Sunday, 30 December 2007
Koh Chang - All Change!
It's always distressing to see how quickly Koh Chang is changing. As Thailand's second biggest islands it was late developing perhaps because of turmoil in neighbouring Cambodia but now they're building like there's no tomorrow.
When I first came here seven years ago the roads were rough tracks which wound through the palm trees. Now they're dusty highways with streams of traffic and the once sleepy villages have joined up in an ugly sprawl of scruffy buildings.
The beaches are still relatively well managed and the mountains are pristine but why oh why do the Thais foul their own nest with such abandon. Everything is illegal; this is a National Park after all; and in the pursuit of the tourist dollar anything goes.
After you land from the ferry, the road takes you through Klong Son and it's a shambles of builders' merchants, markets and car workshops, a terrible shock for the arriving tourist. And with everything happening unplanned with no sewagwe systems or regulations on outfalls and with increasing demand on supplies of water and power, it's a miracle if anything ever works.
While I have every sympathy for the poor underpaid workers who keep the place humming, what Koh Chang really needs is a massive recession in the tourism industry to slow things down a bit.
In February we stayed in the last bamboo huts on White Sand Beach where I could swing my hammock on the nearby coconut palms. Now these huts are all gone and a massive conference centre and rooms are being built. At least it's set back from the sea but it's out of scale and a total disaster.
At present there is demand and the beach is full but as a result the Thais are throwing money at Koh Chang thus ensuring that there is massive over-supply and that few businesses will make any money. I shall not be weeping for the fat cats who fail to make millions out of the rape of so beautiful an island.
Ultimately the tourists will stop coming as soon this island will not be worth visiting unless something radical is done to control the current rate of development. It would be naive though to think that anything will be done and the pace of change will thus be the only thing that stays the same.