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
Photo Credit: Bangkok Coconuts
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.
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.
Get the latest insights on the progress of the Maya Bay rehabilitation project and before and after photos, from a travellers perspective.
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.
Photo Credit: The Phuket News
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
by Kasika Palathai, Five Star Thailand Tours