Phuket and the Andaman Coast Feature
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With the exception of those around Similan Islands 1, 2, and 3 (closed prior to the tsunami), all dive sites in Thailand are open to divers, some indisputably beautiful. Especially around the Similan and Surin islands, there are many dive spots that remain world class.
The Posttsunami Recovery
Both of Thailand's coasts had been experiencing a tourism boom for years—with many places facing the consequences of overdevelopment—when the tsunami hit the Andaman Coast on December 26, 2004. Several beaches on Phuket, the beach area of Khao Lak, and much of Koh Phi Phi were devastated by the waves, and although many areas on the Andaman Coast were unaffected by the tsunami, tourism on that shore came to a near standstill in the months following the disaster.
More than 12 years later, the situation is considerably different. Phuket's affected beaches have been completely redeveloped, including much improved beachfront sidewalks, street lighting, restaurants, bars, and cafés on par with western beach destinations. Phi Phi Island was rebuilt a bit more slowly, but now development has surpassed pretsunami levels. Most development along Tonsai and Loh Dalam initially focused on upgrading salvageable budget accommodations to nicer, midrange standards to fill the void left as the largest resorts planned their reconstruction. The middle and high-end resorts have now reentered the market, and Phi Phi is once again booming, with plenty of bars and restaurants. Khao Lak also has more hotels, restaurants, and activities than it did before 2004. These days the tsunami's lasting effects are not visible to the naked eye, but many Andaman Coast locals lost friends and family, and their lives have been irrevocably altered.
Overdevelopment is an issue, as it was before the disaster. Once adventurous travelers find a new, secluded, undeveloped beach and start talking about it, rapid development follows at a frightening pace. In many spots this development hasn't been regulated or monitored properly, and the country is now pulling in the tourist dollars at the expense of the environment. It's a cycle that's hard to stop. Redevelopment in the tsunami areas began quite slowly, while developers and local businesses awaited government regulations. In some instances, the planning paid off (Phi Phi now has much-needed waste-water treatment facilities), but as most areas waited for regulations that never arrived, no-holds-barred development quickly followed.
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