by April, MAKE UP

The idyllic cove from The Beach is closing due to overtourism


Maya Bay in Thailand, a strong contender for the world’s most celebrated beach, will be closed to tourists for at least three months this year in a bid to reverse damage caused to the surrounding coral reef.

The idyllic cove that starred in The Beach, Danny Boyle’s adaptation of Alex Garland’s novel about the search for untouched backpacker paradise, has long been the victim of its own fame. The film encouraged waves of tourists to visit the once little-known Phi Phi Islands, where Maya Bay is located, and the sheltered strip of sand is now a far cry from the unspoiled utopia depicted on the big screen.

As many as 5,000 people arrive each day on boat trips from the bustling mainland resorts of Krabi and Phuket, but fears about damage to the local reefs are finally spurring local authorities into action and tourists will be prevented from visiting for three months during the summer low season to let the corals recover.

The tactic has been used on other Thai beaches but this will be the first time that Maya Bay is closed to travellers.

Lee Cobaj, Telegraph Travel’s expert in Bangkok, welcomed the move.

「Parts of the Similans and Surin islands have been closed in the past to let the corals recover, but this is a first for Maya Bay,」 she said. 「The closure, from June to September, will be in the middle of low season, when rain is pretty persistent, so I can』t imagine too many tourists will be turned away. But the beach is stupidly busy in high season so it’s good to see Thailand putting nature ahead of profits for once.」

Some have called for stricter measures, however, such as a daily cap on visitor numbers – and even the permanent closure of the bay to sightseeing boats.

「Temporary closures can help to a certain extent. But an ideal solution is a permanent closure, which is not possible due to our reliance on tourism revenue,」 said Thon Thamrongnawasawat, a marine ecologist at Kasetsart University in Bangkok.

According to research, 72 per cent of Thailand’s coral reef has been devastated, up from just 30 per cent a decade ago, with polluted water from seaside hotels, the dumping of plastic waste and damage from boat anchors all to blame.

Few countries have experienced a bigger tourism boom over the past two decades than Thailand and the industry now accounts for more than 20 per cent of GDP. Around 7.8m international travellers visited the country in 1998 – fast forward to last year and that figure had shot up to almost 35m.

Those who long to visit Thailand but don』t want to worsen the situation at Maya Bay should take a look at Telegraph Travel’s guide to the country’s best uncrowded islands. See also our guide to how to be the perfect tourist. 

Five more beaches made famous by movies

Kastani, Skopelos

The beach at Kastani, a key Mamma Mia! filming location, is certainly pretty – but is the only place on the whole of Skopelos that gets overcrowded. For real solitude, rent a motorboat from Panormos, and head north – you』ll find beautiful spots all the way up the coast (such as Hovolo, Ftelia and Neraki) that are inaccessible to cars and subsequently occupied only by other couples who have rented motorboats, and the occasional determined German naturist.

Monuriki, Fiji

Tom Hanks (and Wilson, of course) found themselves stranded here in Castaway. The uninhabited island hasn』t been spoiled like Maya Bay because it lies in Fiji, which is a lot harder to get to than Phuket.

Laughing Waters, Jamaica

Much of 007’s first escapade, Dr No, takes place on the north coast of Jamaica. Scenes involving Ursula Andress as Honey Rider were filmed at Dunn’s River Falls, near Ocho Rios, and at Laughing Waters Beach, where her emergence from the sea in a white bikini would come to define Bond-Girl glamour. Ian Fleming had links to the area. His home, Goldeneye, where he wrote 14 of the books, still sits at Oracabessa, now reimagined as a luxury hotel.

West Sands Beach, St Andrews

This is where the opening sequence of Chariots of Fire – those lyrical images of young men in white running along a beach – was filmed. St Andrews is a place of pilgrimage for golfers, of course, but it offers far more than that. The beach itself is glorious, a vision in galloping white horses. Throw in the delights of an ancient university town and you have the perfect venue for a weekend break or a day trip from Edinburgh.

Holkham Beach, Norfolk

From a famous opening sequence to a famous closing sequence. Remember Gwyneth Paltrow striding away into the distance in what was meant to be Shakespeare's Illyria? The beach seemed to go on and on and on – which Holkham Beach in north Norfolk does. Four miles long and almost a mile wide, backed by dunes and pine woods, it offers something for everyone, whether you want a bracing walk along the Norfolk Coast Path or a gentle ramble through the adjoining nature reserve. Follow this with tea at Holkham Hall, a Palladian pile that is well worth a visit in its own right.


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