The sun glittered and shimmered on the turquoise water as we skimmed our way back to Ao Nang beach. The Things for once sat still on our laps as Mr Wanderlust and I struggled to keep our eyes open. It had been an early start (relatively) and we had packed a lot into our full day on the boat. We’d just been to paradise but there was something I couldn’t make my peace with.
I couldn’t sleep
Despite the exhaustion, my mind was whirling. The boat captain had been sure he knew what we wanted and he shuttled us from beach to island to cave and back again.
All in all we had visited 6 places in 6 hours. That counts the 1.5 hour unintended lunch stop and the hour long boat ride to and from the islands. It wasn’t quite the idea I’d had of a quiet day on some secluded beach somewhere that felt like paradise. Luckily the Things had loved it.
Koh Phi Phi
I wasn’t naive. We had done our research and we knew that Koh Phi Phi was among the most popular islands in the Andaman Sea. It was supposed to be paradise, right? I mean just look at the photos!
So popular, in fact, that we had read that Maya Beach (of The Beach fame) is due to be closed for 4 months in order to give the area a chance of some regeneration. When I read the news I was dismayed that things had become so bad (200 boats and 4000 people a day) that such a drastic measure was needed. At the same time I was pleased that the authorities and local businesses had taken the step (I believe it took some time to come to an understanding).
It’s a growing solution
Just a week before I had read about another paradise, Boracay, in the Philippines being closed for 6 months.
Was it really that bad?
Our first stop was at a beach called Nui Beach. This tiny sliver of powder soft, white sand and crystal clear water was stunning. It was busy, yes, but not terribly bad. With a carefully selected frame, you could create a vision that you were almost alone there. To be fair, after we arrived some of the boats left and we really didn’t have to share the beach with that many people. I was excited for what was to come if that was our first taste of paradise.
As we left, the next shift of boats were arriving and I should have paid more attention that this was a sign of things to come.
Monkey Island and Maya Beach
Our next stop was Monkey Island at the recommendation of the captain.
Let’s just be clear here. I can’t and don’t blame him for any of this. He assumed we wanted what every other tourist wanted and he gave us just that. We hadn’t appreciated the machine that visiting Koh Phi Phi has become.
Monkey Island was HEAVING with people. They were everywhere and swarmed around the monkeys trying to get the perfect shot. I wanted to leave before we even got off the boat. I took photos of the monkeys to share with the Things and to remind them of our holiday. I will not be sharing them here or on social media.
Later that afternoon we went to Maya Beach and… honestly? It was every bit as bad as I’d thought it would be.
It was hard to imagine we were in the same place that 18 years ago we watched on movie screens. I made a conscious decision to take photos of the zoo that it has become rather than trying to capture a tiny slice that makes it look like we were the only ones there.
As we left we counted 22 speedboats and 7 longtails moored up at the beach. There were at least half a dozen more anchored around the bay. And that’s not the half of it. The boats were coming and going all the time.
This was just the visual impact I could see, Wanderlusters. It takes no account of the damage these boats are doing to the coral or the marine life under that crystal clear water.
On the one hand, I love what globalisation and tourism has done and is doing for our generation and the next. I truly believe that by taking the Things on adventurous holidays instead of a 2 week all inclusive holiday on a beach somewhere that we are teaching them more than they can learn in a classroom alone. While we were there I remember thinking I’d have been willing to pay double or triple the price just so it meant that the pressure on the islands was reduced. But that’s not what I want at all Wanderlusters. Here’s the thing:
It’s not about the money
Charging more just returns this sort of travel to the few who can afford it. It would relegate normal (if you can call us that) people like us to much more unadventurous trips. It would mean that many people wouldn’t get to travel at all. We would get to experience new cultures or to meet people who live in societies so different to ours. We couldn’t try new foods or see new sights. I honestly don’t think that would be a good thing either.
There has to be a better way
I’m not naive enough to think it’s as easy as me writing a blog post to solve the problem. These closures are an encouraging sign that people are waking up to the problem but the key is to not let it get this bad in the first place. On a simple supply and demand basis, charging more would be effective but elitist.
Restricting numbers could have a long term effect on local businesses. I’m not just talking about the tourism related things like boat tours. All businesses will be affected if there are closures especially somewhere like Boracay. At least on Koh Phi Phi it’s “only” one beach for now.
Local authorities have a tricky job on their hands balancing the needs of their local environments with those of local businesses. We need to get to a place where those needs go alongside each other, hand in hand. Not where they are compete against each other.
And trust me Wanderlusters
I’ll be doing alot more research into responsible and sustainable tourism for our future holidays.