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?
The 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.
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 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.
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.
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
Most 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.
There 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 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.