A victim of its own success, the most famous beach in Thailand is set to be tourist-free for at least another two years.Maya Bay, the stunning cove made famous by “The Beach,” the 2000 film starring Leonardo DiCaprio, has already been shuttered for almost a year, and will likely remain closed for two more years to allow for its natural resources to regenerate, according to Songtam Suksawang, director of Thailand’s National Parks Department (NPD).He tells CNN Travel the popular bay’s shores will be off-limits to tourists until at least June 2021.”We will review again then if it is ready to open to tourists,” says Suksawang. “We need more time to allow nature to fully recover. Our team will reassess the situation every three months.”
A crowd of tourists visits Maya Bay in April, 2018, prior to its closure.LILLIAN SUWANRUMPHA/AFP/Getty Images
The bay has been closed since June 2018 part of a rejuvenation program aimed at reviving the area’s decimated corals.About 10,000 corals have been replanted around the Maya Bay area since last year.These were growing successfully until Thailand’s recent heat wave, which has caused the sea temperature to rise as high as 32˚C (90˚F). Suksawang says this is too hot for the bay’s newly planted corals — some of which are quite shallow — and has caused some bleaching.In addition to giving the coral more time to grow, he says they also need more time to expand the island’s visitor facilities. “This will make it more convenient for tourists and at the same time help us maintain the conditions of ecosystem,” says Suksawang.The park is planning to install a new floating dock, an eco-focused boardwalk and new washrooms.An electronic ticketing system is also being developed to ensure daily visitor numbers are limited to around 1,200 people per day, divided into four time blocks. Prior to its closure, the bay was receiving an estimated 5,000 visitors per day.Tour boat operators will also be required to install digital trackers if they want to dock inside Maya Bay.”Our aim is to achieve sustainable tourism,” says Suksawang. “We want to pass on this natural heritage to our next generations.”
Maya Bay swarmed by tourists
The popular day-trip destination was due to reopen in October of 2018, but the DNP decided to keep it closed indefinitely to give it more time to recover — news that was welcomed by conservationists.Part of Thailand’s Hat Noppharat Thara-Mu Ko Phi Phi National Park, Maya Bay is located on Phi Phi Leh — one of the two main Phi Phi islands.
Tourists snorkel in the water near Maya Bay.LILLIAN SUWANRUMPHA/AFP/AFP/Getty ImagesIt’s been one of the country’s most famous attractions, thanks to the global success of “The Beach,” which was filmed there.Unlike the much larger Phi Phi Don, home to an abundance of budget and mid-range accommodation options, staying overnight at Phi Phi Leh is prohibited.Nonetheless, data released by the DNP suggested that the park was on track to pull in 2.5 million visitors in 2018, a year-on-year rise of half a million. On a CNN Travel visit to the area prior to its closure, visitor numbers multiplied by the minute as boats poured in and out of the bay, dropping off more bodies to sunbathe, snorkel and shoot photos.Presently, boats are allowed to enter the outer limits of the bay. Maya Bay’s shores are off limits, but visitors can still view the beach from their boat. Snorkeling in the front of the bay is also still permitted.Many visitors to the area are day-trippers from Phuket, which is less than an hour’s ride away by speedboat.
Move follows famous Philippines beach closure
The move to close Maya Bay followed on the heels of the Philippines government’s decision to shutter the popular tourist destination of Boracay for six months, over concerns the island’s famous beaches and clear blue waters had been transformed into a “cesspool” due to sustained environmental damage.Boracay reopened in phases, beginning in late 2018.Unlike tiny Maya Bay, the popular Philippines beach destination is home to as many as 17,000 people, many of whom are directly engaged in the tourism industry.