“No Entry!! MOVE ON!” a security guard yells at us as we jump off the longtail boat at Railay beach. He is guarding a new, expensive resort, meaning that the ‘common’ public have to wade through the sea, waves crashing up to our waists, rather than step on the resort’s swimming pool grounds. Heaven forbid us commoners walking on the rich man’s land.
I first visited this peninsula – made up of the bays of Railay, Phranang and Ton Sai – back in 2007. Coming back nine years later, things are bound to have changed. But i’m not prepared for how much it’s changed.
Railay East never had a paradise beach that was fit for resorts, being mangrove and mud. But capitalists don’t see that as an obstacle..they just build a resort and swimming pool over the muddy shore.
But it was Ton Sai, not Railay, that me and my friends – Ali, Ines and Paul – really fell in love with in 2007. My current travel partner, Chris, knows all about Ton Sai. I’ve told him about this place that has managed to stay off of the main backpacker radar whilst Railay heaves with tourists. I’ve talked about the blue water paradise of limestone cliffs that are scaled by rock climbers. I’ve told him about the laidback residents who are permanently stoned.
So we walk through the jungle from Railay to Ton Sai to check whether beauty still exists, because it sure as hell doesn’t on Railay.
“Welcome sister! welcome brother!” a man greets us from his Rasta bar, complete with its Bob Marley mural. I ask him how he is. “Stoned,” he replies with a big smile. “Do you want mushroom shake?” Some things in Ton Sai haven’t changed!
We walk towards the beach. And then we see it – a massive concrete wall, running across the whole of the valley, slicing Ton Sai in two. The wall sits about 300 metres back from the beach. On the beach side of the wall there will be a posh tourist resort…the local businesses of beach huts and cafes no longer exist. Everyone had been moved to a road behind the wall.
We ask a local man what happened.
“The land’s been bought by Centara hotels. We were moved back here two years ago.” “Did you get any compensation money?” we ask.
“About 200,000 baht per bar.”
“Will you be able to stay once the resort’s been built?”
“We don’t know. But more resorts are planned.”
We ask the same questions to another young local man.
“What happened?” we say.
“Corruption. The police came.”
“Could you choose whether to move?”
The man shakes his head. “Corruption. Only corruption. Fuck the police.”
We nod sympathetically.
Centara Hotels, the new “owner” of the land at Ton Sai, is part of Centara Holdings, the largest hotel and shopping mall group in Thailand. The corporation has already converted the next bay along into its own private resort.
Walking the length of the wall is a poignant experience. Much like the Berlin wall, and the Palestine wall (so I am told), Ton Sai wall is covered in murals, many of them with political messages. This wall symbolises all that is wrong with the capitalism that is tearing apart our planet. On one side of the concrete lives the locals, thrown off their land, their livelihood in ruins. On the other side of the concrete will lie a resort and the beach, which will be largely inaccessible to the locals. The wall separates the minority rich from the majority poor.
But, of course, Centara hasn’t built its giant resort yet. Currently, the stoners are still running their Rasta bars (behind a wall), the rock climbers are still scaling the cliffs, and the sea still laps against the shore without hitting the wall of a resort. Langurs swing through the forest, soon to be destroyed by Centara’s bulldozers.
We’re thinking of going back next year to squat Centara’s land if anyone wants to join!