Thailand is one of the most popular backpacker destinations in the world. People arrive in droves to eat the delicious food, enjoy the sun and take a swim in the beautiful beaches. Everyone I speak with claims to have visited a very special beach, and I guess some of this mythologization of a range of sand comes from the novel “The Beach”.

The debut novel by Alex Garland in 1996 is well-known by most travelers, especially after the movie adaptation that was released four years later. While the book may be a fan favorite for backpackers, the film is not nearly there but the first half is quite good at portraying the mass tourism in Thailand.

The movie features Leonardo DiCaprio as the backpacker Richard trying to find the perfect beach. He stays in a dodgy hostel on infamous Khao San Road, where he receives a map from an estranged Robert Carlyle. The map marks the location of the eponymous beach on an island west of Koh Samui.

As always in movies, the locations often differ between depiction and reality. The filming location of the beach is actually Maya Bay in Phi Phi Islands and the “Khao San Road” hotel is On On Hotel in Phuket City, about 200 meters west of the hotel where I was staying yesterday. The author Rolf Potts actually tried to sneak into the heavily guarded movie set in Phi Phi, hilariously retold in his short story “Storming the beach”.

Maya bay at Phi Phi Islands Maya Bay, as seen from a boat.

The production team received complaints as they were altering the Phi Phi location for filming purposes. They also changed some of the hills digitally in post-production to make it even more beautiful. But it looks perfect enough to me, as I enter the bay on a boat.

The beach itself is quite crowded these days, but the water provides fine snorkeling and the surrounding limestone cliffs are nothing short of spectacular. Among the corals I see red fishes which are initially cute, but soon feels a bit more devious as they bite small skin samples from me. Even so, the soundtrack I hear in my inner ear is Porcelain by Moby rather than the Jaws theme.

Alex Garland’s book was actually inspired by the lagoon El Nido at island Palawan in the Philippines, and the book was also written there according to the legend. But facts like that won’t stop the horde from arriving to the shores of Phi Phi Islands, to find some grains of sand that perhaps was once touched by Leo’s bottom.

As I look around, I realize that while it may not be a perfect beach, it still is a perfect memory.


No comments yet.

Leave a reply