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BANGKOK 18 July 2019 03:20
Samui Bodoh

Thoughts on Koh Samui, tourism, and the future

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Please note that this thread is written for Koh Samui residents and/or long-stayers of the island. If you are in Phuket or Pattaya or Hua Hin or Bangkok or Chang Mai, etc and want to comment, perhaps you might comment in your respective local forums? Much obliged!

 

Hello Samui-ites! (Hmm... Samuians? Samuinese? Samui-Dudes&Dudettes?)

 

This is a follow-up posting to a thread I started on Xmas eve when things seemed very quiet; I did promise to return to it after Songkran, but island life... I have often said that if you are in a hurry on Samui, then you are doing it wrong. The thread I started previously focused (wrongly) on the lack of people around on Christmas Eve (everyone seemed to show up later that very afternoon), and it made me wonder what things were actually like and what is the future on the island. I also asked because I felt then, and still strongly feel now, that observations by people who live here and/or stay long periods are a truly great way to gather information; remember the adage that the plural of anecdote is data.

 

My observations, in no special or particular order since New Years, are as follows...

 

  • There seems to be fewer visitors to the island. Yes, I am sure that KP and Mr T will be along shortly to tell me that I am incorrect (and I won't be arguing with them), but that is what I have seen. Hmm... I should note that I hang mostly on the North Coast, rarely go to Cheweng except on the occasional morning, and haven't been to Lamai and/or the South for a while. The simple number of people that I saw over the last 6 months or so seems lower than in past years, significantly lower. 
  • The number of motorcycles un-rented seemed much higher this year; I started paying attention to them as I drove about, and this year there were always more on display than I remember. 
  • A friend of mine who is a banker for local, Western People-orientated business matters/shops, is quite unhappy these days.
  • I shop, for supermarket purposes, at either Tesco or Big C. Both shops seemed to have fewer customers than in previous years.
  • I live in a small, short-walled compound that has five houses. Traditionally (I have been here full-time for 7 or so years and part-time for longer) I have about 30 people ask me prices, etc regarding renting the house(s). This year there was a grand total of 2 people (one of whom took the last house). 2 people. Usually about 30 people, this year 2 people.
  • I see a fair amount of shops in Mae Nam/Bophut/Bang Rak with 'for sale' or 'for rent' signs. To be fair, that is the case every year after high season, but this year there are more.
  • I saw a lot fewer people on my beach. Yes, guests at the hotel(s) which have beach front, but other than them I hardly saw anyone. In past years, there had been a fair amount trundling about.
  • I saw many more than usual restaurants closing down and/or the usual locations not opening again.
  • I read about huge numbers of Chinese in the kingdom, but I don't think that I actually saw that many on the island. That said, it is definitely possible that I simply do not go where they go. Happily, I saw fewer Chinese on motorcycles (sincere apologies to our many Chinese friends, but seeing Chinese people on motorcycles inspires terror and a dread feeling of accidents to come. Sorry.)
  • Electricity on the island is much better; I haven't had a black-out all year!

 

Soooooo, that is some of what I have seen, roughly since the beginning of the year. I am certain that some members will come along to tell me that the numbers were much higher than I am describing, and I am not going to argue; I will merely mention the cartoon that we have all seen with the blind-folded monks touching different parts of an elephant, all stating that it is something different.

 

What does this mean for Koh Samui? 

 

If, as I am sure some will posit, tourists are moving into short-term villa rentals rather than hotels, that would explain some of the recent arrests of 'AIR BnB" villas. Hmm... Are the hotel owners grassing them? It seems to me that people move into short-term villas mainly for a kitchen, and that would mean less employment for cooks, waiters, etc (i.e., local people). I would foresee general drops in local, unskilled/low-skilled employment; waiters, cooks, cleaners, small shop keepers, laundry shops and the like. Before anyone tells me that they are still about, I agree. That said, I am speculating that their numbers are/will go down.

 

Employment will move into the 'all inclusive' larger hotels, and outside of these hotels/enclaves, the general surroundings will become more exclusively Thai/Burmese, with the occasional full-time foreigner (😎) thrown in for good measure. Yes, I am describing a slow process whereby the divisions between the tourist and the people living on the island grow until they don't really see each other anymore; it is something that I witnessed in the Caribbean isles.

 

I suspect that we might see a bit more cash spent on infrastructure (good thing), but it'll be laser-focused around sites/areas/properties with posh hotels (bad thing).

 

Certain parts of the island are going to lag behind, and that lagging will accelerate over time. If one lives near large-scale tourist spots, life will be... er... 'speedy'. If one lives away from large-scale tourist areas, then up-grades may not occur for a while. A long while.

 

That is enough speculation and/or observation on my part for one day...

 

What say you, Samui-ites? I know that there are several permanent residents or long-stayers who don't comment often; how about sharing your thoughts this time? A long-term perspective on the island is a wonderful thing!

 

Any thoughts at all?

 

Cheers

SB

 

PS

 

On another matter...

 

Has anyone had a monk from the Wat in Bang Po try to sell them stuff? I am an early morning cyclist and three times now I have had him trying to sell me junk. The first day he waved me over from my bike, and since he was a monk I went over. He tried to sell me a cheap amulet. I said in my limited(!!!) Thai that I don't carry money when I cycle. Since that morning, I have seen him twice more and both times he has tried to wave me over again; I smile, semi-Wai and cycle onward. I get the honest monks, and I get the massively embezzling monks, but I don't get the monks who break their vows for a hundred Baht. 

 

Anyone? Is there any possible way that what he is doing is legitimate? Kind of like selling Girl Scout Cookies, maybe?

 

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2 hours ago, Samui Bodoh said:

Employment will move into the 'all inclusive' larger hotels, and outside of these hotels/enclaves, the general surroundings will become more exclusively Thai/Burmese, with the occasional full-time foreigner (😎) thrown in for good measure. Yes, I am describing a slow process whereby the divisions between the tourist and the people living on the island grow until they don't really see each other anymore; it is something that I witnessed in the Caribbean isles.

I think this is a good point .... Some hotels are very busy .. I have seen many more limousines for the Four Seasons , for example ,  in the last 6 months or so , sometimes only a few hundred metres apart ferrying customers to and fro .... I think if you are staying at a resort like the Four Season you do not move a lot .

 

and As currencies devalue we will probably see more Asian rather than western ... 

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1 hour ago, phetphet said:

I can't speak about Chaweng, but Bangrak has seemed especially quiet for a long time now. In fact, I walked through Fisherman's Village last night and it was dead.

We shall not forget that May and June traditionally are low-season month, and has always been quite dead, apart from a few years with budget tourists from Russia or Eastern Europe (hard for me to instantly tell the difference between Ukrainians and Russians).

 

Chaweng's party nightlife has been crowded by loads of international high school kids since mid May, just like last year – count in hundreds, perhaps even a thousand – presumable some resorts made bargains during the low season.

 

But true that many Europens suffers from bad baht exchange rates, so do many expats...:whistling:

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17 minutes ago, khunPer said:

We shall not forget that May and June traditionally are low-season month, and has always been quite dead, apart from a few years with budget tourists from Russia or Eastern Europe (hard for me to instantly tell the difference between Ukrainians and Russians).

 

Chaweng's party nightlife has been crowded by loads of international high school kids since mid May, just like last year – count in hundreds, perhaps even a thousand – presumable some resorts made bargains during the low season.

 

But true that many Europens suffers from bad baht exchange rates, so do many expats...:whistling:

 

so do chinese, yuan is down 25% last couple of years too

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For potential long term living, I would imagine that new people visiting would describe it as paradise as they think of their ideal place that is opposite to the hustle and bustle and ongoing challenges wherever they live and work. The thing is, many people actually need that sort of environment. It’s a bit like that scene in the matrix when agent smith says the first operating system was a paradise - and it ended up being a disaster. 

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You're all pretty much spot on, except for the electricity not going out. I bless my whole-house generator regularly.

 

Tourism is almost dead. There aren't enough private bungalows and houses to replace all of the hotel rooms that groups usually book. The Chinese have mostly stopped coming, whether that's because of the stupidity of the government or because of Bangkok Air's monopoly and lack of direct routes is hard to say. It's difficult and expensive to get to Samui and it's also more expensive than just about anywhere else in Thailand comparatively. Why should they make the effort when it's easier to go to Phuket, for example?

 

I first came here in 1983 and the changes are incredible, yet it's still the same in all the ways that count. You couldn't pay me to live anywhere else.

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Posted (edited)

Hi All

 

Many thanks for all the replies! There are many responses that are at a more 'macro' level (but I will drop an opinion regardless because I am having a very slow week 😎); I will try to shift focus more onto local issues later on.

 

@khunPer. "The true test of another man's intelligence is how much he agrees with you"... so you are one bright dude! Yes, change is constant and relative at the same time. I still recall my first visit to the island when I rented a bike and drove from Mae Nam to Cheweng. There were 'green fields' between Mae Nam and Bophut and Bophut and Cheweng. If I had had the foresight to buy up that land, I'd be dictating this post while my team of 20 hot Thai chicks were coming up with new ways to please me! Oh well... That said, I like that there are supermarkets now; to me the trick has always been to structure my life to enjoy 'Western' stuff in the mornings while enjoying the joy of Thailand in the afternoons.

 

@churchill. Does it matter if the tourists are Asian or Western? I have always found the gap was between locals/residents and short-timers/holiday-makers. As to your other point, I'll come back to it below.

 

@monk280915. I agree entirely; good post. I think other countries in the region are accelerating their tourism business at the expense of Thailand, and let's face it, they are hungrier. I dislike generalizing (which, by saying it means I am going to do it), but I think some Thais have become too jaded; one of the true initial joys of Thailand for me was the genuinely warm welcome. I still get the welcome in meeting new people, but it doesn't seem as prevalent these days. And, crumbling infrastructure; if you quintuple the rate of tourism in 20 years, you need to create/build a matching infrastructure to keep up, and Thailand has not done so...

 

@phetphet. Yes, the exchange rate is getting... trickier. I am not hugely knowledgeable on this matter, but I would say that it is doubly difficult for Aussies; you folks had a 20+ year run of good economic news, it'll be hard to achieve that again. It is based on no more knowledge than being a bit of a newspaper junkie, but if I were Aussie, I'd be racking my brain for coping mechanisms as I think for you it'll get worse, baring some sort of calamity in the kingdom. BTW, what happened to the black cat? Did you keep him/her?

 

@GalaxyMan. What can I say about the electricity? I know that we live in the same town; it is luck of the draw... You stated that "you couldn't pay me to live anywhere else" and I agree with that sentiment entirely. That said, and like many a member I think, I am wondering if I'll still be able to live here in... 10 years? It is not a financial thing (I live frugally and have been fortunate in life), but more some of the changes in the kingdom... (I am on hiatus from discussing politics, so you all can draw your own conclusions)

 

I want to come back to a point I made in the OP, and see if there is any further comment. When I was a kid (many, many years ago...), I went to a Caribbean island resort with my folks (I don't recall which island/country) and my most vivid memory was of the surrounding, very high, wall with broken glass embedded in the top to keep people out. Further, when we checked in, there were serious and repeated reminders to put all valuables in the resort's safe and to not leave them in the room. The resort was great, but it was totally isolated from the rest of the island; physically, culturally, sociologically, economically, etc.

 

I have noticed/heard that on Samui the trend is towards 'all-inclusive' places with the idea that they want to keep the guests inside their walls most of the time (@churchill) If that is the case, that will lead to less business for locals in restaurants, massage places, bars, laundry shops, etc. Further, there also seems to be a trend towards renting villas, and to me that means that people want to cook their own meals, again meaning that locals are going to lose out economically.

 

What is going to happen to the low/no skilled labour on the island? If the big resorts require some sort of education (and they will), what will a local guy/gal do for work in the future? It'll mean fewer tourism jobs here, and let's face it, if you live on Samui and don't work in a tourism-related business, you'll not get too far. Further, as the resorts get more and more isolated from the locals, hard feelings are going to develop, in turn leading to more security, in turn leading to even more security including the villas now, which in turn will lead to more hostility, high walls, etc. Yes, I know that I am painting an ugly picture, but this is the (very slow!) process that I see underway, based on what I saw before.

 

Anyone agree that ghettoization of tourism spots/hotels/beaches is the future here? If so, what are the implications?

 

In response to @GalaxyMan's question above, is tourism dead on Samui or is it merely concentrating on a few locales? Hmm... fewer and fewer locales?

 

Any other question that I should be asking that goes with this thread? Questions with a local, Samui-based theme?

 

Cheers all!

 

 

Edited by Samui Bodoh
Lack of coffee
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I've been here 6 years on a retirement visa/extension and live in Choeng Mon. when I first came here, the bars and restaurants in Bang Rak were jam packed, now they are deserted. Selling one's house is a major challenge as one agent put it "there are more people leaving than arriving". So it seems that there are fewer tourists and residents. A bit of a contradiction is that the flights in and out of Samui are nearly always fully booked (despite the monopoly fare price of Bangkok Airways).

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Posted (edited)
1 hour ago, Samui Bodoh said:

What can I say about the electricity? I know that we live in the same town; it is luck of the draw... You stated that "you couldn't pay me to live anywhere else" and I agree with that sentiment entirely. That said, and like many a member I think, I am wondering if I'll still be able to live here in... 10 years? It is not a financial thing (I live frugally and have been fortunate in life), but more some of the changes in the kingdom... (I am on hiatus from discussing politics, so you all can draw your own conclusions)

 

I want to come back to a point I made in the OP, and see if there is any further comment. When I was a kid (many, many years ago...), I went to a Caribbean island resort with my folks (I don't recall which island/country) and my most vivid memory was of the surrounding, very high, wall with broken glass embedded in the top to keep people out. Further, when we checked in, there were serious and repeated reminders to put all valuables in the resort's safe and to not leave them in the room. The resort was great, but it was totally isolated from the rest of the island; physically, culturally, sociologically, economically, etc.

 

I have noticed/heard that on Samui the trend is towards 'all-inclusive' places with the idea that they want to keep the guests inside their walls most of the time (@churchill) If that is the case, that will lead to less business for locals in restaurants, massage places, bars, laundry shops, etc. Further, there also seems to be a trend towards renting villas, and to me that means that people want to cook their own meals, again meaning that locals are going to lose out economically.

 

What is going to happen to the low/no skilled labour on the island? If the big resorts require some sort of education (and they will), what will a local guy/gal do for work in the future? It'll mean fewer tourism jobs here, and let's face it, if you live on Samui and don't work in a tourism-related business, you'll not get too far. Further, as the resorts get more and more isolated from the locals, hard feelings are going to develop, in turn leading to more security, in turn leading to even more security including the villas now, which in turn will lead to more hostility, high walls, etc. Yes, I know that I am painting an ugly picture, but this is the (very slow!) process that I see underway, based on what I saw before.

 

Anyone agree that ghettoization of tourism spots/hotels/beaches is the future here? If so, what are the implications?

Great stuff. Luckily, I shouldn't have any problems being able to stay here. I've been smart and saved for my retirement. I live frugally, having been there, done that with the possessions acquisitions phase of life. Now I'm only interested in good food, drink, and company.

 

I've been to Jamaica many times, and other than back in the 70s, I stay in all-inclusive resorts. It's just not safe to leave them. That's not the case here in Samui. It's called laziness on the part of tourists. When you have an all-inclusive package deal, the cheap tourists don't spend money outside. I have Thai friends who work the Walking Streets on Samui and they tell me that there's a lot of lookers and photo takers, not so many buyers. Sad.

 

My friend in management at a Samui resort tells me that one of their biggest problems, other than that they have no guests, is that many/most of the staff speaks little to no English. They pay very low wages, so that's what they get; under-educated, less qualified workers, and it is reflected in the comments you can read on any of the travel websites, like Expedia, etc.

 

My gut tells me that everything that is happening is geared away from the budget tourists, aiming for the high-dollar tourists, which makes perfect sense. But it will definitely end up changing the good island vibes when all of the fun, low-budget people go elsewhere.

 

The future isn't all that bright, seems to me.

Edited by GalaxyMan
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