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A turtle swims towards divers off the Similans

Similans Gears for Turnstile Cash

Tuesday, June 25, 2013
PHUKET: The Similan Islands National Park is to open two weeks earlier this year despite increasing concerns about the pressures of mass tourism on the coral reefs and beaches.

The Director of the Department of National Parks, Wildlife and Plant Conservation, Manopat Haueungkaew, said the earlier opening would help to generate more revenue.

Officials closely involved with the Similans - regarded as the best diving and snorkelling that the Phuket Andaman region has to offer - are downplaying environmental concerns.

It has even been alleged that hundreds more trippers to the park are being permitted entry with tour operators and rangers pocketing the extra cash.

Today the Director of the Similan Islands park, Nat Kongkesom, said the new opening date of october 15 was to abide by government policy to expand income from tourism.

He said that ''good weather'' usually ensued at that time of the year, although traditionally the monsoons have kept the Similans closed until November 1.

Reefs that continued to recover from coral bleaching would remain closed, he said.

When asked how many visitors the Similans could sustain each day, Khun Nat said he was at Phuket airport awaiting a flight to bangkok and did not have his handbook with him.

People who visit the Similans in November usually find the region has fully recovered after a six-month break from tourism while those who travel there in April find the beaches and the reefs in different condition.

Tourism officials on Phuket and elsewhere complain that the increase in arrivals from China and Russia has meant larger numbers of smokers who dump butts in places of natural beauty and sometimes souvenir pieces of coral.

At least one Phuket official believes that most Chinese who come to the region are usually only here for three or four days and are less caring ''visitors'' rather than tourists.

The Similans, consisting of nine islands and home to a turtle sanctuary protected by the Royal Thai Navy, are usually reached by speedboat from Tablamu Pier in Phang Nga, the province north of Phuket.

Comments

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In 10 years once Asean opens up, Myanmar has less crowded, less polluted waters and better diving than Phuket and will probably be cheaper Phuket will have less visitors. Over the last few years Phuket is getting less desirable, hey come to Kata beach for your tropical holiday and swim in the sewage by the North side of the beach. Everyone knows about this but why is nothing done. Short sight greed comes to mind with little planning for the future or is it ok for sustainablity. Can readers please say 1 for the first option or 2 for the second.

Posted by Donating Farang on June 25, 2013 11:24

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Opening earlier as 15 October for day-tripper tours may be acceptable.
But the problem will be the safety in case of storm as the monsoon may not be over during that period and even in the beginning of November.
By opening in the middle of October, liveaboard dive boats will get bookings and will be reluctant to cancel a trip as divers will have pay longtime in advance the overnight trips because too much money will be at stake.
We saw it with a liveaboarddive boat with 30 passengers which sunk on April 2013 at Koh Tachai.
The shame of a sinking boat with deaths will be a negative advertising and will give the wrong image about tour and dive boat operators in Thailand as greedy opportunists on forums and news websites.
So in my personnal opinion, YES to day tour boats an NO to liveaboard dive boats and I have the same opinion about it to open Similan until 15 May.

Posted by Whistle-Blower on June 25, 2013 11:53

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My Scottish friend (with his Myanmar family) visited me here in Phuket 3 months back & I am sorry to report that the pricing of hotels has gone through the roof - by a minimum of 400%. So it won't be a cheaper option for many years to come.

He also told me that the infrastructure there is not even close to handling large numbers of tourists. Corruption is just as endemic as in Thailand; they simply haven't had the time to adapt it to foreign visitors yet due to lack of package tourism.

There is some diving available, but diving fatalities have occurred there at a rate that is too high to consider safe, when compared to the volume of diving that takes place in Phuket with few fatalities by same comparison.

I worked in Myanmar from 2001-10 & love the country, but it is way too early to suggest it might be a threat to its ASEAN neighbors.

One plus is they built a brand new airport that opened some 10 years back & makes Phuket airport look both tatty & disorganized.

Yangon certainly has not got the dreaded tuk tuks, but the standard of taxi available at present is quite appalling - literally old bangers that are held together by innovation & prayer.

Motor bikes won't be a problem as they are banned from Yangon city centre for reasons known only to the government of that country - but rumored to be because one was used some years back at an attempted drive by assassination of a government official.

Myanmar is a great country to visit but not yet close to challenging the existing package tourist 'paradises' of other ASEAN countries.

Posted by Logic on June 25, 2013 12:07

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"People who visit the Similans in November usually find the region has fully recovered after a six-month break from tourism"
Unfortunately not true. People who visit the Similans in November have to remove the fishing nets stuck on the reefs from illegal fishing there done in the months before.

Posted by stevenl on June 25, 2013 12:15

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Having worked several seasons as a tourleader both in Similan and Burma I fully agree with Donating Farang.

Diving is infinitely better in Burma and once it opens up allowing more affordable liveaboard trips, Similans will lose a lot of it's current customers.

As of now it's only popular because it's easily accessible, not because of what you can actually see there. Illegal fishing has reduced marine life variety significantly and sightings of sharks and large rays have become very rare.

It's also commonly known among Dive industry workers that the Park Rangers pocket a large portion of the entrance fees and do this in collusion with the boat captains.

As with almost everything else in and around Phuket, greed is killing the natural resources.

Posted by ThaiMike on June 25, 2013 13:06

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good weather in the similans on 15th of October, from my experience in the past 10 years on Phuket, it is the worst time of the year to visit the Similans due to the continuing strong monsoon. Safety of customers should come first.

Posted by wm on June 25, 2013 14:00

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Agree completely with Stevenl and wm. Greed trumps tourist safety - again!!! Until officials start losing their lives, nothing will change but not much risk of that as desk jockeys rarely go to sea!!! :-(

Posted by Baralan on June 25, 2013 15:41

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are these the same officials that complained about chinese tourist throwing ciggaretes in the water

Posted by Michael on June 25, 2013 16:01

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Of course, W.B. couldn't miss this one ;-) Basically nothing changes, it just becomes luckily official, what was already a common practice during the last years: Getting out 10 days before the offical opening is, what many operators did anyhow and most of the operators voted for an earlier opening. Let's just hope that it pays back, as also expenses start to run 2 weeks earlier...

Posted by Resident on June 25, 2013 16:36

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Good grief, exactly thaimike, the only ones to benefit here are the park rangers, its a known fact that money is given (and the occasional bottle or two) and reciepts not issued. Revenue for who? Its not to go to the welfare of the island, thats for sure. But who's to blame? The rangers, or the boat captains that support it?

Posted by Andy on June 25, 2013 17:11

Editor Comment:

Both are corrupt. Both should be doing jail time for helping to destroy a natural asset.

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generate more revenue the keys words which always win the day in Thailand.

Posted by slickmelb on June 25, 2013 18:11

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I do not know if it is a good new to open in the middle of October and close in the middle of May as monsoon most of the time is not over until the beginning of November and large swells and storms are in place at the end of April.

Greed from DNP Rangers and tour boat operators may one day bring the responsibility of DNP Rangers on the light on forums and news website around the world when a speed boats with 40-50 tourists or dive boats will sunk with foreign deaths.

October and May period may be open to day tour boats as it is possible to block the boats at Tap Lamuk before departures in the morning if the sea is rough but dive liveaboard boats will be reluctant to cancel a trip for bad weather and refund divers as those divers will have paid the trip from oversea and too much money will be at stake.
We saw it with the largest dive company in Khao Lak which got one of their dive boats sinking in rough sea on April 2013 at Koh Tachai Island at the Similan Islands.

DNP Rangers are more interested to make money than protecting Marine National Parks against poachers as again this year, Similan Rangers did not offer a master plan to stop fishing within Similan boundary.

Also there are a regulation in Thai and English but it looks more to make happy those money providers (SAMPAN, etc...) than doing their best to protect Thailand natural assets such as Marine National Parks.

Control Measures for Tourism Entrepreneurs in Marine National Parks - SCUBA Diving and Related Activities in Marine National Parks
English version: http://www.dnp.go.th/Rules/seatrade_en.pdf
Thai version: http://www.dnp.go.th/Rules/seatrade_th.pdf

Posted by Whistle-Blower on June 26, 2013 12:10

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Charlie don't surf ! It is good news as it legalizes finally what most of the operators anyhow did, some by sponsoring authorities others jut got away with it. And almost all operators voted for it. KSA's last season's accident can't be blamed on the weather only, as quite a few boats of the same size were out on that day but only their boat got serious problems, respectively sunk.... BTW, fishing in the Marine Park is illegal, and what's illegal doesn't exist here, we all know this, don't we ?

Posted by Resident on June 26, 2013 20:13

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More revenue for whom

Posted by slickmelb on July 2, 2013 02:26


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