Environment Featured Travelling

Maya Bay, in Ko Phi-Phi Leh, is Di Caprio’s hidden beach

Maya Bay

The rugged Ko Phi-Phi Leh is the smaller of the two Phi-Phi islands. It’s protected on all sides by soaring, jagged cliffs. Its coral reefs crawl with marine life beneath the crystal-clear waters and are hugely popular with day-tripping snorkellers. This easily accessible paradise was the filming location for Leonardo Di Caprio’s “The Beach” movie.

Ko Phi-Phi Leh Island

Ko Phi Phi Leh is the second largest island in this idyllic archipelago. The largest is Ko Phi Phi Don. The island is basically a ring of steep limestone hills surrounding two shallow bays, Maya Bay and Loh Samah.


Island landscape, by Diego Delso, CC BY-SA 3.0

Oddly enough, Maya Bay cannot be accessed from the sea, due to shallow waters and corals. Therefore, boats must anchor at the deeper Loh Samah, and you would have to walk through rocks and jungle to reach Maya Bay itself. There is also one large shallow fjord like inlet called Pi Ley with a small coral reef at the entrance.

Filming The Beach

Controversy arose during the making of the film The Beach, starring Leonardo Di Caprio. That was due to 20th Century Fox bulldozing and landscaping the natural beach setting to make it more “paradise-like“.

The beach’s backdrop, By smmohsinnaseem – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0

The production altered some sand dunes and cleared some coconut trees and grass in order to widen the beach. To set things right again, Fox had reserved a fund to reconstruct and return the beach to its natural state. Nevertheless, lawsuits were filed as many believed the damage to the ecosystem is permanent and restoration attempts failed.

Cause for environmental concern

Thailand’s Department of National Parks, Wildlife and Plant Conservation claims to be investigating ways to control tourist numbers. And they should since there are concerns that visitors are destroying the natural habitat at marine tourism spots.

Maya Bay panoramic view, By Maksym Kozlenko – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0

The move was prompted by marine scientist Thon Thamrongnawasawat, who posted photos of large numbers of low-season tourists flocking the small Maya Beach. According to Mr Thon, during low season 2016, about 5,000 tourists a day crowd onto Maya beach, which is just 250 metres long. The beach has 14 available toilets.

Longtail boats at Maya Bay, By smmohsinnaseem – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0

However, the tourists are worth 1.6 million baht a day to the park. Thon claims Thailand’s state agencies were running campaigns to drum up tourist numbers with no regard for the environment’s carrying capacity.