“Toooooot!” A strident whistle blow catches my ears. I heard it before, when on the boat, though no one could figure out what it was supposed to signal. I carry on my mission (je continue mon affaire), and again another loud and high pitch whistle disturbs the peace of my outing on the water. I frown and try to see from my vantage point, the kayak, what the commotion is, who on the beach is blowing this whistle and for what reason, I can’t, too far, all I can see is silhouettes of hundreds of people standing on the beach looking like tiny ants speckling the unspoiled white sand. Maybe a boat is ready to depart and is calling out its load of tourists I tell myself, and resume paddling. Then each paddle strike seems to trigger a bout of intense whistling, and as I come closer, I can see an agitated someone coming forth waving his arms and blowing and blowing, until I realise I must be the commotion. And indeed, on approaching closer, I can finally distinctly hear “GO AWAY! WHAT THE F* ARE YOU DOING (kayaking, isn’t that obvious), GO AWAY!!!” Mmmh, I guess I’ve proven wrong the adage that Thai never lose their temper…
Let me rewind a bit.
We get to Maya Bay around lunch time and grab a mooring that looks conspicuous, happy we’ve made it early enough to get a spot in this prime location. Longtails parade one after another, carrying tourists who want to Instagram themselves at “the best beach in Thailand”. Regardless of their troubling the water and the blaring soundtrack produced, it doesn’t get much better than accessing places for free* when others have to pay for it, we self-congratulate. Ah, sailing life!
It takes us some time to realise that the beach seems to fill up with more and more people, even though we never see any boat disembarking them on it, and reach the conclusion that there is another access around the corner where it must be easier for commercial boats to moore. In the same vein, curiously no one is SUPing or kayaking in the bay, I wonder why that is, too hot maybe? A shame given the quality of the water and the magnificent backdrop. Regardless, I decide to go. And so, while the others enjoy an afternoon siesta, I untie the kayak from the deck and set out to paddle to the beach and check out if there is any snorkelling merit to the place to report back to the base.
Good, so let’s go back to the present.
Anecdotally, I now notice that despite the hundreds of tourists gathered on the beach, no one seem to be swimming either, despite the heat, taking pictures yes, looking at me in disbelief yes, swimming, no. And that’s when the penny drops, maybe this is part of Thailand’s coral regeneration efforts, as I’ve read somewhere, they’ve got temporary bans on this beach to allow the coral to grow after it’s been spoilt by mass tourism drawn to “The Beach” where the famous movie with Leonardo Di Caprio was shot. And the ban is actually not from going to the beach, on a secluded island only accessible by boat (as I had thought and assumed it wasn’t enforced presently given the truck load of people present), but it only applies to swimming, and obviously extends to kayaking. That would explain the angry reaction of the guard. Well, I get that’s the kind of briefing you get as part of your daily package when reaching the place with a private guide, not when you’re sailing on your own boat…
But why bring people here, then? Isn’t it cruelly tantalising to see this beautiful turquoise water and suffer the sun’s heat at its zenith without being allowed in? Do people really pay to come and “look at” a beach? Sure, I can’t deny it is probably the most stunning beach I’ve ever seen, but does it justify the trouble? What a strange world we live in…
When I finally turn around with my guilty kayak, feeling hundreds of pairs of eyes stabbing my back, I take a detour and pay a visit to a boat flying a French flag to introduce myself and make my outing worth it after all, as well as lead anyone astray should they show up later to give me a lecture or claim a fine for my breaking the law. It is also an occasion to explain to my new, very talkative, friend (also friend with Atreju, the Danish boat met back in Fiji and with whom we shared Azur’s birthday cake) the situation, in case she didn’t know either, and save her from the same treatment and embarrassment.
Needless to say, we don’t linger in Maya Bay, where the night proves average with southern swell and noisy tourist boats coming and going long after the sun had set and resuming their circus oh so early in the morning, without mentioning the rumpus of a large group on an overnight cruise who decided to go on a kayaking expedition late at night.
Pictures were taken from the top of the mast by Zephyr, because we, too, got mesmerised by this exquisite wonder of an island. Hhowever this is not by any extent a highlight in our cruise and it left us with mixed feelings, including one, weird since we didn’t have to pay a dime to get there, of being ripped off!
* although well-known joke among round-the-world sailors that sailing is the most expensive way to travel for free, between the countries entry fees and the upkeep of the boat, notwithstanding buying it in the first place !