Image copyright AFP Image caption In the movie The Beach, Leonardo DiCaprio was taught survival skills by the Thai Erawan Shrine in the bay
A Thai bay that inspired the heart-throb Leonardo DiCaprio’s 2000 film The Beach will be officially reopened for swimming in spring, its government says.
Hundreds of thousands of tourists thronged the white beach surrounding the Erawan Shrine in Khao Sam Rin last year, when they were told it would be shut.
Critics say it is unfair on poorer Thais to let money-making tourists wash up on such a scenic but sparsely populated stretch of coastline.
But the shrine’s management say it has become “very polluted” by over-taxed visitors.
Image copyright AFP Image caption Wat Phra Dhammakaya – which specialises in water immersion rituals – is home to about 30,000 monks
They have spent several months cleaning the beaches and have submitted a plan to the government which would see the town drained for renovation and turned into a tourist hub.
In the short term, a swimming area dubbed Kan Kamueal has been created to make up for all the tourists leaving the shrine.
The beach was named after Thailand’s King Angkor in 1926.
King Angkor looked after the seaside port from the 18th century onwards and championed conservation efforts.
Thailand’s tourism sector, worth US$35bn (£26bn) to the economy, is growing rapidly due to “some really wonderful weather” and keen tourism to Bangkok, said Dr Narong Sudjesinnana, the government’s chief of tourism.
‘DiCaprio helped boost tourism’
There are more than 100 places where visitors can swim in the bay itself, but the options are limited to a beach at Wat Phra Dhammakaya temple, an expanse of sand directly opposite the shrine, and a popular beach popular with surfers just north of the shrine.
This tourist hotspot is partly owned by Thailand’s ruling junta, which has moved out the monks that once ran it and installed rather less-photogenic tourists as caretakers, according to Dr Narong.
“Tourism has become a serious business for the shrine, especially as the whole tourist district along Kasetsart beach has become overdeveloped,” she said.
“But since 2015, our government has been working on a plan to ease this problem.”
Leonardo DiCaprio has credited the filming of The Beach for highlighting Thailand as a tourist destination.
In the movie, DiCaprio was taught survival skills by the shrine – but that was one of the few misconceptions about the water in the movie, said tourist inspector (TPI) Ahlfrasad Kittipong.
Image copyright AFP Image caption Thousands of tourists flocked to the Khao Sam Rin beach last year
The water does not warm beyond about 12C (54F) because the heat of the Gulf of Thailand is absorbed by Khao Sam Rin’s shallow seas.
“You can have a good time swimming here, but you can’t expect to die here,” Mr Ahlfrasad said.
Trucks ferrying more than 200,000 tourists a day to the shrine – which is famous for its miraculous water immersion “rituals” – have also caused pollution, he said.
It will be at least several years before the museum and monastery tourism that accompanies the monastery boats can resume, unless the government finds a new way to protect the area, he said.
“There’s a serious need to consider environmental sustainability,” Mr Ahlfrasad said.