Thursday, March 29, 2018

In a parallel universe, Maya Bay is okay.

Here in the Philippines, there is word that Boracay, one of the most-visited tourist islands in the country, might close for six months for some much-needed rehabilitation.

And while there is no real confirmation of this yet; it seems that other islands in Asia are going through a similar threat, one of which just happens to be one of my favorite islands: Maya Bay on Koh Phi Phi. And that's what I will be focusing on today.

A little back story: when we were about to move to Thailand, I forgot to bring a book with me on the plane and decided to buy one at one of the small bookstores at the airport. I stumbled upon Alex Garland's 'The Beach' and became so absolutely obsessed with it, I read it in German shortly after reading it in English. I promised myself I would visit 'the beach' the minute I got to Thailand. But then I never did.

So when my dad announced that we were moving to the Philippines seven years after I first read the book (I had probably read it 12 times by then), I panicked. And despite having had just given birth three months prior to our move and having had just gotten my first tattoo a week prior to the news, I packed my bags immediately to search for what I was convinced would be paradise.


Yes, it was the dawn of the Blackberrys.

Dreamcatcher accessories all around!


After a 12-hour train ride, I got on a ferry to Koh Phi Phi.


This is how empty the ferry was when I went back in May 2010. According to reports online, Koh Phi Phi now receives 200 boats and 4,000 visitors per day!

The next day, I looked for a way to get to Maya Bay, a smaller island where most of 'The Beach' was shot. Truth be told, it wasn't hard. I immediately found a little stall on the island that offered an overnight tour of Maya Bay for 2,000 baht.

I was told that while a lot of tourists went to Maya Bay during the day to take pictures, only a select few were actually able to spend the night there. I had to grab the opportunity before slots filled up. Now or never na ka. And just like Leonardo in 'The Beach', I caved without even thinking twice.


On the way to Maya Bay, we passed by Viking Caves.

It was a leisurely boat ride around Phi Phi Le to avoid the crowds.

And then there it was: my first view of the island.



I thought I was going to faint. All of a sudden, the air smelled different, my skin crawled, and all of my dreams had come true all at once. I know I wasn't that far from where I originally was, but I guess when you fall in love - whether it's with a movie, a song, a place, or a person - it's always the same: all of your senses become involved and everything suddenly feels surreal and otherworldly.



There were about 10 other boats there aside from ours and about 50 other people, but it actually didn't bother me that much. In fact, it gave off more 'The Beach' vibes. And I liked it. Hearing that hundreds of boats go now kind of changes things a bit, though. :(



To be honest, Maya Bay looked nothing like the beach in 'The Beach'. After all, the tsunami of 2004 had hit it pretty hard according to our tour guide. Plus, Hollywood planted 60 palm trees there for the movie and CGI-ed a huge boulder to make the place look more isolated.

Also, the waterfall in the movie? It's actually located in Khao Yai - ages and ages away from the actual beach - but that didn't stop me from reveling in what I considered to be paradise at the time. (I say at the time because I have been to islands here in the Philippines by now, and I must say: they trump Thai islands by miles!)

We had to walk to the beach from our boat because it was low tide, but the timing was simply impeccable because by the time we got to the beach, it was sunset time:



It was beautiful. I spent around 30 minutes just sitting there and wondering if I would ever get to do anything as fun and random and spontaneous as this ever again.

My daughter is 8 now. And the answer is no, new mommy Anj. No, you won't. :p

Most of my beach trips in Thailand were done on my own - and this one was no exception. I planned everything about this on my own and one of the perks of traveling solo is that you get to meet a ton of random people. Let me just share some of the memories that I made with complete strangers:



Steve, the guy in the middle, is a diabetic. He missed his shot and we all panicked when we were drunk looking for him. Turns out he was in the water almost passed out. :p



We also played a mean game of King's Cup. And this guy had to drink various kinds of alcohol with coffee and a chicken wing mixed into it. I will never understand the games that college me played.



There was only one 'older' guy in the group, whom we called Old Bob because there were three Bobs in our group. Every time someone went to the toilet, they had to give him a 30-second lap dance. This is our resident stripper giving the first lap dance and Old Bob enjoying it.

We were all pretty drunk after that, and it turns out one of the guys in our group knew how to handle fire, so we got a free fire show out of the night, too:




After that, the night got more magical. The plankton came out to play and we all jumped into separate areas of the ocean for proper me time. And as I stood there in the middle of nowhere with plankton glowing under my arms and legs, someone played the soundtrack of 'The Beach'. I remember crying silently out of both drunkenness and happiness, and also out of awe because I didn't know what I did to deserve to experience such beauty. It was one of those moments that I would cherish and remember for the rest of my life.

And it absolutely pains me to hear that marine biologists have found that a lot of the coral reefs around the area are now gone and that the sea life - those utterly beautiful glowing plankton, and the adorable crabs and hermit crabs we made race on the sand - has virtually disappeared. I actually feel like someone close to me is sick and about to die, and I'm powerless to stop it.

That night, I grabbed a blanket and slept on the sand by the waves. It drizzled at one point and everyone ran for cover into the caves when it started, but I remember just putting a towel on my face and waiting for it to pass. It didn't last long, but no one came back out and I had the entire beach to myself.

The next day was spent re-enacting scenes from the movie coz I'm an utter dork like that:












On Wednesday, Thailand's National Parks and Wildlife Department decided to close Maya Bay for four months starting this June with hopes of recovering its coral reefs and sea life. I really hope it works...

In a parallel universe, Maya Bay is probably okay just as how in a parallel universe, its ocean is still happily glowing with plankton at night. And how in a parallel universe, I am still feeling as infinite as I felt that night. In a parallel universe.

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