The Beach film has inspired a generation of backpackers to circle the globe, in search of adventure, cultural understanding, and to break away from the monotonous routine of an office cubicle.
The Beach film is also responsible for the avalanche of backpackers who find their way navigating the mean streets of Bangkok, the alarming roadways of Phuket, and the picturesque beaches of Koh Samui. Backpackers can find beauty in every corner, on every street, and in every locale that they frequent and explore, but more often than not, they’ll agree that Bangkok is a hectic, polluted city, that Phuket’s exploitation of the sex industry (including the illegal side) ruins it completely, but that all is salvaged once Koh Samui welcomes their arrival.
The Beach film is perhaps best known for flinging travellers and tourists towards Koh Phi Phi Don, as they hitch a boat towards the beaches of Maya Bay – the famous location where The Beach film was shot. Although the film has received questionable reviews on Rotten Tomatoes, one has to look beyond what the critics say, and reflect on what this cult film does for the legion of backpackers who relate to Richard (played by Leonardo DiCaprio).
Richard embodies the typical backpacker, who is in search of something more, in search of something different, more visceral, more real. They wait for it to hit them. They go out with a group of friends, or they go out with their partners, or perhaps, on their own; whatever number accompanies them, they search for their own piece of paradise – something which is as much mental as it is physical. Legions of backpackers just like Richard come to Maya Bay in a ritualistic, rite of passage journey – let’s call it the backpacker’s mecca, because that’s exactly what it is. But backpackers soon find that the mecca is just that – overrun with hoards of people, leaving nothing to the imagination of what this place was like when Richard, Etienne and Francois discovered it.
The great, leaping metaphor of The Beach film is that it compels travellers to get out into the world, and discover their own piece of paradise. I’ve found on my journeys that more often than not, deviating from the beaten path has been more rewarding than trampling the weathered roads. This isn’t about being elitist, and pointing the finger at somebody and saying “Hey, you, the Eiffel Tower sucks compared to the Catacombs,” or approaching Greek Island hoppers and laughing, telling them “You don’t know the real Greece until you’ve weathered the long road to Serres, Thessaloniki, and the remote areas of Rhodos.” Because what I’ve come to find is that, like Richard from The Beach film, people travel for their own reasons. I often wonder what backpackers say about Australia, using this line of reasoning, when ousting Bondi Beach, Byron Bay, and the Gold Coast from their list of special places Down Under.
I wonder this because sometimes, these places are popular for a reason. You would, in fact, be hard pressed to find a beach as amazing as Bondi in New South Wales, or a rainforest as sublime as the Daintree. If The Beach film taught backpackers anything, it’s exactly that: Paradise is whatever paradise is to you. Paradise is not a universal place, it’s a personal refuge that suits our ideals, values, and ethics.
The only thing that ruins paradise, as The Beach film projects, is that paradise can only be kept a secret for so long. Once the crowds come, the development comes, and special places end up being overcrowded by hotel conglomerates and cruise ships. It sucks, but understanding that everybody has the equal right to travel in whichever way they please, I can’t argue with it. I don’t want to be unfair, and exclude people from the opportunity to experience something special for them, simply because it doesn’t match or agree with my thoughts on the situation.
The Beach film has inspired me to travel all over Australia, Fiji, Switzerland, France, Malta, Italy, Greece, Hungary, Czech Republic, United Kingdom, Spain, The Netherlands, USA, China, Thailand, the Philippines and Singapore. It’s the reason I’m leaving in 7 weeks to backpack through Chile, Argentina, Uruguay, Bolivia, Peru, Ecuador, Galapagos Islands, Brazil, Colombia, San Blas Islands, Panama, Costa Rica, Guatemala, Cuba, and the Caribbean. Damn, I might just chuck Belize in there for good measure too ;) The Beach film is the reason for this, which is why I have dedicated a post to the movie.
The Beach film has done more than that though, and I’ll share those thoughts with you all over time. My question is this: Have you seen The Beach film (if not, hire it now), and if so, has it inspired you to travel? I’d love to know the places you’ve been to, so feel free to leave a comment and share your own piece of paradise – if you dare….