Love and Loss on the Maya Bay Sleep Aboard

This is a story about two very unlikely events – both happening on a boat, both happening to me.

(It’s also a long-winded account of the Maya Bay Sleep Aboard experience.)


Waiiiiiiiiiiit a second – seasickness-prone Lindsay is willingly sleeping on a boat?!

That’s right – clad with wristbands and bonine pills, I risked having a potentially embarrassing and extremely uncomfortable experience on an overnight boat trip. The payoff was way too alluring to resist: getting to experience Maya Bay (aka where the movie The Beach took place) without hoards of tourists. I desperately wanted to see Maya Bay, but the thought of having such a magical place tainted by a tourist circus was almost enough to deter me from going there.

Enter the Maya Bay Sleep Aboard. Formerly an overnight camping trip on the beach (til permits were revoked at the end of 2012), you can now snorkel and swim with bioluminescent plankton in the bay, hang out on the beach after all the tourists have gone for the day, then sleep under the stars on the boat. Um… can I get a “yes, please”?

maya bay
Photo Credit: (obviously photoshopped, but you get the idea!)

Unfortunately, the trip did not start off so well.

Just after departing at 3pm, we passed by some Viking caves. I start taking pictures and my camera suddenly comes up with an “Err 30” on the screen. Ah no worries, I figure it’ll go away if I swap out the battery, lens, or memory card.

Except the error persisted. I can’t take any pictures. NOW I’m worried. I’m about to see one of the most beautiful things I’ll EVER see in my life, and I don’t have a working camera to document it. This might be a slight disappointment for anyone, but for a professional photographer? I felt lost without my camera – as if my child had fallen ill. And there wasn’t a damned thing I could do about it until we were back on the mainland.

Without my camera to tinker with, I sat back on the top deck of the boat and observed my fellow passengers. At least half were only onboard for a few hours to swim with the plankton and have dinner, while the rest of us were staying overnight. I eyed a group of Americans, a couple, a mother-daughter (or aunt-niece?) duo, 2 British girls, and 2 guys (one with pretty eyes, the other with really nice arms) on my side of the deck.

I then realized that I was likely the only solo traveler on this boat. Everyone else seemed to be paired off or immersed in their group of friends. All I had was my broken camera.

maya bay sleep aboard

By the time we reached Maya Bay, the sky had become completely overcast. I’m normally not one for snorkeling, but I thought what the hell – my camera died, I’m alone, and it’s going to rain in about 30 seconds. I’M GOING SNORKELING. There wasn’t much reef to be seen, but at least it was warmer in the water than on the windy boat.

We then all piled into smaller boats that took us to shore for dinner and chill time. My shirt was still soaked in sweat from earlier, my sarong was soaked from seawater, and the only other clothes I had with me were my pajamas (which I didn’t want to get wet in the rain), so I was the only one rocking a bathing suit and shorts all night. Excellent. No camera, no clothes, I was on a roll. BUT AT LEAST I WASN’T SEASICK!

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It was still raining once we were on the island. I started wondering if this trip would get any better – ’cause let’s be real, so far things weren’t going so well for me. Fortunately there was a nice overhang on some of the rock by the beach that kept us shielded from the rain. I snagged a small log under it to sit on and was soon joined by Pretty Eyes and Hot Arms. Turns out they were 2 in a group of 8 South Africans traveling together. Pretty Eyes steered the conversation, but then he randomly got up and walked away – which was when Hot Arms swooped in. We were getting along so well that I hardly noticed when the rain stopped. Then he mentioned that he had accidentally found this amazing viewpoint down the path earlier, and would I like to see it? Whether this was subtle code or solely about the viewpoint, I was down to accompany him on a frolic through the woods.

And, well – let’s just say I read the signals right ;)

maya bay sleep aboard

The rest of the night we were inseparable. We talked nonstop, shared some infamous Thai buckets (FREE on this boat trip!), and hung out with his crew while our guide played some acoustic guitar for us. And they served us TWO dinners! I was too full from the curry from dinner #1 to have any of the BBQ in dinner #2, but it all looked delicious. Unbelievably, the rain held off for the rest of the night. Hot Arms and I hung out on the empty beach and watched the tide bring in random bits of glowing plankton. It was so incredibly beautiful. Talk about my trip doing a complete 180!


Around 11pm, we all went back to the boat in the middle of the bay and jumped into the water to swim with the bioluminescent plankton (i.e. plankton that glows). Whenever we moved our arms and legs around underwater, we’d see thousands of little glitter-bubbles generated. The experience was pretty incredible on its own, but I think I was even more impressed with the starry sky we were swimming beneath. I hadn’t seen so many stars since the Outback and I just couldn’t get enough. I’m pretty sure I was looking up at the sky more often than down at the water, but everything around me was glowing. Hell, I’m sure *I* was glowing too.

After our night swim, we all hung out on the boat for a bit, then most of us went to sleep while a small group partied into the night on the other side of the deck. I had been slightly concerned that I’d signed up for a party boat trip, but thankfully no one went too crazy! (I hear there are actual party boat trips you can book around Ko Phi Phi, so maybe the more serious partiers went that route instead?). It was obviously NOT a very comfortable sleep, given that you’re on a moving boat on a thin mat – but you know this when you sign up for the trip. I barely slept at all, but I quite liked looking up at the gradually-changing scenery as the boat slowly floated around where it was anchored in the bay. It went from rock silhouettes to stars to clouds to the sun lightening up the sky at sunrise.

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The next morning, we went to shore again just as all the tourists began to arrive. We had some chill time there (this time, in the daylight) and I took the obligatory iPhone shots, dying inside a little thinking about what magic I could be making with my REAL camera. All things considered, I think I handled the death of my camera extremely well. It’s all about keeping things in perspective. Not having my camera doesn’t change the fact that I am having amazing experiences and seeing beautiful things, and I’m not going to let it negatively affect my travels.

We rounded out the morning with breakfast on the boat, then arrived back at Ko Phi Phi around 10am.

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And as for Hot Arms? Well, he’ll be popping up in some future blog posts because we spent the next 10 days together in Thailand. We went to Phuket, Railay, and then Bangkok where he had to catch his flight home. We’ve kept in contact since, and I’m going to try to stop over in London to visit him on my way home from Asia in July.

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Maya Bay Sleep Aboard in Thailand

Frugal Facts

As of April 2013 —

Maya Bay Sleep Aboard – 3000 baht ($100 US)
Ko Phi Phi pier fee – 20 baht ($.67 US)
Ferry from Koh Lanta* – 300 baht ($10 US)
Ferry from Phuket* – 300 baht ($10 US)

* Note: You can buy ferry tickets from most hotels and tourist offices, but they all will give you a different price. Shop around beforehand to find the best deal! (Prices above are the lowest I was able to find)