The 2004 tsunami left a discontinuous pattern of destruction in the reefs along Andaman Sea coast of Thailand. Here, a comparative assessment of coral recruitment was carried out to assess differences in recovery between damaged and undamaged sites in near-shore fringing reefs 1 and 3 years after the tsunami. Settlement plates showed high frequencies of coral spat after 4 months (<17 spat tile−1) in both, damaged and undamaged locations. Field surveys carried out 3 years after the tsunami on natural substrate confirmed that tsunami damage did not suppress recruitment in damaged sites relative to no impacted controls. New and stable settlement space along with unabated larval supply supported post-tsunami recruit densities up to 7.2 m−2 year−1. Mean recruit densities were found at the level of post-storm situations with rapid recovery success, suggesting that the duration of disturbance, degree of sorting and, hence, stability of coral rubble is a key determinant of recruitment success. Low regeneration success of some species e.g. branching acroporids and rebounding tourism industry at sites like Patong and partly around the Phi Phi Islands (dense carpets of filamentous algae) led to the assumption of selectivity and eventually to an alternation of the coral community even though live coral cover might be recovered soon.