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Thailand’s Maya Bay reopens to visitors after four-year closure

Thailand’s Maya Bay reopens to visitors after four-year closure
May 17, 2022

A high profile victim of overtourism prior to its closure in 2018, since reopening earlier this year Thailand’s Maya Bay has been welcoming a restricted number of visitors.

Located in Thailand's Hat Noppharat Thara-Mu Ko Phi Phi National Park, Maya Bay is part of Phi Phi Leh - one of the two main Phi Phi islands in Krabi province.

Unlike the much larger Phi Phi Don, home to an abundance of hotels and hostels, Phi Phi Leh was only open to day-trip visitors prior to the closure of Maya Bay.

Nonetheless, it became one of the country's most famous attractions over the last two decades, attracting up to 6,000 tourists a day from resorts such as Phuket, Krabi and Ko Phi Phi.

Much of this was driven by the movie ‘The Beach’, starring Leonardo DiCaprio, part of which was filmed there.

In 2018, faced with mounting piles of rubbish, disappearing wildlife (on land and in the water) and dead coral (about 90% was estimated to have been destroyed through misplaced boat anchors, unwitting swimmers and chemicals in visitors’ sunscreen), Thai tourism authorities decided to act.

Despite opposition from local tour operators, (in 2018 the location was estimated to generate about 400 million baht [US$13 million] in revenue a year), the authorities closed the beach, initially for a period of four months.

Less than six months after the beach closed, black-tipped reef sharks, which had formerly used the sheltered cove as a nursery ground, began to return in modest numbers; now, after a long period  of no disturbance, they are back in their hundreds.

The four years of the island’s closure also allowed conservationists had time and space to repair and plant nearly 30,000 fragments of coral, which has already bloomed and is attracting a myriad reef of fish along with other marine animals including a rare Puu Kai crab.

The reopening of the island came with several caveats with boats not able to enter the bay but instead, visitors have to be dropped off at a pier set at the back of the island away from the famed cove.

In November, government officials told CNN only eight speedboats would be allowed to dock there at a time, and visits would be capped at one hour, with a maximum of 300 tourists allowed per round, from 10am to 4pm each day.

In addition, visitors are not allowed to swim in Maya Bay.

Images: An aerial view of Phi Phi Leh, with Maya Bay at its centre (top, credit: Adobe Stock) and overtourism at Maya Bay prior to its 2018 closure (below, credit: Tourism Authority of Thailand).

About the author

Nigel Benton

Co-founder/Publisher, Australasian Leisure Management

Nigel Benton is the co-founder and Publisher of Australasian Leisure Management, Australia and New Zealand’s only magazine for professionals in all areas of the leisure industry. Having established the magazine in 1997, shortly after his relocation to Australia, he has managed its readership rising to over 11,500 and its acceptance as the industry journal for professionals in aquatics, attractions, entertainment, events, fitness, parks, recreation, sport, tourism and venues.

In 2020, he launched the new Asian Leisure Business website.

Among a range of published works and features, his comments on a Blog (blogspot) from 2007 to 2011, when this website went live in its current form, may be interesting to reflect back on.

Click here to connect with him via LinkedIn.

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