Jun 29 2014

Phuket’s post-coup beach cleanup

Published by at 2:33 am under Coup 2014


You’ve heard about the Thai coup right? While news of the country’s political wranglings has largely focused on events in Bangkok, changes are also underway in Phuket with its beaches becoming ground zero in a military-led cleanup effort. Encroachment and private profiteering on the beach have been targetted. So what can those travelling to Phuket expect to find at the beaches now? We visited Kamala and Surin beaches this week to check out what’s changed on the sand.

Surin's coup makeover: Catch Beach Club and all other restaurants have been forced off the sands.

Catch Beach Club and all other restaurants have been forced off the sands.

On June 11, all Surin beach vendors and restaurants operating on the sands west of the small road that runs its 800-metre length were given orders to clear out within seven days. By June 27, the entire beach was clear of all tables, sunbeds and umbrellas and all structures west of the road were gone. No more beach club DJ stations, no cocktail bars, no sprawling sofa beds. Soldiers looked on as some trees planted on the sands in front of one restaurant were bulldozed down.

surin beach sands

Surin’s new pared-down look.

The only commercial activity directly on the beach that remains are a few roving snack and souvenir sellers and a group of masseuses who have been allowed to set up mats at various points along the sand. Catch Beach Club, Bimi Beach Club, Nok Seafood, Twin Brothers, Pla Seafood, Salt and a few smaller restaurants and shops are still open, but confined to the east side of the road just back from the beach.

Diamond Beach Club has shut down, said a woman who answered the phone listed on its website, while a woman at Zazada Beach Club said it was “open as usual”.

Spot the difference: Surin beach in February 2013...

Spot the difference: Surin beach in February 2013…

... and in June 2014.

… and in June 2014.

No official reasons were given as to why Surin was the first beach to get the army-boot treatment, but certainly it was home to a big expansion in commercial development over the past two years. New ritzy beach clubs, including one with an infinity pool, opened up and by early 2013 the beach was a forest of umbrellas. Some sections of the beach had rows of sun loungers covering the entire spread of sand all the way to the high water mark.

The Surin beach clear out may go further still, with debate among government officials ongoing about land titles and land usage issues. There’s talk that all the businesses may eventually be swept away to turn an even wider swathe of the Surin beach area into public space, but so far no shutdown orders have been issued.

Sun, sea, sand, and soldiers.

Sun, sea, sand — and soldiers.

On Kamala beach, the central section of the beach still has several restaurants and shops lining the sands and one row of sunbeds, which looks like a typical setup for the low season months of May through October. We saw one shop along this section being taken down with a police officer standing by but otherwise it appears, so far, to be business as usual.

At Kamala’s north end near the Novotel Phuket Kamala Resort the popular surfers’ hangout Skyla’s Beach House is already shut down and partially demolished. A bamboo shack restaurant, Fatima’s, was being taken down and burned in bonfire on the sand, with much dismay, by the family owners who said they had been there for 30 years. A surfboard rental vendor nearby, who has only a small rack of boards and a hammock, was the only beach business still going in the area.

No chair? No problem! This sunbather's made do with a folding chair and a cooler full of Chang.

No sunbed? No problem! This guy’s made do with a folding chair and a cooler full of Chang.

Laem Singh, Bang Tao, Laypang (north Bang Tao) and Layan beaches are reported to be the next targets for army-supervised clear-outs, with some 70 businesses on Bang Tao alone sent eviction notices. A Tourism Authority of Thailand press release said that similar evictions will be rolled out at other beaches in Phuket including Nai Harn and Patong. Patong will certainly be the one to watch, where commercialisation of its three-kilometre beach is widespread and deeply entrenched.

The big unknown is how the beaches will fare after the army’s departed, and how these clearances will hold up through the high season months of November through April. One woman who was busy dismantling her shop told us, “In October we’ll be back.”

A grand plan for a sustainable Phuket has yet to emerge, but for now visitors to Surin beach especially will have plenty more sand to stretch out on to watch the changing tides.

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6 Responses to “Phuket’s post-coup beach cleanup” ...

  1. Jamieon 29 Jun 2014 at 3:50 am

    We just went to Surin and Laem Sing yesterday (June 28th) – Surin still needs a good tidy up. The 3 “beach clubs” were all open and looked like were giving people big cushions to go sit on the beach in comfort. Very nice to see all the beach club decking and sofas gone. The beach is for everyone, although I do wonder if they’d object if you went and sat on the beach right in front of their club …

    Laem Sing, the demolition was underway … everything being taken down/burned. I’ll have to go again in a couple of months and see if its back to nature as it was 15 years ago when I first visited in 1999 and there were no bars or restaurants on Laem Sing at all. How it should be. Although nice to have a place to buy a drink!

  2. GGon 29 Jun 2014 at 9:54 am

    Thanks for reporting, really hope it stays like that!

  3. Ingaon 29 Jun 2014 at 10:46 am

    Seems like drastic measures,are taken,on the Phuket beaches,these days.
    I dont think it will go back to anything that was years ago,just change hands.
    We stayed at Nai Harn Beach in January 2014,and i loved the restaurants and shops and that the beach was full of people. And you could get a sunbed if you were a bit patient.
    We altso stayed in Kata for a few days,stayed in the south end,and we were never able to get a sunbed,nor get a longtailboat for a trip.
    They were booked in advance for the whole season.
    At the same time there were plenty of empty chairs,but they belonged to the beachfront hotels.
    The problem for Phuket is that it has way too many tourists,and not the infrastructure to cope with it.

  4. Dan Howardon 29 Jun 2014 at 9:39 pm

    Not before time, though whether all commercial interests will accept this lying down remains to be seen. I for one welcome the clean up, though beach apparel is inevitable hopefully in future in moderation with prices to reflect our baht.

  5. Steveon 30 Jun 2014 at 5:19 pm

    I first went to Laem sing beach in May 1998 and met Ali at Risorante da Ali, which looked like it had been there for years. Yes during our visit in 2014, it was busy and looks like it needs control, but to demolish everything is too much. I like a Sun lounger and somewhere to drink, I have holidayed In Phuket for the past 17years but will have to consider elsewhere

  6. gordon greyon 17 Jul 2014 at 3:42 pm

    This is wonderful news! At first I had my doubts about any coup d’état but now I give a big salute to it and am changing my mind about not going to Thailand until it was over. The pictures of ‘before’ and ‘after’ gave me a big smile and a warm feeling. Nature is for all. One should have the human right of existence to walk down a beach, anywhere on the planet, unfettered {with exceptions for needed governmental areas, such as military for defense, or air traffic control, for civilian use, for example.} I have a rule that if I go to a ‘search’ on an area and the webpages show these insidious lounges and chairs and tables and umbrellas are lining the sand like so many sentinels and crowding and totally monopolizing a beach, I decide at that very moment that the entire area must be this way and look elsewhere in that country, and in most instances, just look for another country to go to. These eyesores say so much about an area, a mentality and a country. I saw these fotos and I have changed my mind about never going to Phuket, even! Thank you TravelFish for a great eye-opening, and factual article! Yes!

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