“Trust me, it’s paradise. This is where the hungry come to feed. For mine is the generation that travels the globe and searches for something we haven’t tried before. So never refuse an invitation, never resist the unfamiliar, never fail to be polite & never outstay the welcome. Just keep your mind open and suck in the experience— And if it hurts, you know what? It’s probably worth it.”
― Alex Garland, The Beach
Paradise. Never has the word sounded more accurate of a description than the moment I set foot on Maya Bay. It was as if we were transported inside a magical postcard and the beach was ours. After years of dreaming of being on this beach, “the beach”, I was finally here and no movie, picture or postcard can compare to the majesty of actually being there.
After all the day visitors disappeared on long boats, we had 13 hours on Maya Bay all to ourselves. Well, us and the other 30 or so people who were on the Maya Bay Sleep Aboard Tour (a stark difference from the hundreds of visitors each day).
When planning our month-long honeymoon tour of SE Asia, I had two musts, Angkor Wat, and Koh Phi Phi Le. I set out to find a way onto to the island and came across Maya Bay Sleep Aboard Tours. Whereas most people go to the island for just a few hours via long boat, Maya Bay Sleep Aboard offered a more private experience. Maya Bay is a national park and is off limits to all visitors after sundown; except for those with the Maya Bay Sleep Aboard Tour. Wanting to capitalize on my time and secure the best experience possible, we decided to book the 3,000 bhat tour and it would prove to be the best hundred bucks I have ever spent.
Our Maya Bay Sleep Aboard Tour set sail from Koh Phi Phi Don’s dock at 3pm. While aboard, you could buy canned Chang or Singha beers for 1oo bhat. Upon departure, our tour guide Coco explained what we would be doing for the next 18 hours or so. Snorkeling, kayaking, Maya Bay, bbq dinner and sleeping on the beach itself. “Wait, we are sleeping on the beach,” I say to Jason as he turns to me with excited eyes. The description on the site said we would be heading back to the boat to sleep onboard. This was way more than we had bargained for; an entire night on Maya Bay? Hell yes! I was even more relieved because looking at the size of the boat, I had no idea how 35 people on board were going to all fit to sleep.
Our first stop was a look at the Viking Cave where we were given a quick history of its origins. Next, we anchored off of the opposite side of Koh Phi Phi Leh for about two hours of snorkeling the reef and/or taking the kayak to the shore. The reef was shallow, but spectacular with lots of exotic fish to keep you diving in further for a closer look.
After snorkeling, we set sail for Maya Bay enjoying the pineapple and watermelon slices the team served on the way. As we turn the corner of the island, we were welcomed by the first look at Maya Bay and I can’t help but think “wow, I’m finally here.” The water near the beach is turquoise and the sands bright white. As the boat anchors and we anxiously wait to board our long boat to go onshore, I can’t help but be grateful for Maya Bay Sleep Aboard. The beach is swarming with people and long boats. Jason couldn’t believe that we would be the only people on the beach in just under an hour or so. “There has to be another company that does this,” he kept repeating. “There is no way we will be the only 35 people on this island tonight.” But as time passed and we walked along the beach, the crowds got thinner and thinner. Soon, we were indeed the only 35 people on the beach enjoying the final moments of daylight over the expansive cliffs towering around the bay. As I smiled back at Jason, he nodded in agreement. “Great job Babe,” he said.
As night came over the island, the Maya Bay Tour staff had prepared dinner. It was time to eat some Panang Chicken and rice and man was it delicious! They set up mats for everyone to sit on the beach a little way in from the bay. After dinner, we picked up our free buckets (refills were 250 bhat and beers were 100 bhat) and got ready for drinking games with our guide, Coco. We sat in a huge circle on the mats and played Ring of Fire; a card game where anyone who picked up a King had to dump some of their drink in the communal bucket in the center for the person who picked up the final King to drink. With each card action and “waterfall” episode, our group became more and more inebriated and we all soon became fast friends. We were an international melting pot of Americans, Brits, Canadians, French, Puerto Ricans, Brazilians, Thai, Sweds and us Cuban-Americans J We even met another couple from Miami when we recognized each other’s accents from home almost immediately.
After the first round of Ring of Fire, the Miami couple, Jason, and I wanted to check out the beach before the whole group headed to it to swim with the plankton. The beach was quiet, solitary, with just the sound of the waves crashing on the shallow shore and the light of the moon peeking over the cliff. The tide had gone out, making the beach feel vast. “Magical,” I kept telling Jason as we walked along Maya Bay’s shoreline.
At around 11pm, we saw the group heading to the shore. It was time to swim with the bioluminescent plankton! Coco then instructs us to get in the water and move our arms around the water to agitate the plankton. The water was cold, but bearable and once I started flailing around, there were brief trails of glowing water that would trail from my fingers. It wasn’t as bright and present as in the movie but cool nonetheless.
Afterwards, the Maya Bay Tour served some late night bbq chicken wings. Then the group dwindled as many grabbed their mats and sleeping bags and headed to the beach for the night. We stayed and continued to party until the music had to be turned down and then off as they were packing up the camp before going to sleep. The even sparser group then created a circle on one end of the beach and began singing with a guitar. After a few minutes, we grabbed our gear and searched for a good spot on the beach to sleep. As we laid on our mats, billions upon billions of stars were visible. Magical.
The night was rough. Sand isn’t the most forgiving of surfaces to sleep on, but the next morning made it worth it. As the light rose around the bay, I just sat in awe. Many headed to the other side of the island to watch the sunrise, but I was happy with my quiet view. It was about 6:30a when the first longboat touched the sand on Maya Bay bringing to shore 3 new visitors for the day. It was time to pack up and enjoy our final moments on the island. Before boarding our longtail back to the boat, we all took the epic group jump picture!
Once back on board, we set sail immediately and watched as paradise melted from view. Breakfast was served onboard once we were out of Maya Bay. Before heading back to Koh Phi Phi Don, we made a stop on Monkey Beach and had some fun feeding and playing with the monkeys. Some weren’t as nice and caution should be taken as they will bite.
We docked back on Koh Phi Phi Don at 10am and then it was over. We headed back to the Maya Bay Sleep Aboard office and picked up our packs that we had dropped off the day before. I felt a bit melancholy that it was over, but the experience made my lifetime top 5 travel moments. Paradise. It truly was, Paradise.