the local people present the biggest danger to Kata Beach and its environment

It's ironic, and sad, that the people who do the most damage to Thailand's beaches are the very people who get the most benefit from them, the locals who make a living off them.

Here on Kata Beach it was the same until Thailand’s military government took drastic action in 2014, banning all private businesses from Phuket’s public beaches. The beach vendors who had overwhelmed most of Kata’s sands with forests of umbrellas and heavy sun lounges protested loudly, but there was general public support for the move to reclaim the beaches and help restore their natural beauty.

As the images here show, Kata Beach today looks much cleaner and more natural than in the recent past when covered with beach furniture. Some visitors miss the comfort of the beach lounges and being served cold drinks while sleeping on the beach. The major problem with the old system was, ultimately, the attitude of the vendors, who paid local officials for the right to occupy specific patches of beach. Many had come to consider the beach ‘theirs’, even chasing away people who did not want to pay for the right to use ‘their’ portion of the beach. After some videos clips of beach vendors chasing tourists off their patches of beach went viral on social media, the Thai public supported the military government’s moves to claim back the beach for everyone’s free use.

Other Phuket beaches, like Bang Tao Beach had suffered even more. Local people had built large concrete restaurants and shops right in the sand. This was illegal squatting on public lands, something of an old tradition in Thailand. The authorities had to bring in heavy construction equipment to remove these and restore the beaches to their natural state.

Kata Beach's beautiful pandaus trees are being bashed & beaten to death

The beautiful pandanus trees at the top of the beach have been reduced by 50% over the past 15 years as their supporting roots have be cut off. These iconic tropical beach trees are sometimes called screw pines and other local names, though pandanus, the Indo-Malay name, has become most common.

Kata’s massage ladies and drink vendors spend much of their day in the greatly valued shade of these trees. They tie ropes to and hang things from them, utilizing them in so many ways. Their tourist customers escape the burning sun here and get massaged in the deep shade their spiky canopies provide. One might expect the local people would value their trees, perhaps even cherish them. But no, they regularly hack into them, chopping off the aerial roots these trees need for support. The remaining 50% of the pandanus are already badly mutilated, and destined to collapse in the coming years. Don’t expect many to remain in 2020.

It’s sad for the future of Kata Beach, yet nobody seems to notice, care or take any action.

How long can Kata Beach remain green?

A full 900 metres of Kata's total 1,400 metres length is occupied by a single resort, Club Med. This, however, does not qualify as true beachfront because there is a road between it and the beach. The road is not visible in Google Earth or other satellite images because of the thick beachside foliage.

The future appearance of Kata rests with this one, huge resort. If this hotel was ever sold, its vast track of land might easily be cut up for redevelopment. Following the typical Thai model, 20 hotels could be squeezed into that space. making the redeveloper a quick fortune. Kata would quickly see its green face cut and smothered in concrete, as has happened to Patong’s beachfront . Will Kata become even more over-crowded? Considering the way the laws of development work in Thailand, this writer is rather pessimistic about the long-term future of Kata.

Unplanned development has already created all kinds of problems for Kata, from traffic jams to dangerous roads without pavements for pedestrians. Then, every big storm sends a huge deluge of run-off water down the hillsides at the far South of Kata and into the pretty bay. For the next few days swimmers constantly feel their legs being grabbed, as if by jellyfish. But no, it's all of the plastic that came down with the storm water. Thailand is covered in plastic, and much of it eventually ends up in the ocean. At Kata, too.

Every time a new hotel is in construction on the hill behind Kata the storm runoff turns a muddy red-brown, discolouring Kata’s normally pristine water for days. There are few controls, and no-one seems to care. It's just the beach; it must take care of itself, in spite of the people and their thoughtless actions.

Beware! here is Kata Beach's biggest danger to tourists

Danger on Kata Beach? Some people might think of sharks of dangerous jellyfish. Sorry, there are no sharks here, and Kata has never recorded a deadly jellyfish stinging attack.  Some Thai beaches do indeed have serious dangers of deadly box jellyfish , but not those on Phuket. Others visitors might be worried about the monsoon waves, with good cause; quite a few tourists drown along Phuket's beaches each year when monsoon waves crash along the shores, creating dangerous rips.
The only shark attack I have heard of in 40 years association with Thai beaches occurred in Hua Hin in 2018 when a tourist emerged from the water with cuts on his heel. He didn't know if the cuts were from animal or oyster, but doctors concluded they were teeth marks from a baby bull shark.

The biggest danger to tourists in Kata, however, the thing that sends more of them to hospital than any other, is neither in the sea nor related to it.  It is the mountains behind.  Many tourists renting and riding a motorcycle for the first time in their lives have to tackle the steep slopes to get over the mountains in and out of Kata.  And many inexperienced drivers have lost their wheels along the way, donating much skin and blood to the spirits of the mountain.

Beware, danger lurks in the mountain you don't expect, not the ocean you do suspect.

is Kata Beach crowded with too many hotels?

Is Kata Beach becoming over-crowded with hotels and people? Is its natural environment being paved over too destructively? For some people – especially those who knew the beach before year 2000 – the answer is generally 'yes'. Many of Kata's early fans have since moved further afield to find quieter, more natural beaches and beachfront accommodations.

For many others who find Kata not nearly as crowded as beaches in the Mediterranean, the large number of people on the beach in high season is quite acceptable.

Unregulated over-development is, however, the long-term danger here, and it is already well advanced. The view here of the hill at the south end of the beach shows just how many hotel rooms have been packed against the hillsides.

The entire flat area to the back of Kata was once beautiful rice paddy fields. And hotels are still being built at a furious rate without calculation of the costs that too many rooms and too many people may cause. Is Kata headed for the 'Pattaya syndrome', where a beautiful beach is completely transformed into ugly concrete jungle, with all natural beauty extinguished? See the pros and cons of Pattaya for a look at Kata’s possible future.

And there are other, smaller problems, many rooted in the lack of respect that the local people display towards their beach. In 2012 we saw the first beach restaurants set up by people who drove their vehicles onto the sands and right down the entire length of Kata, dodging the many beach lovers there. Local authorities did not see anything wrong with cars mixing it up with guests on the beach. That practice was stopped in 2014 when the military government pushed all private businesses off the beaches – but what will happen in future when the military government is only a memory?

To see just how beautiful Kata Beach was before mass tourism overwhelmed it, see our page of old photos of Kata beach from the 1980s .

by John Everingham