Tuesday, May 2

Tsunami Recovery in Thailand | Part 6: COME TO PHUKET

(Part 6 of a 12 part series)

Five weeks after the Tsunami hit, Sishir Chang went to Thailand to see how the people there were recovering and to see how those concerned could help. The following is the sixth installment of his experiences in the aftermath of one of the world'’s most devastating natural disasters. Originally published in the Southasian, the article is being republished here, with previously unpublished photographs, with the author's permission.



Even with the scale of the tsunami Phuket still remains beautiful. Unfortunately for the Thais the place is far below its tourist capacity and I had heard that many tourists are staying away out of fear, uncertainty and even guilt. In Patong I was told by everyone that I talked to that the number of visitors was very down. November to May is supposed to be their high season when many businesses earn enough money to make it through the rest of the year. The beach at Patong was only about half full while some other beaches, even those untouched by the tsunami, had even less. At night many of the bars and restaurants were nearly empty, often to the consternation of the Thai women who worked them as hostesses or to troll for lonely foreigners.

Tourism is the backbone of Phuket’s economy and without it recovery will be very difficult, if not impossible. In the town of Kamala I spoke to Tan, a shopkeeper who had lost three of his stores and was in the process of rebuilding one of them. The store he said was being paid for from his own savings and a bank loan and whether he could rebuild his other stores would depend on how well the next few seasons went. The Thais and frequent visitors all wanted to let people know that tourists should return to Phuket. Some visitors who had been to Phuket before and enjoyed it were upset by what they felt was overblown and sometimes wrong coverage by the media regarding the extent of damage.


Marty Testa, a visitor from Ohio, even tried to call a radio station back home to tell them that they were exaggerating the extent of damage to Phuket. Debbie Cliff and Celia Frodham frequent visitors to Phuket from England said that Phuket had gotten a lot of bad publicity and that its time it got some good publicity. At first many of their friends had told them not to go to Phuket but they went ahead anyway and have not regretted their decision. Even though I was speaking to them on the ruins of a seawall where once a seafood restaurant that they frequented stood they said, “you can still do everything as before.”

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