6 June 2024

Khao Lak, as an increasing populated community and popular tourist area in the South, need good road. However, there is one in particular that is causing alarms among people concerned about safety. In fact, these people are urging the media to investigate this problem, not least because the road serves as a link between the growing neighbourhood and other seaside towns.

Data from Khao Lak Provincial Police Station shows that, in 2022, there were 74 road accidents and 8 deaths. From January to September this year, there have been 64 accidents. Road accidents typically spike during the high season. It is believed, however, that the actual figures are much higher, taking into account unreported accidents. It is because Khao Lak’s roads become particularly dangerous at night, due to inadequate lighting, especially through populated areas, like Bang Niang fresh market, which is one of the busiest locations in Khao Lak.

The quality of life for tourists in Khao Lak, especially in terms of road safety, still, however, leaves much to be desired. Each year, a number of foreign visitors lose their lives in accidents on Khao Lak’s roads, as a result of inadequate lighting, lack of traffic discipline and speeding by local drivers.

Thai PBS World examined the root causes of the problem and investigates whether they will be resolved in time for this year’s tourism high season.

 

A unique tourist destination

Khao Lak is located on the west coast of Thailand, facing the Andaman Sea, in the Phang Nga Province. It is approximately 80 kilometers (50 miles) north of Phuket and about a 1.5-hour drive from Phuket International Airport.

In 2004, this seaside town was hard hit by the deadly tsunami. Thanks to its resilience and reputation for ecotourism, Khao Lak has bounced back after the major natural disaster and recent COVID-19 pandemic.

Khao Lak is famous for its combination of ecotourism, scenic beaches, outdoor adventures and laid-back atmosphere. By the end of this year, it is expected that there will have been 2 million tourists visiting Khao Lak, generating around 10 billion baht in revenue, according to the Phang Nga Tourism Association.

 

Four-lane superhighway

This famous seaside town has slowly developed and, a couple of years ago, the road expansion projects were completed. Now, Khao Lak has a four-lane superhighway through the heart of its town, connecting it with other Andaman coastal provinces.

One major factor in road accidents in the Khao Lak area stems from inadequate lighting along the superhighway.

“The problem of road lighting arose with the construction of the new four-lane road. Specifically, there is lighting at only certain locations. From Khao Lak to Baan Lam Kaen onward, there is no illumination. It has been dark for several months, since the last high season. We posted about it on Facebook, in groups such as Takuapa, Phang Nga and even the Phuket highways office, but there has been no response”, said Surachai Khongkan, a Volunteer Rescuer.

He added that, from his observations, there is no illumination at the most dangerous curves or spots.

The rescuer also mentioned one case of recurring accidents. At Baan Pak Weep, near Mai Hotel, which marks the boundary between Khuk Khak and Bang Sak sub-districts, road accidents happen very frequently. The most recent fatality occurred when a motorcycle toppled over, causing the rider to be thrown into oncoming traffic. A car, unable to see him, ran him over, killing him instantly. This location is infamous for such accidents. He wishes there were lighting there.

 

“There is lighting at only certain locations. From Khao Lak to Baan Lam Kaen onward, there is no illumination. It has been dark for several months, since the last high season.” : Surachai Khongkan, Volunteer Rescuer

 

Energy saving

The Director of Phuket Highways Office, Yutthana Pitak, explained the reason why there is insufficient lighting on the superhighway road. “The Khao Lak area on Phet Kasem Road is part of a project to expand the road to four traffic lanes. During the construction, some areas had lighting while others remained dark. This lighting distribution was likely based on population density. It’s important to note that there won’t be lights on the traffic islands. The decision regarding which areas receive lighting is made by the Construction Department and the Design Department of the Department of Highways.

Therefore, there won’t be lighting along the entire project and we believe this is appropriate based on the population density in the community. Road lighting primarily serves urban areas and it’s not necessary in forests, gardens or outlying areas. Installing it would be a waste of the national budget. Our focus is also on energy conservation”.

According to the director of the Phuket highways office, when the construction layout was designed several years ago, Khao Lak town was somewhat different. Therefore, the Phuket highways office will conduct a new survey, to assess the need to install additional lighting in that area.

 

“It’s important to note that there won’t be lights on the traffic islands. The decision regarding which areas receive lighting is made by the Construction Department and the Design Department of the Department of Highways.” : Yutthana Pitak, Director of Phuket Highways Office

The U-turns

The construction layout is another reason why there are no streetlamps in some areas, as it was designed during Thaksin’s government but was constructed around 10 years later, during Prayut’s administration.

Sirithorn Buakeaw, the Deputy Chief Executive of the Khao Lak Sub-district Administrative Organisation (SAO), revealed that he had attended numerous meetings with them regarding the lighting in Khao Lak and Khuk Khak sub-districts. “According to the construction plans, provided by the contractor and the Department of Highways, both parties confirmed that there would be lighting throughout the area, with no shortages anticipated in the layout. Issues arose on the actual construction site however”.

The problem, he said, is related to the U-turns, which are every 2 kilometers. Local residents opposed this distance and some of these U-turns are only one-way, instead of in both directions. Consequently, the contractor has agreed to construct more U-turns, in response to the local demand. Each U-turn costs them 2 million baht. Due to budget constraints, the additional U-turns were exchanged for the missing streetlamps.

Sirithorn shared with us what he had heard from the contractor: when it came to constructing new U-turns, they faced a budget shortfall due to lighting expenses. The issue was related to the removal of streetlamps on the traffic island. “Assuming that one streetlamp costs approximately 40,000 baht, let’s say, to construct two-way U-turns, which would require about 2 million baht, we divide 2 million baht by 40,000 baht to find out the number of streetlamps that are missing”, said Sirithorn.

 

 

“Unfortunately, each year, so many tourists lose their lives in our town.” : Sirithorn Buakeaw, Deputy Chief Executive of the Khao Lak Sub-district Administrative Organisation (SAO)

 

Thai traffic norm

Each year around 20,000 people die in accidents on this country’s roads. This ranks Thailand in the top ten for the world’s most deadly roads in every survey.

The Thai way of driving can be confusing and highly dangerous for many tourists, because it is entirely different from Western countries. For instance, at a zebra crossing, if Western tourists act as they would in their own countries—crossing the road without checking left and right and expecting drivers or riders to stop for them—in Thailand it could result in them being hit.

Excessive speed is also an important factor that causes numerous accidents. According to Khao Lak Provincial Police Station, there is one speed camera in the Khao Lak area, which is certainly not enough. Hence, Phuket highways office is attempting to solve the problem by installing speed humps and larger traffic signs.

“When it comes to tourists and the quality experience here, I wish we could elevate it to a level that makes our town a world-class tourist destination. That way, visitors would share their positive experiences through word of mouth. As the municipality is responsible for this area, we aim to prevent any tragedies related to road accidents”, Sirithorn said, adding that “Unfortunately, each year, so many tourists lose their lives in our town”.

Khao Lak Road will have sufficient lighting if the Phuket Highways Office approves their installation, but nobody knows when that will be, but certainly not within this year’s high season.

 

Political statement

In the foreseeable future, this famous Andaman coastal town is slated to get a nearby international airport, according to the Srettha government’s plan. The Prime Minster also emphasises the importance of Andaman coastal tourist destinations, as he has visited Khao Lak twice since came to power almost two months ago.

Political statement has always been in support of a better Khao Lak, for example Prime Minister Srettha announced that his government would implement a comprehensive infrastructure development plan, which will be executed efficiently and swiftly. This plan encompasses short, medium and long-term projects. Moreover, approximately 1,120 hectares of land will be designated for an international airport serving Phuket, Phang Nga, Krabi and Ranong provinces. Initially, it is named ‘The Andaman International Airport,’  the Prime Minister told the press on September 29th, 2023 in Khok Kloi district of Phang Nga province.

To turn that into more than just a political statement, his administration will need to walk the talk, addressing concerns related to the safety and quality of life for both Thai citizens and foreign tourists.

By Jeerapa Boonyatus

 

Video coverageThe deadly roads of Khao Lak