Phuket The Damage Done
Well here goes folks. I have got to get my 2 cents in here. I was in Bangkok that fateful Sunday morning on the 22nd floor. I was awakened around 8 am by the rattling of my building. I am a regular down in Phuket for many years and wanted to see for myself the state of affairs. I came down on Jan 15. These are my personal findings and opinions.
The good news is that 99% of the island received little or no permanent damage. The bad news is that the 1% that did receive damage is where 99% of the tourist go to visit. Thereby the exodus of the farang tourist population. Khao Lak received catastrophic damage & a death toll that will be hard to overcome or rebuild. Historically it may be noted as the Hindenburg of resorts but that is another story. Khao Lak is not part of Phuket island.
The cleanup process has proceeded well in Phuket. I can report that Nai Harn, Kata, Karon and Patong beaches are clean & in good shape. The club med in Kata was inundated & will require time to reopen. Kamala beach on the other hand received some serious damage & should be avoided. Karon seems to have weathered the tsunami the best & is up & running. The fishing & snorkeling off ao chalong is also good. So what is the hold up with Mr. & Ms farang coming back to paradise. There is certainly an effort now to bring khun farang back. Why are they so hesitant?
Well let us start off with future reconstruction on and around beach road in Patong. The damage was considerable. That means construction day & night, jackhammers, cement trucks barreling down the road, dust, noise 24/hr a day, no sleep. Sounds like a real vacation right. Now even if khun farang & family wish to brave the reconstruction period, stout folk that they would have to be, there is another factor that seems to be overlooked. Everybody knows that Mr. Farang has left. But there is a secret here. Mr. & ms kon Thai have deserted also. The staff is nowhere in sight, probably moving to greener pastures. So if the farang were somehow to magically to reappear in any number there would be nobody to accommodate them. Is that the correct word? Believe me folks the Thais left Phuket faster than the farang. I asked a Thai waitress where all the staff was for the restaurant. She said they had left. I asked when they would be back. She stated that when the farang came back the staff would come back. But the farang must come back first. I asked her which came first the chicken or the egg? Well you see my point. I always think the chicken came first.
Now let's move over to the bar scene in Phuket. In Kata, Karon & elsewhere there is none. In Patong the scene is minimal with some grizzled veterans hanging on, bless them. But there are still plenty of katoeys in Patong. I think they would survive even an a-bomb. But folks, the stunners are long gone.
Next let's move on to the real nasty nuts & bolts of this thing. The Patong government in its wisdom has decided to take on the beach mafia. Many people killed or injured in the tsunami were done in by all the tuktuks, rental bikes, umbrellas etc on the beach road. If these items were not there so the reasoning goes casualties would not have been so great. Also these things detract from the beauty of the beach. But many farang I have spoken with want the beach umbrellas, rental bikes. Tuktuks etc. I agree the aforementioned things should be available. But what the real problem here is the mafia like monopolizing style it was run like in the past. I mean umbrellas covered every inch of decent beach. There was no place to park due to the great number of rental bikes & cars. There are also so many tuktuks around there is perpetual gridlock around Patong. Believe me folks the beach mafia know what they are doing. You cannot move around, go to the beach etc without doing business with them at exorbitant prices. Patong needs umbrellas, tuktuks etc but scaled way back at fair prices so that this does not detract from the beach but add to it. This will be a real battle folks.
Now let us move on to my pet peeve which is safety. A tsunami hit Phuket on Dec 26, 2004. There was no warning in effect. Now everyone in Phuket I talk with is a tsunami expert claiming that another one will never happen. That the farang that were injured or traumatized should come back now. I guess the dead ones should leave. That the farang survivors should be called heroes & given special considerations. I think this is all wrong. In my opinion the farang & their family involved with this will never come back to Phuket or any beach in the world. I think Dec 26 has made mountaineers out of that generation of farang. But there are plenty of farang & Asians who were not involved with this disaster. Those are the people that the TOT needs to concentrate on. The way this can be done is to concentrate on safety first. It must be a dismal fact that more western tourists are killed, maimed or injured in Phuket than any other resort in the world <are you sure about – this does NOT sound true to me – Stick>. Even before the tsunami the horrific toll of motorbike & jet ski accidents, drowning & murder made Phuket very unsafe. I think the TOT needs to work on this before they invite khun farang back.
At the moment there are no lifeguards on any of the beaches in Phuket. I guess the reasoning goes something like this that so many have drowned already that the limit is up. Also while we are on the subject the jet skis are back in full force in Patong beach. There have been no fatalities of yet. There have been many deaths & injuries due to these machines. It also makes parents & young children fearful to be in the water at the same time as drunken skidooers romp the waves oblivious to the swimmers below. I am not in favor of an outright ban which will be required in 7 years mandated by the government. Instead I think that a round robin closing of each beach one day a week for jet skiing only. Say Monday close Patong, Tuesday Karon, Wednesday Kata etc. This would put safety first & allow for jet skiing in Phuket. But jet skiing in a crowded beach full of swimmers is foolhardy. It gives the appearance of an unsafe situation. And yes folks appearance is what we are talking about to soothe khun farang.
As I have said I think the new slogan for the TOT should be safety first. It seems like it has been see Phuket & die. That means some sort of tsunami warning system, that means lifeguards on the beach, that means dealing with the jet ski situation, that means limiting farang on motorbikes & strict helmet enforcement on farang (did I say that?). I must say that on the latter matter the Thai police have really been up to the task lately. They have set up road blocks around the island. I am being stopped at least 4 times a day now. But I do agree with the principle of the thing.
When the safety issues have been addressed, the reconstruction complete, the beach mafia issues addressed then the tot should make an international effort to bring back people & not before then. Because to ask people to come back before Phuket is ready is trying to sell a third rate product at first class prices. Sound familiar. This would only compromise the tots credibility to the farang public. The tsunami hit at 8:30 am Sunday December 26, 2004. Why don’t we work & try to reopen Phuket on an exact date & time. Say like 8:30 am October 1, 2005. This makes more sense than trying to push off a bad vacation on an unsuspecting public that would only lead to more bad publicity.
Interesting thoughts. Some I agree with, others I don't.