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Koh Phayam Faces Mega-Project Threat: Can Sustainable Tourism Survive?

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Located 17 kilometers off the Andaman Sea coast, Koh Phayam spans an area of 35 square kilometers, making it the second largest island in Ranong province. Blessed with unspoiled forests and pristine beaches, this tropical haven attracts visitors seeking tranquility amidst lush nature and the charming lifestyle of islanders who still make a living by catching fish. In recent years, Koh Phayam has been celebrated as a model of sustainable tourism and economic growth, all while preserving its precious natural resources.

According to local authorities, tourism in Koh Phayam significantly contributes to Ranong’s economy. “Koh Phayam’s tourism sector alone can generate up to one billion baht a year, a substantial portion of the province’s overall annual revenue of three billion baht,” says Chaiyut Anusiri, acting permanent secretary of the Koh Phayam administrative organization. The island’s success is largely attributed to the cooperation between public and private sectors, ensuring that it remains a beacon of sustainable tourism without compromising on strict conservation measures.

Now Comes the Threat

However, the idyll of Koh Phayam faces a looming threat. The government’s proposed Land Bridge project aims to bolster connectivity between the Gulf of Thailand and the Andaman coast, promising economic prosperity for the region. Yet, this mega-project has sparked concerns among the public and conservationists who fear it will disrupt the island’s environmental harmony.

The ambitious project involves constructing deep-sea ports in Chumphon and Ranong, linked by a 100-kilometer expressway and rail network. Koh Phayam is perilously close to the plans for a proposed 5,600-rai Ranong deep-sea port at Laem Ao Ang on the Andaman seashore. This plan includes three breakwaters totaling 4 kilometers in length and some 7,000 rai of sea reclamation. The impact would ripple through Ratchakrut sub-district, Koh Phayam sub-district, Muang district, Muang Kluang sub-district, and Kapoe district, affecting six communities, two national parks, two marine and coastal protected areas, national reserved forests, and coral reserves. Additionally, a tunnel and landbridge spanning 109 kilometers from Ao Ang Pier in Ranong to Laem Riew Port in Chumphon would be built.

Prime Minister Srettha Thavisin touts the project as a flagship initiative to boost the economy. However, locals worry that if the project proceeds, their communities might suffer, making survival difficult. In December of last year, they met with the prime minister, urging the government to carefully consider public opinion, particularly from locals. They emphasized that the project’s feasibility study was neither complete nor clear, yet the prime minister was already presenting the plan to international investors. The local fear is that this grand scheme will shatter the island’s tranquility, degrade its environment, and disrupt its economy.

Local Livelihoods at Risk

As the plans for the Land Bridge project in Chumphon advance, the issues of land expropriation and environmental impact have ignited anxiety among Koh Phayam’s locals. Local authorities highlight that many areas of Koh Phayam are home to ethnic groups and sea gypsies, most of whom do not possess formal land title deeds. Questions regarding compensation and property rights have been raised. Government funding and public consultations are crucial in addressing these issues, according to the concerned groups.

During a mobile cabinet meeting in Ranong in January, government officials and local tourism operators were sharply divided on the Land Bridge development despite the government’s efforts to engage stakeholders through public hearings. Supporters anticipated economic benefits, while others worried about the adverse impacts on the local environment and traditional ways of life. Koh Phayam remains a focal point of these concerns. Locals even protested during the mobile meeting, fearing that the project could encroach on coastal areas and farmland, impacting fishing communities, tourism operators, and farmers.

Parinya Sakulthong, the village headman of Koh Phayam sub-district, acknowledges the potential increase in tourism opportunities from the project but is also cautious about the environmental repercussions. He pointed out issues like soil erosion and its adverse impact on the marine ecosystem. He emphasized that Koh Phayam’s economic lifeline largely depends on tourism. But when the tourism season peaks end, the island relies on agriculture and aquaculture for year-round prosperity, especially during the monsoon season. Hence, sustainable and comprehensive development is necessary, he said.

The Future Is Unclear

Pradit Rungroj, president of the Koh Phayam Administrative Organization, noted that public hearings held in Ranong and Chumphon last August by the Office of Transport and Traffic Policy and Planning regarding the Land Bridge project did not alleviate concerns raised by various agencies, civil society groups, and locals. Some also expressed worries about the project’s cost-effectiveness and logistical challenges faced by shipping operators.

During the hearing, economics experts pointed out that the huge investment required for the project may outweigh the potential benefits, particularly for shipping operators navigating between Chumphon province on the Gulf of Thailand side and Ranong province on the Andaman Sea side. The prospect of investing in new vessels or retrofitting existing ships presents financial burdens, raising doubts about the project’s viability.

As discussions surrounding the Land Bridge project intensify, the government claims to remain receptive to input from all stakeholders. The fate of Koh Phayam hangs in the balance, with its residents and environmental advocates opposing initiatives that threaten the island’s natural beauty and tranquility. Faced with mounting opposition, the government has a daunting task ahead in striking a delicate balance between economic development and environmental preservation.


  1. Jane Thompson June 9, 2024

    This Land Bridge project is a disaster waiting to happen. The environmental impact alone is enough to cancel it!

    • sustainability_guru June 9, 2024

      Absolutely! Nature always pays the price for these so-called economic benefits. We need to think long-term.

      • Chris June 9, 2024

        But what about the jobs this project could create? The local economy would thrive!

      • Jane Thompson June 9, 2024

        Jobs won’t matter if the environment is destroyed. The island’s beauty is its main asset. Without that, why would tourists come?

  2. eco_warrior June 9, 2024

    Sustainable tourism is the way forward. Mega-projects like this are so outdated and destructive.

    • Ben June 9, 2024

      Sustainable tourism is idealistic. Not enough money comes from it to support a growing population.

      • eco_warrior June 9, 2024

        That’s a myth. Plenty of places thrive on sustainable tourism. It just needs proper management and investment.

  3. Tommy H June 9, 2024

    Why can’t the government just improve the existing infrastructure instead of building new mega-projects?

  4. Sarah Green June 9, 2024

    The Land Bridge project sounds like a temporary boost with permanent damage. Climate change should be our focus!

    • Mike R June 9, 2024

      While climate change is important, so is development. We can’t ignore economic needs.

      • Sarah Green June 9, 2024

        True, but there are better ways to develop without causing lasting environmental harm. We need more creative solutions.

  5. LocalIslander123 June 9, 2024

    My family has lived here for generations. The government doesn’t consider how this project will disrupt our lives.

    • Sam Y June 9, 2024

      It’s always the locals who suffer most. It’s heartbreaking.

  6. John Doe June 9, 2024

    If this project boosts Ranong’s economy, it’s worth the trade-off. We need to think of the bigger picture.

    • Lila June 9, 2024

      Bigger picture? The bigger picture includes preserving natural habitats!

  7. Maya S June 9, 2024

    Always the same story: profit over people and nature. We need stricter environmental laws.

    • pragmatist_88 June 9, 2024

      Laws are great, but they need to be balanced. Too much restriction can stifle growth.

      • Maya S June 9, 2024

        Balance is key, but we’re skewed too far towards profit right now.

  8. BigDreamer June 9, 2024

    Imagine the opportunities once the Land Bridge is built. Employment, trade, tourism – the possibilities are endless!

    • nature_lover June 9, 2024

      Opportunities for whom? Definitely not for the marine life or local communities.

  9. Anna B June 9, 2024

    Prime Minister Srettha Thavisin is pushing this project too fast. Needs more public consultation.

    • Tom R June 9, 2024

      It’s urgent for the economy. We can’t afford to go slow.

  10. Maria June 9, 2024

    I visited Koh Phayam last year. It’s beautiful & serene. We owe it to future generations to preserve such spots.

  11. Eco_Alien June 9, 2024

    The feasibility study isn’t even done, yet they’re presenting this to investors? Seems shady to me.

    • Don June 9, 2024

      They always want to rush things before people can raise valid objections. Typical!

    • Eco_Alien June 10, 2024

      Exactly! Transparency is key, and that’s lacking here.

  12. Arthur Mathis June 9, 2024

    Don’t forget about the ethnic groups and sea gypsies who don’t have formal land titles. What happens to them?

    • Lara J June 10, 2024

      They’ll be pushed out like always. Such a sad situation.

    • hikingman June 10, 2024

      This project has too many loose ends. More harm than good.

  13. TravelJunkie June 10, 2024

    I’ve been to many islands, and Koh Phayam is special. Let’s not let greed ruin it.

  14. Sam Parker June 10, 2024

    We need a compromise where development and conservation both win. It’s possible if there’s a will.

  15. Max S June 10, 2024

    Why is the government always putting investors before citizens? This has got to stop.

    • InvestorGuy June 10, 2024

      Because investors bring money. It’s essential for development.

      • Michaela June 10, 2024

        Development at what cost, though? Money isn’t everything.

  16. sceptic21 June 10, 2024

    How reliable are these economic benefits? Seems like a lot of wishful thinking.

    • developerJoe June 10, 2024

      No risk, no reward. We won’t know until we try.

      • sceptic21 June 10, 2024

        Risk is one thing, but irreversible damage is another. We need to tread carefully.

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