Thai beach made famous by Leonardo DiCaprio movie closes to tourism

Tourists walk the beach of Maya Bay, Phi Phi Leh island in Krabi province, Thailand, which will close to tourists for four months from Friday to give its coral reefs and sea life a chance to recover. (AP)
Updated 31 May 2018
0

Thai beach made famous by Leonardo DiCaprio movie closes to tourism

  • Thailand has promoted unfettered tourism for decades and the onslaught on Maya Bay, which is on Phi Phi Leh Island in the Andaman Sea, has only picked up pace in recent years
  • Thailand has promoted unfettered tourism for decades and the onslaught on Maya Bay, which is on Phi Phi Leh Island in the Andaman Sea, has only picked up pace in recent years

MAYA BAY, Thailand: Once a pristine Thai paradise, the secluded bay made famous by the Leonardo DiCaprio movie “The Beach” has been exhausted by mass tourism. Now it’s getting a break.
After Friday, the daily influx of dozens of boats and thousands of visitors unsuccessfully scrambling for an unspoiled view of Maya Bay’s emerald waters and glistening white sand will end. The attraction is being closed for four months to give its coral reefs and sea life a chance to recover.
Thailand has promoted unfettered tourism for decades and the onslaught on Maya Bay, which is on Phi Phi Leh Island in the Andaman Sea, has only picked up pace in recent years. Authorities now say they are striving to balance profit and conservation and the closure will happen every year.
It’s part of a rethink happening globally about unrestricted tourism that brings in big dollars but damages historic sites, harms the environment and often alienates locals.
Last month, the Philippines began a six-month closure of popular Boracay Island, whose waters President Rodrigo Duterte described as a “cesspool.” Venice, the famed Italian lagoon city that lives off tourism, installed gates at two access bridges during a four-day holiday in April so it could turn back visitors if numbers became overwhelming.
Many of Thailand’s marine national parks are closed from mid-May to mid-October during the monsoon season but because of Maya Bay’s popularity, it hasn’t had a break since a Hollywood crew set foot on its sands in 1999 to film the dark backpacker tale based on a novel by Alex Garland. Its corals have been decimated by the suffocating clouds of sand and sediment churned up by speedboats.
“I tried to push this campaign for many, many years, but you know in Thailand we are a tourism industry country and we need a lot of money, so before not so many people listened,” said Thon Thamrongnawasawat, a marine biologist and member of a government committee on development and the environment.
“It should have been done 10 years ago but at least it has been done,” he said.
Thailand had about 35 million international visitors last year, a five-fold increase in little more than two decades.
Shi Pengfei, among the last tourists to visit Maya Bay before its closure, said he had no idea that there would be so many people on the beach.
“I feel that there are so many people here,” said Shi, from Henan, China. “The government’s plan to close off the beach for a few months is only natural because the ocean needs a break, a chance to recover, so that the next generation can have a better and even more beautiful destination.”
But locals aren’t entirely happy. The head of the Phi Phi Tourist Business Association, Watrapol Jantharo, said he was surprised when the closure was announced in March by Thailand’s National Parks and Wildlife Department.
He said locals were under the impression that Maya Bay would only be closed to boats, while visitors would still walk to the bay from the other side of the island.
“We are not against protecting our environment,” he said. “We know full well that Maya Bay is our important resource, like a rice field to a farmer, but we wish there are more communications about the government’s plan before the decision was made.”
Thon, however, said the plan was discussed with locals for three years before a decision was made.
“In the past, we made some mistake because we think that the money is very important. But now we are trying to change our idea,” he said. Overseas visitors are “very important to our country, but the most important thing is our national resource. We have to preserve and hand it to the next generation.”
The government has set a limit of 2,000 tourists a day when the bay reopens — about half the current number. Boats will no longer be allowed to anchor but must dock on the opposite side of the island.
“Now that the government has this plan, we can’t change it. But we could use this opportunity to tell the world that we do not just have Maya Bay. There are 10 other beautiful beaches and islands around here that tourists can enjoy,” said Watrapol.
Thailand’s efforts to protect certain islands after decades of unregulated tourism began about three years ago under the current military junta, which has banned the types of protests such moves may have sparked had they been announced by civilian governments.
Yoong Island, part of the Phi Phi island chain, and Tachai Island in the Similan Islands National Park, have been off-limits to tourists since mid-2016.
Thon, who surveyed both islands recently, said he was amazed by the results. Waters that were devoid of fish are now teeming, he said, and there is about 10,000 square meters (107,600 square feet) of newly recovered coral off one of the islands.
At Maya Bay, park rangers have been preparing a coral propagation program, attaching it to rocks that will be placed in the bay once the tourists are gone.
“We’re almost certain that something good will happen in Maya Bay,” Thon said.


World Cup 2018: A Muslim-friendly travel guide

Updated 13 June 2018
0

World Cup 2018: A Muslim-friendly travel guide

Moscow

Both Tunisia and Iran are based in the vibrant 800-year-old Russian capital, renowned for its golden domes and stunning orthodox architecture. It is home to the famous Russian ballet and a wealth of art, culture and iconic scenery, including the breathtaking Red Square. A truly multicultural capital, Moscow is home to a sizeable Muslim community, which first began to settle here around the time of the Golden Horde. If you want to explore some of the capital’s Islamic heritage, visit the historic Muslim area, Zamoskvorechie, and head for the ‘Historical Mosque,’ built in 1823 by Muslim tatars. Reopened in 1993 after a lengthy closure under communism, the mosque has recently undergone a major refurbishment. Along with the 10k-capacity Moscow Cathedral Mosque (pictured), it is the capital’s most significant Muslim building.
Halal Food: You’ll find plenty on offer, from highly rated restaurants including Mr. Livanets (Lebanese), Dyushes (Azerbaijani), and Gandhara (Asian) to halal food carts.
Mosque: The Moscow Cathedral Mosque on Pereulok Vypolzov.
Qibla: South.

Saint Petersburg

Saudi Arabia’s national team will be based in this bastion of Russian imperialism, known as the Russian ‘Venice’ for its stunning network of canals, neo-Renaissance architecture and its plethora of culture, arts and all things splendid. Visitors can enjoy a wealth of museums, galleries, open promenades and the finest dining in the northern hemisphere — talking of which, sun lovers will be delighted to know that during the World Cup the sun will barely dip below the horizon. Muslim visitors should not miss the St. Petersburg Mosque’s sumptuous Central Asian architecture and mesmeric blue tiles (pictured) — a design inspired by Tamerlane’s tomb in Samarkand, Uzbekistan.
Halal Food: Limited, in comparison to Moscow, but both Eastern European restaurant Navruz and Oh! Mumbai (Indian) have received generally positive online reviews.
Mosque: St. Petersburg Mosque on Kronverkskiy Prospekt.
Qibla: South-east.

Grozny

Egypt’s ‘Pharaohs’ should feel right at home in the Chechen capital, which is home to a huge Muslim population (its coat of arms features a mosque), making it one of the most halal-friendly destinations on our list. The mosque in question is the city’s flagship monument and main tourist attraction, the Ottoman-style Akhmad Kadyrov Mosque. Modelled on Istanbul’s Sultanahmet Mosque and sited in a serene location on the west bank of the Sunzha River, it is part of an ‘Islamic’ complex also housing the Russian Islamic University, Kunta Hajji, and is the spiritual headquarters for the Muslims of the Chechen Republic. Much of Grozny is still being rebuilt after being virtually destroyed in two wars with Russia in the 1990s and 2000s, much of it through investment from the UAE.
Halal Food: Chechnya is majority-Muslim, so you’ll be spoiled for choice, from fast-food chain Ilis to high-end restaurants in five-star hotels.
Mosque: Akhmad Kadyrov on Prospekt Putina.
Qibla: South-west.

Voronezh

Morocco are based in quiet (at least until the tournament starts), picturesque Voronezh. The city is littered with lush green spaces and stunning churches. It’s home to a large orthodox Christian community, as well as small Jewish and still-smaller Muslim ones. The city’s beautiful 114-year-old synagogue on Ulitsa Svobody is a popular tourist attraction. Those looking for more ‘familiar’ heritage should head to the Kramskoy Museum of Fine Arts on Revolyutsii Avenue, home to an impressive collection of ancient Egyptian works of art on stone and sarcophagi.
Halal Food: Very sparse. The Asian restaurant Bahor bills itself as offering the “only halal food in Voronezh,” and there are reportedly a couple of grocery stores selling halal meat, one in the city’s central market.
Mosque: While no official mosque has yet been built in Voronezh, Muslims do gather to pray. According to Halalguide.me, there is an informal mosque on Ulitsa Gvardeyskaya.
Qibla: South.

Essentuki

Essentuki, which will host Nigeria in its Pontos Plaza Hotel (pictured), is famous for its health spas and mineral water, so the 'Super Eagles' should at least be able to relax after their games. Muslim visitors may want to drop by Kurortny Park, where the drinking gallery was inspired by Islamic Moorish design.
Halal Food: Hard to find. There is a kebab house that may be able to provide halal options. Otherwise, head to the area around the mosque in nearby Pyatigorsk.
Mosque: The nearest mosque is 25 minutes drive west in Pyatigorsk, on Skvoznoy Pereulok.
Qibla: Southwest.

Kaluga

It’s all about space exploration in the city where Senegal will be based. Space travel pioneer Konstantin Tsiolkovsky taught in Kaluga in his early years. The town’s main attraction — unsurprisingly — is the Tsiolkovsky State Museum of the History of Cosmonautics, reportedly the world’s first space museum. Second billing goes to the rocket scientist’s quaint old wooden family home.
Halal Food: Very hard to find. Asian restaurant Chaikhana and Russian eatery Solyanka (pictured) appear to cater to alternative dietary requirements, and may be worth a call.
Mosque: The town’s main mosque is a converted building off Ulitsa Annenki.
Qibla: South.