The beach at Ao Phrao on Koh Samet is different from four months ago, when it was hit by an oil spill. The seawater is blue again and the sand looks white as normal. The water quality has also been scientifically proved to be safe for aquatic activities. All in all it is ready for tourism - but tourists have not returned in the numbers the island used to see.
Though this month is high season, Samet's average occupancy rate is only 50-60 per cent, much lower than the usual level of more than 80 per cent. Hoteliers and beach masseuses said those who did visit asked, "Is the water safe for swimming? or "Is the seawater still contaminated with toxic chemicals from the oil spill?"
Even after being assured that everything is all right now, they are still not bold enough to jump into the sea.
Some operators project that the island will take a year to rebound, but others argue that a full recovery could take two or three years. One thing they agree on: They will look for ways to save their business operations during this hard time.
PTT Global Chemical (PTTGC), which was responsible for the oil leak in July, has made an attempt to restore the island's tourism trade. But its efforts appear not to have paid off as quickly as hoped.
One of its efforts was to allocate Bt40 million (S$1.55 million) to the Association of Domestic Travel to help attract Thai tourists to the island on subsidised trips.
And to improve Samet's image, it has spent a lot of money on television commercials to deliver the message that the island is ready to welcome back tourists.
Dr Thon Thamrongnawasawat, a marine-science lecturer at Kasetsart University, said the island was safe for tourists now, and he believed one reason arrivals were still low was a failure to get people to understand the real situation. Clearly, they do not have enough information to decide to travel to the island. The TV commercials aired in recent months have not cleared away their doubts.
Thon has spent some time on Koh Samet recently at the invitation of PTTGC. He has conducted comprehensive research on the marine ecology system of this and nearby islands. Overall, he said the aquatic environment was on a recovery path. However, his research will require several years to reach a clear conclusion.