The self-proclaimed ‘first tourist’ to have visited Koh Phangan in Thailand has spoken of his guilt after sharing details of the pristine island which led to its eventual ruin and notoriety as a trash-strewn party spot.
In 1979 – like Leonardo DiCaprio‘s character Richard in the 2000 hit movie The Beach – Costas Christ was a 20-something backpacker from the U.S., and, eager to get of the beaten track he persuaded a fisherman to take him to a secret spot only locals knew about. That spot was Koh Phangan.
Describing what he found when he hopped off the ramshackle vessel, he told DailyMail.com: ‘Tourism had not yet made its way to Koh Phangan. The fisherman warned me he would not return for several weeks and I would be left on my own. To my younger self, Koh Phangan was pristine.
‘After hours of walking along the shoreline and some bushwhacking, past scattered Thai fishing huts, I eventually came upon upon Hat Rin beach and I thought I had found paradise. I stayed with a Thai couple Somboon and Chom in their makeshift hut. I was the first western tourist they had ever seen.’
In 1979 Costas Christ persuaded a fisherman to take him to a secret island in Thailand. Pictured, the explorer on the shores of Hat Rin beach with no tourists in sight
More and more people caught word of Costas’ ‘secret’ paradisiacal spot and the fishing huts were gradually converted into beachfront bars with Full Moon parties luring tourists
Costas was unaware of the spark he had lit, until in 1993 when he opened a copy of the New York Times Magazine and was left ‘stunned’
However, in a new documentary called The Last Tourist which focuses on the issues with mass tourism, Costas reveals how he shared the location of Hat Rin beach with a girl he met by drawing a map and that was a mistake he later lived to regret.
Costas had met the girl briefly in Bangkok, and, after she broke up with her boyfriend, they reunited on the island of Koh Samui. They went on to visit Koh Phangan together, and they even stay with staying with Somboon and Chom.
But after their relationship ended back on Koh Samui, Costas never saw the girl or his map again.
From there, it turns out more and more people caught word of Costas’ ‘secret’ paradisiacal spot and the fishing huts were gradually converted into beachfront bars, while the sandy, weed-strewn paths developed into paved roads.
In 1981, the adventurer returned to Koh Phangan and he saw things were starting to change. Somboon and Chom had been evicted from their home and their was more boat traffic.
However, the worst was yet to come, with a group of travelers birthing the first Full Moon Party in the late 1980s.
While the celebratory event started out as a small affair, it gradually turned into a regular extravaganza luring hundreds of thousands of travelers to the shores of Hat Rin from around the world.
Costas was unaware of the spark he had lit, until in 1993 when he opened a copy of the New York Times Magazine and was left ‘stunned.’
The explorer, who is now based in New England, recalled: ‘I saw a photograph of the beach with thousands and thousands of people celebrating something called the Full Moon Party.
‘It was out of control. Masses of trash, out of control development… it ripped me apart from inside.
The explorer, who is now based in the UK, recalled: ‘I saw a photograph of the beach with thousands and thousands of people celebrating something called the Full Moon Party’
Costas was also spooked later down the line when he watched the 2000 hit movie The Beach, starring Leonardo DiCaprio, and saw striking parallels
The trail of breadcrumbs that Costas left to Hat Rin beach inspired him to become a global advocate for responsible travel
A group of travelers birthed the first Full Moon Party in the late 1980s
‘To think that from the time I had arrived there in 1979, within a period of 14 years, this place was being utterly and totally destroyed.’
Costas was also spooked later down the line when he watched the 2000 hit movie The Beach and saw striking parallels.
He told DailyMail.com: ‘When I saw the film, I was caught by how the substance of it paralleled my own story as a young traveler in Thailand.
‘This was right down to Leonardo DiCaprio’s character Richard being increasingly disillusioned with the overland backpacker trail and seeking to get away from it all.
‘Then he went on to meet a young European couple, eventually sharing with them his map to locate The Beach.’
The Leonardo DiCaprio movie triggered further environmental damage in Thailand and Maya Bay on Phi Phi Leh island was closed for three-and-a-half years after millions of tourists flocked to see the far flung film set.
At one point, it was receiving an average of 200 boats and 4,000 visitors each day.
The trail of breadcrumbs that Costas left to Hat Rin beach inspired him to become a global advocate for responsible travel and he helped to establish the UN Global Sustainable Tourism Criteria.
He explains to viewers in the Last Tourism documentary: ‘We’ve got to get tourism right because if we don’t we’re going to see Koh Phangan reproduced around the world.’
Another shot of Koh Phangan when Costas ventured there as the first western tourist
Costas – pictured on another trip as a young explorer – has never been back to Koh Phangan as he is still wracked with a sense of guilt that he was responsible for its destruction
The film reveals that Thailand now receives 39.8 million tourists each year.
Asked what are the main problems are with tourism, Costas told DailyMail.com that ‘the goal is not to stop travel, but rather to get it right.’
He added: ‘I believe that tourism can also be an important way to understand the world and experience natural and cultural wonders, inspiring more people to care about protecting the planet for future generations.
‘But for that to happen, the travel and tourism industry – and that is exactly what it is, a massive global industry – must change its development and operating model.
‘The majority of tourism businesses at the corporate level have operated according to privatizing their profits and socializing their environmental damage – meaning, let others clean up the mess.’
Costas has never been back to Koh Phangan since his last trip in 1981, as he is still wracked with guilt that he was the one responsible for its transition from paradise to ‘party central.’
He concludes: ‘This is not a a case of traveler’s lament, as in “gee, this place has changed from when I was here.” Of course places change. That is to be understood and expected.
‘But there is a difference between change and destruction. Sadly, overall around the world tourism has been more negative than positive for local people and the planet.
‘What gives me hope is that there is now a clear way and better understanding about how to make tourism a positive force that can help conserve nature, alleviate poverty and protect cultural heritage.
‘Now we just need the entire global travel and tourism industry to get on board, for the good of the planet. But travelers also need to take responsibility for generations to come.’
The Last Tourist is now available on Amazon and Apple TV, Sky, Vubiquity, Google, Microsoft and Rakuten. It is also currently playing on Delta Airlines and Emirates Airlines. For more information on the film, visit www.thelasttouristfilm.com