Phuket Gazette

Special Report

Just over a generation ago, there were few chairs or umbrellas on the sands of Phuket. Now, they cover up to 80 per cent of many popular beaches. Last June, the Senate Standing Committee on Tourism said their excessive numbers have a negative impact on tourists’ experiences. What’s happening, and who’s in charge?

The Phuket Gazette’s Irfarn Jamdukor and Leslie Porterfield visit seven beaches to report.


PHUKET: Over 9,000 chairs, stacked in rows up to seven deep, were on Patong Beach when the Gazette counted them in mid-February.

The number of chairs, though astonishing, is not a violation of Phuket beach chair regulations, which do not specify a maximum. The number of rows, however, is.

Regulations set forth after the tsunami in 2004 put chair operators under the control of local municipalities and stipulated a maximum of two rows, later modified to allow three in high season. Yet vast areas of Patong and two other beaches have up to eight rows of chairs.

“You have to understand that this is high season. The operators need a chance to make money,” Deputy Patong Mayor Chairat Sukban said when told about the additional rows.

“How can I limit the number?” he asked. “Each operator has a different sized area. And if there’s a beautiful area and a lot of tourists want to sit there, should I restrict the number of chairs?”

“Tourists demand the chairs. We have to serve the tourists, otherwise they won’t come to Phuket.”

Despite Mr Chairat’s argument that demand is driving the number of chairs being put out, a vendor on the beach in February said that the last several rows of chairs in his area were not used, and a beachgoer on March 6 reported that about 50 per cent of the chairs were unoccupied.

Two other beaches of the seven visited showed the same pattern as Patong: Surin and Nai Harn.

At Surin on a January afternoon, a dense forest of umbrellas shaded the 2,139 beach chairs arranged closely together in rows up to seven deep. As in Patong, many of the chairs were set up cheek by jowl, in violation of another regulation that says each set – an umbrella and two chairs – must be spaced three meters from the next.

“It’s terrible what they are doing,” said a regular visitor from Austria. “Ten years ago there were just 10 per cent of this many chairs. They only make money and do nothing for the visitors.”

At Nai Harn, one January morning, chair operators staked out their turf before beachgoers arrived by setting up umbrellas in the sea before the tide had finished going out.

On February 23, most of the 1,821 chairs were set up in three rows, but a large section near the lagoon had eight rows and areas next to that ran five deep.

The row-rule is flexible in high season Nai Harn Chair Club President Joung Solos said.

As in Patong, municipal officials in Rawai do not know how many chairs are on Nai Harn Beach.

Mr Joung also wasn’t sure.

“It’s hard to count the number of chairs,” he said. “At high tide, it might be only three rows, but at low tide, more.”

The Gazette was unable to talk to officials in charge of Surin Beach, as all questions were referred to Cherng Talay Tambon Administration Organization (OrBorTor) President Ma-ann Samran. Mr Ma-ann declined repeated requests for comment, saying that he had been misquoted on a related issue by another publication.

ROW MODELS

Not every municipality lets beach chairs multiply uncontrolled.

Nai Yang and Nai Thon follow the rule for the most part, according to Gazette surveys of the area.

However, at Nai Yang, one hotel had five rows; and under the trees that fringe Nai Thon, one area had three rows of beach chairs and an additional four rows of sun loungers.

Two beaches strictly adhere to the three-row rule: Kata and Karon.

“We insist on only three rows,” said Sompong Darbpeth, Deputy Mayor of Karon, who is responsible for both Kata and Karon.

“If all the chairs on the beach are full, we will consider adding another row, but if just one operator is full, we don’t allow it. We think it’s unfair.”

Some beach areas are more popular than others, Mr Sompong explained; for example, those closer to parking.

“If those areas get full first and we add more chairs, it’s not fair to the operators who are not as close to parking,” he said.

“It’s better to let the tourists spill over to other operators. The beach chair representatives do a good job of making sure the three-row rule is followed.”

LAISSEZ-FAIRE OVERSIGHT

In contrast, at the beaches most crowded with chairs, officials allow the chair operators to regulate themselves.

“It’s up to the operators to know what’s suitable or not,” Deputy Patong Mayor Chairat explained.

Patong Chair Club President Amorn Srithaweekul said that operators need to use their own judgment when placing chairs.

“They need to be aware of their area, and make sure that at high tide there’s space for people to do beach activities. They have to judge the number of chairs they’ll need, and they can’t try to get rid of people who want to use their area without renting a chair,” he said.

Tourists have the right to put their own towels, chairs and umbrellas on the sand and not rent a chair, said Nai Harn Mayor Arun. However, beachgoers do need to leave appropriate room between themselves and the chairs.

Mr Amorn concurred, “Tourists need to be sensitive about appropriate distances.”

PUBLIC OR PRIVATE BEACHES?

Sporadically throughout the year, the Gazette receives emails from beachgoers who have been told to move their belongings from sections of Phuket beaches because “they are on private property”.

A man who put his towel near a beach club at Surin at high tide was told that the beach belonged to the club and he could not use it. When he returned another day he alleged that a club employee threatened him.

“[He] tried to intimidate me with a big guy he brought with him using a loud voice,” the man wrote the Gazette.

Over the years, the Gazette has been urged to ask municipal officers, police, resort staff and a local lawyer whether or not beaches in Thailand are public. The answer has always been the same: Yes, the beaches are public.

PRIVATE USE OF PUBLIC LAND

Though businesses in Phuket are regularly investigated for encroachment – building structures on public land or even removing plants from public beaches – chair operators are permitted to stage their businesses on public property.

“It’s part of a policy to help local people. Local people have a right to use public land in their area, but they have to follow the regulations,” Mr Arun explained.

However, not every local person has the right, Mr Chairat noted.

“Only those who are already doing it,” he said.

In Patong, chair businesses may not be sold; they can only be transferred to close family members.

“I don’t know why only family, that’s just the rule,” said Meena Panun, chief of the Public Health Administration for Patong Municipality.

THE MONEY SIDE

Patong and Nai Harn chair operators do pay several fees in order to run their businesses.

At Nai Harn, fees total 4,000 baht a year: a 1,500 baht membership fee paid to the club, 500 baht to register with the municipality and 2,000 baht for trash collection.

In Patong, operators pay 3,500 baht a year: 500 baht to register with the municipality, and 3,000 baht for trash collection.

Chair club presidents in each location said that there were no other fees paid, though Mr Joung noted that the municipality collected money at times during the year for municipal activities and events.

“It is not like Pattaya, this is Phuket,” said Patong’s Mr Amorn. “There are no
— Irfarn Jamdukor

1

It's all about the money and who – Thai persons – got there first and has the bigger gang to back them up. In the last 12 years, the best time for going to the west coast beaches was January 2005.

Posted by Chas April 20, 2014 07:28:05PM

Reply

4    15

2

Clearly, local government is missing out on revenue that could be used to police the number of chairs, as well as other beach issues such as jet-ski behaviour, etc. If the total payments by a Patong chair renter are 7,000 baht a YEAR (70 beds hired ONCE at 100 baht), then they are clearly not simple local people making a few baht. They are rich people doing what they want.

Posted by Chob April 20, 2014 09:52:59PM

Reply

5    14

3

Low season kicking in now and a lot of the chairs on Kamala Beach have disappeared. But some days it is almost impossible to get down onto the beach as the chairs are packed so close together. The illegal beach huts that the OrBorTor Kamala promised to knock down last Sept are still there as well.

Posted by Mister Ree April 20, 2014 11:10:51PM

Reply

2    11

4

“It is not like Pattaya, this is Phuket,” said Patong’s Mr Amorn. “There are no under-the-table charges." LOL. We are laughing, Mr Amorn.

Posted by Beechbum April 21, 2014 09:04:15AM

Reply

1    11

5

Low season kicking in now and a lot of the chairs on Kamala Beach have disappeared. But some days it is almost impossible to get down onto the beach as the chairs are packed so close together. The illegal beach huts that the OrBorTor Kamala promised to knock down last Sept are still there as well.

Posted by Mister Ree

When I read the beach hut knockdown story six months ago I knew with 95% certainty that that was not going to happen. Tambon-level government officers are ELECTED and tourists can't vote – simple as that.

Posted by Gert Heiser April 21, 2014 09:42:21AM

Reply

2    11

6

The natural beauty of the island and the beaches are gone forever, replaced by utter greed. Thailand used to be cheap, friendly and clean. Sadly, those days are now gone.

Posted by reader April 21, 2014 11:13:33AM

Reply

4    13

7

The natural beauty of the island and the beaches are gone forever, replaced by utter greed. Thailand used to be cheap, friendly and clean. Sadly, those days are now gone.

Posted by reader

It true there has been some environmental damage, but it same ting all over the world. But Thailand specially Phuket still better than other country and still cheap compare Netherlan and europe. Anyway no need to bo to the beach if don't need to

Posted by Fritz van Zandt April 21, 2014 11:20:57AM

Reply

3    8

8

The Patong Chair Club President said that operators need to make sure that at high tide there’s space for people to do beach activities. On Patong Beach, the front row of chairs follows the waterline, and there is a lot free space behind the chairs. An operator told me that the purpose of that was to force visitors to rent a chair. Very annoying and not possible for an emergency vehicles to pass.

Posted by Sherlock April 21, 2014 11:47:37AM

Reply

1    10

9

The Patong Chair Club President said that operators need to make sure that at high tide there’s space for people to do beach activities. On Patong Beach, the front row of chairs follows the waterline, and there is a lot free space behind the chairs. An operator told me that the purpose of that was to force visitors to rent a chair. Very annoying and not possible for an emergency vehicles to pass.

Posted by Sherlock

His comment sounds kinda silly really, just passing off the responsibility from himself to his operators. And 'operators' is the PERFECT word! But this guy is just the president. In a Club like this, it would surely be the CHAIRman who calls the shots, rigs the prices, touts the jet-skis, etc, no?

Posted by Beulah Osterman April 21, 2014 01:31:30PM

Reply

1    11

10

The natural beauty of the island and the beaches are gone forever, replaced by utter greed. Thailand used to be cheap, friendly and clean. Sadly, those days are now gone.

Posted by reader

It true there has been some environmental damage, but it same ting all over the world. But Thailand specially Phuket still better than other country and still cheap compare Netherlan and europe. Anyway no need to bo to the beach if don't need to

Posted by Fritz van Zandt

Thailand cheap, you are kidding of course? I can buy a beer cheaper in Europe than in Phuket. Furthermore, it's free to go onto the beaches and taxis are also cheaper, even though Thailand is a developing country. So can somebody explain to me why Thailand is so expensive, given other surrounding Asian countries are not?

Posted by reader April 21, 2014 03:00:08PM

Reply

9    7

11

The natural beauty of the island and the beaches are gone forever, replaced by utter greed. Thailand used to be cheap, friendly and clean. Sadly, those days are now gone.

Posted by reader

It true there has been some environmental damage, but it same ting all over the world. But Thailand specially Phuket still better than other country and still cheap compare Netherlan and europe. Anyway no need to bo to the beach if don't need to

Posted by Fritz van Zandt

Thailand cheap, you are kidding of course? I can buy a beer cheaper in Europe than in Phuket. Furthermore, it's free to go onto the beaches and taxis are also cheaper, even though Thailand is a developing country. So can somebody explain to me why Thailand is so expensive, given other surrounding Asian countries are not?

Posted by reader

Oh, my goodness. Can you have a nice dinner in Europe for 7 Euro, Reader? Have you taken a taxi anywhere in Europe recently? Now, don't forget all the surcharges for night, baggage, extra pax, airport, public holiday, etc. And have you ever been to Hong Kong, Singapore, Tokyo or Seoul? I think not.

Posted by Reasonable Man April 21, 2014 03:36:22PM

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2    12

12

Why not organize a sit-in at Patong? We all go and lay our towels down amongst the chairs and refuse to pay any money to anyone. In fact we could have a whole day where no one spends any money, anywhere.

Posted by The Night Mare April 21, 2014 05:41:16PM

Reply

3    12

12

Why not organize a sit-in at Patong? We all go and lay our towels down amongst the chairs and refuse to pay any money to anyone. In fact we could have a whole day where no one spends any money, anywhere.

Posted by The Night Mare April 21, 2014 05:41:16PM

Reply

3    12

11

The natural beauty of the island and the beaches are gone forever, replaced by utter greed. Thailand used to be cheap, friendly and clean. Sadly, those days are now gone.

Posted by reader

It true there has been some environmental damage, but it same ting all over the world. But Thailand specially Phuket still better than other country and still cheap compare Netherlan and europe. Anyway no need to bo to the beach if don't need to

Posted by Fritz van Zandt

Thailand cheap, you are kidding of course? I can buy a beer cheaper in Europe than in Phuket. Furthermore, it's free to go onto the beaches and taxis are also cheaper, even though Thailand is a developing country. So can somebody explain to me why Thailand is so expensive, given other surrounding Asian countries are not?

Posted by reader

Oh, my goodness. Can you have a nice dinner in Europe for 7 Euro, Reader? Have you taken a taxi anywhere in Europe recently? Now, don't forget all the surcharges for night, baggage, extra pax, airport, public holiday, etc. And have you ever been to Hong Kong, Singapore, Tokyo or Seoul? I think not.

Posted by Reasonable Man April 21, 2014 03:36:22PM

Reply

2    12

10

The natural beauty of the island and the beaches are gone forever, replaced by utter greed. Thailand used to be cheap, friendly and clean. Sadly, those days are now gone.

Posted by reader

It true there has been some environmental damage, but it same ting all over the world. But Thailand specially Phuket still better than other country and still cheap compare Netherlan and europe. Anyway no need to bo to the beach if don't need to

Posted by Fritz van Zandt

Thailand cheap, you are kidding of course? I can buy a beer cheaper in Europe than in Phuket. Furthermore, it's free to go onto the beaches and taxis are also cheaper, even though Thailand is a developing country. So can somebody explain to me why Thailand is so expensive, given other surrounding Asian countries are not?

Posted by reader April 21, 2014 03:00:08PM

Reply

9    7

9

The Patong Chair Club President said that operators need to make sure that at high tide there’s space for people to do beach activities. On Patong Beach, the front row of chairs follows the waterline, and there is a lot free space behind the chairs. An operator told me that the purpose of that was to force visitors to rent a chair. Very annoying and not possible for an emergency vehicles to pass.

Posted by Sherlock

His comment sounds kinda silly really, just passing off the responsibility from himself to his operators. And 'operators' is the PERFECT word! But this guy is just the president. In a Club like this, it would surely be the CHAIRman who calls the shots, rigs the prices, touts the jet-skis, etc, no?

Posted by Beulah Osterman April 21, 2014 01:31:30PM

Reply

1    11

8

The Patong Chair Club President said that operators need to make sure that at high tide there’s space for people to do beach activities. On Patong Beach, the front row of chairs follows the waterline, and there is a lot free space behind the chairs. An operator told me that the purpose of that was to force visitors to rent a chair. Very annoying and not possible for an emergency vehicles to pass.

Posted by Sherlock April 21, 2014 11:47:37AM

Reply

1    10

7

The natural beauty of the island and the beaches are gone forever, replaced by utter greed. Thailand used to be cheap, friendly and clean. Sadly, those days are now gone.

Posted by reader

It true there has been some environmental damage, but it same ting all over the world. But Thailand specially Phuket still better than other country and still cheap compare Netherlan and europe. Anyway no need to bo to the beach if don't need to

Posted by Fritz van Zandt April 21, 2014 11:20:57AM

Reply

3    8

6

The natural beauty of the island and the beaches are gone forever, replaced by utter greed. Thailand used to be cheap, friendly and clean. Sadly, those days are now gone.

Posted by reader April 21, 2014 11:13:33AM

Reply

4    13

5

Low season kicking in now and a lot of the chairs on Kamala Beach have disappeared. But some days it is almost impossible to get down onto the beach as the chairs are packed so close together. The illegal beach huts that the OrBorTor Kamala promised to knock down last Sept are still there as well.

Posted by Mister Ree

When I read the beach hut knockdown story six months ago I knew with 95% certainty that that was not going to happen. Tambon-level government officers are ELECTED and tourists can't vote – simple as that.

Posted by Gert Heiser April 21, 2014 09:42:21AM

Reply

2    11

4

“It is not like Pattaya, this is Phuket,” said Patong’s Mr Amorn. “There are no under-the-table charges." LOL. We are laughing, Mr Amorn.

Posted by Beechbum April 21, 2014 09:04:15AM

Reply

1    11

3

Low season kicking in now and a lot of the chairs on Kamala Beach have disappeared. But some days it is almost impossible to get down onto the beach as the chairs are packed so close together. The illegal beach huts that the OrBorTor Kamala promised to knock down last Sept are still there as well.

Posted by Mister Ree April 20, 2014 11:10:51PM

Reply

2    11

2

Clearly, local government is missing out on revenue that could be used to police the number of chairs, as well as other beach issues such as jet-ski behaviour, etc. If the total payments by a Patong chair renter are 7,000 baht a YEAR (70 beds hired ONCE at 100 baht), then they are clearly not simple local people making a few baht. They are rich people doing what they want.

Posted by Chob April 20, 2014 09:52:59PM

Reply

5    14

1

It's all about the money and who – Thai persons – got there first and has the bigger gang to back them up. In the last 12 years, the best time for going to the west coast beaches was January 2005.

Posted by Chas April 20, 2014 07:28:05PM

Reply

4    15

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