Thailand's Maya Bay: 'You think you're in Times Square'

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Media caption,

Thailand's Maya Bay beach to shut

Christy Reid and Heather Mason walk up and down Thailand's famous Maya Bay trying to get the perfect picture for their Instagram.

But it's tough for the British tourists to get a photo where it looks like they're the only ones in it.

"We came here and didn't think it would be this busy," says Christie. "It's still stunning though."

Soon after Newsbeat met Christy and Heather last year, the beach on the island of Phi Phi Leh closed.

It was only meant to temporary, but now that closure has just been extended until 2021.

Thai authorities are giving the short strip of sand - made famous by Danny Boyle's film The Beach - a chance to recover from the strain of thousands of daily visitors.

'We have to do something to save our sea'

Image caption,
Christy Reed and Heather Mason are friends from the UK who visited the beach before it closed last June

"We are a beautiful country but we have to protect our natural resources," says Thon Thamrongnawasawat, an advisor to Thailand's national parks department.

"We have significant information that all the boats that come in and out really impact the coral reef.

"We won't close it to tourism forever but have to do something to save our sea - and we have to start at Maya Bay."

Even if you've never seen the 1998 film with Leonardo DiCaprio, Maya Bay has become a bucket list destination for travellers, gap year students and holiday makers.

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The country continues to increase in popularity, with 467,000 visits by UK tourists in 2016.

Most of those who visit Maya Bay only stay for a couple of hours. They have a paddle, a stroll and a selfie - but it's not quite the paradise they'd imagined.

Lara Vogelsberg is from Germany and thinks what you see and what you get are very different.

"The beach in the film is very relaxing, there are no people to be seen, and you get this idea of a very lonely place in the middle of nowhere.

"Then you come here and you think you're in Times Square in New York."

'I'm just glad I got to see it'

Image source, Getty Images
Image caption,
People love a selfie on Maya Bay

The beach is stunning but definitely not relaxing.

There's the constant sound of the speedboat engines, their propellers churn up the water and it's hard to get a patch of the sand to yourself.

The area is generally clean but there are still some pockets of litter which tourists leave behind.

Before it closed, up to 5,000 people were visiting the bay every day and most of its coral died as a result.

Image caption,
Mel Sukonik and Ariane Benedetto (right) visited for the day with their friends from the US

Its Department of National Parks, Wildlife and Plant Conservation issued a notice saying it realised "the deterioration of the ecosystem in the area of Maya Bay".

Kerri Arnold and Kendal Corgile are visiting from Atlanta, Georgia, and describe it as "hectic but beautiful".

"I didn't realise how busy the beach would be.

"I'm just glad I got to see it."

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