Three Famous Movie Sites in Southeast Asia: Maya Beach, Angkor Wat, Phang Nga Bay
We visit Southeast Asia
—to explore three famous movie sites: Maya Beach, Angkor Wat, Phang Nga Bay. Map of the islands of Thailand. Map of Cambodia
1 – Maya Beach – Shame on us
When our Thai longboat docked at Maya Beach on the island of Koh Phi Phi in Thailand, we should have insisted the captain move on. But we did not. Shame on us. We were only one of many couples who had paid for a tour of these turquoise water islands. So, we turned a blind eye.
No empty spot
The crowd on Maya Beach—made famous by the 2000 movie, The Beach, starring Leonardo DiCaprio—was so thick with people there was barely an empty spot.
As we walked the short distance along the beach, we dodged tourists of every description: a bikini-clad woman posing sensually in the water, a shrieking mob kicking a beach ball. Boats pulled up on the shore blocked any hope of meandering along the shoreline.
With Thai government permission but before shooting any footage, the film crew removed bushes that helped prevent erosion (despite warnings by locals and environmentalists); instead they planted palm trees. As well, they cleared land to widen the beach.
Without those bushes, the sand eroded after a series of storms. Plants from the area were relocated, but soon died anyway, as did the sea coral.
At the peak of its popularity, 5,000 tourists a day mauled the beach until the Thai government took action. Maya Bay will remain closed until mid-2021. Ecological recovery is ongoing.
2 – Angkor Wat
Hollywood actress Angelina Jolie, star of the 1996 film Tomb Raider, brought added recognition to these magnificent walled cities near Siem Reap in Cambodia and another of our famous movie sites.
Angkor is the name of the entire complex of a hundred-plus temples. Angkor Wat is the best-known temple; it is also depicted on Cambodia’s flag.
A UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1992, Angkor Wat is considered one of the seven wonders of the world.
Originally a Hindu temple, it was dedicated to Vishnu, a Hindu deity, instead of the current king. Gradually, by the end of the 12th century, Buddhists laid claim to the temple.
A total of 300,000 workers and 6,000 elephants worked over 37 years on the reconstruction of Angkor Wat.
The Angkor temple, Ta Prohm, is the set for this famous movie. The film company paid US $10,000 day for seven days for the privilege of using the historical site.
Here is the place to feel you are part of a movie set. Unbelievably overgrown tropical trees produce thick, gnarled root systems that look like tethered ropes or bony limbs. Like snakes, these roots intertwine temple walls and statues through crevices and cracks, creating a surreal effect.
3 – James Bond Island – its real name?
We’re back in Thailand. And yes, The Man with the Golden Gun starring Roger Moore in 1974, stars on this island.
Real name please
Before James Bond, this island’s name was/is Koh Tapu, meaning ‘Nail Island’ for the pointy rock; Koh Phi Khan for the island surrounding it, means ‘hills leaning against each other’.
Legend has it that a fisherman caught fish here every day until all he found was a piece of a nail. He threw it back to the water. But caught the nail again! Frustrated, he split the nail by hitting it with a sharp object: the separated part led to the famous rock formation.
This island is part of the limestone formations along Phang Nga Bay that rise from the sea. It is 20 meters tall with a four-meter diameter at the bottom and eight meters at the top.
Originally a barrier reef, the area drastically changed due to tectonic movement. Wind and high waves washed away most of the reefs; the remaining odd shapes are from that period.
When James Bond’s archenemy, Scaramanga, used the location as his hideout, the island gained instant fame. The villain (actor Christopher Lee) installed a laser gun outside the island with a hidden lair inside. However, no structures can be found inside this limestone: it’s too small for a hideout!
Unlike Bond who flew over the island in search of his enemy, we docked at Koh Phi Khan on the opposite side from Nail Island. Many souvenir vendors greeted us.
Next, we walked up and around a well-worn path on the small island. Peeking around and over rocks from the top, we finally glimpsed Nail Island, the iconic image from the movie where Bond sets to square off against Scaramanga using guns in a duel.
The Famous Scene
From the island’s top, with Nail Island in the midst of the turquoise water bay, we spied a small beach. There, hordes of tourists milled around, each using cameras to replicate the famous scene. And yes, we did, too.
The Bond movie made it easy for everyone to recognize the spot. Tourists began to visit the location. Not surprisingly, the sudden influx of people contaminated the waters with trash.
This unfortunate development led the government to declare it as a part of the Ao Phang Nga Marine National Park in 1981. About two decades later, tourist boats were restricted from going close to the limestone rock to prevent drastic erosion.
More blogs from Thailand
Travelled: 2007, 2014