Visiting Maya Bay in Thailand's Phi Phi Islands has been on my travel bucket list for forever. It's the picture perfect beach where Leonardo DiCaprio played a backpacker in the movie "The Beach" and the source of inspiration for computer background stock images everywhere. It's not a stretch to say that I planned our trip to Thailand around this excursion and was so looking forward to it. The downside is that Maya Bay is also #1 on many other people's lists too. To beat the crowds and have the experience you want it's important to thoughtfully plan out your visit to Maya Bay in advance.

Maya Bay is located on Koh Phi Phi Leh, in the Phi Phi islands. It's a gorgeous bay that's protected by gigantic limestone cliffs on almost all sides (in "The Beach" editing magic makes it a completely enclosed bay). The sand is bright white and silky soft, and the water is crystal clear and sparkles all shades of turquoise. It's a beautiful spot, a dream location and looks like a postcard... but it can also become filled with tourists, get overcrowded with boats and be a hassle to get to.

If visiting Maya Bay is on your Thailand bucket list too, here are some tips to make your experience as easy and great as possible.

Think about where you'll be based

If Maya Bay is an absolute must for you, it's important to thoughtfully plan where you'll be coming from to see it. Phuket and Krabi are an easy choices as they both offer tons of lodging options and frequent tours- private and group- to Maya Bay. Mainly speedboats are used on these trips and take anywhere from an hour to 90 minutes. If you're looking for a more "authentic" experience (or the great photo ops) of traveling to Maya Bay on a traditional Thai long-tail boat make sure you check to see what your vessel is. You can also stay on Phi Phi Don and take a short and easy long-tail boat ride over to Maya Bay. Phi Phi Don is one of the Phi Phi islands right next to Maya Bay, however, this island has the reputation of catering to young tourists interested in partying... something to keep in mind.

I decided against staying on Phuket, Krabi or Phi Phi Don and opted for the more serene Koh Lanta as my home base for this portion of the trip. Koh Lanta is accessible via a flight into Krabi, and then our hotel required a boat ride from Krabi to its location on Koh Lanta. I loved the island and our resort, Pimalai, but it really wasn't the best choice as a base for visiting Maya Bay. Koh Lanta is about two hours from Maya Bay via boat and I hired a private captain to take us on this excursion. I knew I wanted an authentic experience (and the Instagram photos) of journeying on a long-tail boat, so that also added length to our trip as they're slower than speed boats. Unfortunately our weather also wasn't the best (more on that later) and we had a pretty choppy, wet and unenjoyable trip across the Andaman sea to Maya Bay (our long-tail boat's motor also died halfway across and we had to be rescued by a local fishing boat, but that's a story for another day...) 

Avoid group tours

While doing research for this trip, I read some not-so-great things about group tours to Maya Bay. A lot of the reviewers mentioned these tours being rushed, overpacked and not a great time. I knew I wanted a more personal experience when visiting Maya Bay and would be crushed if I was on a group tour and didn't get to spend my time on my own accord. I hired a private boat and spoke with the captain ahead of time telling him the time I wished to leave and what I was hoping to see. Of course a private trip is more expensive, but may not be as much as you're thinking. Negotiation is always possible and our day long tour to Maya Bay was under $250 USD. If you don't mind keeping to someone else's schedule and just want to see Maya Bay for an affordable price, a group tour may be the way to go. If you want to make a day out of it and really customize your experience opt for private.

Beat the crowds

If you want to experience the true Maya Bay and take some fabulous photos without a million tourists and boat congestion, it's imperative to get there as early as possible. Your wake up time will determine if you go with a group or private and where you're coming from. I asked our boat to pick us up at 5:00a. With a two hour ride ahead of us that would have gotten us to Maya Bay around 7:00a (we were delayed due to motor issues). I'd say if you really want to experience the beach with no one there 7:00a should be the latest you plan to arrive.

Even though we had a hiccup and got to Maya Bay later than we wanted, around 9:00a, we still had a basically empty beach due to the weather. It was dry season when we visited, but unfortunately we still had rain. It wasn't pouring, but it was a pretty steady stream of rain all day that kept people away. It was a huge bummer that we didn't have a sunny day, and our plans of spending hours laying in the sun on Maya Bay were ruined. A positive is that we were still able to get photos and the beach was practically empty.

We spent a little bit of time swimming and walking along the shore, but when all of our clothes and our towels got soaked from the rain we opted to head back early after a quick visit to nearby Monkey Beach.

I'm hoping to visit Maya Bay again in the not-so-distant future and have better luck with the weather. It's still an absolutely surreally stunning beach, rain or shine, and a not-miss during your time in Southern Thailand!

Have you been to Maya Bay? I'd love to hear about your experience in the comments!


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