“I conscionable consciousness similar everyone tries to bash thing antithetic but you each upwind up doing the aforesaid damn thing.” When these words were uttered by Richard successful Alex Garland’s caller The Beach – and successful the movie adaptation by a young Leonardo DiCaprio 22 years agone – nary 1 realised conscionable however prophetic they were.
The novel’s protagonist was talking astir the trap backpackers similar him autumn into erstwhile travelling astir Thailand: each visiting the aforesaid sites, from Bangkok’s Khao San Road and the 46-metre reclining golden buddha astatine Wat Pho temple to full-moon parties connected Ko Samui. He decides to bash “something different”, and truthful begins a travel to find a concealed land idyll. Little did the filmmakers realise they were astir to adhd that determination to the tourer bucket database and spot its popularity explode.
The movie determination for the fictional limestone-fringed paradise Richard discovers was an land called Phi Phi Leh. Until Hollywood came, fewer radical knew astir it, and adjacent less visited. But aft the film’s success, it became the land each daytripper wanted to visit, and they flocked successful their millions – up to 6,000 tourists a time – from resorts specified arsenic Phuket, Krabi and Ko Phi Phi.
“We conscionable weren’t prepared for that galore tourists,” said my usher Suree Pongnopparat Ka arsenic we made our mode by longtail vessel towards the land from the Zeavola Resort, 7 miles to the northbound connected Ko Phi Phi. “The full bay was consistently packed with speedboats, and you couldn’t adjacent spot the soil connected the formation determination were truthful galore people.”
In 2018, faced with mounting piles of rubbish, disappearing wildlife (on onshore and successful the water) and dormant coral (about 90% was estimated to beryllium person been destroyed done misplaced vessel anchors, unwitting swimmers and chemicals successful their sunscreen), the Thai authorities decided to act.
Despite absorption from section circuit operators, (in 2018 the determination was estimated to make astir 400 cardinal baht – £9.5m – successful gross a year), the authorities closed the beach, initially for a play of 4 months. Working with conservationists and environmentalists, they extended this for a further year. And conscionable erstwhile it was rumoured the bay would yet reopen, Covid hit, meaning it was closed to tourists for astir 4 years successful total.
“The pandemic restrictions really came astatine a bully clip for the bay,” said Siriwat Suebsai, a forestry method serviceman who is overseeing the reopening of the beach. We met connected the island’s caller floating dock connected Loh Sama Bay – connected the other broadside of the land to the celebrated Maya Bay beach. “It allowed clip for further recovery: having nary 1 present made a large difference.”
Less than six months aft the formation closed, black-tipped reef sharks, which had formerly utilized the sheltered cove arsenic a nursery ground, began to instrumentality successful humble numbers; now, aft respective years of nary disturbance, they are backmost successful their hundreds. Conservationists had clip and abstraction to repair and works astir 30,000 fragments of coral, which has already bloomed and is attracting a myriad reef of fish; and a uncommon Puu Kai crab (not spotted for much than 10 years) has adjacent paid the bay a visit.
Human visitors, however, don’t person rather the aforesaid state of question arsenic before. The archetypal alteration is the pier – not lone is it good distant from Maya Bay, but lone 8 boats astatine a clip tin dock, and they tin enactment nary much than an hour. Booking a one-hour clip slot connected an app oregon via a circuit relation (it’s unfastened 10am-4pm) is besides present essential. No much than 375 radical tin sojourn astatine 1 time, which is inactive a lot, but the authorities accidental it is sustainable.
Leaving the boat, we walked connected recently constructed boardwalks betwixt 2 towering rocks, past a visitant accusation booth and into heavy jungle.
“We built the boardwalk to support radical disconnected the vegetation, which had been severely destroyed,” said Siriwat.
Before, determination would person been nary buildup to spying the mythical sands of Maya Bay, conscionable an ungracious rev up to the soil successful a speedboat. Thanks to this caller pathway, I felt arsenic if I’d walked into the pages of the book, pursuing successful Richard’s footsteps. The anticipation was palpable, and though different radical were walking determination too, it wasn’t the throngs I’d seen successful pre-2018 photographs.
Eventually I emerged done fringing thenar trees into a clearing and … a immense motion with a database of rules to follow: nary littering, nary drones, nary boats and – crucially – nary swimming.
One woman, though, was hopeless to station a photograph of herself successful the h2o connected societal media. But with a shrill whistle Siriwat’s squad leapt into enactment and, shamefaced, the pistillate near the h2o and sulked backmost to the sand. I asked Siriwat however tourists had taken to the caller rules.
“In the aged days we focused connected expanding tourism truthful overmuch that we forgot what was important,” helium said. “We person to support these areas. Now that we’ve learned that acquisition and made changes, it’s important we support going connected the aforesaid way nary substance what. We’ve gone backmost to basics and enactment quality first. And if quality is good, the tourists volition travel anyway.”
I looked retired to the formation – astatine its soil arsenic brushed and achromatic arsenic flour, its fortress of limestone towers covered with vegetation truthful greenish it looked similar it had already been enactment done an Instagram filter – and couldn’t assistance but agree.
I walked further, leaving my guides down – and wrong 5 minutes had near each the different tourists, too. Even connected this the most-visited formation successful Thailand, it seemed I could, for astir 40 minutes astatine least, bask my ain small portion of paradise.
At the extremity of the film, Richard reflects: “Of course, you tin ne'er hide what you’ve done. But we adapt. We transportation on.” Let’s anticipation that present successful Maya Bay, with these lessons learned and caller initiatives successful place, his words erstwhile again beryllium prescient.
The travel was provided by the Tourism Authority of Thailand