Jul 22 2014

Phuket’s post-coup beach cleanup, part two

Published by at 2:12 pm under Coup 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.

Where is this empty, white-sand beach? Patong!

Where is this empty, white-sand beach? Patong!

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.

Kata beach in December 2013 ...

Kata beach in December 2013 …

And after the coup cleanup, July 2014.

And after the coup cleanup, July 2014.

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.

Karon beach in February 2014 ...

Karon beach in February 2014 …

And in July 2014, after the army beach sweep.

And in July 2014, after the army beach sweep.

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.

No chairs, but the jet-skis remain in Patong.

No chairs, but the jet-skis remain in Patong.

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.

No more vendors on Nai harn beach.

No more vendors on Nai Harn beach.

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.

Yanui beach from above, now clear of sunbeds and restaurants.

Ya Nui beach from above, now clear of sunbeds and restaurants.

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.

8 responses so far

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8 Responses to “Phuket’s post-coup beach cleanup, part two” ...

  1. Lee Martinon 22 Jul 2014 at 6:05 pm

    It’s seems somebody knows what they are doing. Thats a vast improvement….

  2. gordon greyon 23 Jul 2014 at 7:51 pm

    i will say again that this is wonderful. I would hold only one caveat, and it is an idea that I did not think of, but my girlfriend did. the loungers, the vendors, the squatters and of course the gnarly old sex tourists are gone, but is this maybe a plan, and portent of things to come, that the cronies of the junta, would come in and put up huge 5 star developments, having now ridden the area of the irritants that they could not legally get rid of, before the coup?

  3. Jakup Eidon 19 Aug 2014 at 8:39 pm

    Both a good and bad ide. Was there for the first tim this year. Wonderful, but crowdy onbeach. specially Patong. Butthe most shame to see was when you come of the beach, up the road, and just see all the garbage trowing around. smelling, rotthen, burning. Awful. THAT is something they sould rather do something about. And ping pong andthe rest of sex industry. i will deffenently notgo back so fra from europe, to sit on a sunbed at a hotel, because there is no shade on the beach 8 no ambrella ), because it is not possible to be at the beach in hi season with no shade. surreal. There must be a middle way to do this. This is a tourist island, and not having some sort of turist goodies on the beach, will give some backclash. sorry. I like the idé of cleening up, but to drastic this, and there is so much more that needs to be cleened up.

  4. Chrison 05 Oct 2014 at 7:59 am

    What is the situation now (October)? Are any beach clubs still open?

  5. Lana Willockson 06 Oct 2014 at 12:33 am

    Hi Chris, yes, as of October a number of beach clubs are still open. Bimi Beach Club, Catch Beach Club and Zazada on Surin beach have had to scale back but all three remain open and all have confirmed with me that they will not have to close. Bliss Beach Club and Nikki Beach Club on Bangtao/Layan beaches were deemed legal and remain open as normal.

  6. peter sullivanon 07 Oct 2014 at 8:42 am

    Go to a beach in the south of France and you can have lounge chairs, umbrella, drinks and food served to you in an elegant and tasteful way. You can also walk along the beach or go to a more secluded area if you want total natural beauty. Now Phuket has lost all of the lux and comfort at the beaches but kept the bargirls, ping-pong shows, sexpats and gogo clubs. I don’t get it. Why not focus on cleaning up Phuket from being a sex tourist destination first. Get families and tourists who want to relax on a beach in the comfort and shade of an umbrella and have a drink and meal.

  7. Rodon 10 Oct 2014 at 12:14 am

    Removing Lounge and Unbrella vendors from the beaches has ruined Phuket for us. September 2014 was my 7th visit to Phuket and will be my last if things don’t change. The beaches were vacant as no one could get shade. The atmosphere with the lounges and unbrellas was fantastic, also enhanced by additional vendors selling everyone from cold drinks to fresh sandwiches.

    Now a visit to the beach involves a run on the extremely hot sand to the water, swim and then getting off the beach as the sand and sun are too hot.

    There is still a lot of rubbish on the verges of the beaches and I would have thought this to be a priority for the Govt if they’re wishing to clean everything up.

    If people prefer the natural beaches, as they currently are, then I would have thought the beaches could be sectioned off allowing clear spaces where lounge/umbrella vendors couldn’t operate.

  8. Bonnieon 16 Dec 2014 at 1:52 am

    We were in Phuket in August 2014 on our 6th visit and were horrified they had removed our comfort, shade and armchair shopping. I understand the people of Phuket were very happy about the removal of the brollies and lounges but I think that was because of the criminal activity associated with it. Surely they can provide a legitimate set up where the tourist will be happy and they would also be providing employment. With all the vendors gone, the beaches have a terrible amount of rubbish there now without the Vendors to keep their areas clean and tidy and inviting to their customers. We are visiting again in April 2015 and really, really hope the situation has been corrected.