Officials in Thailand have just reopened one of the country’s most famous attractions.
Maya Bay, a beautiful cove made famous by “The Beach” – a 2000 film starring Leonardo DiCaprio – began welcoming tourists on January 1, 2022 for the first time in more than three years.
The popular destination has been off limits to tourists since June 2018 as officials embarked on a rejuvenation program aimed at reviving the popular area’s decimated corals.
Located in Thailand’s Hat Noppharat Thara-Mu Ko Phi Phi National Park, Maya Bay is part of Phi Phi Leh – one of the two main Phi Phi islands in Krabi province.
Unlike the much larger Phi Phi Don, home to an abundance of budget and mid-range accommodation options, Phi Phi Leh was only open to day-trip visitors prior to the closure of Maya Bay.
But it’s been one of the country’s most famous attractions over the last two decades, thanks much in part to the global success of “The Beach,” part of which was filmed there.
On a CNN visit to the area several weeks prior to its closure, visitor numbers multiplied by the minute as boats poured in and out of the bay. Many visitors to the area were day-trippers from Phuket, which is less than an hour’s ride away by speedboat. According to official figures, the bay was receiving an estimated 5,000 visitors per day on average in 2018.
“Maya Bay has been continuously receiving interest from tourists around the world. But this has also caused (the natural area) to deteriorate, especially the corals,” said Natural Resources and Environment Minister Varawut Silpa-Archa in a statement issued following the announcement that the park would reopen January 1.
“After shutting down Maya Bay to revive and restore it, up until the present, it has returned to a good condition.”
New entry rules
The reopening comes with several caveats. Boats are not be able to enter the bay. Instead, drivers have to drop passengers off at a pier set at the back of the island away from the famed cove.
In November, government officials told CNN only eight speedboats would be allowed to dock there at a time, and visits would be capped at one hour, with a maximum of 300 tourists allowed per round, from 10 a.m.-4 p.m daily.
For the moment, visitors are not allowed to swim in Maya Bay.
Originally, officials said Maya Bay would be closed for just four months. But they extended the closure indefinitely, citing the need for more time to replant coral in the bay and expand the island’s visitor facilities.
Thailand reimposes travel restrictions
On November 1, Thailand relaxed its quarantine restrictions for travelers from 63 approved “low risk” countries and territories.
However, officials temporarily suspended this program, called “Test and Go,” from December 22, 2021, citing the rising number of Omicron variant cases in the country.
Fully vaccinated travelers can enter Thailand via the “Phuket Sandbox” program. As part of this scheme, they need to fly directly to the island stay in a government-approved hotel or resort for seven nights, after which they’ll be free to travel in the rest of the country.
Travelers flying into Bangkok must quarantine at government-approved quarantine facilities or Alternative State Quarantine (ASQ) facilities for 10 days.
Read more about Thailand’s entry restrictions here.
Top image: An aerial view of Phi Phi Leh, with Maya Bay at its center. Credit: Adobe Stock
CNN’s Kocha Olarn contributed to this report.