Monday, December 15, 2014

Maya Bay - Phi Phi Leh

visited November 2014

Sunset from The Beach - Maya Bay attracts thousands of visitors but not too many are around this time of day. Shot should click-expand nicely

The unsettled national park island of Phi Phi Ley is about 6km from the pier at Phi Phi Don, 50km from Phuket's main pier, 40km from Krabi town and 30km from Lanta's Saladan pier - image Google Earth

Trip destinations and route (modified Google Earth)

My plan is to stay on every island in Thailand with affordable accommodation. The problem with Phi Phi Leh/Ley/Lay/Le is that until recently it was impossible to stay overnight on this National Park island. A few years back someone started overnight camping trips there - that doesn't seem to have lasted, but it is now possible to do a one night Maya Bay Sleep Aboard visit. I've done lots of sleep- aboards in various parts of the world and enjoyed them immensely, so I jumped at the chance.

The boat is an old Krabi Connection small ferry - in reasonable condition with the very important large canvas covered rear deck for viewing with shade. The boat had a fair amount of other undercover room. There was only one toilet and no showers (although a barrel of fresh water with a splash bucket on the rear sea-access platform which in fact is a great way to shower).
The trip was supposed to leave at 1500 but as usual someone was dragging the chain, so we sat around until 1540. 

The ladies font of shot are sitting on the sleeping mattresses. I've found these comfortable in the past. Unfortunately we didn't get to use them - we were told we were overbooked and would sleep on the beach**. Everyone but me was mega-enthusiastic about this - I worried about the frequent November storms. Incredible luck saw a starry night - the only one without a storm in my 3 week Andaman tour.
**sleeping on the beach - "don't tell anyone!" says the young Thai tour leader. As if - with at least one travel-blogger and a whole lot of people who are going to write reviews for their booking company and others. btw I got the impression with the fairly slick dinner/post dinner entertainment/sleeping organisation and the indifference of national park staff to our presence  that this sleeping on the beach was not to much an unusual occurrence.

It took about 30minutes to motor across to Ley. First stop was off the Viking Cave. These days the public can't access it (I went in on a day trip in the late 80s) but our boat's tour leader gave an interesting talk about the birds' nesting and why it is called Viking (birds' nesters, trapped by bad weather in the past, spent the time painting - apparently viking style paintings).

The tide that day was too low for the usual snorkeling in nearby Phi Le Bay, so that was postponed until the next day and we........

.....motored around to Maya Bay.

Still a reasonable amount of boats and people for 1730 but nothing like the ridiculous jam you get earlier in the day, as can be seen by....

....this pic, shot around 1000 in March 2013 from my Phuket to Phi Phi Don ferry ,which always does a circumnavigation of Phi Phi Ley before docking. Click-expand for detail.
This ferry is called the Phi Phi Cruiser - half the passengers are day-trip people - the circumnavigation of Ley is the only exposure they get to the island and this is as close as they get to The Beach. I personally would be unhappy - there are better day-trips out of Phuket.

A quick unscheduled snorkeling session in the north of the bay before we headed for the beach saw sadly deteriorated coral since my last session there in the late 80s - some fish to look at however.

And then to The Beach......

From the south - time 1900

And the north. Note smaller beach background left easily waded to at low tide. Tour guide said water in that region good for spotting harmless small black tipped reef sharks. 

A bit later

Later still


This earlier-in-the day-shot shows maybe our time of visit is so much more preferable. It comes from a recent 2015 Bangkok Post article saying Maya Bay is becoming over-run by day visitors (image from Niruth David Bannob)

These days, the area in back of The Beach has a series of paths thru the tropical scrub - didn't exist in the late 80s, but that was before THAT movie. National Parks has set up at least two canteen areas where you can buy basic eats and drinks (including beer - for the past 5 years or so NP has had a no-alcohol rule, this was the first I've heard of the relaxation of the ban - later comfirmed at Ko Rok). There are 2 toilet/shower blocks behind The Beach too.

One of the paths leads to the other side of the island where a platform gives you a look at an east coast inlet.

Platform/inlet from the boat next day

This shot shows the behind-beach area fairly well. The clearing we ate in is close to the beach right of center. Most of us slept in in a sandy section off the beach against the far right headland - wider than it looks from shot's angle. The east coast inlet can be seen background center.
(image - but this site seems to be currently defunct)

National Park canteen foreground - our boat people set up dinner in area behind, used structure background left as guests' bag storage/boat's utility storage area. Pessimist tezza checked region in shot for shelter - figured if it rained there was enough sit-up shelter for us, forget about stretching out. No mattresses bought ashore anyhow.

Dinner is served - the usual yummy Thai mild chicken curry, boiled rice, fried chicken and fruit plate + water. No shortage: servings unlimited. Other drinks could be purchased and each guest got one free bucket of Thai rum and mixer (other alternatives) which was pretty good stuff. There were adequate National Park toilet facilities nearby but bring a torch - I kicked my toe  big time on a hidden lump of rock: had my usual emergency medical kit but no torch - who said DUH?.

Tucker time.  After dinner here staff members made a good effort to keep guests entertained with card/drinking games/guitars etc, although sitting on the by now deserted beach was a nice alternative. There was a later break in activities when people went down the shore to check the bioluminescent plankton - kind of gob-smacking if you haven't seen it before. I have on maybe a dozen occasions. People manning bar can be seen background right. Small Chang cans 100b - a bit high but same as National Park canteen which by this stage had closed. I think extra buckets were 150.

Sleep time - in a sandy cove just off the main beach.

Trying to sleep with only a 1mm rattan mat between the supplied (lighweight - didn't overheat) sleeping bag and the sand was not comfortable - it's surprising how seemingly soft sand compacts after a while. I got virtually no shut-eye. At least the stars and the swash of the ocean on the shore were nice. One mature age guest commented: "character-building”. My character is sufficiently built in the areas of enduring discomfort/lack of sleep and needs no development. Small point - don't leave yer glasses where you can roll over and break them. DUH!

0630 next morning. It was kinda neat having only fellow guests on the beach. Well not quite true - National Park dude nearest right doing something very unusual for his cohort: some work.

Quite a few guest took an early swim. I fanged out to the end of the swimming enclosure and back and then did a half dozen jogging laps of the beach - an ideal way to work off the sleeping mat stiffness.

The big group shot. 
btw - I noticed a few day-trip boats sliding in as early as 0730. The travel-guides suggest you get an early start - these people sure did.

 Google Earth's image of Maya Bay. Inlet top right is southern point of Phi Le Bay (see down page)

Back to the boat

Breakfast on board was pretty basic but hit the spot - scrambled eggs, bread, tea/coffee/juice, fruit - once again in virtually unlimited quantities. 

Leaving Maya Bay we did an anticlockwise circumnavigation of PP Ley. This karst stack on the eastern coast a bit south of the Viking Cave really sticks out when seen from PP Don's Long Beach (background).

Last stop was Phi Le Bay in the island's north-east. Interested guest could check the deep inlet's rather awesome landscape/seascape from the mother boat's tender. We followed this with a snorkel/swim - coral ok but not mind-blowing; fish quite good. Some guests took advantage of the tour's hire kayaks to check the inlet.

We were at the bay from abt 0830 to 0930. This is the scene later in the day - taken at about 1100 in March 2013. The place sure gets popular.

Google Earth image of Phi Le Bay

After that we headed back to Phi Phi Don - arriving at the pier around 1000. It takes another 10 minutes to walk back to the tour's booking office where there is a good secure storage area for guests' bigger bags. Back at the pier, the boat guys have to get it cleaned and stocked for the next departure at 1500.

I was a bit underwhelmed. I feel this experience would be best value for people who have not seen Phi Phi Ley island - unfortunately my ferry from Phuket to Phi Phi Don has circumnavigated Phi Phi Ley in all my last half dozen visits - and I have done a Maya Bay day-trip in the past, admittedly in the 80s before THAT movie. 
So the amazing landscape/seascape was not exactly novel to me. Add the overbooking, uncomfortable, sleepless night, the injured foot and broken glasses to my discontent. At least it didn't rain. 
However it was kinda interesting to be in the area BEFORE and AFTER the big crowds. A 2 night trip allowing one to experience the crowded times would be interesting. No doubt you could arrange this, but it would probably cost a bomb. I personally thought the one night trip was overpriced. 

Nice shot from Tourists 360


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Charles Bird said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Charles Bird said...

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