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Letter: Phuket, Please Stop Breaking My Heart

Wednesday, May 30, 2012
PHUKET: I'M A DEVOTED Phuket tourist who has visited Phuket eight times in total since 2002. Things have truly changed since my first visit.

First time I was in Phuket, the bypass road was a quiet, two lane road, with just a few blocks alongside.

Now, 10 years later, traffic is packed and it looks like the road has to be widened to at least three lanes in each direction. What 10 years ago took five minutes to drive, takes 25-30 minutes today in the rush hour.

Though a lot of things are changing in Phuket, transportation around the island is not one of them. In 2002, I was surprised at the high price level for tuk-tuks from Patong to the nearby beaches. Now, in 2012, transportation seems worse than ever.

Taking a taxi from Kantary Bay [on Phuket's east coast at Cape Panwa] to a resort just a couple of kilometres away will cost you at least 300 baht. To get from the airport to the southern areas, the price level is close to 1000 baht, unless you know of the taximeter service.

Hotel staff have to spend hours to go to work with the inefficient local buses, or have to spend far too much on buying a scooter which causes even more queues.

When asking about public transport, the answer is that it is almost non-existing. What has happened to development in the transportation sector in 10 years? Not much, it seems.

If Phuket had something even close to visionary politicians, the island would now be close to completing the constructiion of a full scale metro system from the airport to all main beaches as well as to Phuket Town. In lack of this, one would at least expect a highly developed bus transportation system, with separate bus lanes, departures every 10 minutes, express busses from the airport to main beaches and an electronic, modern ticketing system.

Why is there a totalt lack of this? According to many local people I've been asking about this (among them several official taxi owners as well as hotel staff and hoteliers), the answer is simple: Corruption.

Tuk-tuks and illegal taxis operate on Phuket in a well organised system, with lots of protection. When someone criticises this, they are either paid to shut their mouth or even threathened.

I do not have the power to decide if this is true or not, but this I can tell you: If Phuket does not manage to lift its infrastructure by tenfold, the island will loose its leading position in the tourist industry.

We do already see this in the Scandinavian market, where Phuket and Thailand was a winner for many years. Now, traffic is turning westwards to the Carribean, South America and the US.

I have asked several people why they chose not to go to Thailand and Phuket, and many has the same reason: Phuket has lost its attractiveness. Main reason: The tourists get tricked whenever there's a chance from tuk-tuk drivers, taxi drivers and so on.

Also, tourists are fed up with spending endless hours in Immigration then having to spend another hour or even more jammed in queues, as the traffic is increasing while the infrastructure is not.

From hotel staff that I have spoken with, I have learned that a maid typically makes around 300 baht per day. How does this correspond with an illegal taxi driver, charging 300 baht for 15 minutes' work?

Phuket, you have to clean up. Introduce taxi meters for all taxis, with public fares. Establish a modern transport (bus) system around Phuket, with electronic tickets and separate bus lanes. Start planning the metro system asap, and leave the job to a professional company without deep pockets.

If you do not manage, I'm afraid Phuket will loose in the battle for the most attractive guests. With Burma (Myanmar) opening up, other places in Thailand evolving and Cambodia soon to bid to the same tourists, why should tourists choose Phuket with all I have mentioned above?

Best Regards,

Mr Gunnar Ekjord
Senior Manager and tour operation professional in Oslo, Norway.

Drop us a line at editor@phuketwan.com about the good and the bad of Phuket

Comments

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So true, but it will pass unheard as long as the locals do not realize it themselves. They are confident that tourists will keep coming. Hopefully the domestic reactions to the expensive Phuket will make the decision makers think.

Posted by Hockey on May 30, 2012 09:55

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The figures for tourist arrivals always seem to state they are higher than ever, so for the few people Phuket loses because of these issues, there are more coming who are unaware. And so the cycle continues. Change will have to come from within.

Phuket seems to me like it is its own country separate from the rest of Thailand, with very few similarities left. Ive spent a couple of years here and i am more inclined to go to Chiang Mai next trip.

Posted by carvets on May 30, 2012 10:31

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Mr Gunnar Ekjord
I applaud you for this letter!
100% correct and justified!
But the sad fact is that you touched on only a few percent of the actual problems we have at Phuket.

I wish that more tour operators and travel agents would speak out and put pressure on Phuket (and Thailand) to start solving serious problems which will for sure (sooner or later) show serious impact on tourism.

Posted by Mr. K on May 30, 2012 11:40

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Gunner is right of course and we all hope there will be change but i dont see it for a few years yet the TAT just thinks that tourist numbers will increase year by year . It's the ordinary Thai people that will suffer in the end dont worry about the rich Thais they will have tourist business in Cambodia and Burma by then Same Same

Posted by Hopeful on May 30, 2012 13:01

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One factor not often mentioned that contributes to the lack of progress is that Governors chosen to direct progress on Phuket are almost always a convenient three years away from retirement. They cannot hope to effect any meaningful changes in a three-year window of opportunity and at the same time save face at the lack of changes when they are retired off by Bangkok. Every crook, shadowy jet-ski scammer and tuk tuk cartel knows this.

Posted by Sam W on May 30, 2012 14:37

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very true and he's just scratched the surface of the challenges for phuket. environment and garbage disposal, beach buisnesses, time share touts, jet skis . . . it's becoming quiet a list.

Posted by traveller on May 30, 2012 15:45

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Been here for almost 20 years and do love the country, but unfortunately Thailand is on a long-term path of self-destruction due to pollution, greed and corruption ... and there is unfortunately not much that shows a will to change any of this.

Posted by Bjarne on May 30, 2012 16:16

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More than right. The question is: Who shall make a change in the country ? The tourists do, by staying away...

Posted by Resident on May 30, 2012 18:10

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Taxi from my house in Phuket Town to Phuket International Airport cost 600 THB. Taxi from Suvarnabhumi Airport to downtown Bangkok cost me 200 THB (plus 60 THB for toll) This is Thailand's capital city people, should it really cost double in Phuket for a journey that takes half the time?

Posted by Roger Gibson on May 31, 2012 10:05


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