Wed, Jan 25, 2006 - Page 13 News List

Paradise revealed

Thailand has long had a reputation as one of the most idyllic places on earth. But the recent murder of a British backpacker has put its previously unseen dangers into the spotlight

By Lorna Martin  /  THE GUARDIAN , KOH SAMUI, THAILAND

As well as government action, he would like to see tourists taking more responsibility when they travel to foreign shores.

"It's terribly sad what happened to Katherine. Every Thai person is deeply saddened by it and hate the men who did that to her. But I also think it is important that as more and more tourists come here, they respect our different culture. I'm not talking about Katherine here but there are many European women who ignore our culture and, for example, run around topless on the beach. I know many Thai men who boast about the number of farangs (foreigners) that they have slept with. I just think it would be better for everyone if people respected other peoples' cultures and environments."

With the eyes of the world's press on them, and because of their fear of inflicting damage on their vital tourist industry, the Thai authorities have acted with unprecedented haste in solving the murder of Katherine. Hundreds of officers were dispatched to the province and in an unusual public appeal, the country's Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra said the killers should receive the "hardest punishment possible."

Rachel Harrison and Erin Sander, both 26, arrived on Koh Samui as part of a three-month backpacking trip. Rachel said they had already spent one month on another island and would not be put off because of the murder. "It is of course tragic for her family and it did feel a little eerie walking along the beach," she said.

"But these things can happen anywhere. We have spent one wonderful month in Thailand, people have welcomed us into their homes and looked after us. Some people can tend to lose their judgment when they are on holiday. They do things they wouldn't do at home, and think nothing can touch them. But in Katherine's case she did nothing wrong. In many ways, that is scarier."

Erin said she would definitely return to Thailand. "I would never devalue what has happened. It's awful. But parents can't keep their children in a cocoon. They have to let them fly. You can't stay in the basement and be afraid to travel the world. There is too much to see and explore and experience."

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