Uday K Chakararoty finds out how overdevelopment can degrade even the most beautiful of beach resorts.
The biggest draw of southern Thailand cannot be anything else other than Phuket, Thailand’s dreamy island province in the Andaman Sea. It is a paradise from the sun-seekers and nature lovers – with lovely beaches, forested hill sides (or whatever left of it’s after rapid real estate development), coral and marine life.
Known as Pearl of Thailand, it derived much of its glory and its enormous wealth from tin production. The town is notable for its old European style architecture and its surrounding water contains a lot of colourful marine life. Phuket and its surrounding islands was once a natural wonderland. Since late eighties, a gold-digger mood dominated on Patong and neighbouring Karon Beach on Phuket’s west coast – where even in the early 80s virgin swamps lay behind the dunes, or broad, deserted coconut trees swayed in the wind.
Now, tourism has simply taken over this town. Itis sold as an exotic heaven for everyone in the world. Numerous five star resorts, hotels and restaurants of all kinds dot the landscape. Unfortunately, nothing can withstand this pace forever. Phuket’s stunning looks could cause its own demise.
Phuket is still beautiful. I checked into a hotel on one of the once most perfect beaches. Though crowded, the white sandy beach is sunny and the sea torques blue. But I am exasperated to experience tens of thousands of Western tourists; fresh-air freaks who sailed above the Andaman sea on colourful hand gliders pulled by motorboats; who tear along the shore road in bull-like jeeps, who crack open lobster claws with youthful teeth and dive night after night into the deafening noise that roars from the countless bars. A bombardment of the senses.
The bars have names like Pink Pussy Cat, Malibu, Fat Joe, Dog & Duck and naturally, Paradise. Kanchana, the young barmaid, says she loves the foreigners as they splurge on her. Naturally, in a country where many are not that rich, people chase after money – at this sunset strip of big money and the “little people.” In Phuket Magazine one reads that the nightlife in Bangla Road entertainment district gets “bigger, louder and wilder” with each new season.
Of course there are other relatively quieter beaches in Phuket besides Patong and Karon. Kata Noi, on the northern end of the west coast, is one, where the number of hotels and bars are relatively few. There are a quite a few huts that call themselves restaurants and offer all ocean delicacies of the finer establishments, only cheaper. They also provide a clear vie of the emerald-green sea, and one can still hear the wind whispering in the casuarinas and palms, and watch the breakers come and go. Kamala Beach, Surin Beach – the shrill echoes of Patong Beach barely reach these immaculate strands. And it dies out almost entirely at bang Toa Beachm where the fishermen’s huts are anchored in the sand.
Further north, Mai Khao Beach nestles between sea and palm groves in a gentle sickle-shaped curve almost ten km long. Here, there is hardly any crowed, though human have not failed to leave their tracks and some plastic garbage. From November to February, sea turtles come to lay their eggs – as they have for millions of years. In fact, it is the turtles that have helped conserve the beach, since the worldwide turtle lobby is stronger than any lobby for the people.
A few spots of tropical rain forest have survived, and they show how beautiful this island in Andaman Sea must once have been. To the east, a few square kilometers of rain forest cover the mountains of Phuket.
A tropical jungle island – that is what Phuket was before the tin barons began strip-mining the earth for ore; before the economics of rubber plantation pushed back the jungle and the saws felled the trees of precious wood. Tin and rubber made Phuket one of the richest provinces in Thailand. And, after their slow down, tourism was ushered in to bring more money, without much attention on impacts on the ecology and the very natural beaut that used to be its main attraction in the first place.
Meanwhile, Phuket, the capital city, is one huge marketplace, bursting with life. In the Phang Nga Yawarai and Krabi Roads stand the sole remnants of European lust for power: houses in the Sino-Portuguese colonial style, airy buildings, trade houses with archaedes and verandas bordered and supported by finely-graven columns.
There is much beauty in Phuket, both in the brochures and in reality. There is still the beautiful sea, the sandy beaches and the palm trees. And there is the simple beauty of the landscape – where it has not yet been destroyed: the rice paddies in the watery lowlands, where grey-black water buffaloes graze with white cow herons on their backs.
There are women with straw hats in the rice paddies and half-naked fishermen in slim longboats. These are the freebies thrown in by new tourism salesman, who sells this paradise for the potential customer. I only hope if those were actually the main draw of a beautiful place, rather than glitzy hotels and boisterous bars.
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