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Tuesday, 4 August 2015

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Thursday, 15 November 2012

Tsunami on Koh Samui?

In June I discussed the possibility of earthquakes in Koh Samui. This month I will look at the possibility of a tsunami affecting the island.
Since the catastrophic tsunami of 2004 which caused so much destruction around the Indian Ocean there have been many studies published on tsunamis, their generation and consequences. There has been nothing specific to Koh Samui that I could find but there are numerous studies relating the possibility of a tsunami in the Gulf of Thailand.

There are three principal causes cited for the promulgation of a tsunami, sub-sea earthquakes, landslides and volcanic eruptions – the former being the most common. Earthquakes are the consequence of the movement of the tectonic plates moving against each other and similar movements in the fault lines which cross them. Major earthquakes commonly occur along the plate boundaries and in SE Asia the ones we are concerned with are the Sunda Trench to the west of Thailand and the Manila/Luzon Trench immediately to the west of the Philippines. Any tsunami generated by an earthquake in the Sunda Trench will not affect Koh Samui due to the land mass in between. All studies I have found re the Gulf of Thailand concern themselves with the effects of earthquakes in the Manila/Luzon Trench.

Follow the link for the full report but to summarize a seismic induced tsunami in the southern part of the Manila Trench in excess of 8.5Mw would likely lead to a tsunami entering the Gulf of Thailand once
in 650 years to a height of 2-3 metres. The worst affected areas would be the southern provinces.

This is demonstrated in the “2010Tsunami Simulations for Regional Sources in the South China and Adjoining Seas” study which proposed a catastrophic earthquake at the Luzon Trench, off the western shore of Luzon producing a tsunami affecting the Narathiwat and Pattani provinces in Thailand. It also addresses the effects of a sub-sea landslide off Borneo but generally the shallow nature (average 100m) would mitigate the magnitude of any tsunami entering the Gulf of Thailand and hence the affect on Koh Samui.
The study “Effect of Tsunamis generated in the Manila Trench on the Gulf of Thailand 2008” states “The Gulf of Thailand is affected by the diffraction of tsunamis around the southern part of Vietnam and Cambodia. The tsunami amplitude at the southernmost coastline is about 0.65 m for the Mw 9.0 earthquake. The current velocity in the Gulf of Thailand due to the Mw 9.0 earthquake is generally less than 0.2 m/s. “
“Tsunami Risk Reduction Measures Phase 2 –November 2009” stated “The simulations reveal further that tsunami threat due to seismic origin to the Gulf of Thailand is almost nonexistent.”

The conclusion is that , yes, Koh Samui could be affected by a tsunami, but that it would be small and not very powerful, probably less than one metre.

Tuesday, 5 June 2012

Ko Samui Properties - Earthquakes in Koh Samui

The recent earthquakes on the west coast around Phuket caused a great deal of concern, not just because of the potential to create a tsunami but because of the damage an earthquake can instigate. Earthquakes themselves do not always create damage apart from where cracks appear in the ground. The main damage is to buildings and other structures such as bridges and elevated highways as well as causing landslides and rock falls. Phuket is susceptible due to its location on the west coast, not only because of its proximity to the Andaman fault line but also because it lies adjacent to the Khlong Marui fault line which runs immediately to the east of the island in a north-easterly direction and it was along this fault line that the most recent earthquake occurred. This fault line continues across the peninsular and runs between Koh Samui and Chumpon but is not considered by the Thai Department of Mineral Resources to be active in this region and the USGS records a slip rate of 0.01mm per year and earthquake probability of once in 127,000 years.

People live in earthquake areas all round the world and experience earthquakes on an almost daily basis. Japan and the West Coast of the USA are prime examples. Thailand is not regarded as being at major risk from earthquakes although there are many fault zones throughout the country, mostly in the north and north-west. There are no building codes in force to my knowledge which are relevant. However, I am attending a seminar in Bangkok in June which may tell me more. Nor is there advice on what to do in the event of an earthquake.

In San Francisco the telephone books have pages of information and advice on the actions to take and not to take in the event of an earthquake. One piece of advice was not to run out into the street as you may well be hit by falling debris. For more information of what to do in an earthquake follow this link. Buildings in California are built to very strict codes. I had a 35 storey office building in my management portfolio and during the Loma Prieta 6.9 earthquake in 1989 which destroyed the Marina District and a number of highways with 63 deaths, we only suffered USD 10,000 of damage with one window blown out and some minor cracking to walls requiring re-painting. This was due to correct design and construction which mitigated damage but it costs money and a balance must be sought between prudence and economic reality.

Koh Samui does not have a high earthquake risk. With one exception all the earthquakes in the region over the last ten years have been to the west of the peninsular. The one exception was on 7th October 2006, 42 km off Prachuap Khiri Khan, at a depth of 10km and magnitude 5.0 on the Richter scale. This would lie on the northern end of the Ranong fault line which runs in a south-westerly direction across the peninsular and to the west of Phuket.

As unpredictable as nature can be, it seems highly unlikely that Koh Samui will be affected by earthquakes except possibly at a great distance. However, the question remains – can Koh Samui be affected by a tsunami? That is the subject of next month’s Newsletter.

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Saturday, 4 February 2012

Ko Samui Properties January 2012 Blog -- A New Year and New Office

Well as we enter 2012 may I wish you all a very Happy and Prosperous New Year. Another milestone for Ko Samui Properties – at the end of January, the ten year lease on our office comes to an end. Hard to believe we have been here that long and it would be easy to dwell on all the ups and downs we have experienced over that time, but better to move on and not relive the past. The present market conditions do not justify us staying where we are as we no longer need this amount of space. At the moment I am finalising the negotiations on a lease of a property in Bangrak from 1st February and will send out further details of the new location when these are complete. Whilst we have enjoyed our main road position it has become clear that such a prominent location is not necessary as the vast majority of people we do business with are in contact with us before they come to Samui. We rarely do business with people who walk through the door having found us by chance.

What do I see for 2012? Much of the same I suppose, but if you are considering buying this would be the time to move forward. Whilst this may not be the happiest time for sellers it certainly is for buyers and there are some excellent deals around and remember most prices are still negotiable. Last month saw average price reductions of 22% which indicates more and more sellers are adjusting to the realities of the market and presenting great opportunities for new buyers. Real Estate remains a solid asset and should rarely be looked on as a short term investment. We are of course subject to the world economy and certainly this has played a part in the availability of spare funds for second homes. However, there are people who have profited in one way or another during the present crisis and these people are here and looking for deals. Correctly priced properties will sell and we have seen more evidence of that over recent months in all price ranges.

A word of warning – and I really should have known better myself – do not give interviews to local Newspapers. I was asked to do that a few weeks ago and the first point I made was that I would wish to see the draft copy before publication to check for factual errors. This was agreed. The draft was subsequently sent to me and contained numerous errors requiring correction, which I made and returned the amended document. They then printed the original without amendment. I plagiarise their articles all the time, but you have to wonder just how accurate their reports really are. Whilst they are back on line, be aware that many of the reports they are publishing are 3-4 years out of date!

Ko Samui Properties December 2011 Blog - Face and its consequences

(Better late  than never)

There is a distinct lack of news this month to be trawled from the local and national papers. Neither The Nation or Bangkok Post had any relevant stories about Koh Samui during November and the Samui Express web site is still in the throes of re-inventing itself and re-hashing old, old stories with nothing new. Samui Gazette is up and running but, bless their hearts, they do make it difficult for me to plagiarise so here is the direct link to their web site.

Something I have been thinking about recently is the Eastern concept of “face”. I had always assumed that to lose “Face” was a consequence of doing something wrong in the eyes of other people, or being humiliated in front of other people. It is a concept that comes up time and again when discussing eastern culture. Wikipedia has a long discussion on “Face as a sociological concept” and it is clearly not easy to define in all its facets. Respect; reputation; prestige, honour all figure in definitions but these obviously vary between the eastern concept and that as we see it in the west. Then we have “losing face” and “saving face”.

The reason I have been thinking about this is the very real issue of “why did no-one lose face over the re-surfacing of the road by Bandon Hospital?” They spent good money improving the drains, putting in new kerbs and then re-surfacing – albeit straight onto the concrete – but within weeks the road is giving way and holes are appearing and major patch work has been put in place. Now surely someone must feel responsible for this shoddy workmanship and I would have thought “lost face”. Is it the Contractor who did the work, the Civil Engineer who wrote the specification, the Project Manager who over saw the work? Or have I got this whole concept wrong? Were all the parties involved able to “gain face” with their contempories by getting away with and getting paid for shoddy work? The same has to go for the construction of the promenade around Chaweng Lake. Looked good to start with but started falling to bits within months. The street lights through part of Bangrak – promoted as a “Walking Street” they then proceeded to place the light posts in the middle of the footpath so you had to step into the road. Then they were rarely switched on, if they were half did not work and most of the fittings are missing . Has no-one “lost face” over that fiasco?

As I see it “face” is a concept used and abused according to circumstances and an individual’s inability to provide a good answer to something that they are responsible for but have screwed up. To some extent this runs parallel with the Thai concept of Kreng jai which is being aware of other people’s feelings and showing politeness, respect and consideration towards them. It is also tied in with the Thai concept of not wanting to lose face; displaying kreng jai is one way in which one person can help another save face. Do nothing that will embarrass the other person. Let them get away with shoddy workmanship because to tell them it is shoddy would make them feel bad. Basically, criticism is bad manners. I have learned to live with it and deal with it over the years and if you are going to live here in Thailand and be happy then you must too. As frustrating as it can be sometimes, I still love living here and it could be worse. I could be living in England.

The market continues to be erratic, but at least that is better than dead. Enquiries ebb and flow and there is no consistency in the range of demand. Certainly more long term rental enquiries recently but also requests for details on properties for sale has increased, although not as much as the demand from new sellers to market their properties. We have seen and heard of a number of sales being completed but without exception at heavily discounted prices and the trend remains an average 30% fall over the last 2-3 years.

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Tuesday, 6 December 2011

Ko Samui Properties November 2011 Blog

Well the rainy season has started and all the usual places flooded very quickly – Beach Road south of Samui International Hospital and Dow Market as I write this. Some debate as to whether this is the NE Monsoon setting in or just heavy tropical storms. Well the weather charts indicate the wind is from the east so it is certainly moving in the right direction. What is more interesting is if the new drainage that has been installed will cope with the floods or not. The are just in the process of completing the new drainage outside our office and they have used large pre-cast concrete sections buried underground with large drain covers which we hope will be big enough to cope. Certainly better than the weed filled ditch we had before. The other advantage for us is that the rather insubstantial bridge across the ditch to our office has now gone and been replaced with a concrete driveway.

The Local Authority has over recent weeks been promoting their "Disaster Planning" following the severe damage suffered by the island over the last twelve months. This extends from dealing with floods, to landslides, long power failures and even a tsunami. Additional emergency vehicles were seen arriving on the island including fire engines and ambulances together with large pumps. We have seen an improvement over recent years as new drainage has been installed in that the floods have dispersed rapidly once the rain has stopped. I doubt we will ever see the large monsoon drains that you can see in Singapore or even Los Angeles, but work has been done to clear the Chaweng Klong. Obviously Samui has not suffered in the same way as the north of Thailand and Bangkok.

If you are considering opening a Personal Savings Account, have the following in mind. If you open joint account, you will probably not get internet banking – this has been the experience of two of our clients recently with Bangkok Bank (who actually have a very good internet banking system) and Siam Commercial Bank (who do not). If you want internet banking it seems it must be in a single name. Please do not ask me to explain the logic to this. If I have a joint account with my wife we can both have ATM cards and can take money from the bank but no internet banking. If I have a sole account she cannot access my internet account but I can give her the access details so she can use it.

The real estate market seems to be going through an inconsistent phase, although one could probably say that about much of the last couple of years, but enquiries seem to ebb and flow from many to none from week to week. What is consistent however is the number of properties being newly listed which is of course adding to the stock available. If you check our Newsletters for the past few months you will see we are adding properties all the time. I wish we were selling them at the same rate. All these properties are being offered by a number of agents on the island so they all have plenty of exposure to buyers. The consequence of course is that buyers have more and more choice and are very price conscious. Sales are happening, but your property has to be correctly priced or it will get passed over.

For a full copy of this Newsletter, email me at

Friday, 28 October 2011

Ko Samui Properties Blog for October 2011

Included in this Newsletter is an article by Dr Theerathon Tharachai which discusses the relationship between design and construction standards when developers are faced with increasing building costs. Whilst the article refers in particular to high-rise buildings in Bangkok with emphasis on safety it highlights an issue we need to be aware of here in Koh Samui as well. Whilst we have few high rise buildings, the implication in the article is that developers and contractors will cut corners to maintain profit margins and that is something to be seriously considered. Before I am accused of making false accusations, may I say that I have no experience of this happening on Koh Samui and I am simply raising a warning flag that this could happen and is a possibility we all should be aware of.
The easiest way to reduce costs is by using inferior or sub-standard materials and if you are buying a new property either rom a developer or having one built, you need to be sure that what is built and the materials used actually accord with the specification you agreed to.
A perfectly acceptable process for reducing costs is Value Engineering. There are four basic steps in approaching this:

1) What are the requirements for the project. How should it function? What functions or performance characteristics are important? What does the object do? What must it do? What should it do? What could it do? What must it not do? This could relate to aspects of the structural design or materials to be used.
2) We then ask - What are the various alternative ways of meeting the requirements? What else will perform the desired function?
3) We then look at all the alternatives and assess them by evaluating how well they meet the required functions and how great will the cost savings be.
4) In the final stage, the best alternative will be chosen and presented to the client for final decision.

All developers should utilize Value Engineering as a matter of course. From my experience here on Samui, that is not always the case and I have seen some horrendous cases of over engineering due to poor design due to lack of knowledge or consideration of alternatives. When I first came to Koh Samui ten years ago, everything was built using reinforced concrete frames. The use of a steel frame was unheard of. As time has passed I see more and more steel frame buildings being built and steel components incorporated into some of the larger villas. The use of steel has allowed greater spans than previously possible except by creating impossibly large concrete beams – and I have seen some of them!
So alternative design solutions and alternative materials are quite acceptable if they meet the required standards and save money. You just need to be sure that it is not the last factor only that influences the choice.

The real estate market is slowly gaining pace but as reported previously mainly in the lower ranges. We have been receiving more serious enquiries recently than for a long time and interest has moved up into the 10-15 million range whereas previously it was almost exclusively under 10 million. However, before everyone starts putting their prices up, the only properties selling in that range are those that have already been discounted. What is also noticeable is that with so many agents having disappeared over the last year or so, there are signs of one or two coming back, unfortunately with little real estate experience. So just be careful who you are dealing with.

For a full copy of this Newsletter please email me at