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More Thais can learn how to save lives and have fun

Phuket Officials Told: Tell Tourists The Truth

Saturday, November 1, 2008
Great Photo Album Below

THE YELLOW and red of Australian surf caps appeared on Patong Beach recently as the Thai beach resort held Phuket's first surf lifesaving carnival.

Thais tend to be non-swimmers so the concept of saving someone from the surf remains relatively untested.

Officials on Phuket are often reluctant to reveal details of the number of drownings. It's the same with any news that may deter tourists.

The performance of the tsunami warning system, the discovery of box jellyfish, stingray attacks, motorcycle deaths and dengue fever outbreaks also come in this category.

"The culture simply has to change," says Jayne MacDougall, director of risk management and loss prevention at Le Meridien Phuket Beach Resort.

''What's needed are international standards, so that tourists feel just as comfortable on holiday as they do at home.''

Ms MacDougall, an Australian, is among the organisers of the surf lifesaving carnival, which attracted about 25 visitors from clubs in Darwin and NSW at short notice.

Scores of Thai participants of all ages came from local lifeguard groups and swimming clubs. Most agreed that the day of swimming contests and beach running was sanuk mak mak (great fun).

Ms MacDougall is delighted with the turnout from the Thais, and the support of the local officials, who also provided a brass band.

She has high hopes that the second event next July will cement the concept and bridge the cultures.

''We are sure the Thais will come to enjoy the sport every bit as much as Australians,'' she says.

What needs to change on Phuket? Tell us via the Comment box below. It's easy!

''It's the best possible way to ensure that people are as safe on holidays as they are at home.''

Along with Russians, Australians are the most resilient travellers to Phuket, even in the face of recent airport blockades, a state of emergency, and official travel warnings.

Yet on Phuket, as in many destinations, there is not much information available about potential dangers.

Too often the mentality of the film Jaws applies: if there's a shark in the bay, for God's sake don't tell anyone.

Most Australians will not let these issues prevent them enjoying a holiday but when it comes to travel, honesty is the best policy.

Here's a summary for tourists of the key issues on Phuket:

Motorcycles: By far the biggest danger. Tourists assume that because the sun is shining, they do not need a helmet. Bandaged visitors are often sighted at local hospitals and insurance is essential. Hire a car instead.

Swimming: Phuket beaches are beset by rips and undertows during the low season from April to October. Lifeguard towers are sometimes left unattended. In high season, waters are tranquil and safe.

Tsunami: Another wave on the scale of 2004 is unlikely. Blue and white signs point which way is up. Radio and television will warn about a tsunami during daylight but what happens when everyone is asleep? Ask your resort management.

Marine attacks: A Swedish girl died from a box jellyfish sting in Phang Nga Bay, not far from Phuket, in April. Box jellyfish now live on Phuket's east coast. Stingray strikes are rare but they happen. There are no Jaws-type sharks in Phuket waters.

Dengue fever: The incidence is rising but treatment has improved so deaths are unusual. Officials encourage local prevention and a vaccine is hoped for within five years.

Jetskis: Visitors are seriously injured without insurance every high season on jetskis. A scheme to phase them out appears to have been abandoned.

Rabies: The good news. Plenty of dogs on the streets but no rabies for years. You may need precautionary jabs, though, if you are bitten.

A version of this article appeared in the Sydney Morning Herald and The Age, Melbourne, on November 1. Combined readership of the two newspapers, among the most highly regarded in the country, exceeds 1.2 million.

Photo Album: Join the Patong Surf Lifesaving Carnival

Phuket Surf Lifesaving Gets Big Kick Up The Bum
Tight swimsuits and lashings of sunscreen mark the introduction of the surf lifesaving culture to Patong beach at Phuket's First Surf Lifesaving Carnival. Go save a life.
Phuket Surf Lifesaving Gets Big Kick Up The Bum


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