Island's beach bars, restaurants evicted
The Thai holiday island of Phuket is in the throes of a major facelift.
Scores of beach restaurants, including several beach clubs, are disappearing. For years these establishments have served authentic local cuisine, to those who wanted to eat while feeling the soft sand run through their toes.
The demolition began earlier this month when the ruling military junta, which came to power in a coup earlier this year, the ordered the removal of the unregulated structures.
In some places, such as the hugely popular Surin beach, operators were given seven days notice to remove their establishments.
Despite this, a local hotelier (who wishes to remain anonymous) says locals believe that in the long-term it will be a win-win situation.
"They're clearing everything off the beaches. The beaches didn't look bad but they were cramped and now they look clean and nice," he said.
Some tourists are surprised and saddened that the restaurants, some with gorgeous wooden deckings and offering sun lounges, are going.
But the hotelier said that many business people in the area are "devoted to tourism" and are determined to see the establishment of regulated, hygienic eateries on the sand.
Those running the restaurants, with a few exceptions, reportedly accepted the mass eviction notice without a fight.
The hotelier remains hopeful of a more equitable zoning and planning system. He said he believes the military junta understands the importance of tourism to the Thai economy.
When the rebuild commences, he envisages a time when "operators will adhere to the zoning rules, have the right paperwork and everyone can have a fair go".
Meanwhile, as Thai tourism struggles in the wake of May's military coup, four of Thailand's main insurance companies have teamed up with the Tourism Authority of Thailand to offer online insurance cover called 'Thailand travel shield.'
Travellers can purchase insurance to cover incidents such as accidental trip cancellations, accidents and emergency hotel accommodation.
Travel insurance has become an issue for travellers to Thailand, as many company's policies exclude incidents arising from 'military insurrection'.
Tourism Authority of Thailand Governor Thawatchai Arunyik said the scheme would "ensure travellers enjoy their visit to the kingdom with great peace of mind".
Travellers are urged to read the fine print which details that certain exceptions apply including alcohol-related accidents, involvement in public brawls, motorcycle incidents and extreme sports.
The writer travelled as a guest of the Tourism Authority of Thailand.
Sydney Morning Herald