Readers' Submissions

A National Embarrassment, Again

  • Written by BKKSteve
  • February 24th, 2007
  • 8 min read

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Last time I touched on a negative aspect of Thailand it centered around the white elephant they call the new international airport and the tendency of the Thai people to accept mediocrity in most aspects of their lives and their country. Many wrote me surprised that after all the positive things I previously sad about Thailand that I would post such a negative submission. Some wanted to know if I’d turned sour on Thailand, was planning a big escape to another country, had some bad fish, or how I could otherwise be negative when in the past I’ve been so positive about this country and its people. The simple answer is that nothing is perfect. I wish perfection in a country was possible but all countries have their issues, all are at different stages of learning and even re-learning important things that shape and reshape countries, and all have their good and bad points. Thailand is no exception. There is much to admire, but there’s also much that needs improvement and without talking about it and bringing things out in the open not much progress will ever be made. Today was another wake up call for me about Thailand though I’m sure what I’m about to say won’t come as much of a surprise to most of you. Instead I’m hoping my words will find a few Thai ears and they’ll take notice. I’ll continue..


This week finds me going through military checkpoints and buying a mirror on a pole to check for bombs under my car. The mirrors on a pole are standard shelf items at Big C and Tesco here in Pattani. And no, I’m not going to address the insurgency in the south (yet, saving that one for a multi-part series because it’s a 30+ year old problem and very complex in nature), but imagine a city living in fear for the next series of 29 bombs to go off as they did the day before yesterday. A few days of this paranoia and I decided to go looking for a nice beach to spend an afternoon. My assistant and I packed the camera bags and beach towels and headed outside of town past a few more military checkpoints in search of a nice beach. About 20-25 km outside of Pattani I saw what I’d seen on the way into town, basically unspoiled beaches with all the trees, grasses, and foliage still intact almost all the way down to the tide line.


Beautiful coconut and palm trees, beach grasses, deadwood trees, totally beautiful. Combined with the balmy weather and beautiful blue skies (you don’t see many blue sky days in Bangkok thanks to the pollution) there’s really not many places like this left in the world. Most have been overbuilt and turned into private residences or row upon row of condos all at the expense of the environment and private enterprise. However at this beautiful spot as seen from the window of my car time had stood still and we were about to enjoy something very special. I told myself the Thais must have been visionaries to maintain unspoiled beaches and resisted the urge to capitalize on them. Something else to like about the Thai people and their country I was thinking. Take a look at this wonderful place.. (Photographed to show as little of the subject matter as possible)


Finding a small gravel and dirt road we turned towards the ocean and I was looking forward to unloading the camera gear first and getting some great images. Imagine my surprise and disappointment when not even 10 meters down the gravel road
I was confronted with an area totally covered in garbage! Backing out carefully lest a broken bottle cause a puncture we proceeded to check out the entire 20 km of beach front area over the next 4-5 hours. ALL OF THEM were covered in garbage.
The only parts that weren’t covered in garbage were the parts where they’d cut down the natural foliage and put in cheap beach “resort” areas for the locals which are really an eyesore not to mention destructive to
the environment. Open sewers from these places went directly into the ocean where people were swimming and jagged dangerous jetties and the such were built at water line in many places. People, the trees along the road were hiding a national embarrassment!


Most of us have been to Pattaya, Jomtien, Phuket, Chang, Samui, and Hua Hin and enjoyed some really nice beaches, but we’ve also noticed the standards of cleanliness were far below most western countries. I chalked it up to the tourists
and the Thai resort owners reluctance to spend too much on beach maintenance and silently wished for future improvement. I told myself that if the tourists weren’t using these places then the Thais being the proud nationalistic people they
are would have taken much better care of their beaches. I’ve changed my opinion. I ran across this lovely family sitting on the beach knee deep in garbage and not thinking anything of it. I approached them and chatted a bit about the beaches
and they told me these beaches were clean compared to most of them in the area! When they come and want to use an area they’ll push all the stuff to one side so they can put down their towels and then warn the kids to be careful about broken
bottles and other jagged glass. Folks, they were dead serious. When I pointed to the bugs, flies, and even maggots chowing down on a bag of dead puppies they just shrugged and looked at me like I was crazy for worrying about such things.


I’m at a loss when it comes to what more can be said about this but I’m going to take a stab at it anyway. Unemployment is high in the south. People are blowing each other up, chopping off heads, shooting each other, and an entire host of
unfortunate things and have been for over 30+ years. Imagine if they put aside their machetes and bomb making materials and picked up a few garbage bags instead and started cleaning their country? Folks, this isn’t a tourist area. This
is prime unspoiled wetlands of unquestionable beauty, a true national resource if there ever was one. This area isn’t heavily controlled by the government if at all, it’s open to everybody, no hefty parking fees, no traffic, none
of the stuff that contributes to less enjoyment of beaches in western countries. This area is owned and controlled by the local residents. They’re ruining their own environment yet seem blind to their actions.

What is it that programs a people to accept such conditions? I’ve been poor and I’ve lived in poverty, but our home was always clean because water and labour were/are cheap. My clothes might have been from the goodwill and had
holes, but my mom made sure they were clean. We were poor but we were also proud. There’s no question there is much poverty around the area and perhaps not much education. How much education does it take to notice your beautiful beach is
covered in garbage and how much money does it take to clean it? There have been many studies looking into things like this, why a certain group of people allow and accept such poor behaviour and conditions without any outrage or even notice. I’m
not sure I can accept the results of any of them. To me there is nothing to explain this except abject laziness, a disregard for your fellow countryman, no thought given to future generations, and more laziness. One look at these beaches and now
I know why so little time and money has been invested in this area of Thailand. These people should hang their heads in shame.

My grandfather moved to Los Angeles in the 30’s. My dad used to ride his horse to school in Culver City and later Santa Monica and there was a hitching post for horses outside like there are bike racks now. I grew up surfing in Santa
Monica and Malibu in perfect clean waters on un-crowded beaches. Looking at the pictures of these areas back then I was reminded of what I saw today (minus the garbage). Beautiful unspoiled wetlands. In Southern California and most places in the
west we had to first destroy our environment before realizing its value and then spend billions in clean up and wetlands reclamation projects. This is so common, losing something so beautiful and valuable because we didn’t know what we
had, only to learn and then do everything we could to get it back.

Is there a way to save many of Thailand’s beaches from the same? A way for them to learn from our own mistakes? I can think of only one practical thing. If anyone knows the royal family please pass them this submission because they
can do something about this. Imagine both the King and Queen showing up on these beaches with big plastic garbage bags and starting to pick up garbage? Would the people of Pattani and the surrounding areas let them do it by themselves or would
they help their King and Queen reclaim the beauty of their country? I think we’d soon see the beautiful beaches that once were. Picture sand films from this event could be used to educate the children in school on the importance of maintaining
their environment. Future generations could enjoy something few countries anywhere have left. I’ll help. When the King and Queen show up with their plastic garbage bags I’ll be there are well. I’ll pick up garbage, take pictures
for future generations, and give something back to a country which have given me so much. “Together” is the only hope…

Until next time..

Stickman's thoughts:

The attitude amongst many of the locals towards the environment is appalling. These piles of rubbish you talk of can be found in so many beaches, national parks and other places which are supposed to be pristine. Sad really.