Pha-Ngan official warns not to sell land to foreign

Source: The Nation July 24 2006

Villagers on the island of Koh Pha-Ngan have been urged by a provincial official to help promote eco-tourism and keep their land out of the hands of foreigners. Thawatchai Terdphaothai, the deputy governor of Surat Thani province, said yesterday he did not want to see Koh Pha-Ngan face the same fate as neighbouring Koh Samui, where land rights have been sold to foreign investors and the natural environment has been ruined by tourism.

Thawatchai asked Koh Pha-Ngan villagers to learn from the recent case of (alleged) illegal land sales on Koh Samui involving foreigners.

The deputy governor said local communities should set rules to prevent villagers selling their land to foreigners.

Thawatchai said Koh Pha-Ngan is well known for its full-moon parties but still has beautiful natural attractions and local culture to attract more tourists.

The provincial authority and local investors would join communities in developing 'eco-cultural' tourism, he said.

Chan-chod Piriyasatit, the head of the Koh Pha-Ngan Tourism Association, said he would ask the authorities, especially the police, to be more concerned about the safety of tourists on the island.

Meanwhile Pramote Sabyen, the director-general of the Tourist Authority of Thailand (TAT) Southern Office, said the long-term development of tourism on Koh Pha-Ngan would still focus on promoting the full-moon parties, because these were the main source of income.

However, the preservation of local culture should also be promoted, the director-general said.

He added that villagers should be confident their participation in eco-cultural tourism would draw more visitors to the island.

Pramote said the TAT is cooperating with police and provincial authorities to improve security for tourists.

Since 2003, the number of visitors to Koh Pha-Ngan had increased by at least 19 per cent per year. He asked local people to take care of tourists and not exploit them.

Following the case on Koh Samui and a land-ownership probe there, officials were checking land rights on Koh Pha-Ngan, said Damrong Pidej, director-general of the Department of National Parks, Wildlife and Plant Conservation.

'The department was preparing to declare Koh Pa-Ngan a new national park' , he said.