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Turmoil after the storm

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LISA NAPOLI: Almost two years to the day after the devastating Asian tsunami, the U.S. and six other countries are asking Thailand to look into an alleged misuse of donations. After the disaster, residents of one up-and-coming tourist area began rethinking whether they wanted an economy that relies on foreign visitors. Suzanne Nam reports from Thailand that stopping development may be difficult.

SUZANNE NAM: Thailand’s Khao Lak province has all the requirements of a real tropic paradise. There are pristine beaches, lush jungles and towering mountain ranges. But when the tsunami hit two years ago, Khao Lak was devastated. The giant waves swept away whole villages, killing hundreds of people and wiping out local industries.

Before the tsunami, Khao Lak was well on its way to becoming a booming resort area like neighboring Phuket. It attracts million of tourists every year.

NATAPORN NUMUAN: It have two sides. The good thing is, the people they have more jobs and they can earn more money and have more business that they do.

Nataporn Numuan grew up across the road from the beach and watched as luxury resorts sprang up along the coast. But when the disaster wiped everything out, he and others began asking themselves if they really wanted the tourism development.

They worry it’ll bring more traffic, pollution and the sex trade that parts of Thailand are known for.

NUMUAN: The culture, the environment is destroyed because of tourists.

So some, like Nataporn and Apanee Tong Duan are looking for other options.

APANEE TONG DUAN [translator]: I used to have a restaurant, but decided not to rebuild after the tsunami and started something new.

Equipped with a handful of sewing machines in a small shack, she and a group of women hand dye cloth and make shirts, scarves and bags, which they sell in small shops.

But after seeing friends with jobs in resorts earning twice her wage, she’s thinking a job in the tourist sector might not be so bad.

TONG DUAN [translator]: It’s a good job. I would take a job there, but I don’t have the training for it yet.

Besides backbreaking work on rubber plantations or trawling for fish, there are few jobs to be had and none that pay as much as a hotel.

Greg Anderson runs Le Meridien Khao Lak, the first resort to reopen after the tsunami. He says his more than 300 employees have some of the best working conditions and highest pay in the area.

GREG ANDERSON: So we have a significant impact here, not only for the employees but the people who service what we need. In one year we’ll purchase at least 300,000 eggs. Somebody’s got to deliver them, take the rubbish away, fix the guy’s care that’s delivering the things in. There’s lots of extra economic activity just from our existence here.

While some want Khao Lak to stay a secret, the lure of development may prove hard to resist. Even locals who enjoy the peace and quiet might decide to trade that in for a good job and economic security.

In Khao Lak, I’m Suzanne Nam for Marketplace.

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