It’s regarded as a must-see tourist destination, advertising the luscious sandy beaches and piercing blue water in almost every travel guide, so what’s stopping you from visiting Thailand’s Phi Phi Island, Maya Bay?
The Phi Phi Islands consist of six smaller islands about 46 kilometers from Phuket located in the Andaman Sea, with no airstrip due to the rocky mountains which form the engaging scenery, the best way to access the islands is by speedboat, Maya Bay is housed on the island known as Ko Phi Phi Ley and unfortunately does not have any form of accommodation on the island.
Most resorts in Phuket have an array of pamphlets offering different tours around Phi Phi Islands, which includes a visit to Maya Bay, with a selection of boats (speedboat, cruise boat and private) with majority of companies offering a similar schedule including lunch and bottled water whilst aboard. Alternatively you can hire your own private long boat or speed boat which will allow you to explore the island at your own pace.
Although there is an advertised price on the pamphlets, the Thai’s love to barter and will usually come down on price for you. The advertised rate for our tour was 3,600 Thai baht, however we booked through our taxi driver and paid 1,800 baht which is around $80 Australian dollars (keep in mind there is a National Park entrance fee to the island of 200 Baht per person though most tour companies will include this in their tour pricing.)
Climbing onto the speed boat (and I mean climbing, no fancy ramps here, however the lovely staff do lend a hand but if you’re not keen on walking through water then this ain’t the tour for you!) you’ll find a pile of life jackets, it’s astounding and eye-opening to have the ‘option’ to wear something so crucial in Aussie culture.
Having grown up on boats (and being a swimming instructor) I ensured both my boyfriend and I were properly fitted up and stood astounded when other tourists didn’t wear them. After all, I guess that’s the point of travelling, discovering a new culture and learning the ways of others. Arriving at Maya Bay you’re met with utter beauty.
The small, sandy beach only a mere 200 meters in length is wrapped by pillar-like rocky cliffs with patches of green bush throughout. You’ll find the sandy beach full of tourists and the waters packed-full of boats trying to shimmy around each other – they’ve actually got this down pat, the amount times you think boats are going to crash into each other yet they manage to squeeze into the smallest of pathways.
Our tour guide explained that although the waters rarely get rough enough to deny access to the main bay, the best time to visit is in November to April whilst the tide is low. Though, we were there in June and the weather and atmosphere was so picturesque that I couldn’t imagine it being any more amazing.
The moment you begin to get close to Maya Bay, your guide will boast about Hollywood film, The Beach, which was filmed on the bay in 1999 and stars Leonardo DiCaprio. Our tour guide said the movie boosted tourism for Thailand bringing extra income to the island of Phuket, however some Thai’s regret the disturbance of untouched land.
Although a packed beach, most boats will only spend an hour on Maya Bay which means with tourists constantly moving you do manage to find space to put your towels down and soak up the sun – in our case, coming from a chilly Melbourne to humid 39 degree days (and over an hour sitting on a boat) we leaped for the brightly blue water which is sectioned off by rope to ensure swimmers have access to discover the sea life in the coral reefs without boats squeezing through.
As busy as the sand is, we found the deeper water to be quite serene with not too many people out there which suited us perfectly floating in the blue waters looking up at the rock formations and the luscious bright green bushes that sweep so perfectly into the gaps of the cliffs.
Maya Bay has little in the way of facilities on the island, due to the location and little flat land, it would be difficult to house anything too big and would take away from the natural, untouched look the island offers. However, there is a toilet located on the island but I would strongly suggest to avoid using it if possible (let’s face it, we’ve all done a ‘sneaky’ swim away from the crowds at some point in our lives.)
If you do get desperate, it’s a little walk on a pathway that leads through greenery to access the toilet facilities and you will need to pay to use it (again, save your money!)
If you explore the island further, you’ll find access to Samah Bay, another lagoon-type beach with picturesque scenery’s and apparently, a lot quieter too. Unfortunately with only an hour spent on the island, we didn’t want to take the risk of a) getting lost or b) missing the boat and being left on the island in the middle of the ocean overnight – extremely exaggerated, I know.
Before you know it, your tour guide is calling out your group and you’re getting back on the boat to travel to the next destination. If possible (and if you don’t get seasick), I would strongly suggest sitting up the front of the boat as you travel out of Maya Bay and look closely at the limestone in the steep cliffs – it’s incredible to see limestone in it’s natural state, untouched and protected by the National Park status of the island.
Top Tips for visiting the Phi Phi Islands – Maya Bay:
- Try to book a private speedboat to allow yourself more time to explore Ko Phi Phi Ley and the two bays on it. If you’re a diver, don’t forget to visit Samah Bay which has depths of 20 meters to explore.
- The locals’ don’t let out their secret times of when the island is quietest, but it does have thousands of people visit a day, so try to get in before 10am or after 5pm to avoid the crowds.
- Most tour companies won’t hand out the snorkel gear at Maya Bay but ensure you bring some yourself (or request to use it) so you can explore the corals and brightly coloured fish.
- If you haven’t already seen it, avoid watching the movie, The Beach, before you visit – photos don’t do this place justice and the suspense of exploring yourself is too fun to pass up.