Paradise Lost

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January 10th 2014
Published: September 30th 2017
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Geo: 7.67841, 98.7684

While Thailand is World renowned for its beaches, with Ko Phi Phi considered to be one of its best, there really is something off about this island - it represents the truly ugly side of travel. Our bad experiences of the past few days have no doubt coloured our opinion of Ko Phi Phi, but forgetting about that for a moment, I truly believe that it's overrated and over-hyped. From what we saw today, there's no doubting that the surrounding islands are beautiful, but for us, they still aren't worth the time and cost of getting there.

In fairness to Ko Phi Phi, we never made the effort nor spent the requisite cash to be able to spend a few days on one of the island's more secluded beaches, deciding to stay in busy and cheaper Ton Sai village instead of one of the luxury resorts. Perhaps we would think differently had we done that, but I doubt that would have changed our opinion significantly, as Ko Phi Phi is a shining example of tourism run amok, with rampant over development here that has clearly been poorly managed, if it's even been managed at all.

It's difficult to fault anybody for this situation, as you can hardly blame local people in a developing country - quite often, tourism is the only means for these people to pursue a better life. So with the development of tourism along the Andaman coast, hordes of people have flocked here for work, fulfilling the roles required to support the even larger hordes of tourists who started coming here, in search of their own little piece of Heaven. This is the inherent and hypocritical problem with tourism - so many of us come to places like Thailand in search of that Promised Land, that during that process, we destroy the very thing which we are seeking.

Still, you can't help but wonder how places like this were probably a paradise decades earlier, and how the level of mismanagement and over-development here is quite sad. While our first impressions of Ton Sai village were generally good, the excitement over the bustling crowds quickly faded - at the beginning, the bars, eateries, and shops are very tempting, but they quickly begin to grate on your nerves. Again, maybe it all comes down to the decisions we made - knowing full well that Ton Sai is a bit of a
Beautiful Limestone Cliffs ...Beautiful Limestone Cliffs ...Beautiful Limestone Cliffs ...

... the islands near Phuket have become a bit of a mecca for rock climbers. Free climbing is also common here because if you fall, you land in the ocean, instead of dying on a pile of rocks below.
backpacker ghetto known for its crowds and debaucherous nightlife, we still chose to stay here.

Backpacker ghettos can be the most wonderful of places to visit, a unique blend of local and international cultures, a place with a bohemian vibe where you can just chill out and do as much, or as little as you want. I suppose that was our hope with Ton Sai, but that proved to be a pipe dream, as it's a place that simply doesn't fit with us - for some, this is surely perfection, but for others, it's the farthest you can get from it.

Despite all the international-style establishments catering to the tourist hordes, in a lot of ways Ton Sai feels a bit like a glorified shanty town. Even a walk along the village's waterfront isn't a pleasant experience, as it's covered in trash and construction debris that you practically have to climb and trip over to get anywhere. It doesn't exactly offer that nice waterfront stroll that you would typically find in a beach town.

But all isn't lost, as there are tons of different day trips you can do using Ton Sai as a base - scuba diving, snorkel trips, island
Damn You Leonardo Dicaprio ...Damn You Leonardo Dicaprio ...Damn You Leonardo Dicaprio ...

... Maya beach on the island of Phi Phi Leh was the setting for the movie "The Beach", and has become a pilgrimage for backpackers. Truthfully, while it may be nice, Maya beach isn't even that great, especially not when it's completely overrun with tourists.
cruises ... but unfortunately, the seemingly million other tourists in town all seem to have the same thought, making for massive crowds everywhere you look. Perhaps the most popular place to visit is Phi Phi Leh, which has become a mecca for young travelers, being home to Maya Bay, the famous setting for Leonardo Dicaprio's The Beach.

It's easy to see why Maya Bay was chosen as the movie's backdrop, with its powdery white sand, lush foliage, and the limestone cliffs of nearby islands cascading precipitously into the Andaman Sea. As it's not permitted to stay overnight on Phi Phi Leh, the island sees a constant cycling of tourists coming and going, each and every day, all hoping to find their little piece of perfection.

In the movie, the beach was a veritable Shangri-La, a secret island that was a mere myth to most people, with a legend that continued to grow with each re-telling of the story of its existence. At first, all was well in this Utopian society, but unfortunately, the film ends with its residents forced to leave their idyllic beach, when one too many travelers discovered the place, forcing the darker elements of the island to
drive everybody away.

The story of the real Maya Bay isn't that different from the movie, as what was once a true paradise has been irrevocably lost. In a grand example of life imitating art, or maybe more aptly put, of life mocking and corrupting art, the real life beach has been ruined by the continued arrival of travelers. What was once an esoteric tropical island, has now become bloated with travelers searching for a secluded beach to relax upon.

As soon as you set foot on Maya Beach, it's painfully obvious that there are another thousand souls who have arrived with the same goal of finding paradise. Though at first you are happy to be in such a beautiful spot, you quickly come to the sad realization that paradise has been lost, and even worse, that you've contributed to that ...

Additional photos below
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Strawberry Island ...Strawberry Island ...
Strawberry Island ...

.... we're not sure if that's the actual name of it, but that's what some tourists were calling it.
Viking Cave ...Viking Cave ...
Viking Cave ...

... where locals risk life and limb climbing up inside of the cave to retrieve swallow nests, popular with the Chinese for use in bird's nest soup, and ludicrously expensive at $2,500/kg.
More Spectacular in Person ...More Spectacular in Person ...
More Spectacular in Person ...

... this picture doesn't do this guy's farmer's tan any justice, perhaps the most pronounced case of sunburn we'd ever seen before. He looked like a cooked lobster had put on a wife beater!

30th January 2014

I believe you left out the part where you were the only one who didn't snorkel in fear of having the runs in the water. Correction: Benita snorkelled with the amazing plankton while Patrick sat this one out.

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