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The island where the Taj Exotica owns land, so close to Phuket and so natural

Phuket and the Taj Exotica: A Romance For Our Times

Monday, August 2, 2010
News Analysis

THE SAGA of Phuket's long-anticipated Taj Exotica Resort continues to evolve slowly, with every turn of the page highlighting the present romance between money and nature, and whether the two can ever be blissfully married to everyone's satisfaction.

Indian weddings are embraced with glee on Phuket, bringing as they always do an instant rush of large numbers of guests carrying substantial quantities of money. The Phuket pre-nuptials involving the Taj Exotica, though, make for no ordinary Indian wedding, and the still unconsummated co-joining is about as far as one can get from what could be termed a marriage of convenience.

Indeed, this blending of cash and nature is becoming a very long romance. There's a lot of puckering up being done, but with only a partial commitment.

The Taj is a great Indian brand, standing a full doorman's turban above most others. It's redolent of all that is classy about having a cultural icon as a moniker, your own private jet company and a tagline that reads ''Hotels, Resorts and Palaces.''

Phuket is a little different to imperial India, however, and the latest news is that the Indian Hotels Company, which owns the Taj group, is ''re-assessing the product mix'' for its project close to Phuket.

With each turn of the page, the plot thickens.

Just what this ''reassessment'' means Phuketwan has been unable to clarify. The people at Taj HQ seem hesitant to say too much. However, we have established that there are two separate issues involved in the effort by the Taj to build on Koh Lon, an island in a marine conservation zone which happens to be just a short ride from Chalong pier by longtail boat.

Somewhat miraculously, despite Phuket's rapid development (some would say overdevelopment) Koh Lon has remained remarkably tranquil, occupied only by one small resort and about 200 villagers, who are scattered across the island and have maintained their traditional lifestyle, until now.

The plan for construction of the Taj resort passed the Phuket Governor's special committee on the environment earlier this year, Phuketwan has learned. But the associated project, a pier, has not. What does this mean?

The Taj Exotica Phuket began as 79 private villas and was modified to be a 79-key resort with 19 villas, which is the version that met with the approval of the governor's committee. However, if the Taj now ''reassesses the product mix,'' it may have to resubmit the new option to another meeting of the governor's committee.

For years now, coffee table magazines on architecture and design have celebrated the imminent arrival of the Taj, noting its commitment to quality and expense. It will certainly set new standards in luxury, eventually.

Yet a willingness to spend does not appear to necessarily create any alternative, if no pier is approved for the project. Marine experts fear construction of a pier could cause substantial damage to the island's precious marine environment of reefs and living coral beaches.

There is a large pier at the other end of the island, constructed in less restrained times, and the Taj could use that pier to land its construction materials for the resort, whatever its final mix of buildings.

But there is no road from one end of the island to the other, or anywhere else for that matter. The villagers make do with motorcycles and the existing walking tracks, and are content with what they have.

A road would have to meet with their approval.

One source in a snorkel mask tells us that the best parts of the surounding reefs have actually already been blown away by dynamite, used by local fishermen to incapacitate their prey, up until recent times.

It's probably also true too that a floating pier, which some have suggested as a solution, would cause more damage by striking and rubbing away the precious beach corals faster than any new and permanent above-water pier.

Yet beyond the issues surrounding construction, if guests want to come and go to the Taj Exotica around the clock, coping with early and late flight arrivals, with the need to enjoy Phuket's nightlife and other adventures, how will they access Koh Lon without damaging the island's coral beaches?

The governor's special committee was created last year to overcome the ease with which previous environmental safeguards were circumvented.

Having now approved the resort but not the means by which it can be constructed, or operate, the committee leaves Phuket's romance with the Taj high on anticipation of the next pucker and embrace. Will it be fleeting, or final?
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Comments

Comments have been disabled for this article.

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Here's a well written, intelligent article on a pressing matter with implications for other developments and touristic enterprises in Phuket - and it generates no comments at all...

Posted by Tanya Millibank on August 6, 2010 23:12

Editor Comment:

You've got it, Tanya. Most of them are not interested in important issues . . . except for themselves. It's not easy living in fear that a bag snatcher is going to tap you on the shoulder.

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It's not that this important issue has not generated comments, it's just that it is an island. That is how it will remain and so be it.
Leave the locals alone to their island, why mess with it if it works ?

Posted by Graham on August 7, 2010 15:06

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Graham, 42 words to say so little. Not a record, but f**king close.

Posted by Tanya Millibank on August 9, 2010 06:11


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