Paradise on Earth

Friday, November 07, 2014
I've waited for this, for a looooong time.
From Bangkok, Nee, Lasse and I took the trip down to Phuket and found ourselves in Patong for a couple of days; doing river rafting and enjoying the endless opportunities.
In advance, I had booked a trip to Phi Phi Leh, a small island in the Andamen Sea, you've might even heard the name Maya Bay before.

Maya Bay at Koh Phi Phi Leh, Thailand
In the year 2000, movie director Danny Boyle released a film with actor Leonardo DiCaprio starring as Richard in the leading role. The movie is called The Beach and it's one of my favourite ones - actually that movie is my favourite.
The storyline is about young travelers discovering a hidden beach - hence the title. The Beach chosen for the purpose was the beach of Maya Bay, so of course I had to go there. In the movie Maya Bay is a closed-off lagoon, secretly hidden from civilisation and only known to a small group of people. In reality however, the bay is not completed sealed off behind the cliffs, a small gap makes it possible for boats to enter the bay. After the movie came out, there has been a touristic boom and every day hundreds of travelers visit the small 'hidden' beach.
Marked as a national park the beach is closed off for visitors after sunset. Luckily, I had found an exclusive trip which allowed a small group of 20 people to stay on the island after sunset.

Nee, Lasse and I on our way to Maya Bay, Thailand
To get to Koh Phi Phi Leh, we first had to catch a ferry to the larger Koh Phi Phi Don. There tourism is growing wildly; guesthouses, bars, diving schools and beach parties is on the everyday menu.
The date was November 5th when we headed for Phi Phi Don in the morning from Phuket. While reaching Phi Phi Don we had already caught a glimpse of Phi Phi Leh and a quick peak towards the gap of Maya Bay as we passed by. On the same day we left our bags at a guesthouse on Phi Phi Don and continued our journey towards Phi Phi Leh around 3 pm.

As we arrived and began entering the bay I couldn't see much at first, but as we got closer into the gap between the cliffs, I wasn't in doubt; this was the place I'd been wanting to visit for such a long time!

Enjoying the clear waters of Maya Bay, Thailand
The boat got anchored just inside the bay - far from the beach - and we got in the water for a quick snorkel. I kept looking towards the beach instead of into the water.
Finally, smaller boats took us to the beach. The cliffs where higher than I thought they would be, the water was blue and green in an exotic mix and the sand crystal white.
There was still some tourists there, but one by one they left in their small boats. Leaving this nirvana for us to enjoy.

Local boats at Maya Bay, Thailand
We enjoyed the water, sat on the beach and snapped a photo or two, might even have been three.. Before gathering in the camp site about 20 meters into the jungle behind the beach.
Dinner was served! Hungry like a stray dog I ate until my stomach couldn't hold any more.

Like any other place in the world with travelers, people seem to not really cut loose.
Like quoted from the movie: 

"The only downer is, everyone's got the same idea. We all travel thousands of miles just to watch TV and check in to somewhere with all the comforts of home, and you gotta ask yourself, what is the point of that?"

Even among the 20 people spending the evening at Phi Phi Leh, there was not many who came to enjoy what we did. As everyone stayed in the camp for music and alcohol; Nee, Lasse and I went to the beach. I mean, why sit in the jungle 20 meters from the most beautiful view you could possibly imagine?
Walking on this beach without the hassle of tourists was a relief.

Lasse and I at Maya Bay as the sun was setting, Thailand
The sunset passed and the beach was bathed in light from a moon as close to full as it gets, which made walking there without flash lights a piece of cake.
After spending an amazing time listening to the waves - not just the ones hitting the beach, but also those hitting the cliffs, which sounded like thunder strikes - we headed through the jungle and to the other side of the island, where another gap allows you to enter. Or exit.
There's no beach there - in Loh Samah Bay - but pinched in between the cliff sides, there's a small net of ropes which allowed us to climb down in a small boat. The boat took us back to our original ship. Once again some travelers don't cut loose. They never take a risk. Or a chance for that matter. Always, it's about safety and comforts. Comforts which made some stay behind.

Loh Samah Bay at Koh Phi Phi Leh just after sunrise, Thailand
The ship was anchored in the middle of Loh Samah Bay, close by a cliff which looked like a mushroom. This is where we had a to sleep. On the deck of course.
Lasse and I went for a night snorkel and played with the plankton, which was glowing in bright blue colors in the moonlight, as we waved our hands through the water.
Next morning I woke up and gazed over the railing as the sun had already begun to rise.

Sunsrise Loh Samah Bay, Thailand
Once more, we headed back to Maya Bay and another exclusive visit, before the tourists would begin to sail in. The three of us walked along the beach, all the way to the right, where the gap in the cliffs is most visible. I climbed a smaller rock, just 10 meters from the beach and stood there liked I conquered something. Suddenly, I saw a shadow moving in the water; no doubt about it. There was a reef shark! I turned and told the others. Of course they didn't believe me, but curiosity got the best of them, and they climbed the rock as well.
I ran for my goggles and got in the water. It didn't take long for Lasse and Nee to spot another shark. And another. And another.
With their guidance from the view point of the rock I tried to get close enough for a photo in the water... I'll have to admit, that my comforts partly took over as I stood there - waist deep in the waves - waiting for a shark to pass close by me. I dived down a few times, but with no visibility whatsoever, I decided to climb the cliff once again, joining the others. Spotting a shark and snapping a photo was easier from there.

Black-tip Reef Shark at Maya Bay, Thailand
I can truly say, that I have never seen any place like this. Not even close. But for what it's worth, it's just a place like any other place; nothing. Nothing if you don't share it with someone.
In the movie, Leonardo DiCaprio's character Richard ends the movie by these words:

"And me? I still believe in paradise. But now at least I know it's not some place you can look for. Because it's not where you go. It's how you feel for a moment in your life when you're a part of something. And if you find that moment... It lasts forever."


Leaving Maya Bay with the memories we shared.

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