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Rubber mats are all tourists can expect these days at Patong beach

Phuket's Beaches Remain a Battleground for the Island's Tourism Future

Saturday, December 19, 2015
PHUKET: Back in February, the outstanding candidate for Phuketwan Phuket Innovation of the Year emerged: the 10 percent zone at beaches for umbrellas and services.

There was a brief challenge for a time from the Central Festival underpass, which opened in April.

However, while Phuket is likely to gain at least four more underpasses - if at a tediously slow rate in some cases - there is only ever likely to be one ''10 percent zone.''

As far as we are able to determine, the concept is unique to Phuket. If it has been tried somewhere else around the globe, the people who implemented the concept are not exactly boasting about it.

The award represents an unusual year-on-year double for Phuket because last year's Innovation of the Year award went to the military for clearing all sunbeds and other private commerce from all of Phuket's beaches.

That move caused consternation and concern but it made sense because the law that declared all of Thailand's beaches were for the public was clearly being abused.

There were thousands of visiting tourists, though, who enjoyed the abuse, lying under umbrellas on the sunbeds that on popular beaches, covered virtually every spare grain of sand.

The displaced sun, sea and sand layabouts complained long and loud, but it did no good.

The Phuket authorities even found it difficult to understand that Westerners could not get up and down from thin foam mats with the same ease as Thais, so the sunbeds were practical and necessary.

With the beaches being reorganised, jet-ski and parasail operators were granted a much larger slice of Phuket's premium swimming beach, Patong. The way the beach is now segmented gives their touts effortless access to customers.

Instead of the noisy, polluting machines being kept in separate areas away from swimmers, it's the swimmers who are corralled in rings of buoys to keep them safe from the machines.

The fact that polls consistently show that three out of four tourists and residents want the jet-skis and parasails banned from the island's beaches has had zero impact on the authorities.

There is no longer even the slightest pretence of Thailand's laws being upheld. The jet-skis and parasailers, briefly confined to the water, now sprawl across Patong's sands, wherever they want.

They rule.

This is the great puzzle of Phuket, the fact that the law so clearly is imposed for sensible reasons on some, yet ignored when it comes to others.

The jet-skis and parasailers will only survive at Patong and other beaches as long as there are touts doing illegal private business on the sand.

Other vendors, reduced hugely in number and restricted to the 10 percent zone, remain resentful.

Vice Governor Chokdee Amornwat is the man who has the difficult task of making the ''10 percent zones'' work.

The idea was proposed by former Governor Nisit Jansomwong because he believed ''poor'' beach workers needed the opportunity.

However, the Mayors of Patong and Cherng Talay say there are no poor workers on Phuket's beaches.

Vice Governor Chokdee told a meeting earlier this month that the future of the jet-skis and parasails on Phuket depends on the success of the ''10 percent zones.''

If the ''10 percent zones'' fail to work, the jet-skis and the parasails will have to go, too.

For this reason, we cannot wait until the day comes when Phuket's authorities give up on this exceptionally bad idea.

Confining tourists who bring their own umbrellas to the ''10 percent zone'' is ridiculous.

The Commander of Phuket police says that Thais and tourists are entitled to bring their own equipment to Phuket's beaches and sit wherever they like. No law can stop them.

The vice governor's response is to propose that people on beach chairs or under umbrellas outside the zones will be ''invited'' to move into the zones.

We believe most people can see how wrong this concept is and how it will inevitably one day deliver yet more harmful and damaging international publicity for Phuket.

The original clearance of Phuket's beaches had the potential to be a fresh start for a more environmentally friendly approach.

A ban on jet-skis and parasails - in accordance with Thai law - would have brought Phuket into line with the neighboring provinces of Krabi and Phang Nga.

Instead, the beaches of the island remain torn between a future attuned with nature and the present rulers of the sands, the jet-ski and parasail operators.

Just how much the whole fiasco has cost Thailand in terms of lost tourism euros, we daren't contemplate. And this sandy farce not over yet.

*Previous winners of the Phuket Innovation of the Year have included the 'Safer Phuket' initiative, Thanyapura Phuket, the honorary consuls meetings, the Tin Mine Museum, the court mediation system, Ao Po Grand Marina and the Red Mountain Golf Course.

Phuketwan ceases publication on December 31.


Comments have been disabled for this article.


Great article: nail hammer and head.
The saddest part though is the last sentence: Phuketwan ceases publication on December 31. You guys will be dearly missed, all the best in your futures, whatever and where ever that might be.

Posted by Pink Glasses on December 19, 2015 17:39

Editor Comment:

Thanks, Pink Glasses.


Beach politics in Phuket is a sad, sad situation and has been for a long while. Anyone who has had merely a little experience dealing with the real powers-that-be here can see that certain people are 'flexibly intransigent' to put it diplomatically.

Heartfelt thanks for all your dedication Alan and Chutima. I wish you all the best for the future. May God bless you both with the achievement of your goals.

Posted by Sam Wilko on December 19, 2015 18:20

Editor Comment:

Thanks, Sam. Much appreciated.



Posted by Laurie Howells on December 19, 2015 18:43

Editor Comment:

What Laurie meant to say: It's deeply sad that Phuketwan is closing. Without it we won't have a clear, thoughtful analysis of what's really happening on Phuket. I thoroughly apologise for my obsession with petty stuff, and my egotistical excesses. I just can't help myself.


Another problem for Phuket's future is surly transportation.
Arrived at Phuket last night at 21.15 hrs and had to wait for a taxi or airport limousine for 1 hour. 100's of people have been waiting for taxi last night and after one hour I gave in to one of the touts outside and paid THB 1,500 to Kamala Beach. Phuket did become a unorganized a rip-off place.... Its sad....
Phuketwan, you will be missed.

Posted by Mr. K on December 19, 2015 19:23


I'm just glad Thailand doesn't have a nuclear power plant.

Posted by Arun Muruga on December 19, 2015 20:07


Spot on.

In a democracy elected officials follow the will of the voters. In a corrupt society the highest bidder calls the shots.

This is how we get dominance of a group which is not only illegal but also the vast majority does not want.

On DEC 31st democracy will take another hit on Phuket when PW shuts down. We will be left with "media" publishing media releases with no moral backbone or guts to say what needs to be said to make this a better place.

I would dare to claim Alan and Chutima have been the most influential individuals in Phuket this decade.

As annoying and irritating as Alan sometimes can be, the Old Man and Oi have something that is desperately needed in this country.

Integrity and courage.

For someone, especially in his later years, to spend his life savings to try to make this a better place for everyone is unprecedented.

Posted by Jacek on December 19, 2015 20:50


Phuket wan you participated and supported todays empty beaches, don t be more christian then the pope now.Phukets high season looks like low season sinds the beaches have no sunbeds. Even after the tsunami Phuket had a better occupation then the comming low season

Posted by Eric on December 19, 2015 21:15

Editor Comment:

We were as surprised as everyone when the umbrellas and sunbeds were cleared, Eric. But we certainly realised that the takeover of the public beaches by large private businesses, which had already begun at Surin, would eventually destroy Phuket's appeal. It's great that the foreshores have been cleared. The seaside vistas are superb. We also said that an Independent Phuket Beach Authority should take control of the beaches from the councils. Some councils still admit that they cannot control what happens on the beaches, so any attempt to introduce a ''10 percent zone'' at Patong, for example, is doomed unless an enforcement group such as the Royal Thai Navy becomes involved. Aesthetically, we can't understand the attempt to herd tourists into ''10 percent zones.'' A beach dappled with umbrellas and people enjoying life causes no problem. Our answer would be to have mobile vendors servicing the tourists, who should be able to bring their own chairs and umbrellas. But we are certainly not obsessed with money, Eric. Greed is the cause of the original problem - the beaches being taken over - and greed appears to be the reason why a sensible solution cannot now be found. We believe Phuket must adopt the same philosophy as Krabi and Phang Nga to preserve its natural attractions, the beaches and the reefs, for future generations.


The area of the beach in front of the cemetery in Kamala was growing in lovely with the creeping plant that both looks nice and helps retain the sand. Unfortunately the local vendors are now systematically cutting it all back in the name of '10 percent'. They will never work out the issues of short term-ism and are doing their best to curb interest in coming to Phuket. I am retired so it does not affect me (other than seeing the beach being trashed yet again) but I feel no sorrow for them.

Posted by Mister Ree on December 19, 2015 21:39

Editor Comment:

Sad to hear, MR. Erosion is a serious problem at some beaches because the councils don't understand what's happening and do nothing to prevent it. Understanding and valuing the beaches has never been strong on Phuket.


'A ban on jet-skis and parasails - in accordance with Thai law - would have brought Phuket into line with the neighboring provinces of Krabi and Phang Nga. '

With 'Khun Jetski' in charge of the whole region of 6 provinces now how long do you think this will last? This is a real 'doomsayer' prediction.

Posted by Mister Ree on December 19, 2015 21:43

Editor Comment:

That's guesswork, MR, but the jet-ski business at present certainly seems unstoppable. Only a decade ago they were to all be phased out. Be prepared, Khao Lak and Krabi Town.


@Mr K for sure these coming two weeks are the biggest rip off of the year. I have a regular driver who takes me to Kata from the airport for 750Baht. Always on time, clean Toyota with great air con and leather seats.

Posted by For Sure on December 20, 2015 00:51


I am a regular visitor to Patong and am one of those types who love to spend their holiday lounging on the beach in a beach chair with an umbrella provided by a vendor. So, it is with much regret that Phuketwan will soon be 'no more' and unable to keep me up to date with the latest news on how the new look Phuket beaches will in fact look. And the other news of course! Thanks Phuketwan.

Posted by Itsamystery on December 20, 2015 06:26


Itsamystery some patience, as soon as we get elections our local Phuket politicians will bring back the long missed beds for the tourists.

Posted by Eric on December 20, 2015 07:19

Editor Comment:

It's illegal, Eric. The military doesn't want it. You will need to change Thailand's laws first.


Phuket is going down.2-3 years there will be no tourists at all here.Then the prices will go up trippel as always when no people come.

Posted by tom on December 20, 2015 08:37


well said you forgot the long tailed boats ed WHERE DID THEY POP UP FROM ?

Posted by reg on December 20, 2015 13:37

Editor Comment:

There have always been longtails, mostly at the southern end of Patong beach.


ed laws can change fast in Thailand especially when some people have a financial interest,i know you not a fan of it but sunbeds will come back, by the way some beaches still have them

Posted by Eric on December 20, 2015 17:35


This is a yes or no question.

Is it allowed to bring my own chair and parasol and lie wherever i choose on the beach.
Can i say no when i am invited to the 10% zone?

My wife and i, are going to Patong for 9 weeks by the end of january, and we have been there many times before, and been very happy about it. But 9 weeks without a chair NO WAY.
We have bought tickets and booked hotel a long time ago, because we thougt that things would get back to normal.
We are now preparing a plan B, for what we are going to do if things turn bad, and we will loose a lot af money if we must leave Thailand before time and f.eks go to Bali, and even if we doent want to, we will.
If this is going to be the end of story, we will never come back to Thailand, but find another destination.
P.s sorry youre closing the site.

Posted by nin on December 20, 2015 17:58

Editor Comment:

Yes and yes.

Wednesday August 17, 2022
Horizon Karon Beach Resort & Spa


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