Research Koh Phi Phi and the Andaman Islands and you’ll instantly find pictures of Maya Bay on Koh Phi Phi Lei (or little Phi Phi). It’s got to be the most popular place to go in Southern Thailand and it’s easy to see why. A couple of long tail boats, crystal clear blue water, a deserted white sand beach and you. The pictures look amazing.
In reality it’s a little bit different. From as early as 7am, private catamarans and noisy long tail boats start arriving with visitors and it doesn’t stop until sunset when the last boats depart and the island shuts up shop, unless you jump on board the Maya Bay Sleep Aboard tour.
After joining everyone on board we headed out into the Andaman Sea towards Koh Phi Phi Lei via the Viking Caves, also known as the bird’s nest caves. Apparently locals harvest swiftlet (they’re like swifts but mini) nests from these caves for the Chinese markets, although a couple of people told us the caves are now more decorative than functional.
At Losama Bay we stopped for a snorkel in some of the clearest, bluest water I’ve ever seen. Not that much to look at fish-wise but beautiful all the same. In typical Neil water-baby-style, he was the first in and the last out.
As the sun started to set we made our way around the western tip of the island and into Maya Bay. Fans of the The Beach should know that unlike the film, the bay is not completely closed, a small opening in the rock allows boats to dock on the beach and in the bay but from some spots on the beach the rocky peaks almost touch so it gives the illusion of a circular bay. Once we docked in the bay we were ferried to the beach, where we sat on the sand with beer in hand as the tourist traffic started to depart and the sun set behind the rocks in the bay. Once the crowds left it was unbelievably beautiful and eerily quiet.
Around 7 pm we gathered for some veggies and a delicious chicken curry with the crew and the other guests. Everyone helped themselves to a free bucket of their choosing (I still don’t really get this bucket drinking thing), or beer if you were so inclined and we chilled out on the sand with some music. For those people who were feeling a little bit peckish there was a chicken BBQ at 9 pm before we were ferried back to the boat under the stars.
Back on board the boat, a few keen guests opted for a late night swim in an effort to spot some luminous plankton. Despite the attraction of glow-in-the-dark plankton, swimming at night isn’t really my bag (I want to be able to see what’s swimming with me), so I let the others get on with it without me. A few splashes later and Neil was convinced he’d seen something glow, which led to a few more people joining in. Before I knew it I was the only one who wasn’t in the water.
Feeling like a bit of a loner, I decided to join in, but as soon as I’d made up my mind I heard a scream, followed by another and another. I called out for Neil who called back saying he was fine. He swam towards the screams, who by now had been identified as one girl who thought she’d been stung by something. Whatever it was it was causing her a lot of discomfort and everyone around her moved towards the boat in panic. No biggie I thought, it was probably just a jellyfish, not uncommon.
Sobbing, said girl climbed on board in the darkness. As the crew helped wash the salt off her they shone a torch on her body and she was covered in what looked like whipping marks. She’d been completely nailed by not one but several jellyfish across her body. Jeepers, I thought, no wonder she was in pain. As the crew squeezed lime juice on the stings (a natural remedy), a nurse administered some Nurofen for the pain and tried to calm her down. Several other swimmers were also stung (including Neil), however none were as severe as this poor girl. Turns out jellyfish are attracted to both the plankton and flailing arms and legs… Recipe for disaster. After that excitement it was time for bed.
Full disclosure, as comfortable as the Thai pillows and sleeping mats were, sleep was pretty tricky on an open-air boat. A combination of boat swaying, fear of my face being eaten by mosquitos and other guests snoring resulted in about 3 hours of fitful rest. When dawn broke and I heard the crew moving around, I was up and on the hunt for coffee (which came with a banana) and eager to get back to the beach before the crowds arrived.
By 7 am we were back on the beach enjoying everyone’s attempts to take photos without the crowds. I won’t lie, I tried to take a few couple shots but the light wasn’t great and Neil quickly grew tired of being my photo model, so we settled on a couple of awkward selfies, watched the sun shine off the water and laughed at everyone else instead.
Wanna sleep aboard with Maya Bay Sleep Aboard?
Tours depart every day (apart from Christmas Day) from Koh Phi Phi Pier at 3 pm and arrive back at 10 am the following morning. Price includes national park entry fees, drinking water, fruit, dinner, BBQ supper and breakfast (which is eggs, toast and fruit), 1 free bucket, mattresses, pillows and sleeping bags. Full itinerary is here.
Cost (at December 2014) is 3000 baht per person.
You’ll have to store your bulky luggage at their offices on the island (Phi Phi Don) as space on board the boat is limited. Take plenty of sunscreen, a towel, togs, something warm and mosquito repellant.