The Beach: In Thai resort where a British woman was killed, the party goes on

The death of Katherine Horton has not stopped travellers flocking to Koh Samui. But who are they, and what are they hoping to find on the island? By Vaudine England
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The Independent Online

Death jolted a tranquil Thai island last week when Katherine Horton, a British holidaymaker, was beaten, probably raped, then left to die on Lamai beach, Koh Samui.

Her father, Ian, said it all: "Katherine came to Thailand to dance on a beach, to ride an elephant, to have a vacation before her finals at university. Tragically her faith in her fellow man let her down and she has been taken from us for ever."

Katherine had been on her mobile phone to her mother when she stepped away from the New Hut bungalows for some quiet on the beach. But it was dark there, and she never returned. The bungalows are huts built on a sandbank just in from Lamai beach. But the palm trees that add to the atmosphere in daytime hid a threat at night.

Thai police are questioning four Thai men seen on motorbikes at the time. Katherine's companion, Ruth Adams, has gone home. But life on the beach goes on, and so does the party, for this is not the survival challenge portrayed in the book and film The Beach, based on an island off the Thai coast.

For party-goers, Koh Samui is a starting point for trips to Koh Phangan, site of monthly all-night full-moon parties. And Lamai heaves with bars and clubs. Loudspeakers on a truck announce the next Thai boxing match. BBC World television is available, along with weekly foam parties, at the Bauhaus Bar. Though one young holidaymaker had been brutally killed, it did not look like a community ravaged by fear.

Does one murder make Thailand a dangerous place? No, say most travellers interviewed by The Independent on Sunday. Katherine's death has stirred deep sympathy for her family, and left women alert to danger. But it has not interrupted the quest for paradise.

The Swedes

Rebecca Soostedt, 24, a student, and her friend Madalene Allrin, 25, a retail worker, are on holiday in Koh Samui with two other Swedish women friends.

Rebecca: "We heard about the murder after we got here, so we're not leaving each other - we're staying in pairs. When the four of us girls travelling together heard about this, we decided to not go around alone. At night we go somewhere like Chaweng, where there are lots of people."

Madalene: "We stick together, because our parents would be very worried otherwise. It's scary! We didn't come here to drink. We are in Thailand for 28 days and it is very beautiful, with such very friendly people."

Rebecca: "We've only been on short trips before, and this is our first time to Thailand, our first real journey. Yes, it can be dangerous if you get drunk and think that you're at home. Trouble with pickups? No - only the cabs!"

The bar owner

Alison Bateman, 41, a former accountant from Lincolnshire, now runs her own bar and restaurant, the Drunken Sailor, in Koh Samui.

"My initial feeling on hearing about the murder was that it was just so sad, as she was so young. But I don't feel that it jeopardises my own safety. These things always have a bigger impact on a small island. But people here are not really talking about it; the people in Britain seem to know more about it than we do.

"I started travelling two years ago, looking for a place to settle, and I chose Koh Samui because it's easy to set up here and it's easy to get on with the locals. It makes good business sense.

"This is a friendly, nice place to come to. The food is good and lots of Thais and Westerners come here.

"But I've got to dash to the bank now, before it closes!"

The retired couple

Tina and John Welsh, 60 and 63, from Solihull, have retired from the family clothing business. Married for 38 years, they are making their seventh visit to Thailand.

John: "We heard about the murder but when we're back in England there are murders every day, aren't there? It doesn't mean it was a local person here who did it. The murderer could be another holidaymaker."

Tina: "It wouldn't put me off coming here again. It's terrible but it can happen anywhere. I never wander round on my own in the dark, but I wouldn't do that at home."

John: "We've never been robbed or bothered at all in Thailand in all these years. We use the buses, take third-class trains. We love it. The only problem we ever had was once on a train where there was this young Thai man who'd had a few too many drinks. But then this Thai lady sat down and told him to go away and he did."

The newlyweds

Luksamee Noibandith, from Thailand, and David Jobson, a nurse from Scotland, have just got married in a traditional ceremony at the resort. They are also running a business there.

David: "I've been coming here for 12 years and I've never had a problem. I work in Abu Dhabi but we've got a business here too, which Luksamee runs, called Lucky's Lamai.

"We've got one kid each already. I've got a son and Luksamee has a daughter.

"A while back, a friend of mine who was staying here woke up to find someone in his room going through his stuff, looking for money. But it turned out to be a foreigner who was trying to rob him. And there were some tourists who got killed on a boat ride out here once.

"But normally this is a pretty safe place. Everyone always says, don't walk alone on the beach at night. That's all."

The father

Peter Sherman, from Zaandam in the Netherlands, is on holiday in the resort with his two daughters, aged 12 and 19. He has been to Koh Samui many times.

"Now, yes, I am worried about my daughters after hearing about the murder. I don't let them go out alone. Back in Holland, the older one goes out till six in the morning and I don't worry. You can have a problem in Holland, of course, but there we know everybody.

"Here, when she wants to go out dancing, I take the younger girl too and we sit on the side while the older one dances. It's better we stay together.

"I was surprised to hear about the murder but even before that, I never really trusted the people here, the foreigners or the Thais. The foreigners are drunk, and the Thais, well, I don't know. There's too much drinking.

"People come here and think it's beautiful, but it's not as beautiful as they think it is."

The clubber

Jane Clarke-O'Neill, 42, a psychologist from Merseyside, is on an extended holiday in Koh Samui, where she has many friends.

"I've been going out every night here for about six months and it's not a problem. I've never seen any trouble in the clubs. The local Thai girls and guys come up and dance with you and it's just fun.

"This murder is a real shame, especially as Thailand's been trying to rebuild tourism after the tsunami. But the nightlife is great. The music stops at 2am but that doesn't mean the bars do. You can go on till 6am and then some places open up for breakfast.

"Why is it more fun here than at home? Because of the people. So many people are smiling. You can even have a laugh with the touts on the beach. I think the murder is just a one-off. I'm more frightened of the rats and the cockroaches than I am of the men."