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A typical small Phuket beach, with no resort behind it

Unspoiled Phuket: Here's How to Keep the Magic

Sunday, December 14, 2008
Letter for the Governor

PHUKET'S Governor wants to walk on the island's beaches without being told: ''Get off. This is a private beach.''

Dr Preecha Ruangjan has an admirable objective. All the island's beaches are public by law and must remain that way.

For many years, though, various entrepreneurs have been trying to create the impression that the beaches belong to them, simply because they own the land that abuts the beach.

In some cases, even restaurants consider the sand is theirs, to use as they see fit.

On an upmarket northern beach, for example, one restaurant now lays claim to a large stretch of sand, and has filled it with chairs and tables, loungers, a freshwater shower, a bar, and in a brochure even invites patrons of a Patong hotel to take advantage of a shuttle service north to enjoy their ''private beach.''

This shows admirable business bravado, Phuket entrepreneurship at its best. Great for business, if you can do it without anyone complaining.

But if every beachside restaurant at every beach claimed the sand like this, where would it end? Like Hua Hin, probably, where restaurants on stilts stretch out over some beaches.

Access is the other important point.

The roadway that actually passes beneath the Royal Phuket Yacht Club at Nai Harn so people can get to tiny Ao Sane beach illustrates the historic nature of this struggle.

There is nothing new in resorts blocking access to beaches.

Indeed, if you pay for land along a beachfront, it's not unnatural to feel a proprietorial right to the beach as well.

Access rights to many beaches should have been sorted properly years ago, and in many cases it's too late to make better arrangements now.

The windy road through Laguna Phuket to Bang Tao beach is another example of access retained, but hardly in a logical fashion.

And local people especially deserve to be able to make a living from small businesses along the beachfronts that provide Phuket beaches with extra character.

Growing them to the point where concrete slabs go over the sand is something else.

But the battle for beach rights is only part of this story. The other, perhaps more important part, is the need to retain some of the small beaches along Phuket's coast just the way they are today.

Fortunately for the island, some of the locals who own land abutting the beaches adore them and have chosen to preserve them just the way they are.

So they have turned down big money to sell up to resort developers.

For now, these small beaches continue to retain the character that the island's big beaches also once had before they became selling points for whole townships or individual resorts.

Yet once this current generation of old-Phuket land owners passes on, their children are less likely to resist the siren call of big, big money.

If Dr Preecha is serious about preserving the freedom to walk the beaches, that's great.

But he should also look at ways of saving the small beaches for posterity, so future generations can also walk along them, and this means saving the surrounding land for access as well.

If the land abutting these small stretches of sand eventually falls to resorts, Phuket will have lost the essential magic that brought the first tourists here, the unspoiled tropical beach.

We can name some of these beaches: Paradise Beach, Ao Sane, Laem Ka, Koh Sireh, Banana Stone Beach, Tri-Trang, parts of Layan Beach, and especially Laem Sing.

There must be others, too.

What's needed is a legacy arrangement so that when the present owners pass on, their children will be compensated properly for the land, on one condition: that the beach and the land around it remain exactly the way they are today.

In this way, Phuket's original appeal can be preserved and continue to attract visitors to a (partially) unspoiled tropical island.

Phuket needs these gems retained just as they are, before it's too late.

Know a small beach that deserves to be saved? Please tell us about it

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Sunday October 2, 2022
Phuketwan - Your sweet Phuket, every day

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