Thailand’s Maya Bay – made famous thanks to Leonardo DiCaprio’s Hollywood smash The Beach – is closed at present to allow ecosystems at the scenic cove a chance to recover. The bay had only just reopened this year after more than three years of being closed to the public following significant degradation to the local environment, with fierce debate currently brewing between local groups about whether or not the closure of one of the country’s leading tourism attractions should be made permanent or seasonal.
However, regardless of whether the bay is set to reopen or close for good, there’s no reason for travelers to fear as Thailand has plenty more beautiful beaches, cozy coves and idyllic islands to enjoy. Here’s a look at five of the most beautiful alternatives to Maya Bay, and why travelers looking to visit the Land of Smiles over the next few months should add them to their travel itineraries as soon as possible.
For travelers looking for an alternative to Maya Bay, where better arguably the country’s most beautiful beach located in the same province? Situated in coastal Krabi between the main town and Ao Nang, Railay is a remarkable peninsula surrounded by sheer limestone cliffs that provide some of the world’s best rock climbing routes. Home to four distinct beaches, along with a network of caves, tiny islands within swimming distance and mangroves that are rich in biodiversity, Railay provides stunning island views that are best enjoyed from its soft beaches, temperate seas or under the shadow of its looming karsts. Less developed than Koh Phi Phi but with a healthy supply of cafes and eateries, Railay is the perfect place to spend a day or two, and is easily accessible from Ao Nang via a 10-minute longtail boat ride.
Also located on the country’s Andaman coast, Ko Similan – better known as the Similan Islands – are a Mecca for diving enthusiasts, but there’s more than just life beneath the waves to enjoy. Reachable via a boat journey from Phang Nga’s resort town of Khao Lak, the Similan Islands are everything a tropical island paradise should be. The water is remarkably clear, the sand is soft and powdery whilst a wide array of wildlife can be observed – from stunning monitor lizards on the islands themselves to manta rays, sharks and sea turtles around them. Whilst diving will give travelers the full Similan Island experience, most tours also provide snorkeling equipment, which provides a window into the underwater world that helped put this destination on the map.
James Bond Island
Maya Bay isn’t the only destination in Thailand to have welcomed Hollywood to its shores. Khao Phing Kan served as a villain’s hideout in the 1974 James Bond movie The Man with the Golden Gun, and has been referred to as James Bond Island by travelers ever since. Also located in Phang-Nga province in the country’s south, the island is instantly recognizable due to its singular limestone column erupting from the sea in a perpendicular fashion and gorgeous, isolated beaches and islands nearby. The location is mostly underdeveloped, with the entire province of Phang-Nga providing much more local vibes than its tourism-heavy neighbors Phuket and Krabi, providing an authentic slice of life in rural Thailand. Tour tickets to the island often also include a trip to Koh Panyi, a well-known fishing village on stilts famed for its floating soccer pitch.
Phuket is full of beaches, but few share the quiet, effortlessly beautiful qualities that bring travelers to Maya Bay in their droves. Freedom Beach, however, is one of the few exceptions. Despite being geographically close to the rowdy beaches of Patong, Freedom Beach couldn’t be more different. Accessible courtesy of a longtail boat or a perilous descent down a treacherous dirt track, Freedom Beach boasts powdery, white sand, turquoise seas and an abundance of coves, bays and inlets to explore nearby. Tropical coconut trees and palms provide shade and a typical beach atmosphere, and the night-time delights, restaurants and sights of Patong are just around the corner once you’ve had enough of this paradise.
Another glorious location in Krabi Province, Koh Hong is arguably the most aesthetically-similar destination to Maya Bay in the country. Like Maya Bay, Koh Hong features beaches surrounded by sheer cliffs, with views out into the Andaman Sea. However, Koh Hong has hidden delights that many travelers claim exceed even those of The Beach. The island is home to a secluded lagoon, surrounded by cliffs in a way that gives it it’s name – hong means “room” in Thai, and rooms don’t come much better than this, where the water turns from emerald to turquoise as it shimmers in the sun. Whether kayaking in the lagoon, snorkeling off the beach or taking in the entire island from its elevated viewpoint, Koh Hong is one of the most beautiful islands in the country and is easily accessible by boat from various points on Krabi’s mainland.
Controversy is never far from Maya Bay, as Thailand’s court yesterday ordered 20th Century Fox to pay for damages incurred during filming The Beach. Whilst it might be scheduled to reopen at the end of the month, closure once more could be just around the corner – particularly if local environment groups get their way – but these destinations should provide travelers with more than enough memories to make up for missing it.
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This article originally appeared on TravelOffPath.com