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Phi Phi Is " Loved to Death "

By Moeun Chhean Nariddh, Cambodia Communication Institute, Cambodia

When Sarah McLean came to Phi Phi Island off the southern coast of Thailand in 1974, she found nothing but crystal clear water, trees, birds, fish and clean beaches in a " perfect " environment.
However, 14 years later when she returned to the island, she was so " shocked "  to see the changes and damage to its beauty she vowed she " would never come back " again.

Phi Phi is now a popular tourist destination. Seaside resorts, restaurants, massage parlors and souvenir shops abound. Tourists stream in and out every hour to enjoy its sea, sun and sand. In return, the island gets rubbish, waste water and destruction.

"The problem is [that] development here is very crude,"  Mrs. McLean, Project Director of the Indochina Media Memorial Foundation, told a group of Indochina journalists she was leading on a visit to the island.

" This is just awful," she shook her head, pointing at the waste water and rubbish scattered around.

Mrs. McLean’s version of the once peaceful Phi Phi was shared by many who knew the island in the early days, including Surat Jeawkok, a member of the villagers’ committee.

Surat said when he moved from neighboring Krabi province 14 years ago there was only one bungalow and a few yachts. " It was paradise for me,"  he said.

However, the current flow of tourists, added to the 2,500 local businessmen and villagers, is overstraining the capacity of the island.

According to Surat, who is also the office manager of the Sun Smile Tours, about 1,000 tourists visit Phi Phi every day during the high season. The number goes down to 500 during the low season, he said.

Surat said there are two types of tourists – " day-trippers ", who come for a swim, a snorkel and sun bath, and those who stay over night for one or two days.

Although most tourists, especially those from Western countries, try to keep Phi Phi clean, many Asian visitors, Surat said, do not behave well. They throw rubbish or plastics around, he said.
The problem is compounded by the poor rubbish collection system. Usually, according to Surat, all the rubbish would be taken back to its dumping site in Krabi province. But this does not always happen. Some local people burn the rubbish in a big pit behind their bungalow.

As development continues, Surat said things have become more "difficult to control". He blamed the local provincial administration and the government for not paying enough attention to the problems.

"The government [only] thinks about getting money from tourists", he complained.
Phi Phi has also suffered from a lack of waste water treatment since the plant stopped working two years ago. Currently, the waste water ends up flowing into the sea.

"If I talk to the committee of local people [to repair it], they say ‘next month, next month, next month’,"  he said, citing possible corruption among those in charge.

In an effort to protect the national parks from further development, the government has passed a law banning construction inside its territories. But, according to Surat, many resort owners have land titles on Phi Phi Island and are continuing to build accommodation for more visitors.

Today, as the number of tourists has tripled on the " most beautiful " island in the kingdom, Phi Phi is in danger of being " loved to death."

Copyright 2009 IMMF.