This is what the beaches were like 35 years ago, when tourism on Phuket was in its infancy.
But, as our story relates, there are dark clouds building over Freedom Beach. As in so many other parts of the island, the conflicting interests of different groups are rubbing up against each other, and irritation and aggression are growing.
Before, Freedom Beach was impossible to reach by land unless you were prepared for a long and sweaty slog through dense forest. Far easier by far was the longtail boat ride from Patong.
But now one of those who claim to own the land abutting the beach (their claims are contested by a variety of government bodies who assert the land belongs to the state) has cleared a path down to the beach.
The boatmen, accustomed to making a living from bringing tourists to the beach, see this path as a threat. At the moment it’s not a big threat. But it’s the foot in the door, so the boatmen have been mounting guard at the bottom of the path and turning back people walking down.
What they are doing is undoubtedly illegal, whether the land is private or public. They know this and they don’t care. They’ll go on doing it anyway, and the number of people walking down is so small that their interests can safely be ignored by officialdom.
But consider this: If the boatmen were not doing this, no one would notice that the forest, despite official declarations that it is public land, is still occupied by individuals who say they “own” it. Who want to sell it for billions of baht.
The “owners” must have been encouraged by a recent proposal to drive a scenic “green road” through the forest (and then discouraged when the plan was condemned in a public hearing).
These individuals stand to make huge fortunes if they stick to their claims (and they do have papers issued by genuine government officials). They will play a waiting game until the climate is more favourable. Then they will move forward again with their plans.
The boatmen, for entirely selfish motives, may coincidentally be holding up those plans and doing Phuket’s environment a favour. For now, anyway.