Lesser Known Facts About “The Beach”

Whether or not Maya Bay is worth a visit any more is up for debate. The Phi Phi Islands and Maya Bay were more or less a hidden gem, until 2000 when Director Danny Boyle brought Leonardo DiCaprio to the island to shoot one of the most anticipated films of the year, The Beach. Leo was fresh off of the Titanic at this time and the whole world was waiting for his next movie move.

Related: Is Maya Bay Worth a Visit?

lesser-known-facts-about-the-beachThe movie The Beach is based off a book by the same name by Alex Garland. Upon arriving on Koh Phi Phi you will be swarmed by Thai locals who will ask you “You want to go to The Beach?” “I take you to The Beach“. In bars and restaurants the movie will be playing sometimes on repeat literally all day long, morning, noon and night. There is no doubt the Phi Phi Islands are what they are today because of The Beach.

Related: 5 Books That Will Inspire You to Travel

I watched the movie before I read the book, but recently I finally read the book. Now that I’ve read the book, seen the movie AND visited where the movie was filmed I feel like I can finally spill some of the lesser known facts about the book and the movie The Beach.

The Main character

In the book the main character, Richard, is English. Ewan McGregor was originally cast as Richard in the movie, but rumor has it Director Danny Boyle was promised more funding for filming if they made Richard American and cast Leonardo DiCaprio instead.

Changing the landscape

It is said that FOX wanted more palm trees and less vegetation to make The Beach seem more “paradise-like” in the movie. Allegedly FOX, replanted all of the vegetation after filming wrapped in 2000, but many say a lot of the replanting never took and the bay never returned to its former glory.

The On-On

the-On-on-hotel. jpgThe movie opens with Richard staying at a guest house called “On On Hotel” on Khao San Road in Bangkok. In real life, the On On is located in Phuket, Thailand. Phuket is a 6 hour drive from Bangkok and a 2 hour boat road from the Phi Phi Islands. Sadly the On On was heavily renovated a few years ago for a new boutique hotel called The Memory at On On, which is half luxury hotel and half luxury backpacker dorms. I was sad to hear about such extreme changes because the On On truly was the quintessential backpacker hotel and now it is something much different than that. I had the opportunity to stay at the original On On on two serrate occasions and I loved it.

The Lagoon

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In the movie the beautiful lagoon leading to the beach was fully closed. In real life, it is open to the rest of the sea. Special effects were used to make it look fully enclosed to add to the feeling of  The Beach being secluded. The picture above is a screen shot of Leo from the movie looking out on to the Bay. In actuality the bay has an opening like the picture below shows. Maya-Bay-Koh-Phi-Phi-Thailand

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The Waterfall

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The scene where Richard jumps off the waterfall was actually shot at a national park north of Bangkok called, Khao Yai. In reality, there is no such waterfall on Phi Phi Leh or in Maya Bay.

An accident while filming

There were reports that DiCaprio and several other cast and crew members were involved in an accident involving a boat tipping over while filming. Leo and the rest of the crew were not seriously harmed.

Phi Phi Leh

Phi-phi-islands.jpgMost of the filming took place in Maya Bay on Phi Phi Leh, the smaller of the two Phi Phi islands. The larger island, Phi Phi Don is heavily inhabited with hotels and beach front bars. Phi Phi Leh is not inhabited by anyone, as it is a National Park.

Koh Phangan

The Phi Phi IslandsThere are many references in the book to the island of Koh Phangan, famous for its monthly Full Moon Parties. In the book and in the movie Koh Phangan is next to and not far from The Beach. In real life Koh Phangan is clear on the other side of Thailand and not anywhere near the Phi Phi Islands.

Book & Movie differences

As with most books that are turned into movies, there are some big differences in the book and the movie. Several characters from the book are left out in the movie, Richard’s relationship with Sal and Francoise differs greatly, and the ending of the movie is different than the book.

The Tsunami

The 2004 Boxing Day Tsunami was a result of an underwater earthquake off the coast of Sumatra, Indonesia. Over 230,000 people died when the massive waves hit the coasts of the countries surrounding the Indian Ocean. Thailand was among one of the countries hit the hardest. The Phi Phi Islands were more or less destroyed.

"The Beach" is a popular movie and book starring Leonardo DiCaprio. It's set in Thailand's amazing Maya Bay. Here are some of the lesser known facts about the book, the movie, and the actual place.

Have you ever seen a movie set in a specific place and then gone to visit that place realizing it is actually very different from how it was portrayed in the movie?

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  • Wow, I didn’t know a lot of this – Actually I didn’t even know there was a book! I’d still really love to visit one day, it sure looks magical!

    • It’s worth a visit in my book. It’s very touristy and busy now, but still absolutely stunning.

  • this is super interesting! i have not watched the movie or read the book, though i remember when it came out. i hate when movies change nationalities of characters, but i guess it makes sense sometimes.

    • I agree, it’s a little annoying when they change big details for a movie. In this case I think it was all a matter of dollars.

  • I never saw the movie, but I didn’t know a lot of this in general. Cool read!

    • Thanks so much, Steph! It was a fun one to write for me 🙂

  • JaneySM

    Probably because another thing too, is Alex Garland’s real inspiration for the book version of “The Beach” was actually an island in the Philippines where he lived for 6 months. Though he set the story in Thailand for reasons he discussed here http://www.gluckman.com/BeachGarland.html Specifically, the islands of Palawan complete with secret lagoons (really enclosed) and waterfalls (Nacpan waterfalls).. Just google the images of these places and you’ll see what I mean or it”s all over youtube. Love and enjoyed this article though, a good read.

    • wow! very interesting, and thank you so much for sharing the link to that article. it’s interesting to hear where authors get their inspiration from.

  • Fiddle Amar

    i have heard di caprio et al trashed the beach leaving it to thailand to clean up after them.

    • I’ve heard varying degrees of this as well. Anytime Hollywood comes in to an otherwise unknown area there is always repercussions. it’s very sad, but true.