Written by by Thalif Souleymane, CNN Bangkok, Thailand
After a long winter break away, Thailand’s popular beach is getting back to business.
“Eylampi,” one of Thailand’s most secluded beaches, south of Bangkok, is set to reopen next month after a 10-month wait. With a gaping space of about 260 meters (750 feet) between the two white dunes, and only six people for every 10,000 visitors, it’s a far cry from overcrowded beaches elsewhere in the Thai capital.
“In the beginning, when we finished the project we thought it would be popular, but then we realized there was only one island,” said Taitun Singbidakul, owner of a luxury hotel on the beach.
“So we decided to let people visit freely without having to wait to go to the beach.”
Singbidakul said for tourists the island was always inaccessible. Photographs of Meryl Streep, Leonardo DiCaprio and Katherine Heigl visiting the beach in the 2006 film “The Beach” were often shared on social media.
The scene from “The Beach” which featured scenes from Eylampi. Credit: Phoenix film company
A sign that said “Private Beach 2 Private Use” was next to the deserted island during peak tourist season, which Singbidakul estimated was about 180,000 visitors a year.
Eylampi has been operating as a limited area camping ground for the past few years, but only 500 permits are granted every year, which is apparently a big waste of tourist time, according to Singbidakul.
Since the opening of a visitor management center, travel agents have also been offering direct tours. The new rules should open the island to more tourists, he added.
A hotel on the island that also doubles as a campsite. Credit: Thomson travel hotel
On average, a hundred people visit the island each day during peak season. In the back in a bedroom lies a chalkboard with instructions for visitors, who must climb down a ladder from the campsite into an 80-meter tunnel, through a sunken tunnel, to get to the beach. Tourists must maintain a strict 1.2-meter (5.5 feet) height restriction.
The Ministry of Tourism and Sports has imposed a 150,000 baht ($4,000) fine for anyone that breaks the rules, while Singbidakul insists it’s his responsibility to maintain the beach.
Tourists make the trek to the Eylampi Island from the campsite in a small tunnel. Credit: Thomson travel hotel
“People are still free to go to the beach, but if anyone breaks the rules they must pay the 150,000 baht,” said Songmond Burlew, owner of Rainbow Holidays, a local travel agency.
“To protect the environment and safety of the people we will have to raise the fine to 300,000 baht. These are the kind of restrictions that we need.”
A visitor’s guide to the island. Credit: Thomson travel hotel
In another unusual part of the island visitors can choose to spend a night in a scuba diving business. In an area called “Bamboo House” eco explorers can tour the island to a bamboo temple, which is made of reeds, and then dive to the “pleasure beaches.”
During peak tourist season, the beach can reach about 150,000 visitors per day. Credit: Thomson travel hotel
“Eylampi” is described as a spectacular freshwater lake with “mushrooms, sea turtles, and coral reefs.” But the “mushrooms” are actually water fleas and the “reefs” are fake, according to the island’s manager, the Rev. Rejek Poard.
The island includes a sacred temple. Credit: Thomson travel hotel
He said in the future he will diversify activities for visitors to boost numbers to around 500 people.
“We will invite concert and theater performances from neighboring countries,” he said. “We will do stargazing programs with local lecturers, and other surprises that we haven’t managed to do yet.”