Old Articles

Thaksin Government’s Masterplan For Koh Chang

Jan 29, 2005

The Masterplan

“I have a dream that one day Koh Chang will be chock full of high rolling tourists and the backpackers will be left to view the ‘Alcatraz for the elite’ from the mainland. All that’s needed is a masterplan . . .”

Fortunately the gods of coincidence were smiling on the local government, the stars aligned and a glossy gatefold brochure was actually produced for public distribution in January 2005. However, the content god was absent, presumably sunning himself on some tropical island.

Unfortunately, content is king and so the brochure ended up lacking anything that could remotely resemble substance. It was definitely more vanilla Victoria Sponge than rich chocolate Black Forest Gateau.

Therefore, in the finished article, lip service is paid to the notion of preserving the natural beauty of Koh Chang but no details are given as to how this will be done.

Same applies for increasing visitor numbers they will increase from 350,000 per year last year to 700,000 / year in three years time. No details about how this will be accomplished other than simply saying that a new centre selling local handicrafts will be built.

Personally, I find it hard to believe that handmade wicker baskets really are that big an attraction. But, as someone who’s earns their livelihood off the back of tourists, I was pleased to read that the average daily expenditure of visitors will also increase to 2,000 baht/day/head for Thais and 3,000 baht/day for foreigners. That’s a hell of a lot of basketware to be taking home in your carry-on baggage.

My g/f translated the document and I kept asking “Why?”, “How?” after each soundbite of good news for Koh Chang. Unfortunately she was at a loss and half of the information given seemed to pie in the sky daydreaming of the variety anyone who has been keeping tabs on the government’s plans will have come to know and love.

The highlight for me was the graphic that consisted of ‘x’ and ‘y’ axes. One showing the quality of the sea, the other the quality of the mountains. On this, several islands were plotted according to what I’m not too sure but apparently Koh Chang is tops – overall it beats out Hawaii, Bali, Maldives and Langkawi – an island that, on this graphic at least, is laughably crap.

I can see how Koh Chang beats out Maldives when it comes to mountains and I guess that the seas around Koh Chang are calmer than the surfer’s paradise that is Hawaii . . . but given that the visibility underwater is often only a few metres and that the islands soar to a maximum of 700 metres it’s hard to view Koh Chang in world beating terms.

More than a few people will I’m sure point out that no governmental funds for development were released until after large chunks of land were bought by wealthy Thai individuals and if the island was that much of a tourist draw why wasn’t it developed late last century?

“I liked it so much, I bought the island” Another point of interest is that the brochure contains photos of both the the P.M.’s smiling face and a couple of pics taken on site at Grand Lagoona resort . . . the very same resort that was in the Thai news in late 2003 for being built illegally and drew the P.M. into commenting that no-one was above the law and the owner, no matter who he was and how rich he was would be brought to task. (Or failing that would get their place featured in the official leaflet outlining government’s plans for the island.)

So, in conclusion, we know that the future is so bright we’ll all be wearing fake designer shades but exactly how it will get to be an island of freely spending visitors is a mystery to everyone or at least those of us who cynically believe that a large store selling hand woven products isn’t the only engine for economic growth that’s required. This information is on a need to know basis, and, obviously, it’s the public doesn’t need to know.

This is all in keeping with the current administration’s “Trust us” motto. Meaning that you’ll only give yourself a splitting headache if you start trying to digest reams of information, so why bother?