PANTAI CENANG, MALAYSIA - One of the country's most popular tourist destinations is now dotted with unsightly construction sites with the mushrooming of unlicensed chalets, pubs, eateries and makeshift stalls.
A check by The Star at the beach revealed that there are about 300 such premises along the 1.8km stretch, most of which are illegal.
It is believed that about 80% of the businesses do not have the necessary licences and permits.
Tourist lure: Pantai Cenang has attracted lots of foreign tourists. (Photos: The Star)
Enterprising locals have either leased out their premises or started operating their own businesses by building little wooden shacks and simple brick chalets along the coastline.
A regular visitor to Langkawi, Claire Finch, said that during the peak season, it was almost impossible to get 'decent and affordable' accommodation at Pantai Cenang.
"I was here in December last year and could not find a place to stay. A taxi driver took me to his friend's place, which was a row of dodgy, no-frills chalets.
"Tucked away among some wooden kampung houses near the beach, the place was filthy and was actually still under construction. There was a mattress in each of the two rooms and a kitchen. The owner wanted RM50 from my friend and me and we would have to share the place with another couple.
Filthy: The back of a row of dodgy chalets along Pantai Cenang.
"I declined saying that I would rather spend the night in a rented car," she said, adding that the beach was, however, very clean.
Restaurant manager A. Jacob said the number of drinking holes, eateries and chalets had increased by at least 40% since he first moved to Langkawi four years ago.
"Since the tsunami and with safety concerns plaguing Thai-land, backpackers are flocking to Pantai Cenang. Coupled with the introduction of budget airlines in the state, more domestic tourists are also coming to Langkawi.
"So obviously there is a greater demand for affordable accommodation and services," he said, adding that Pantai Cenang was the most popular beach in Langkawi.
"If we can make sure that these new outlets can maintain a high standard of cleanliness, I think we can even beat Phuket as a top tourist destination," he said.
Unsightly: Tourists avoiding the garbage strewn along a beach.
According to a local who wanted to be known as Kamal, it was only in the last two years that new homestay chalets and beach pubs started to mushroom.
"Suddenly, there is an influx of foreign workers from Indonesia, Thailand and Bangladesh. We are worried about our safety," he said, adding that the pubs sometimes opened until 3am causing the locals sleepless nights.
"My brother owns an eatery here. Of course, legal business operators like us tak syiok (not happy)," the 64-year-old lamented.