Thursday, January 20, 2005


Once-luxurious rooms at a beachfront hotel on Patong Beach in Phuket, Thailand, stood ruined yesterday.

Thai owners
rebuilding business
on shaky ground

Unclear codes and conditions
make for a risky undertaking

PATONG BEACH, Thailand » Prapan Khantagool points to the high-water mark, about a foot and a half above his head, where the water from the tsunami swept into his restaurant.

On assignment

Star-Bulletin reporter Craig Gima is traveling through Southeast Asia to report on tsunami relief efforts.

He escaped by climbing to the second floor.

Now he is spending about $25,000 to rebuild his livelihood and hoping to keep his business above water until the tourists return to Phuket.

"There's no such thing as tsunami insurance," he says.

The banks are offering loans interest-free for one year to help tsunami victims rebuild, and the sounds of construction can be heard all over Patong Beach, one of the areas on Phuket island overwhelmed by the tsunami waves.

But there are also a lot of empty spaces where businesses might not return. In a tourist town where there are few tourists, they are rebuilding an uncertain future.

"What else can we do?" says Boontoom Namchoo, who runs a personal watercraft rental business on Patong Beach.

Before the tsunami, he had more than 100 personal watercraft. Now he is down to about a dozen that survived the waves or required only small repairs. He cannot afford to fix the ones that sustained major damage, and he has not rented out a personal watercraft in several days.

At a food stall in a concrete building on the beach, Mai Youtchi and Kanung Mongkunbuh operate one of only three businesses that have reopened. The others are shuttered. Some of their neighbors are not returning, Youtchi says.

She had to buy new equipment to reopen her restaurant last week. Her regular customers are back, she says. But that's all.

"Bring customers," she says as a reporter leaves.

The government here hopes the new Patong Beach will be an improvement over the hodgepodge of shops and restaurants that lined the main beachfront road. They are trying to widen sidewalks and create zoning rules for the businesses that rebuild. Some have suggested that when Patong Beach is rebuilt, it will be better than it was before the tsunami.

But that leaves business owners like Paijit Amphaphan in limbo. Amphaphan started rebuilding her bar and restaurant, but the government told her to stop, she says. When she put up poles to hold up a canopy in front of her bar, the local government tore it down, she says, even though it was behind the setback for the new sidewalk.

She says she is meeting with officials today to discuss the new building codes. She had been hoping that her business would be open now, but now she thinks it could be a month or more.

The Americans and other countries have helped out a lot in the tsunami relief effort, Amphaphan says, "but the local government has hurt me a lot."

Thailand is ahead of Indonesia and Sri Lanka in tsunami relief and recovery efforts. The U.S. military contribution to Thailand's relief effort is starting to be scaled back. But while immediate needs have been met, the rebuilding is just beginning.

East-West Center Tsunami Relief page
American Red Cross Hawaii
Red Cross survivor locator
Pacific Tsunami Warning Center

U.S. Pacific Command

E-mail to City Desk


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