Koh Phi Phi Maya Bay is one of the most iconic beaches in Thailand. Yes, it’s stunning in own right, offering sugar-white sands and turquoise seas surrounded by soaring Andaman cliffs. But it was also shoved into the spotlight after featuring in Alex Garland’s The Beach back in 2000. That movie saw one Leo DiCaprio go a-hunting for a backpacker Shangri-La in the Land of Smiles.
The film, combined with the jaw-dropping coastal scenery at Koh Phi Phi Maya Bay, helped the spot become one of the country’s most famous destinations. Everyone from honeymooners to backpackers pines after a session on its gorgeous shoreline, in the shadow of the chiseled rocks and the shade of sea grapes.
Cue this guide. It’s an up-to-date look at everything you can expect from visiting Koh Phi Phi Maya Bay, complete with info on new environmental protection measures, ways to get across to the famous beach, and how much you can expect to fork out for the adventure. Ready to follow in DiCaprio’s footsteps? Good. Let’s go…
Where is Koh Phi Phi Maya Bay
Maya Bay is a part of the stunning Phi Phi islands. They rise from the bottom end of Phang Nga Bay, where the Andaman Sea widens to separate the mainland of Thailand and the island of Phuket. The closest point on the mainland is around 16 miles away, while the next nearest isles are Koh Jum (another of Thailand’s paradise jewels) and Koh Lanta (one of our personal favorites). The ports in Krabi, the most popular jump-off points for getting to Koh Phi Phi Maya Bay on a day trip from the mainland, are around 21 miles to the northwest.
Is Maya Bay still closed in 2021?
Maya Bay remained closed throughout 2020. The island is not due to open again until at least mid-2021. Even if it does reopen, officials suggest that a maximum of only 350 people will be able to visit per day (a huge difference from the once 3,000 – 4,000 people that visited).
At its height of popularity in the 2010s, an estimated 5,000 people each day were visiting Koh Phi Phi Maya Bay in a longtail or a yacht. Most came on organized day tours from the nearby island of Koh Phi Phi Don. Others organized direct boats over from the Krabi mainland or Phuket.
Due to such rampant over-tourism, there were worries about the impact on the natural habitat and environments of Maya Bay. They were fears that had originally arisen during the filming of The Beach back in the 90s, when permission was given to clear pockets of natural coast vegetation within the lagoon and the bay. That, coupled with a huge influx of visitors over a decade and a half, meant that the calls of environmentalists to totally close off the sight were finally heeded by the Thai authorities in 2018.
Damages to the beach included:
- Destruction of up to 90% of coral reef (caused predominantly by toxic sunscreens)
- Loss of native shark species
- Piles of rubbish behind the bay
- Erosion of the sand and soil
When will Koh Phi Phi Maya Bay reopen?
That’s anyone’s guess. But, to be frank, we’re kinda’ happy it’s still closed. There have been some very encouraging reports of how things are going during the last two years without the arrival of those whopping 200 boats each day.
Campaigners and conservationists have joined forces to launch a big coral replanting project that should help the native reefs recover. Sadly, natural coral only grows 1-2cm each year, so it’s going to be a big struggle to get those underwater gardens back to their pre-1999 state. There have also been sightings of grey-tipped reef sharks swimming in the bay, a sign that the food chain and ecosystem are stabilizing once again.
Obviously, Thai authorities are keen not to loose those gains. However, they have to balance that with a lobby of local and international tour operators, who say tourism in Koh Phi Phi Maya Bay generated a mega 400 million THB per year. The likelihood is that the sight will reopen sometime in the 2021/2022 season, but we’d expect to see strict limits on the amount of visitors and the type of activities allowed during daytrips.
The Beach at Maya Bay
The movie The Beach tells a story that’s familiar to many wide-eyed globetrotters with a backpack and not much money in the bank – at least the beginning does. DiCaprio’s the lead, Richard, who happens upon a map that supposedly leads the way to a secret paradise somewhere in the Thai Gulf (although Maya Bay isn’t even in the gulf!).
After the location of filming was confirmed, the production team carried out work to make the set more “Hollywood-like”. This involved removing some of the vegetation and altering the sand dunes. The move was heavily criticized back in the 90s and some say the promised re-planting projects still haven’t come to fruition.
The Beach did help to catapult Thailand into the stratosphere when it came to international tourism – in the 20 years after the film was released, visitor numbers to the Land of Smiles have swelled from just over 10 million a year to nearly 40!
How to get to Maya Bay (when it’s open)
As there are no hotels or resorts on Maya Bay, the spot can only be visited by boat during the day. Most travelers organize their trips in from the surrounding Koh Phi Phi island of Phi Phi Don (the most famous of the archipelago). However, it’s also possible to come in from Krabi, Koh Lanta, and Phuket. Let’s take a look at some of the most common ways people traveled to the island prior to the closer. (Bear in mind this could all change when things reopen!).
Maya Bay from Phi Phi Don
Getting from Koh Phi Phi to Maya Bay takes roughly 20 minutes in a longtail boat. You will find plenty of longtail boats for hire by the main pier in Koh Phi Phi Don, which is the only permanently inhabited island in the whole chain. Typical rates for renting a longtail boat are around 1,000 THB ($33) for one hour or 2,000 THB ($66) for an entire day.
The boat takes you directly to the bay and doesn’t require any additional walking or hiking. However, you will need to pay a 400 baht entry fee upon arrival.
Maya Bay from Phuket
Numerous daily speedboats operate between Phuket and Maya Bay, usually costing between 500-1,000 THB ($16-33). The other option is to go on a planned tour. They will cost more, but the 400 baht entry price is typically included in the price. Journey times is roughly 90 minutes from the Rassada Harbor. The ride can be rough, especially during and either side of the rainy season.
Maya Bay from Krabi
There are lots of ferry companies that can take you from Krabi to Koh Phi Phi islands, where you can switch to a longtail boat and get over to Maya Bay. They cost around 1,100-1,700 THB (depending on the time of year) and take about 1.5 hours from pier to pier. Of course, that can be quite a bit of hassle when you factor in having to change boats and whatnot. The better option might be a guided tour. The downside of these is that you’re going arrive pretty late, after the fleets of boats have come in from Phi Phi Don.
Things to do in Maya Bay
Snorkelling, diving, and kayaking were just some of the popular activities enjoyed in Maya Bay. The translucent clear waters made seeing the brightly coloured fish and breathtaking sunken coral reefs a pretty easy feat. There were regular appearances from clownfish, butterflyfish, and parrotfish, but also the occasional ray and reef shark (yep – there are sharks in Thailand!).
Of course, no one’s sure what people will be allowed to do when Maya Bay finally reopens (if it reopens!). The chances are that there will be some strict rules in place. We’d guess that they might include not being allowed to snorkel or even get off the boat.
Restaurants & Accommodation in Maya Bay
There are no hotels or restaurants on Maya Bay, and you can only visit the island on a day trip. However, there is a traditional wooden hut on the beach selling cold drinks and a few snacks. Or, that is, at least there was prior to the close in 2018.
You can find toilets towards the back of the beach (if you can even call them that), but we wouldn’t recommend using them unless it’s an absolute emergency!
If you are visiting Maya Bay, we advise bringing your own food, although many tours include meals.