The Thai beach made famous in Leonardo DiCaprio's movie The Beach has reopened to visitors after a 32-month closure.
Maya Bay, on the island of Phi Phi Leh, is welcoming tourists again after access was restricted to allow the area’s ecosystem to recover.
Once known for its pristine shoreline and coral-filled waters, the beach was closed in May 2019 after researchers discovered that overtourism was destroying the region’s natural ecosystem.
Its reopening comes with strict limits on visitor numbers, which are capped to 375 at once. Swimming remains off-limits to tourists and boats can only dock at designated locations that are on the other side of the island, away from protected coral reefs.
"The sharks have come back, coral reefs are regrowing, and the water is clear again," Yuthasak Supasorn, governor of the Tourism Authority of Thailand, told Reuters.
"These things show that nature will heal if we give it time, and we have to work to keep it that way, too."
The beach's closure in 2019 followed a four-month temporary shutting in 2018.
That original closure didn’t give the natural ecological system enough time to rehabilitate, with authorities reporting that up to 80 per cent of the region’s corals remained dead despite the measures. The decision was then made to close the beach again until further notice, at least until 2021.
Maya Bay became a bucket-list favourite after it was featured in the 2000 backpacking blockbuster directed by Danny Boyle, starring DiCaprio as an American adventurer seeking escape on a pristine island in Thailand.
Surrounded by towering limestone cliffs and the Andaman Sea, the beach lies on the coastline of Phi Phi Leh island in Krabi, one of Thailand’s most popular provinces for tourists.
Covid-19 hampers Thailand's tourism industry
Before the coronavirus pandemic, Thailand was the world’s eighth most-visited country, attracting nearly 40 million visitors in 2019. Bangkok, the Thai capital, was the world's most-visited city, with more than 22.78 million tourists in the same year.
Thailand has been attempting to welcome holidaymakers again since the country closed to tourism at the beginning of the Covid-19 pandemic. On July 1, 2021, the island of Phuket opened again in what would be the first in a series of Thai regions to restart tourism.
However, plans to keep destinations open and extend the reopening to other regions across the country have been hampered by the pandemic.
On December 24, 2021, amid surging Omicron cases, Thai authorities suspended new applications for the Thailand Pass, required by the majority of tourists to visit Thailand. This decision, which applies to almost all regions excluding Phuket, hampered tourism during the festive period, traditionally one of Thailand’s busiest times for overseas holidaymakers.