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Phuket and Phi Phi are neighbors with pressing life and death problems

Paradises Where Tourists Are Turned Off

Wednesday, June 20, 2012
News Analysis

PHUKET: Two wonderful tropical holiday islands, two intense turn-offs for tourism. That's Phuket and Phi Phi today in the wake of mystery deaths on one island and a series of needless tourist drownings on the other.

The authorities on both Phi Phi and Phuket have a good idea what the problems are. Local councils do care, but mostly when it suits them. Local authorities are reactive, not proactive.

It's time for a change, for the sake of Thailand's tourism industry - and for the sake of saving lives.

In the 21st century, where news travels everywhere instantly, there are two approaches that can be taken to these kinds of issues.

The first: ignore the problem, pretend it doesn't exist, and hope it goes away.

The second: accept that there's a problem, investigate it thoroughly, and if necessary get help to solve it.

The world's media is more intensely focussing right now on the mysterious deaths of two young Canadian sisters, Audrey and Noemi Belanger, on Phi Phi.

But a lot more attention is also going to be paid to the six drownings of tourists at Phuket beaches in the space of just a month and a day.

On Phi Phi and Phuket, the warning signs have been there that these deadly issues will occur again and again unless authorities react in an appropriate manner.

On Phi Phi, the still-unsolved deaths of American Jill St Onge, 27, and Norwegian Julie Bergheim, 22, in 2009 were followed last year by five more mysterious deaths in Chiang Mai, including New Zealander Sarah Carter, 23.

Thailand's tourism officials eventually realised how damaging the deaths could be for Chiang Mai tourism and had them fully investigated, despite efforts by some locals in Chiang Mai to simply cover up the deaths in hope the tourists would came back.

Thailand today should throw everything it has in the way of experts in toxicology and epidemiology into finding the causes of death of the two young Canadians, found dead in their resort room last Friday.

Even the 20-somethings who have made Phi Phi a must-see island destination and constitute the world's most adventurous travellers are likely to be turned off by Thailand if these latest mysterious deaths are not solved.

On Phuket, the continuing serial deaths of tourists in ''rips'' during the monsoon season highlights the lack of coordination and will in seeking solutions.

Today the body of the latest drowning victim, a Western man plucked too late from the surf at Nai Harn beach yesterday, lies in Vachira Phuket Hospital, unidentified . . . and another mystery.

Everything the authorities have done so far is half-hearted. Some beach councils have posted warning signs. Others have not. Some Phuket resorts warn guests about the dangers of drowning at this time of year. Others do not.

To entice tourists from around the world to Phuket as a ''year round beach holiday destination'' without warning them of the dangers is bordering on criminal.

Phuket authorities, faced with six drownings in the space of a month and a day, must now get serious about finding a solution - or face a gigantic tourism turn-off that will see monsoon season occupancy rates plummet.

Where is the crisis meeting, aimed at seeking solutions? Where are the telephone calls from embassies, outraged at these unnecessary deaths? Where are the leaders of tourism organisations, calling for improvements immediately?

As tourists old and young travel, the two things that they value above all else are security and safety.

The past week's events on Phi Phi and the past month on the beaches of Phuket have proved that more must be done on both tropical holiday islands.


Comments have been disabled for this article.


In the 21st century, where news travels everywhere instantly, there are two approaches that can be taken to these kinds of issues.

The first: ignore the problem, pretend it doesn't exist, and hope it goes away.

The second: accept that there's a problem, investigate it thoroughly, and if necessary get help to solve it.

Very good point..Lets hope they step up and do the latter.

Posted by sky on June 20, 2012 10:57


Ed, you ask where are the telephone calls from outraged embassies.

Perhaps like many expats who live in Phuket, the embassies and HCs understand that their views, opinions and calls for action are totally ignored by the Thai authorities, who simply give lip-service to whatever complaint or problem is raised by 'foreigners'.

You must be aware that the problems of tuk-tuks, black taxis, rude taxis, expensive taxis, dangerous beaches, dirty beaches, jetski scams etc etc etc etc etc still exist today, as they have existed for many years in Phuket.

The authorities pathetic responses in many cases is to set up yet another committee to investigate the problem, or to give forwarning to the miscreants that on such and such date they will be checked on.

After 10 years of living and working in Phuket, (and you know that I worked for many years as a police volunteer), I see absolutely no improvement at all - in fact the opposite applies.

Their is only 1 reason why the Thai authorities are 'putting on a show' investigating the sad death of these 2 women, and it has nothing to do with finding out the truth or taking action to ensure that such a tragedy is never repeated.


Posted by Simon Luttrell on June 20, 2012 12:15

Editor Comment:

If telephone calls are not made, then the embassies and the expats are part of the problem, not part of the solution, Simon. Acceptance of unnecessary deaths is not an appropriate response. To link the needless deaths of tourists and Thais to other more general issues is something most of us would never do. Give up if you wish. We won't.


"Even the 20-somethings who have made Phi Phi a must-see island destination and constitute the world's most adventurous travellers are likely to be turned off by Thailand if these latest mysterious deaths are not solved. "

i don't follow your reasoning.. many of these same '20-somethings' know smoking might kill them but it doesn't stop them smoking - are you saying that they might be put off visiting because they might die of something unattributable??

Posted by another steve on June 20, 2012 13:08

Editor Comment:

Ludicrous comparison, another steve. Even young people fear sudden, unexplained death. We said what we thought in the article. I don't have time to spell it out for you time and time and time again.


Splendid article, very well constructed. It summarizes many of the ailments blighting Phuket & now Phi Phi, covering some of the solutions long proposed by different readers over a considerable period of time. The authorities really need to take note before those who are regular visitors stop coming. I have been a regular visitor (almost semi resident except that I still work) for 17 years now, diving from Phuket & at Phi Phi. I still have a membership at one of Phuket's grossly overpriced golf clubs. It has got to the stage where it is scarcely worth coming, as all my regular friends (residents & visitors alike) have moved to other destinations, either within Thailand or abroad. Thai logic is to ignore problems or sweep them under the carpet. In true Thai business philosophy, less tourists so charge more. For example, in a recent visit back to Scotland, I could walk into most golf courses & play for a fraction of the price that Phuket courses charge - though I believe Hua Hin is heading down the same road. Thailand needs to wise up, adjust its thinking, resolve problems & set realistic prices. As you clearly state, word travels fast in these days of modern communication. People will not continue to get ripped off forever & indeed no longer can afford to.

Posted by Logic on June 20, 2012 13:47

Editor Comment:

We are more concerned about the unnecessary deaths of Thais as well as tourists but the prices certainly are becoming another turnoff.


Give up if you wish. We won't.

Well Ed, I won't give up because I have family and business here, but you must surely agree with me that very little progress has been made on any issues that have been raised over the past years, and that includes the sad demise of 2 tourists in Phi-Phi a few years ago.

The tragic death of these 2 Canadian ladies also seems to have created a very predictable action, as mentioned in your previous reports - which was for the hotel staff to rapidly clean the hotel bedroom from top to bottom.

This was a potential crime scene. Why were the hotel staff even allowed access?


Posted by Simon Luttrell on June 20, 2012 14:14

Editor Comment:

We don't know who cleaned the bedroom and, as I think we reported accurately, we don't know whether samples were taken from the bedroom before it was cleaned.
You can continue to debate, Simon, or make a few telephone calls.


I think most tourists genuinely accept the risks such as Taxi rip offs and jet skis which as all part of the holiday adventure. What I dislike most is when the risks are hidden from the risk taker such as falling ill from tainted food or contaminated drinking water as this is bad for business because the risk occurrence is always unknown but preventable on the part of food vendors and handlers.

Posted by Kermit on June 20, 2012 18:17

Editor Comment:

We note remarkably few cases of food poisoning on Phuket and in Thailand. No denying they occur, but food vendors in Thailand buy food fresh every day and seldom rely on refrigeration. Poorly stored food is usually the problem. You are safer eating fresh in Thailand than most other places.


I went on a solo trip to Phuket - Patong and Karon. I felt a bit uneasy in Patong on the streets but my hotel stay was lovely - for the two weeks. After that I went to Karon for 5 weeks and I never felt unsafe but the drowings made me think .. While in Patong .. I never heard about drowning and in Karon there were already two .. My view to the drowning of tourists, when I compare Patong and Kata : When tourists come to Phuket - you really want one thing and that is swimming to cool down. In Patong we could swim to 21h30 at the hotel which everyone enjoyed but in Karon the pool at the hotel closes 18h00 - and reopens at 9h00 in the morning.

Could I suggest that maybe if pool hours at the hotels be extended, less tourists would risk the beaches and less drownings might occur?

Posted by Dana on June 23, 2012 04:23


Year after year there are warnings in foreign press that if the Thai authorities do not clean up their act the tourists will stop coming. Well more and more come each year. A Canadian girl was murdered in Pai several eyars ago by a policeman, a Canadian girl was reaped and murdered on Koh Samet 12 years ago, a British couple was murdered in Kanchanaburi 12 years by a policeman, two Russians girls were murdered on Jomtien 5 years ago ago I could go on and on. The authorities know about these crimes and they know that these crimes do not put tourist off coming here. They never have and they never will.

Posted by Graham on June 26, 2012 02:05


We have flights to Singapore booked for next month with the intent to Holiday in Phuket and PHI PHI island.
There is no bloody way I am going to Phuket now after reading of the deaths, murders, drownings and robberies. The Thais can have this dangerous place all to themselves. I was going to book the accomodation tonight. No chance I will go there now. Watching a fellow Aussie being murdered is horrific. With no safe taxis I am never going to go there.

Posted by Anthony on August 21, 2012 21:33

Monday June 17, 2024
Horizon Karon Beach Resort & Spa


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