For 2010

13 October

I had planned to post a few pretty pictures of Salakphet, Wai Chaek beach and some of the views around the mainland in Chantaburi this update.   However, the ‘Great Landslide of Koh Chang’â„¢ which occurred early morning on 11 October has taken precedence. One woman died, her husband was trapped for a few hours and later airlifted to hospital by helicopter.   A small budget hut resort, where the couple worked, called ‘Little Chang’ was partially destroyed as were eight bungalows from Independent Bo’s,   which lies adjacent. Various businesses on White Sand beach suffered damage from the run off of mud and water that came down the main road from the hill where, in addition to the main landslide, there were also numerous smaller ones. The 7-eleven had a window broken and anyone wanting their fix of pricey tourist food by the beach at 15 Palms will have to head elsewhere until the mud is cleared out of it.

More photos in the ‘Great Landslide of Koh Chang’ â„¢ gallery. The Bangkok Post carried a couple of reports on it and a photo of armed forces personnel helping tourists carry bags was printed on the front page. ( The reality, from three people I heard from who were there at different times was that this was more photo op than actual procedure.) One of the Bangkok Post’s articles was titled ‘Landslip Blamed on Hotel Work’ and laid out the cause of the landslide according to local authorities.   This contains interesting observations such as:

Adichart Surinkam, chief of the department’s environmental geology division. “Any construction projects must be conducted with extreme caution.” Mr Adichart said the Koh Chang landslide was caused by a resort expansion. Workers removed soil from the area which reduced the capacity of the remaining soil to absorb rainwater.

The landslide began by the main road on top of a hill, around 100 metres above the resorts below.   I can’t say I have ever seen any workers from any hotel removing soil from this area   – as there are no resorts there, it’s a   45 degree slope on a hillside.   Directly below the landslide are a handful of small old resorts with huts that hug the hillside.   The nearest large resort is KC Grande, which did a lot of   construction work on their new hotel blocks but this was all completed over a year ago, but isn’t in the vicinity of the landslide.   (On the plan below the location of these blocks is off the bottom of the map.)   Likewise, to the north White Sand beach Resort rebuilt a lot of huts over the past couple if years but nothing on a slope – they all lie on flat land by the beach.

Maybe it is coincidence but this year has seen far more landslides than any other since I’ve been here ( 7 years.)   In July there were several in the south of the island which blocked the road and cut off power. Then these on the hill. But the rainfall this year hasn’t been any greater than average, and on the night of 10/11 October it did rain a lot but there have been many far wetter nights which have passed without incident. However, one factor that I reckon may have played a part is the installation of new electricity poles that took place last year and early this year.   That is the only construction that has gone on on the hillside and it involves drilling pretty large holes down into the rock in which the concrete poles can be planted.     I’m not an geologist like Mr Adichart, but it may be possible that drilling holes on a steep slope could weaken the rock, especially in areas that are already classed as a landslide risk. Additionally, the old poles were then removed, over time could rainwater seep from these holes down into the rock and weaken it? I don’t know, but it seems far more plausible than blaming construction workers for removing earth to build a resort.

Today there was also a meeting where the closure of resorts at the foot of the hill was mulled. Nice idea, but I’ll bet it will never happen. If it was a real concern this would have been done at the time of the first landslide – see the Google Earth image above – or   when the authorities decided this area was   a landslide risk, as stated by Mr Adichart.   And why stop at White Sand Beach, surely any resort on, or at the foot of, a steep hill on Koh Chang is potentially at risk?

Given the record of the folks running the island, somehow I don’t think the safety of visitors is paramount.   But as Thai TV and several media outlets are paying attention to Koh Chang at the moment, lip service to safety needs to be paid. In a few days all will be back to normal. ( And when I took the photos of Little Chang yesterday, there were people staying in the huts right next door – which may not be the wisest decision ever, but the authorities obviously had no plans to tell them to move on the grounds of safety.)

Enough with the death, destruction and conspiracy theories. Here’s a photo from an unofficial viewpoint overlooking Salakphet the south-east of Koh Chang   The island way out in the distance is Koh Kood.

I went round to Salakphet as I wanted to see if it was still possible to ride a scooter down to Wai Chaek beach on the south coast of Koh Chang.   Turns out is was.   More photos and map of how to get there.

Got some more stuff to add over the next week or so but wanted to get an update done as I’ve had quite a few emails from people worrying about how the landslide will affect their holidays.   The only affect most visitors will see are the holes in the road on the hill and the traffic jams caused by having the road down to a single lane in a couple of areas on the hill top.

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