Jetskis, parasailing and other beach sports

Much has been written about the perils of renting a jetski in Phuket and, indeed, other parts of Thailand. We all know the main scam: return the jetski only for some mysterious damage to be found. It wasn’t there before so the renter must be responsible, hence must pay. Police, possibly on the payroll, are called to help in negotiations but the loser is always the renter. Things can get ugly, as can be seen from this video of the TV series Big Trouble in Tourist Thailand.

It’s equally difficult if someone does have an accident and causes actual damage. The same routine is played out with the police helping in negotiations and the unsuspecting tourist always pays well over the top.

If you are unfamiliar with these scams, simply google Thailand jet ski scam and you’ll be amazed at the number of hits. I don’t need to say any more; it’s all over the internet.

But it’s not just the scams that are the problems. These are powerful machines, they travel quickly and they can be dangerous. A girl was killed at Kata Beach this year when a machine driven by her boyfriend collided with hers. I personally know someone who suffered serious brain damage when hit on the head by an out of control jetski. In Thailand they rent them off the beach and swimmers are in peril whenever someone is riding too fast too close to the shoreline.

Recently, however, the parasailers have had more publicity than their counterparts. A horrible incident took place at Kata Beach this year when an Australian tourist plummeted from his jetski into shallow water and was killed. The footage may be upsetting to some. This prompted an overdue safety check, but after a few days it was business as usual, just in time for a Patong parasailer to make headlines when it allowed a two-year old boy to participate! Again, this is here on video. The kid’s father is probably more at fault than the operator in this instance but it does make you wonder where in the queue these guys were when commonsense was handed out.

But why are jetskis and parasailers allowed to operate on Phuket’s beaches anyway? In 2014 commerce was effectively banned from the beaches, with an initial ban on sunbeds, umbrellas, massages and all vendors. So how were the operators of noisy, polluting machines exempted from this? As long ago as 2004 a statement was issued that jetskis would be phased out and would disappear completely from Phuket’s beaches by 2011. The opposite happened and now there are more than ever. The current law states that they are not supposed to park on the beaches and any trailers used for towing the jetskis must be immediately vacate the sand. So in Kata the public car park at the north end is filled with such trailers!

Parasailers have never had an ultimatum imposed as far as I know but the numbers seem to grow year on year. They operate differently in Thailand to anywhere else I’ve seen. The beach itself is a take-off landing area and a jockey, or monkey as I prefer to call him, takes to the air with the parasailer in order to help with the controls. Now, I’ve done this in Penang, controlling it myself. It’s not difficult so why they need to do this here I don’t know. It’s also not uncommon in other places for the parasailers to take off either from the boat or from a raft moored a couple of hundred metres offshore, causing minimal or no interference to beach users. In Phuket a stretch of beach is commandeered by the operators an tourists will be told in no uncertain terms that they may not park their bags, towels or bodies in this spot.

Both these operations are entirely at odds with the way the Phuket authorities want to control and manage the beaches. One can only assume that money talks. A recent article in The Phuket Gazette describes how much money the parasailers potentially earn on a daily basis. Multiply that several times and add the jetski income. Any percentage paid over to allow them to operate becomes a “nice little earner” for someone!

I understand you can get bored on the beach. Swimming is fine but after a while you want to try some other activity. Well, it doesn’t have to be motorised and polluting.

Surfing is becoming increasingly popular at many Phuket West Coast beaches, in particular Kata. A full day’s board rental is less than half the price of five minute’s parasailing, or you can just rent by the hour. I

t’s no Waikiki or Kuta and don’t bother turning up with your surfboard between November and June as there won’t be much action. In reality September and October are the main surfing months. There’s more information here

Karon’s the place for beach volleyball, though, unfortunately, the ladies professional tournament that was held there for many years has moved elsewhere. There are a number of courts at the back of the beach close to the Moevenpick Hotel..

For kitesurfing try Chalong, sea kayaking is available at Yanui Beach and a couple of spots on the East Coast, snorkelling is possible near the rocks at Karon and Kata but Ao Sane and Yanui are much better.

For some reason windsurfing, paddle-boarding and water-skiing don’t seem to be too popular in Phuket. I have no idea why.

If, after everything you’ve seen online, you do decide to jetski, carefully check for any damage before you take the jetski into the water. Photograph any scratches or dents if you feel it’s appropriate. And if you parasail just make sure that you are properly secured.

By law they are all supposed to be insured but in practice, who knows?

Of course, if you want a quiet beach with absolutely no jetskis, parasailing or other annoyances, check out my Beaches post.

Phuket Beaches

You come to Phuket to relax on a beach, umbrella shading you from the ferocity of the mid-afternoon sun, cocktail in one hand, good book in another, getting ready for that next dip in the turquoise waters of the Andaman Sea or a soothing beach massage. Sounds idyllic. It could be idyllic…..if the authorities got their act together and provided the sort of beach facilities expected by well-heeled tourists!

For many years, such relaxation on a sandy Phuket beach was possible and the tourists lapped it up. Following the 2004 tsunami the ancient wooden beach chairs were replaced with new plastic ones, the mishmash of umbrellas became more uniform with mostly Siam Commercial Bank sponsored gifts, the small beach bars and massage huts were rebuilt, and the vendors kept their part of the beach clean.

Over a period of time, however, the Phuket authorities lost control. Two rows of sunbeds became three, the umbrella and beds became tatty as they were never replaced, the number of annoying beach vendors grew by the day and the solitude of many beaches was destroyed by the growing number of jetskis and parasailing operations. More about those in a later post.

Certain beaches had become ugly and unsightly and in 2014 the Military Government decided to step in. Sunbeds and umbrellas were banned, all beach vending was halted; the beaches were to be returned to their natural state. Why? Beaches are public land belonging to the Crown. Local authorities had been charging money for sunbed concessions yet had no right to do so. Where the money went is anyone’s guess but it certainly wasn’t into Central Government’s coffers.

 

Not only this, all restaurants, beach clubs and other establishments that had encroached onto the sand were closed and many buildings destroyed. At Surin Beach, in particular, this ruined a thriving beach club atmosphere.

Lam Singh Beach

So we now had the situation where tourists had little comfort and no shade! After a number of compromises, beds and umbrellas returned in 2017 but only in so-called 10% zones; the rest of the beach was still to be kept in a natural state. Jetskis and parasailing operations were not affected at all so the oily, noisy, smelly machines haven’t stopped polluting the atmosphere of many of Phuket’s beaches.

As is often the case in Thailand, we have no idea whether the current status quo will exist for any length of time but at the time of writing the following beaches have beds and umbrellas for rent within the ten percent zone: Nai Yang; Bang Tao; Kamala; Patong: Karon; Kata; Kata Noi; Nai Harn.

Surin Beach, once the party beach of the hi-sos, has been declared a virgin beach, meaning absolutely no beds, umbrellas or any commerce whatsoever! And if you’re planning to visit nearby Laem Singh Beach the you may wish to forget this as a land dispute has effectively closed the beach for the foreseeable future.

Patong Beach

Patong is the busiest beach in Phuket and if you don’t want a crowded beach with the noise of jetskis and boat engines ruining any possibility of relaxation than avoid Patong. Karon is much bigger and easy enough to find a quiet spot away from the annoyances. Kata, Kata Noi, Bangtao and Kamala are other beaches favoured by jetskis so if they bother you I’d suggest one of the other beaches. Although the Where To Stay section of Phuket Pains contains some basic information regarding certain beaches, as the situation regarding commerce on beaches can change regularly, I would recommend you research via Google for up to date information or if it’s quiet beaches you’re after, have a look here.

The monsoon changes around May and the west coast beaches take on a different character. It’s between May and October that the sea becomes dangerous and care should be taken when entering the water. Waves become bigger, rip tides are prevalent and several people drown off Phuket every year, tourists and locals alike. You should listen to lifeguards and obey any flags. Swimming zones are clearly marked with red and yellow flags. If red flags are flying, do not swim! It’s simple, it’s commonsense, but it’s also ignored by too many.

You should also be wary of jellyfish, sea lice, which can give a mild sting, usually harmless but some folk do suffer a reaction, sea urchins on a couple of rockier beaches, garbage, especially in low season, and even sewage. If there’s a discoloured stream of water then don’t take any chances. It might just be plankton but it might be something else! Beware of tourists on jetskis and don’t sunbathe in areas where the parasailers land. They’ll soon let you know if you’re in the way!

I should also mention that you shouldn’t leave your valuables unattended on the beach. I know many people that have lost phones, cameras, wallets and even passports which have been left alone when the owners decided to take a dip. It might look safe enough but……………………. Also freak waves are not uncommon and a phone soaked with saltwater is not usually salvageable.

Karon Viewpoint
Kata Noi, Kata, Karon

 

It’s the beaches that made Phuket such a popular place for tourists. Going to the beach is a major part of any holiday on the island and swimming in the sea is part of what a tropical holiday is all about. Enjoy it……………but be safe!

Renting a Car in Phuket

We’ve looked at motorcycle rental. If it’s not for you then how about renting a car?

I’m surprised so few people do rent a car in Phuket. It’s possibly the thought of driving in Phuket, with its reputation for road accidents, hilly, potholed roads, dangerous drivers, traffic and left-side driving.

But is it that bad? Let’s have a look:

Most accidents involve motorbikes;

The roads aren’t the best but easily navigable by a competent driver;

The traffic can be dreadful but that would be the same if you were sitting in a taxi or on a bus;

You soon get used to driving on the “wrong side” of the road, though if you’re British, Australian or Japanese then this isn’t an issue anyway.

The pros possibly outnumber the cons. In addition:

You have the freedom to go where you want, when you want;

You are not at the mercy of tuktuks and taxis;

You can rent at the airport, thereby avoiding the cost of a two-way transfer.

Cars are sturdier than bikes so your chances of a serious injury in the unlikely event of an accident are diminished.

Of course, there are dangers. Anyone who’s visited Thailand will be aware that the standard of driving is far worse than in most visitors’ home countries. The Thai driving test is a joke (I don’t think anybody ever fails) and law enforcement is lax; speeding, running red lights, dangerous overtaking, even driving against the traffic are rarely punished. It’s also a fact that many Thai drivers don’t even have a licence, despite the easy test. A small fine is the usual punishment if caught, and the unlicensed driver is then sent on his way.

And there’s more:

Road rage: try not to intimidate other drivers; you don’t know how they may react;

Ghost-riders: cars and mainly motorbikes on the wrong side of the road, a nightmare when you are turning right;

Dogs can be a nuisance. They don’t usually wander down the middle of the road but watch out for them anyway. You might even encounter a python or monitor lizard crossing the road; please don’t drive over them!

You also need to be aware of bikes at all times. Use your mirrors more than you normally would, especially the left-side wing mirror. Many bikes are hit by cars turning left;

You’ll encounter poor driving, all the traits I mentioned in the previous paragraph, buses that can hardly get up the hills, black exhaust smoke pouring out of the back of beaten up pickups, vans and buses. And if you drive in the rain be extra-cautious; too many drivers don’t take the conditions into account, don’t switch on their lights ad you may well encounter localised flooding.

Honestly, I could ramble on for a few thousand words on the dangers on Thailand’s roads but just do a Google search to find out more.

Accidents, of course, can happen and for that reason we would recommend only renting cars from reputable, preferably internationally known companies. You might save a couple of hundred baht a day renting from the hotel manager’s friend, the local tour shop or the place near the beach but if you are involved in an accident and you’ve signed an agreement in Thai that you don’t understand, you could lose your entire holiday spending money plus much more.

Check your travel insurance to make sure you are covered for medical expenses. You won’t be covered for damage to the car nor third party damages. With a reputable international company this will not be a concern for you. With Somchai’s Honda City, it might be.

We’d also recommend buying Excess Protection Insurance. Don’t buy this through the car rental company as it’s well overpriced. Use a specialist company for this and save a fortune, also consider an annual policy, which works out very economical.

In the event of an accident you’ll be told to leave your vehicle exactly where it is, regardless of how minor the scrape you might be involved with. Contact the rental agency, they will inform the insurers. You won’t generally be allowed to move your car until the insurers and the police have made an inspection. You might be holding up traffic but don’t worry; it’s a daily occurrence in Phuket.

A final few points:

It is law that seatbelts are worn at all times by all passengers;

Mobile phones may not be used whilst driving;

Make sure you fill up with the correct fuel. Thailand isn’t self-service so ask correctly;

Look out for parking restrictions. Red and white lines on the kerb, also signs on lampposts.

Carry your driving licence and preferably passport at all times. You may be stopped in a police roadblock. An International Driving Permit is preferable.

Don’t drink and drive!

Renting a car can really help you have a better vacation. Driving in Phuket isn’t difficult as long as you keep focussed. Just drive like you would at home, don’t be aggressive and don’t think that driving like the locals is a good idea. It usually isn’t!