Jul 22 2014
Since the May 2014 coup in Bangkok, Phuket’s beaches have been undergoing an army-led cleanup effort, which started with Surin and Kamala beaches. The clearouts have continued, and over the past few weeks vendors along Phuket’s entire coastline have been served eviction notices, including the island’s three most popular beaches: Kata, Karon and Patong. Here’s the latest.
As of late July, Kata beach is clear of all sun loungers and umbrellas, and beach-goers are either spreading their towels on the wide stretch of sand or finding shade under the screw pine and casuarina trees lining the beach. The restaurants just off the sands at each end of the beach are still in operation. About a dozen trees are lying over the sand in places, having been knocked down by fierce wind and waves just days after the vendors cleared out.
Though the massage and vendor huts are gone, drinks and souvenirs are still being sold by walking vendors and some surf and body board rental guys have stacked up their boards along various points along the sand. A few masseuses may be found on mats under the trees. Jetski rental and parasailing boats are still operating, though they appear to have been corralled to the north end of the beach.
Karon beach, which had already been cleared of permanent shops and restaurant huts by its local council three years ago, has had all of its chairs and umbrellas removed. As with Kata beach, board rental, jetskis and parasail trips are still on offer, and roving vendors walk up and down the beach selling cold drinks and snacks. The sands look clean but a fair bit of trash is piled up under the trees and at the fringe of the beach in some places.
Patong beach, deemed the most challenging place to clear, is completely free of sun loungers, umbrellas and shops that were set directly on the sand. Such sparkling white sands here – who knew! Though the huts are gone from Patong the “entrepreneurial” spirit still thrives, however. As you walk along the beach you can expect to still be hustled by jetski, parasail, massage and hair-braiding folk who lurk in the trees watching for potential customers, though it’s now easier to give them a wide berth.
To sum up: on the beaches of Kata, Karon and Patong, chairs and umbrellas are out; jetskis are apparently a-ok. Because we’ve all heard of the infamous Phuket “sunbed scam” right? The top policeman in charge of cleaning up Phuket has been quoted as saying jetskis should be banned altogether, so it’s possible their end is nigh, too.
Nai Harn beach at Phuket’s far south is also cleared out, and on the day we visited there were no vendors whatsoever directly on the beach. A restaurant hut that had carved out a spot on the rocks at one end was closed though not yet taken down.
Like Surin beach, the small road along Nai Harn has become the “line in the sand” marker for commercial activity – everything between the road and the beach sands has been cleared out. The area under casuarina trees that was once solidly packed with restaurant tables and umbrellas is now clear. Back from the road, the restaurants and shops in small concrete rowhouses are still open.
The tiny Ya Nui beach, just up the road from Nai Harn, has also been given a clearout notice and on our visit the beachfront restaurant there was being knocked down. The only hut still standing was a “Lifeguart” stand. The sands are clean and clear of sun loungers and umbrellas but plenty of garbage and construction material remain piled up between the sand’s edge and the road.
Though we haven’t visited these yet, local news reports say that Bang Tao beach was cleared of more than 40 beach vendors over the past few days, Laem Singh beach vendors are gone, places along Laypang beach (north end of Bang Tao) including the popular Reggae Bar are in various stages of demolition, and shops and sunbeds have been removed from Nai Thon beach. Kamala beach, the first beach to be hit with eviction orders in June, was on July 21 revisited by officials who ordered the remaining vendors to clear out.
A cluster of restaurants and shops at Nai Yang beach, meanwhile, are operating as usual reportedly due to past deals struck with national park officials. Shops at other areas of the beach are being torn down, however. Yes, if you’re a vendor operating at the edge of national park land, as opposed to land of a different sort, your beach business is still safe.
Debate is sure to rage on about whether having few or no services on Phuket beaches is necessarily a good thing for visitors, not to mention the politics behind the cleanup efforts. Many in Phuket are waiting and watching to see if or when commercial activity creeps back to the sands.
Politics aside, it is certainly something to see Phuket’s wide, white stretches of sand in their pre-development glory.
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