Friday, December 31, 2004


Death is all around, but the band plays on for the tourist horde
For many in key Thai resort, it is sun, sex and booze as usual
Jason Burke in Phuket
Thursday December 30, 2004The Guardian

Stefan Johansson, a 41-year-old air force officer from Sweden, is hoping that tonight is the night. He is not concerned about aftershocks hitting the beach half a mile from here, or about the haphazard rescue operation finally under way in southern Thailand.

Nor is he worried by the deaths of several hundred compatriots. Mr Johansson is anxious that the bar girl he has his eye on is going to keep holding out on him. "I'm having a good holiday," he said. "I went for a walk along the sand this morning, did a bit of swimming. Now I'm off drinking, and then we'll see."

Here Thai prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra's request for the country to wear black and forego New Year festivities seems likely to fall on deaf ears. "I heard what was going on with the wave and so on, and I just thought it was a bit of an exaggeration," said Peter Anstiss, 48, from Sydney, as he shared a beer with his brother in a bar off Patong beach's main drag. "I didn't think too much about it."

At Phuket's airport, Pornthip Sucharitcharan was preparing to welcome 200 new arrivals on behalf of the Phuket Hilton. Today another 200 guests will fly in to stay at the hotel.
The only problem, as far as Mr Sucharitcharan was concerned, were delays caused to commercial passenger flights by the unprecedented number of aircraft landing at the airport.

The congestion is due to aid flights coming in and planes bearing the dead, injured and badly shaken out.

Yet the luxury Royal Lighthouse Villas is booked up for the rest of the season, and has had no cancellations following the disaster. And the sprawling Diamond Cliff Resort, set on a bluff directly above Phuket's debris-strewn Patong beach, welcomed 136 new guests yesterday.

With many beaches still covered in debris, and corpses still being brought in by the tide, most tourists are staying in their hotels.

One new arrival at the Diamond Cliff, who flew in with her family from Moscow on Tuesday, relaxed on a lounger beside the pool. "We are here on holiday, not to be sad," she said. "I know bad things have happened, but it's nothing to do with us."

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