CLOSED TO TOURISTS! Koh Phi Phi & Boracay. Where Next?

Maya Bay Koh Phi Phi set to close April 2018

Due to their natural beauty, certain destinations in Southeast Asia run the risk of being completely devestated by tourism.

Ever since Leonardo De Caprio made teenage girls’ hearts pound when he walked out of the sea in Maya Bay, the Thai island of Koh Phi Phi has been one of the most over visited spots in Southeast Asia.

Recently, the Department of National Parks, Wildlife and Plant Conservation said enough is enough. For four months from June 1st – September 30th, the infamous Maya Bay will be completely closed to visitors in an attempt to protect its fragile ecological system, which they say has been severely damaged by high tourist numbers over the past 10 years. (Source: Bangkok Post.)

On average, the tiny bay receives 4,000 visitors/day. Originally tour operators had protested against calls for a closure as they said it would damage the tourist industry.

Truth is – in the long-run, there won’t be a Maya Bay if something is not done.

The infamous Maya Bay receives 4,000+ visitors/day.
The infamous Maya Bay receives 4,000+ visitors/day.

Across the sea in the Philippines, authorities are pushing to close their star beach destination Boracay for six months from the end of April to the end of October. Famed for its powdery white sands, the tiny island has apparently been suffering enormous environmental damage lately after struggling to dispose of its sewage and garbage.

(Update: Following a cabinet meeting on 4th April, Boracay will close for 6 months starting 26 April.)

Filipino President, Duterte, is in favour of the ban after a recent visit to the island calling Boracay a ‘cesspool’. (Source: The Philippine Star.)

White Beach, Boracay, Philippines
White Beach, Boracay, Philippines.

In Koh Phi Phi, authorities are deciding what to do to rehabilitate the island and protect it for future generations. They are discussing an extra charge for tourists who want to visit the island in order to limit the numbers. They are also planning to ban all boats from mooring right on the beach as this is the main cause of damage to the coral reef. A plan to rehabilitate the coral reef is also under discussion.

Longtail and speedboats moored on the beach at Maya Bay.
Longtail and speedboats moored on the beach at Maya Bay.

While on one hand, it’s sad that it’s had to come to this. It seems a positive step that local authorities are taking action to protect their best assets. Personally, I’m doubtful that simply increasing the price for tourists to visit such places is the answer. More will have to be done to regenerate the area in a positive way.

Although we’d like to put the onus on the tourist, with their silly hats and sunburn marks, can we really blame them for wanting to cast eyes on such wonders of the world? And can we hand responsibility entirely to local tour operators for wanting to make a buck out of the tourists?

Patong Beach, Phuket.
Damn tourists! Patong Beach, Phuket.

As advocates of travel in Southeast Asia, we’ve come under attack in the past for ‘promoting’ such paradisical destinations as some of our readers are afraid that if too many people hear about them, then this will inevitably mark the beginning of the demise.

While we wish we were that influential (we’d do better things with our influence believe us!) – we do get your point. We’ve certainly visited places that we want to keep a secret and feel the same desire to protect them.

However, word gets out eventually, and remember that a certain amount of infrastructure is needed before the tourists arrive. (Only a handful of backpackers these days want to camp on the beach and fish for their own supper!)

So, the responsibility lies in the hands of the local authorities to limit damaging development and create plans to protect beautiful paradises whilst allowing a limited number of people to enjoy them.

Littered Otres Beach, Sihanoukville.
A littered Otres Beach, Sihanoukville – the latest victim of over-development in SE Asia. Photo credit: Shane Williams.

We applaud the decision makers behind Koh Phi Phi’s recent closure. It’s a brave first move in an attempt to protect Thailand’s natural wealth. With fragile islands, such a Koh Rong in Cambodia and the Gili Islands in Indonesia under threat – will other local authorities follow suit?

It seems like it’s all too late for poor Sihanoukville.

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Closing to Tourists - Maya Bay, Koh Phi Phi

Founder & Editor at South East Asia Backpacker

Nikki Scott is the founder & editor of South East Asia Backpacker. A traveller-turned-entrepreneur, she left the UK in 2009 and after 6 months on the road, she started a bi-monthly print magazine about backpacking in Asia. South America Backpacker soon followed and today she runs her backpacking enterprise from her base in Spain. Her honest and fascinating book, Backpacker Business, tells the story of her success in the face of adversity.

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