Maya Bay of Koh Phi Phi is by no means a secret destination. In fact it’s been the opposite of a secret destination since 1999 when Leonard DiCaprio rolled into town to film the blockbuster Danny Boyle film, The Beach.
“The Beach” is based off a book by the same name written by Alex Garland. The book tells the story of a young English man named Richard, who comes to Thailand for a backpacking trip. He first finds himself on Bangkok’s famous Khao San Road and soon Richard happens upon a man staying in the same hostel as him who tells him of a secret beach that is undiscovered. Eager to escape the backpacker douchebaggery he’s encountered, he sets off with two French friends with a hand drawn map, determined to find “the beach”.
Shortly after the highly anticipated release of The Beach in early 2000, both Koh Phi Phi and Maya Bay were booming with tourists who now wanted to travel to the famous and breathtakingly beautiful beach they’d seen in the movie. Every year more and more people flock to the shores of the islands, creating not only an overflow of tourists but also an overflow of Thai natives trying to make a quick buck catering to the tourists who so desperately want to see its shores.
The Phi Phi Islands for a long time had more or less only been discovered by the backpacker sub-culture and few vacationers. Since its discovery many backpackers have sworn off the Phi Phi Islands claiming it’s now too commercialized. Budget hostels are no where to be found, drinks and food are marginal at best and double the price you would pay anywhere else, the beach is overflowing during the day, and music from bars and clubs blare all night long.
The fame the movie has brought to the islands is quite impressive, but it hasn’t come without a price. Now tourists from all over the world come to Maya Bay usually with a romanticized version of what they saw from The Beach in their head.
On a visit to Maya Bay you can expect to see turquoise blue water, white sand beaches, and stunning limestone rocks shooting out from the ocean; but you can also expect to see the bay filled with long-tails and speed boats, the beach littered with trash and crowded with people trying to get the perfect selfie, and coral that is dead or severely damaged from the abundance of visitors.
I’ve been to Phi Phi and Maya Bay twice now, and I had good experiences both times. I went during the off-season. I avoided crowded times and places by paying a Thai local to longtail us around instead of getting a group tour. I saw Phi Phi for what it was, an absolutely beautiful, slightly overdeveloped, expensive place where I could splurge for a few days on accommodation while laying on the beach and relaxing.
For me, Maya Bay and Phi Phi were worth the visit, but I believe you should go into knowing that your not going to find what Leonardo DiCaprio found in the movie. Instead of planning to spend 2 weeks there, plan a couple days. Visit Maya Bay, stay in a bungalow, sip a cocktail from a coconut, relax for a little bit and call it good.
I’ve found that people who can see and experience The Phi Phi Islands and Maya Bay for what they really don’t regret making the trip.