay has raised some important questions about what kind of tourists we need in national parks. Do we need mass quantity, or do we want small numbers with quality?

 

Maya bay is too small for all of us to enjoy. None of us deserve to visit The Beach. 

 

The only way to preserve a destination in such high demand is to put everyone on the same level.

 

Keep the boats where there are, keep the bay roped off, and as a sore reminder of how devastating humanity can be to the environment. We can all enjoy ‘ The Beach’, from afar.

 

#keepmayabayclosed

by Kasika Palathai, Five Star Thailand Tours