Sleeping “in” Maya Bay
Oh, Maya Bay… Who hasn’t dreamed about you ever since you became “The Beach” and the home of a young, yet extremely annoying, Leo DiCaprio? The top day trip of Koh Phi Phi and probably the most famous beach in the world, Maya Bay is a must visit when in Thailand.
Ever since I started planning my trip to Southeast Asia, everybody would ask me about The Beach, where it was and if I was going there. After doing a little research, I came across dozens of reports of how crowded Maya Bay was and how terrible and disappointing the experience could be, which made me question if it was worth going there at all.
I don’t know if you’ve seen or if you remember Danny Boyle’s movie, but that’s actually one of it’s main points; how Thailand is overcrowded and packed with drunk tourists. Ironically, about 5,000 tourists a day crowd onto Maya Baya during low season now, endangering the preservation of that national park and imposing the need of a strict environmental control in the area. Considering that, the Thai government banned all overnight visitors in 2012, allowing Maya Bay Tours the only company allowed to offer an overnight experience at The Beach, the Maya Bay Sleep Aboard.
Being on a low budget, I really struggled to decide if I should spend $100 USD to sleep on a boat and have a few hours on a place that sounded to me like a huge tourist trap. Despite that, there I was, boarding a boat with two friends and around 30 other people. Being Brazilians visiting Thailand, my friends and I were quite aware of how popular Thailand is in Brazil right now. I confess we were quite shocked to find out that around 90% of the tour, including 2 of the guides, were Brazilians like us! Anyways, the boat left Phi Phi Don at 3pm, heading to a famous snorkeling spot, where you can even Find Nemo with the help of the guides.
After snorkeling, finally, Maya Bay! We arrived there just before the sunset and got to see the last few boats leaving the bay. One private longtail arrived after us and the guards didn’t allow them to disembark, even though the couple begged to take just one picture. I felt sorry for the tourists, but pleased to see that their control over the National Park was great! The sunset was the most special moment for me, I think. It was absolutely beautiful, the water was warm and we had The Beach just for us!!
With the sun down, it was dinner time! Being a foodie who loves Thai food, I have to be honest and say that I didn’t expect much of the food in this tour and I couldn’t be more wrong. We had chicken, rice (obviously), vegetables; we even had barbecue later! Seriously, one of the best meals I had in my 3 months in Asia.
Another amazing surprise was the night swim with the bioluminescent planktons, which are impossible to photograph. It’s mind-blowing to see them lighting up when you disturb the water. For me, it felt like I was in outer space or in a sci-fi movie about the future, which sounds completely crazy, I know, but that’s the best way I found to describe it (I swear I wasn’t high!).
After the planktons, we went up to sleep, which is probably the worst part of the experience, right beside the absence of showers (the staff washes you with a hose or with buckets of water right before you enter the boat). They provide foam mattresses, sleeping bags and pillows and it’s up to you to find a spot on the deck. In the morning, once again we went to The Beach and enjoyed it almost empty! Our boat left right after several other boats and longtails started to arrive, giving us an idea of how crowded that place can get.
The main question is, was it worth it? Well, we most certainly had a lot a fun: the planktons, the food, the view! I don’t regret it at all and probably would do it again! Although, I have to say that I don’t think it’s for everybody. I saw a bunch of couples who felt quite uncomfortable with the party-mode that some of the guides kept trying to make happen (maybe to sell more alcohol, who knows?). I also think that older people, for example, could really suffer to sleep in those conditions.
On top of that, we weren’t even the first to get to The Beach in the morning! Some people got to The Beach completely empty and didn’t have to sleep on a foam mattress listening to drunk Americans singing Wonderwall, and they also spent a lot less money than we did. My point is, you can enjoy The Beach way less crowded if you hire a private longtail, arriving there right before sunset or right after sunrise! Just make sure to be there during the hours that you’re allowed to, otherwise they really won’t let you disembark!
If the money is not a problem and the issues pointed here don’t seem to bug you, go for it! It’s a unique experience and I’m sure you will have a great time in an amazing, beautiful beach!