maya bay

Maya Bay is one of the most spectacular sights in Thailand, with its white-sand beach, soaring cliffs and clear turquoise waters. Found in the Phi Phi island archipelago about an hour by speedboat from Phuket, Maya Bay was the paradise found for Leonardo DiCaprio in the 2000 movie “The Beach”.

Since the world got its first peek of the bay in the film, it’s become one of Thailand’s most popular attractions. As ever-more boats dumped more and more people onto Maya Bay’s sands it then turned into a spotlight for overtourism in Thailand.

Shocking photos of massive crowds packed on the sands and reports of pollution and coral damage prompted the Thai government to temporarily close Maya Bay to give it a break from the trampling hordes. The first announcement in late 2017 said the closure would be for four months from June to September 2018. Then earlier this week, the parks department said that Maya Bay would be closed indefinitely.

I haven’t been to Maya Bay in about 15 years. Even back in the early 2000s, I was saddened by all the crowds and diesel-spewing boats clogging the bay, so I can’t imagine what it would have been like to visit earlier this year when as many as 5,000 daily visitors came ashore.

Given its awe-inspiring beauty though, I understand why so many still want to see Maya Bay. But here’s a little travel secret for you: Southern Thailand’s Andaman coast has plenty of other places to go that are just as breathtaking, some with no crowds to battle! So if you’ve been dreaming of a tropical paradise like “The Beach”, there’s no need to be disappointed by Maya Bay’s closure. Here are a few ideas on where to go instead:

Koh Phi Phi

Not too terrible. Phi Phi Don.

Maya Bay is just one beach on one island in the Phi Phi archipelago, so why not use the bay’s closure as a chance to get out and explore other areas of this national park. Koh Phi Phi Don is the main island, and the only island in the park with hotels. Phi Phi Don is also a victim of overdevelopment, with its very limited land areas being built up with new hotels, shopping places, nightclubs and, yes, a sparkling new McDonald’s. I keep waiting for an announcement of brakes being put on hotel development on Phi Phi Don as another restorative measure, but so far there’s no end in sight.

That said, Phi Phi Don is still spectacular! The area between Tonsai Bay and Loh Dalum beach is busy and packed, but if you’re up for a wander there are trails to other, quieter places. A popular trail leads up to the Phi Phi viewpoint, but it’s possible to walk to several other beaches, too. Another way to explore Phi Phi Don is to hire a long-tail boat to circumnavigate the island and stop at beaches along the way. Phi Phi Don has a well-earned reputation as a boozy party island, but it’s easy enough to escape that scene if you’re not interested in indulging in a bucket-drink bender.

Spend a few days on Phi Phi to try rock climbing, a snorkelling trip off Bamboo Island or Monkey Beach, scuba diving, or – our favourite – shark watching with the Adventure Club. There’s a good range of hotels on Phi Phi Don to suit all budgets, though dirt-cheap options are increasingly hard to find.

Similan Islands

similan island cove
Maya who?

Though they don’t have the dramatically steep cliffs of Maya Bay, the Similan Islands are equally stunning with their powder-soft sandy beaches and clear jewel-toned waters. The Similans are also a protected park, open for six months only from mid-October through mid-May. Starting from October 2018, overnight stays on the islands are banned, though it’s still possible to stay overnight in the park on a liveaboard diving boat or yacht. The Similans have also suffered from increasing visitor numbers, but with some advance planning you can manage to avoid the crowds. Snorkelling and diving are the main activities on the Similan islands, with day trips from Phuket and Khao Lak easily arranged with any tour agent.

Railay Beach

Dramatic cliffs and white sandy beaches? Oh yes.

A little strip of white sand hugged by towering limestone cliffs – sounds a lot like Maya Bay, but this is Railay Beach! Found in Krabi province, Railay is on the mainland but the steep hills of the headland make it accessible only by boat. The main attraction here is rock climbing, but it’s also a fine spot for kayaking or just relaxing on the sands to watch the sunset.

A short walk takes you to Railay East beach, which is more of a mudflat, while a little further along leads to the beautiful Phranang Cape. There’s only one hotel on this beach, the Rayavadee luxury resort, and it’s designed in an unobtrusive way. Here you’ll also find Princess Cave, which is a bit of a shocker on first sight with its abundance of phallic totems piled up at a shrine inside. Local fishermen believe that making such offerings at the cave will help bring them better luck and prosperity.

The beach gets very busy with day-trippers so if you want to see the glistening sands in their full glory then it’s best to go in the early morning. There are several hotels in Railay Beach, and many more options on nearby Ao Nang. From Railay, it’s also possible to do an island-hopping day trip to Koh Poda, Koh Kai (Chicken Island), Koh Mo and Koh Thap off the Krabi coast.

Trang Islands

trang islands thailand
Pier on the Trang mainland – your gateway to some dreamy islands!

Found about a four-hour drive south of Phuket, Trang province is home to some of the most majestic islands of Thailand. If you’re on the hunt for blinding-white beaches fringed with palm trees and endless views across crystal blue waters, then the islands of Trang are for you!

Koh Kradan is a place to enjoy long walks along the powdery sands, dips in the sea, snorkelling, and not much else except chill out and take in the fabulous tropical surrounds. Nearby Koh Ngai, which is in Krabi province but more easily accessed from Trang, is another postcard-perfect island (also called Koh Hai). Lingering memories of my stay here years ago include floating in sea water so clear you could see my reflection on the white sand below and watching hornbill birds circling around the treetops. Yep, paradise!

Koh Mook is a popular day-trip spot for its Emerald Cave. Most visitors jump off boats at the entrance and swim inside through a cave that starts out dark and gloomy but then becomes emerald green from the water reflection as the cave opens up to a beach surrounded by towering cliffs. Does that sound dreamy? It really is! But do expect some crowds, since there’s only a short time period each day when tide levels allow access. Koh Mook also has some lovely beaches, a lush interior of steep hills and jungle, fishing villages and some places to stay.

When will Maya Bay Re-Open?

So far, the Thai government has not given a date for reopening Maya Bay to visitors, but we’ll keep you posted. It seems certain that when it does open there will be more controls on visitor numbers and boats, so hopefully future visitors will be able to actually see that pristine paradise they’ve been told awaits them at Maya Bay. We’ll update this page when we hear any news.

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