We’ve all seen images of that one particular beach in Thailand. It seems too beautiful to be real with pearl sands, turquoise waters and rows of rocky green bluffs. That beach is Maya Bay, and it does exist. The problem? Everyone wants to visit it.
Maya Bay is consistently voted one of the most beautiful beaches on the planet
Maya Bay was the centerpiece for the movie “The Beach” starring Leonardo DiCaprio filmed in 2000. Since making its Hollywood debut, this beach has become Thailand’s most popular attraction. On most days, you can count on it being overrun with tourists.
I had a chance to visit Maya Bay earlier this year. Whether I planned well or I was just lucky, the beach was spectacularly beautiful, calm and practically empty. Read on for my tips and money saving tricks before visiting this not-to-be-missed attraction.
1). Finding a boat tour
Maya Bay is located on the island of Koh Phi Phi Leh, which is uninhabited. To visit, you’ll need to travel to Phi Phi Don, the busy island located next to Phi Phi Leh. I took a ferry from Phuket and booked my accommodation on Phi Phi Don. As the ferry approached the Phi Phi islands, I was in awe of the mysterious Phi Phi Leh.
The island of Phi Phi Don is extremely touristy. There are many bars, shops, restaurants and kiosks selling tours. It’s a beautiful island with a BIG party scene. I suggest taking a stroll through the alleyways to do a little window shopping before booking a boat tour to Maya Bay. There are many options, so you will have an opportunity to find a bargain or haggle. I ended up booking an eight hour island tour on a traditional long boat. It was cheaper than a speed boat tour and less popular, which meant fewer tourists on my boat!
I saw dozens of uncomfortably crowded speed boats heading towards Phi Phi Leh. I was thankful my boat had only a handful of people onboard.
My tour included a few picturesque snorkel spots around the islands, a 2 hour visit to Maya Bay and a chance to swim with bioluminescent plankton after dark. The tour was 700 baht (about $20 USD), including a captain, lunch and snorkel gear. And, although I’m fairly certain my captain was 100% drunk 100% of the time, I still tipped him big. He was cheerful and went the extra mile to make sure we had a good time.
2). When to visit
Most of boat tours visit Maya Bay around midday, but this is a mistake. At midday the beach is overrun with tourists and you’ll have a hard time finding a spot to lay your towel on the sand. My boat visited in the late afternoon, right before sunset, and we were rewarded with a peaceful, relatively empty beach.
The downside to visiting in the afternoon? Because the bay is surrounded by bluffs, some of the beach and water will be in the shade, making it slightly less vibrant. Also the tide goes out at sunset, revealing a rocky shore. Snap your photos as soon as you arrive!
3). After dark the waters come alive
It’s no longer legal to visit the beach at night, but there are a few boats that have access to the waters of Maya Bay after sunset. Some tours even offer an overnight option, so you can sleep in the bay and have it virtually to yourself! Of course these tours are more expensive (up to $100 USD), but if you really want to avoid the crowd it could be worth it.
My boat tour took us to a small cove off the coast of Phi Phi Don after sunset. There I jumped in the water and watched as the bioluminescent plankton danced around my fingers and legs. One of my travel companions shouted with glee, “I feel like a sorcerer!” while illuminating the water with his movements. It was a magical end to our day.