Thailand's Maya Bay was a mecca for tourists prior to the pandemic.
Thailand’s most famous beach, Maya Bay, is to reopen after three years of closure.
Maya Bay shot to fame following the release of the movie The Beach starring Leonard DiCaprio in 2000 and will begin welcoming back tourists from January 1, 2022.
The paradisiacal beach in the movie is never named, but the story in fact centred around Maya Bay on Koh Phi Phi, located between the larger holiday islands of Phuket and Krabi.
The stunning beach was initially closed to tourists in May 2018 following years of environmental degradation due to the huge onslaught of tourists following the success of the Hollywood blockbuster.
After the film was released, as many as 5,000 visitors a day converged on the 250 yard-long stretch of sand. Maya Bay is accessible by boat only and eventually it was estimated by marine biologists that around 90% of the corals around Phi Phi had been damaged either by dropped anchors or careless swimmers.
By 2018 it was clear something needed to be done to protect the local ecosystem from being destroyed further still and to give it a chance to recover.
A tourist ban was initially introduced for just four months but as marine life began to bounce back, it was decided the ban should be extended for the whole of 2019 while plans were drawn up for a more environmentally sustainable way of managing tourists.
By late 2019 artist’s impressions of a floating pier at the rear of the island and boardwalks to the beach were published, an attempt to put an end to the hundreds of boats that were free to speed into the bay, anchor and pull-up on the sand.
However, then Covid hit and with international borders shut, Maya Bay received another reprieve. Thailand is only just beginning to reopen its borders.
Under the new rules, tourists will be capped at 300 a day and they will be allowed on Phi Phi and for just one hour between 10am and 4pm. The new pier away from the beach is under construction and snorkellers must be brought by boat to fixed areas in the bay; boats will not be allowed to land directly on the beach.
Thailand is currently allowing tourists from 63 ‘safe’ countries to enter the country. Visitors must be fully vaccinated. Forty million tourists visited Thailand in 2019, a figure which plummeted to fewer than seven million in 2020. Pre-pandemic, tourism accounted for 15% of Thailand’s gross domestic product. The government is now working towards opening quickly in time for Christmas and New Year.
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