It CAN BE hard to keep track …or know what to believe
Since Thailand’s military government assumed power in 2014, there has been any number of proclamations, announcements and counter-announcements concerning tourism.
Phuket, perhaps because of its status as Thailand’s premier holiday destination, appears to have been singled out by officials for the most drastic measures – known locally as ‘crackdowns’.
It started with a long-awaited crackdown on the islands tuk-tuk organisations; disappointingly, that one quickly fizzled and it was back to ‘business as usual’.
Then it was crackdown time for the beaches; they were stripped of beach furniture and small vendors. At the time of writing, a beach sun lounger with umbrella and nearby shack offering a cold beer and lunch – once the staples of any visit to the beach – are a rarity on Phuket. No question about it, the beaches do look superb. But who wants to sit in the desert? Fancy a massage on the beach? Not any more – another relic of Phuket’s charming past.
Having sorted the beaches, including knocking down every beachside restaurant and beach club on questionable land, the authorities have now turned their attention to the islands around Phuket – and particularly to the way that mass day-trip tourism is destroying their beauty and their underwater life. Rightly, they say that if they don’t do something, these treasures will be destroyed for ever. So crackdown #3 arrives, but with much confusion.
This confusion stems from the fact that the Thai authorities seem unable, or is it unwilling, to distinguish between two extremes: large numbers of speedboats hurtling around with 30-40 tourists on board for a few minutes’ exposure to the beauty of the islands, beaches and coral reefs – and a sailing yacht mooching around in leisurely fashion with no more than a handful of seasoned mariners on board.
Hence the June 2016 announcement from the Thai Department of Marine and Coastal Resources (DMCR), passed on by the Association of Thai Travel Agents (ATTA).
It makes reference to “NEW REGULATIONS applying to ‘tourism boats’ for a better marine natural resources protection and recovery of coral bleaching”. It goes on to say [translated from Thai]:
- With immediate effect, access to some areas will be restricted and anchorage forbidden. These include:
- For Phuket province: Koh Maiton and Koh Racha (Yai and Noi), Cape Panwa (Ao Yon), Koh Khai Nok, Khai Nai and Khai Nui
- In Gulf of Siam: Rayong, Prachuabkirikan, Chumpon
- All vessels (foreign yachts included) cruising in these areas must be registered by DMCR at the local office. Kindly check with the authority in your area. (in Phuket next to the Aquarium)
- Tour operators sending clients and boat owners or operators will be held responsible for the behaviour of their clients and staff. Staff must receive proper training and guests must be informed of the ‘New Regulations’.
- Any company that breaches the law can be sentenced to imprisonment and a fine of up to 500,000 Thai baht per case. For tourism companies, suspension of their tourism license for six months may apply.
- The law has been issued on the Royal Decree on the date of 19 May 2016, effective from that day onwards.
At the time of writing, we have no way of knowing how widely or fastidiously these new regulations are being applied. For example, the day before finalising this piece, we heard that they didn’t mean it when they said “anchorage forbidden”. Tourists (day trip speedboats and yachts) may still visit, but must behave sensibly with concern for the environment and must follow “the rules”.
This would not be the first time a pronouncement of a new law or regulation was followed by “We didn’t actually mean THAT”. So, when you read or hear about the latest gloom-and-doom announcement, take it with a pinch of salt, give it a bit of time – and find out more.
We recommend that visiting yachts check with their destination marina or local yacht clubs for up-to-date information. Yacht charter guests should clarify matters with their charter operator. Thailand, and especially Phuket and its surrounding waters, remains a stunning paradise and well worth a bit of extra effort to experience them.