The limestone cliffs tower over us giving a sense of protection and serenity, making me feel like I’m safe and secure from the outside world. Turquoise waters that turned to glowing fairy dust at night with the bio-luminescent plankton, as each wave washed to the shore sparkling under the moonlight. The peacefulness and exclusivity of being the only people left on the island as the last longboats of the day drove off into the distance and our tour leader sets up camp for the night. I walk down the beach in awe, at awe at what stands before me, at awe at the view, the scenery, the way that it felt like we were the only ones in existence. “Maya Bay was made to be seen like this,” I think to myself.
Only the day before my sister and I stood on that same beach, but we weren’t alone—we were surrounded by hundreds of tourists trying to snap the best shot they could get at this famed Leonardo DiCaprio movie scene from his movie The Beach. The hustle and bustle, the chaos, boat loads of tourists flooding in; this was not what we had imagined this beach being like.
Thankfully we had planned two visits to Maya Bay—one on a multi-island day tour, where the beach was flooded with tourists and another on an overnight excursion, The Maya Bay Sleep Aboard trip which was limited to only about 20 other people. Although the Sleep Aboard tour had a heftier price tag (around $85-100 USD) then some of the other popular tours from the island of Koh Phi Phi, I was thankful we had booked it. At around 3:00pm we boarded our boat at the port and headed out to visit some neighbouring islands and beaches. Since we had done the daytime island hopping tour earlier in our trip, we repeated some of these visits but when you’re out on the water on a gorgeous day, you don’t really care.
After some kayaking, snorkeling, and swimming, we headed off to Maya Bay, where we would be anchoring and sleeping for the night. We had a smaller boat that took us over to the beach right around the time most tourists were leaving for the day. Locals scoured the beaches to pick up any belongings or trash that had been left behind from the hundreds of tourists that covered the beach earlier in attempt to restore and keep the beach clean and beautiful. It seemed bizarre being here, kind of like we were doing something that wasn’t allowed. We felt like VIPs as we waved goodbye to the final tourists on the beach and roamed around, snapping pics, and soaking in the bay that we had all to ourselves. Even though the rain poured down, we didn’t care—it gave us relief from the days heat, and when you’re in a place like this, very few things can really ruin it.
Once we had taken enough pictures to satisfy us, we headed up the beachy path to where our tour guide had set up some straw mats for us to sit on, and locals began to cook us up some food and set up our makeshift bar where we could help ourselves to our complimentary “bucket” for the night. When we all settled in, on began the sing-a-longs, drinking games and socializing as nighttime fell upon us. The feeling of being the only people left in this amazing place was one that is hard to describe. We’d team up and head down the little dark path to the washrooms; silence spread across the island, eeriness crept upon us each time we ventured away from our campsite. No one inhabits this island except for the locals that care for the little snack shack, the beach, the washrooms, etc.
We spent most of the evening here, roaming the beach, swishing our feet around in the water to watch the bio-luminescent plankton light up, until we headed back on the little boats to take us back to our main ship for the night. Once we arrived back on board, some people jumped in the water to be mesmerized by the plankton more, where others grabbed themselves the thin mats and makeshift pillows and sleeping bags where we all scattered out on the floor and deck to lay our heads to rest for the night. It wasn’t the comfiest sleep, but we rose with the sun as our guide put us on the boats to bring us back for some more time on the beach at 6am before any tourists arrived for the day. The one thing they really wanted us to get from this tour was as much time possible on this island alone.
As we enjoyed our morning in the bay, soon it was time to head back to our main boat and head on over to a tiny beach that was inhabited by only monkeys. My sister and I took this opportunity to get some kayaking in, and we got up close and personal to where the monkeys were just waiting for some snacks. Despite the sign hanging above us saying “Do not feed the monkeys,” that didn’t seem to stop our guide who had handfuls of bananas to hand over to the creepishly human-like fellows. It took us by surprise when he decided to throw a banana on our kayak and soon our boat was completely swarmed by the monkeys.
To check out other content from my travels in Southeast Asia, here is a reading list I’ve compiled
All aboard, we headed back on the boat to head back to the mainland. Our overnight trip was coming to an end and we were departing the boat with the best possible image you could have of Maya Bay, and one that many tourists don’t leave with. Like many tourist attractions, you can often be disappointed when you finally arrive to find it swarmed with so many people that it’s hard to enjoy. That’s the feeling we had when we visited Maya Bay in the day with all the other tourists. After our night on the beach, we felt like we got a taste of something that many people don’t seek out, we came back to shore with great new friends from across the globe that we got to share this exclusive experience with, and we were blessed and happy with the opportunity we were given.
If you are visiting Koh Phi Phi, and are hoping to take a trip to Maya Bay to see this gorgeous place—it 100% is worth it, but only if you opt for a tour like the Maya Bay Sleep Aboard. For under $100 USD you can get an experience that will make you truly appreciate the Thai islands and all they have to offer, you will escape the madness and tourist traps and leave filled with happiness, not regret or disappointment.
Update as of April 2021: Since 2018 Maya Bay has been closed to tourists in order to restore the severely damaged environment due to over tourism. However, from what I can tell, this tour is still an option, you just do not go into the beach/on land at all.