Monday, July 14, 2014

A visit to Ko Phi Phi Leh: where Leonardo diCaprio filmed The Beach

The Beach is busy today. Well, not just today, every day. We wait in a queue to land, bobbing about on the azure swell, snapping photographs from a distance of the white strip of sand, coconut palms ... and hordes of tourists, like ants swarming over roadkill.

Then we are informed it will cost us 200 baht per person to land anyway. With no desire to join the throng, we decline and ask to move on to somewhere Hollywood - and the Thai tourism industry - hasn't yet exploited.

The Beach - beautiful from a distance

The 2000 film, The Beach - starring handsome heart throb Leonardo diCaprio - forever changed the sleepy islands of southern Thailand, with backpackers and package tourists alike keen to glimpse the filming location where Leo's character faced drug cartels, executions, gangrenous injuries, sharks and insanity. Come to think of it, it really was the ultimate in rotten holidays - and why anyone would want to emulate that is anyone's guess.

But come they do, by their thousands, wanting to set foot on and have their photograph taken on the very beach where Leo gave one of his lesser acting performances. Amongst Gen X, it's probably the most popular experience that Thailand has to offer, apart maybe from the Full Moon Party on Koh Phangan.

Ants crawling on The Beach

While it was filmed in several locations around Thailand (the waterfall scene, for instance, where Leo jumped off a high cliff into the water below, was shot in Khao Yai National Park in central Thailand), the bulk of the movie was filmed at Maya Beach, Ko Phi Phi Leh, an unpopulated island in the Phi Phi Archipelago in Krabi Province. Surrounded by rearing limestone cliffs and with water a dazzling gin-blue, it really is one of the most stunning locations on the planet, as idyllic as the book written by Alex Garland describes.

"On the white sands, fishing in the coral gardens, a select community of travelers pass the months. They leave if they want to, they return, the beach never changes."

Perfection, however, is an irresistible lure - and due to the thousands of tourists that tramp its shore every single day, The Beach has changed. Developers may have been kept at bay due to its official status as a national park, but there are no limits to the numbers of speedboats and spluttering, deafening longtail boats that ferry tourists on island-hopping tours from Phuket, Krabi and Phi Phi Don. Any physical beauty the bay may still possess is overshadowed by noise, rubbish and just too many damn people!

Thanks a lot, Leo - the so-called "secret" beach is no secret any more!

Paradise can still be found on Phi Phi Leh, however - you just need to avoid the crowds, and seek out a quiet nook elsewhere on this or surrounding islands. After we rejected the idea of landing on The Beach, our canny tour captain - from Centara Grand Beach Resort at Krabi - found a deserted cove to moor in, sunny for soaking up the afternoon rays, and shallow and sandy for swimming in the blissful balm. We ate, lazed, snorkelled, fed brightly coloured fish and admired the view for a good hour before continuing our snorkelling trip, content in the knowledge that Paradise does still exist - you just need to go around the corner from where you were expecting it.

Our boat in an idyllic cove

Now THAT's Paradise!


  1. It’s an interesting blog with beautiful images. I also want to share the experience to stay at Centara Grand Beach Resort & Villas. It was my second trip to Thailand when I stayed there for three days. First thing you must know about this resort is that it is only accessible by a shuttle speedboat which the resort provides. This makes the resort exclusive, along with the calmness it offers. These days I’m on the coast bus tours and after this we’ll again visit to Thailand.

  2. It is a real shame how one film has changed a place so much. I live on Koh Lanta, which is just an hour away from Phi Phi by boat, and we can see Phi Phi from the beaches over here but I have no urge to go over there. An English guy who lives on Lanta writes a monthly magazine which has a map in it and on the map is marked a cross where supposedly Leonardo's house is. Any tourists who follow the map to his house find themselves at the rubbish dump instead though! Leonardo doesn't have a house on Lanta but the magazine writer has a funny sense of humour!