A Thai tourist’s picture of a packed beach in Koh Phi Phi Marine National Park went viral – after showing travellers with not enough pace to even sit down.
Thon Thamrongnawasawat took the photograph on the famous Maya Bay, which featured in the Leonardo DiCaprio movie ”The Beach”.
It shows hundreds of travelers from around the world and several speedboats moored in the sea. What the image doesn’t show is the headache-inducing noise, or the hundreds of other people along the beach, or dozens of other boats docked in the clear blue sea.
All of this was even during the low-season, when rain is frequent and tourism numbers are down. (Read more about when the low-season comes in Thailand here).
“There are about 5,000 tourists at Maya Bay during the low season. I saw it and wanted to scream,” Thon wrote on Facebook.
The post has been liked more than 3,300 times and shared by more than 700 people. Clearly people were surprised and shocked by the amount of tourists on this idyllic island’s 25-metre long beach.
The first comment on the picture was: ”Our country will be ruined because of tour down”.
The image, and reaction, raises again an issue that is cropping up more and more – the soaring numbers of tourists and the damage that is being inflicted on Thailand’s picturesque beaches.
Earlier this year Koh Tachai, part of the Similan Islands, was closed indefinitely to tourists due to the damage inflicted by large numbers of visitors.
This was followed by announcements that Koh Khai Nok, Koh Khai Nui, and Koh Khai Nai would be shut off to all visitors.
Up to 1,000 tourists at a time descend on the islands – trampling along the beach, leaving rubbish, damaging coral reefs with snorkeling, and then there’s the issue of pollution from the speedboats – spilling oil into the sea, or hitting rocks and reefs with their propellers.
When I visited Similan Island in January, the beach was packed too. As my picture shows, it was noisy, messy, busy and generally not pleasant. Certainly not a relaxing beach trip.
Granted, this was high season and also during Chinese New Year – a time when many from the country take a trip abroad. And in fairness, Similan Islands are closed anyway for a large part of the year.
But it raised the question in mind at least, of how long these beautiful places can withstand the bombardment of tourists.
With Thailand’s economy geared heavily towards tourism, and the booking popularity of island reorts among Chinese, Russian and European family travellers (who tend to be less interested in the bright lights of Bangkok) clearly visitors need to be encourage.
There are also thousands of day trip and tour operators that depend on ferrying guests to islands.
But there must be some kind 0f balance, where the islands are given time to recover, or visitor numbers are limited. Government-backed awareness programs for tourists and tour operators, would be another option – but the effectiveness of this will be minuscule.
As it is, expect plenty more packed beaches and more closures in the future.