by Darryl Goh
Films and television shows help us to escape reality for a few hours, but dedicated fans want more. Some travel across continents in search of filming locations to experience the magic in a different light.
Here are some famous film locations which promoted lesser-known countries and regions to tourism stardom – some tips if you’re planning on your year-end holidays.
Ukraine and Lithuania (Chernobyl)
The Emmy-award winning HBO series was a cautionary tale about how bureaucracy could lead to fatal mistakes. Despite multiple warnings by Chernobyl’s creators that the area is still radioactive, tourists have been flocking to Ukraine to visit the Soviet disaster site suspended in time. Fortunately (or unfortunately for some), the actual power plant is off-limits to all tourists.
A more reasonable destination would be Ignalina in Lithuania, where the show was filmed. Although less reported in the news, tourist numbers to Chernobyl’s sister power plant rose after the series aired. In tours to the Ignalina plant, visitors can see what the Chernobyl power plant used to look like and even interact with real switches in the control room.
Tunisia (Stars Wars)
The Force is strong in Tunisia. Star Wars fans would know the country’s southern Djerba Island as Tatooine, home planet of Luke Skywalker. Five Star Wars episodes were filmed in Tunisia, making it a must-visit place for superfans.
While you may not see a Sandcrawler roaming the desert, you can check out its brutalist inspiration. When George Lucas visited Tunis, capital city of Tunisia, it was said that he was inspired by the pyramid-shaped architecture of Hotel du Lac, and started sketching the mobile fortresses of the Jawas.
Steadfast supporters of the film franchise often work together with Tunisia’s tourism board to host fan events, such as International Meeting of Star Wars. Even in 2019, 42 years after the first Star Wars film, Djerba Island still charms its visitors by playing host to raves and music festivals.
Thailand (James Bond Films, The Beach)
Thailand offers some of the best natural scenery in Asia. With pristine beaches and clear waters, it is no surprise that the James Bond franchise shot several scenes in the country.
Khao Phing Kan, more commonly known as James Bond’s Island, is a limestone island in Ao Phang Nga National Park. The Man with the Golden Gun, the ninth James Bond film, used the island as a hideout for Francisco Scaramanga, the film’s villain.
After the film’s release in 1974, the spike in visitors to the remote island resulted severe littering issues and the erosion of limestone rocks around the island. In order to curb the overtourism, a ban was put in place to prevent boats from sailing too close to the island. Thus, one can only admire James Bond’s Island from a distance now.
Unsurprisingly, tourism erosion has affected other islands in Thailand too. Maya Beach on Phi Phi Island, popularised in The Beach starring Leonardo DiCaprio, was closed since 2018 to allow its corals to recover from years of mass tourism. Before the closure, as much as 5,000 people travelled to the island per day, putting serious strain on the island’s ecosystem.