Thailand’s Maya Bay is back! 5 things to know about the reopening of Phi Phi Islands’ most iconic destination, made famous in Leonardo DiCaprio film The Beach – so what has changed?

Maya Bay, made famous in Hollywood film The Beach, will reopen on January 1, 2022. Photo: @PattayaHostel/Twitter

After years of lockdown for rehabilitation, Maya Bay is set to reopen on January 1, 2022. The bay is finally ready to welcome tourists from around the world, who can look forward to enjoying the beautiful beach and swimming in pristine turquoise water again.

However, due to ecosystem regulations and the ongoing pandemic, officials have imposed some new rules for tourists to follow.

If you’re eager to revisit this paradise, here are five things you need to know before you book your trip.

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Maya Bay is the perfect illustration of The Beach

Maya Bay. Photo: Instagram

Maya Bay is a stunning bay situated on the Ko Phi Phi Le island, a part of Hat Noppharat Thara – Mu Ko Phi Phi National Park in Thailand. The tropical paradise has about 17,000 villagers living on it, with most of their income coming from tourism.

The destination was made famous by Hollywood film The Beach (2000), which was adapted from the Penguin Books bestseller of the same name and starred a young Leonardo DiCaprio. Ever since the film launched, the island saw millions of visitors every year, who hoped to see with their own eyes the stunning scenery portrayed on the big screen.
Hollywood star Leonardo DiCaprio makes his way to the set of The Beach for the first day of shooting in Maya Bay in 1999. Photo: AFP

According to figures by Thailand’s Department of National Park, Wildlife and Plant Conservation (DNP), 2.5 million tourists visited the bay in 2018, with over 5,000 estimated visitors every day. Considering this small sliver of land is only 250 metres long and 15 metres wide, that’s a pretty staggering figure …

Maya Bay was the victim of overtourism

A crowd of tourists on the Maya Bay beach in April 2018. Photo: Getty Images

In 2018, Thailand closed Maya Bay for four months for ecological recovery and because of extreme weather. Later, officials announced that the island would be closing indefinitely because of irreparable environmental damages.

A buoy forbidding tourist from accessing Maya Beach. Photo: SCMP

Pre-closure, countless speedboats would dash back and forth from Maya Bay every day, dropping off thousands of snorkellers and day trippers. This resulted in 80 per cent of its coral reefs being polluted. The DNP therefore prohibited tourists from visiting the area and spent several years rehabilitating it by replanting over 10,000 coral reefs and building public facilities such as electronic ticketing systems and digital trackers on speedboat operators.

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Boats are the only way to reach the bay

Tourists take pictures on a boat in 2019 before a boundary line set by the Thai National Park, Wildlife and Plant Conservation Department closed the Maya Bay beach to visitors. Photo: AFP

Most of the visitors to Maya Bay are day trippers from Krabi, Phuket and Phi Phi Don. Speedboats and long-tail boats are the only way to reach the bay. You can book a boat to the Bay at Krabi, Phuket Airport, or other nearby locations and resorts. Newcomers can consider booking a tour to experience the best of what the place has to offer.

Treasures at the bay

Maya Bay, Ko Phi Phi Le islands, Thailand in May 2018. Photo: Singha Estates

Snorkelling is one of the best things to do at Maya Bay. From November to April, the sea is mainly calm, the water crystal clear – perfect for snorkelling! Tourists can also visit the nearby Viking Cave, located on the northeastern side of the island, which hides ancient drawings from thousand of years ago.

A shot of Maya Bay. Photo: @coolbozzpage/Twitter

While the beach is obviously the main attraction, at the southern point of Ao Lo Dalam region of Koh Phi Phi Lee, you can also do a 30-minute hike before resting at the peak and enjoying the gorgeous sea views. Adventurers be warned though – cliff diving is no longer allowed because of the new rules.

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“New normal” rules

A tourist poses for a photo on a boat in Maya Bay. Photo: AFP

Officials have imposed new rules to protect the island. Boats are no longer allowed to directly enter the bay whenever they want. Only eight boats are allowed to enter the area at the same time, dropping passengers off a pier at the back of the island.

Tourists can only stay on the island for one hour from 10am to 4pm, with a maximum limitation of 300 visitors per round. Snorkellers are no longer allowed to go onshore, and have to stay in the permitted zone.

Hopefully the area, one of Earth’s natural treasures, can soon be restored to a lush, thriving destination.

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  • Before its closure, Thailand’s famous beach destination drew millions of travellers per year, including snorkellers and day trippers from Phuket, Krabi and Phi Phi Don
  • New rules are in effect due to the pandemic and for environmental conservation – but visitors can still enjoy exploring the nearby Viking Cave and hiking in Ao Lo Dalam