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Maya beach, not the secluded spot near Phi Phi that people imagine

Mass Tourism Makes 'a Slum' of Phi Phi

Saturday, March 21, 2015
PHUKET: Phi Phi, once one of the world's top natural attractions, has become a slum, says an environmental activist and member of Thailand's National Reform Council.

Dr Thon Thamrongnawasawat is campaigning to have tourist numbers capped on Phi Phi and other Andaman Sea islands before their natural beauty is completely destroyed.

Horrifying images are being posted on Facebook and other social media displaying the alarming problems caused by mass tourism.

With Thailand and Phuket especially attracting thousands more Chinese tourists every day, Dr Thon is making the point that the natural appeal is fast disappearing.

Economically, a few greedy people may be growing rich but their selfishness will come at great cost to Thailand, says Dr Thon, a marine biology lecturer at Kasetsart University and an established environmental writer.

He recently made the point that tiny Kai island off the coast of Phuket would be better described as ''umbrella island.''

Other environmentalists have pointed out that the prime Similan islands diving sites are also being destroyed rapidly now because of the greed of rangers who are being paid to allow illegal visitors beyond the maximum numbers permitted.

While the Similan islands shut down to recover from tourism for six months during the monsoon season, the pillaging and the profit-taking on and around Phi Phi continue all year round.

The image in the minds of many tourists of idyllic, secluded Maya Bay - made famous in the film The Beach - is far from the truth.

Speedboats ferry thousands to Maya Bay every day. Most of them are Chinese tourists, from Phuket.

Authorities kid themselves that the beauty of the Andaman is being preserved but marine surveys show the corals in ever-speeding decline.

Dr Thon says: ''Fifteen years ago, Phi Phi was among the great natural destinations. It cost 2000 baht to go visit the island.

''These days, a trip to Phi Phi costs less than 1000 baht. In five years, it will cost less than 500 baht. Goodbye, Phi Phi.''

His message and the message of others is plain: Phuket and the Andaman have the choice between the mass market and the jet-skis mentality or putting a limit on the number of visitors, preserving nature - and controlling those visitor numbers carefully.

But it may already be too late for Thailand.


Comments have been disabled for this article.


The choice between 500Bt and a piece of coral is an easy one for a thai !
Goodbye Phi Phi.

Posted by jimbo34 on March 21, 2015 11:25

Editor Comment:

Not all Thais agree, jimbo34, so your viewpoint is bigotry.


Aren't these the "quality tourists" that Thailand has been asking for? I mean they are targeting the chinese to come and visit, yet they arrive and destroy the place.......

Posted by fred fishman on March 21, 2015 11:46


Good article, and I think the last sentence says it all... it is too late, at least for PhiPhi. Look at the before and after pictures...hardly an inch of green in the center of the island. Phuket is on the same greed-fueled self-destructive path. It must be very frustrating for Dr Thon, one of the few Thais I have ever heard talking sensibly about environmental resource management. Unfortunately, the relatively small handful of wealthy landowners will never be happy with their wealth, and will continue to pave this place for their own gain until its all but trashed. If something isn't done soon, Thais can look forward to a future with mostly mobs of Chinese people herding around what used to be nice areas, spitting, trampling and leaving their trash and cigarette butts everywhere they go. Sad sad sad.

Posted by Ed Sanders on March 21, 2015 11:57


What Dr Thon says about Phi-Phi is 100%, except that it could and should have been said 5y ago already.

As to Similan dive sites, diving with responsible guides does zero harm to the coral reefs or their ecosystems.

Dive Groups with/from Asia tend to have less environmentally-aware dive practices. Main principle is - take only pictures, leave only bubbles.

The report is on the right track in pointing the finger at the rangers but it's the illegal fishing which they allow in exchange for who-knows-what that they allow to take place in plain sight that destroys everything.

Dive a bit off established dive sites and you will find countless bamboo/chickenwire fishtraps apprx 5 x 3 x 1.5 m in size. A crane is needed to haul these in. Activity which is impossible to miss, unless you try really, really hard.

Posted by Herbert on March 21, 2015 12:55


Phi Phi is already many years a slum. The concrete jungle Patong is a slum.
Chiang Mai area now is suffering a enormous air pollution problem. ( happens yearly). Through google you can read that Chiang Mai air pollution is worse than what it is in Chinese regions.
Scientists in Thailand are warning, year after year. But there is not a single thai authority who picks it up and start to do something about it. ( good example is the Phuket Saphan hill toxic rubbish mountain.) Ok, lets feel comfortable, what we not see is not happening/existing. Relax and don't think about it. Yes/No?

Posted by Kurt on March 21, 2015 13:05


I have lived and done well off the tourism industry in Phuket for the last 9 years. The first 5 years were great even though the cheap mass tourism was already showing signs of excess. In the later years of that period, what a yacht captain would offer to his clientele was a nearly tourist free tour of Phangna on the condition that you could arrive at the peak destinations i.e. Kho Hong, Panyi etc before the hordes arrive, i.e. 9 am. After that, forget it. Tranquil hongs would be filled with 200 kayaks and the air blue with speedboat engine fumes. That was BEFORE the Chinese arrived. Now, Phagna and Krabi are off the cruising area list. Phi Phi is an absolute goner, indeed a slum. Now, high end clients specifically say NO Phi Phi whereas before it was always included. That picture of Maya bay is NOT an exaggeration.
What Thailand has to realize is that the number of tourists before the Chinese invasion was barely sustainable but at least they left lots of money in Thai peoples hands (rather than Chinese tour company hands) and it was seasonal giving both the islands and the people time to replenish. The Chinese tsunami is year around, not sustainable even for the next two years and leaves less money on the Thai table even though it is 10 times bigger than all western countries combined. The real truth is that we have not even seen the first wave of the Chinese tsunami. Phuket is the premier destination of cheap Chinese tours and if only 20% of Chinese can afford to travel to Phuket, that is already more than all the rest of the countries in the world combined. So China is a bottomless pit of cheap tourists that are sadly right next door, prepared to destroy what they come to see and what they have never seen at home. So it is up to Thailand to decide its future. The term quality tourists never had so much resonance.

Posted by Earmuffs on March 21, 2015 13:11


Does anyone in authority listen to these educated Thais trying to save their own country from greed & exploitation?

Sadly I suspect the answer is a resounding "no" & they can even be jeopardizing themselves by going public.

Posted by Logic on March 21, 2015 13:46


The Chinese have the ability to turn anywhere they go into a slum!
You are so welcome to them.

Posted by Mike1959 on March 21, 2015 16:31


What u have written Earmuffs i find rather interesting.
When i first started going to Phuket 10yrs ago, i found it very addictive due to the beautiful Thai people n way of life.
10yrs later n i find it less n less attractive due to the influx of rudeness by the Chinese n Russians for that matter.
Please look after my Paradise n get rid of Jet Ski, scammers n bring back the umberellas plzzzzzz only on a few beaches not all.

Posted by nikki on March 21, 2015 17:06


There seems to be a lot of finger pointing at the Chinese. I was at Phi Phi last August and there was not many Chinese but there was many tourists. Maya Bay was so full of speed boats you could have walked along the bay. One of the most magnificent spots on earth really is being "loved to death". I don't propose to have the answers but agree unless something is done it will be ruined. We always visit some of the great islands and always get amazed at the amount of rubbish around, usually from tourists and not always Chinese. There are plenty of grubs from all over the world waiting for a local to pick up after them. Obviously picking up their own rubbish is below them. Maybe enforceable littering fines is a start.

Posted by DaveMc60 on March 21, 2015 18:57


I've lived in china and travelled around the country. You can't find any beautiful nature in china but if you DO find then you DO find out that there are soldiers with machine guns/ Police/ Security guards around to keep the foolish mass away.

Signs and information has never come to any help, since there are a lot of fools who just ignore them. They don't care for their own country.

Travel to china to find the most dirty country in the world. Walk on the streets to get amazed. You will see a lot of trash bins around well placed almost everywhere. The bins are large and wear a funny text print: "Keep our homeland clean".

Most of chinese just pass them by and throw their garbage anywhere and everywhere!

Unfortunately the foolish mass have found their way to other places where they can exploit as much as they can.

Posted by Sam on March 22, 2015 00:22


I am just back to Phuket after a second trip to Similans (and Ko Tachai) this year. Similans are ruined, completely destroyed, devoid of living coral. I was stunned, it is like a wasteland underwater, and made worse by the excellent visibility at approx 30m. Similans used to be a world class divesite, now it is a world class disaster already happened. I wont go back there again I am afraid, but I guess thats what the place needs, no visitors ever again.

Posted by Geoff on March 23, 2015 22:49


Thailand is finished as a tourist destination. The race to the bottom (huge Chinese/Russian tour groups paying next to nothing) has been won. Congratulations, Thailand.

Posted by Ex-Thai Tourist on March 24, 2015 13:13


look at mother nature on the run in the 21st century

Posted by neil young on March 28, 2015 02:15


I am absoloutley shocked that the tourists are getting the blame for this. Its terrible. I spent 4 days in Phi Phi very recently and thought the 2 main beaches surronding Phi Phi don were the worst beaches I have been to in a very long time. Yes the scenery around the beach is beautiful. But the actual quality of the beach is terrible and personally i would be pointing he finger at the locals. It was the dirtiest beach ive seen so far in Thailand. Despite the fact of paying a 20 baht clean up fee. I dont actually think the problem waste is from the tourists. I seen washed up on the beach some liquid containers that looked like it held detergent and i seen a 5 litre engine oil container!!!! Now i dont think tourists put these in the oceans. What is happening with the 20 baht cleaning fee? Because there is no cleaning getting done on these beaches! And if the cleaning fee isnt going towards cleaning the beaches then make the fee 50 baht and do something about it! I certianly wouldnt come back to phi phi and eventually it will get so bad no one will. Such a shake i bet it was a place of amazing natural beauty at one time! Dont blame the tourists its tourisms job to make sure there is bins and plans in place to prevent it!

Posted by Joshua Lobb on August 7, 2015 14:08


@ Joshua, just keep the place clean even if you pay a cleaning fee, you don't have to ruin the place

Posted by FS on August 7, 2015 18:27


Wouldn't it seem more than clear that the base root of the environmental decay and over-visitation of once beautiful sites lies with the total lack of coordination between the enthusiasm of the TAT to promote these destinations and the lack of local 'authorities' to protect them? I'd say once more: lack of communication (and respect) between governmental bodies leads to disaster. Put a man in uniform and... fill in the rest as you please.

Posted by Sam Wilko on August 7, 2015 19:36

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