Thursday, January 31, 2008

Eating out: Me'n'u Restaurant on Koh Phangan

In late 2006 on a quiet stretch of the island known as Hin Kong on the road to Haad Yao, Me'n'u Restaurant opened for business and since then Me'n'u has firmly established itself as Koh Phangan's premier restaurant certainly worthy of a detour.

Me'n'u is in a beautiful setting in a contemporary European designed building that is nestled in a coconut grove set away from the main road, and this has to be one Phangan islands most attractive locations for a restaurant.The dining room itself has two predominant areas, the larger section inside with floor to ceiling sliding doors and tasteful oil paintings by noted local artists Nat & Suttee and the wooden terrace which holds the view over the amazing gardens. The tables themselves which were crafted from a 120 year old mango tree that originally stood on the land are simply laid using white linen napkins, Twin Fish cutlery and fresh flowers, while comfortable wooden chairs have cream upholstery.

Chef Nick Hall's A la carte menu is well planned with six dishes in each category and the style is Modern European, drawing on influences from all over Europe with a particular bias toward the UK (Nick's homeland) and France (his formative training). Each dish is immaculately presented and perfectly executed to a high standard.

First to arrive was the selection of freshly breads that included the classic French pain de mie rolls, rosemary and black pepper grissini and soft pitta batons all baked on the premises and all perfectly seasoned, to accompany the breads was an excellent black Kalamata olive tapenade and a hummous brimming with garlic and lemon that were served in a generous portion.

The menu began with an amuse Bouche of a chilled gazpacho and a breaded crab and potato croquette on a mini rocket salad. The gazpacho was served in a shot glass and was packed full of flavour and was simply divine. The crab's slightly sweet flavour coupled with coriander and chilli was balanced by the peppery rocket salad upon which it sat.

Next to arrive was the first course proper, for me the caramalised pork belly with crispy duck spring rolls accompanied by a spring onion, black sesame and soy dressing. The soft pork belly had just the right amount of fat beneath a glistening layer of crunchy skin and the duck which was confit leg meat, was presented in wafer thin Chinese style pancakes along with crisp shredded vegetables. My guest had a superbly paired pan fried sea bass fillet with basil mash and smoked pancetta. A perfectly cooked piece of fresh fish with a delicate orange finish sitting aloft a mound of creamy basil mash and shards of crisp bacon was the best he'd ever tasted.

Our main course dishes included very good and ever so tender Australian sirloin, which turned out to be a 120 day aged Angus, served with roasted vegetables, a potato and thyme rosti and fricassee of wild mushrooms and an amazing red wine sauce. The local King fish fillet was very light and came with saffron potatoes, a puree of root vegetables and a lemon velouté, an extremely delicate dish that was well executed.

Desserts began with a power packing mango lassie a piece, and followed by the hot dark chocolate fondant with wild raspberry ice cream, a clear caramel sauce and tuille biscuits. The fondant itself had a rich liquid centre enveloped by a light cake; the homemade ice cream was again full of flavour and resonant of very fresh fruit. The lemongrass pannacotta with candied pineapple crisps and a toasted coconut parfait along side a kaffir lime syrup had all the hallmarks of a very tropical treat and was a very delicious ending to a fantastic meal.

The wine list is short and realistically priced with a decent wine selection by the glass. Service was extremely professional and friendly and the atmosphere was nice and relaxed.

Me'n'u is a restaurant clearly on top of its game, and every detail has been thought about carefully and it has been a great addition to the Gulf of Thailand dining scene.

Links of Interest:

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Destination Air between Phuket and Phi Phi making too much money

... at least this is what I am reading between the lines in the following article from the Phuket Gazette; it is rather laughable that other "hotels, restaurants and local people" would complain otherwise, as the planes land quite far offshore and not very often at that. Ah, which hands to grease, there are so many who want to have their finger in the pie here -- but I guess the upstanding gentleman who filed the complaint "on behalf" of those other concerned parties is surely not on the list of suspects...!



"What cannot be cured must be endured."

From the Phuket Gazette:

"Destination Air seaplanes landing and taking off near the Amari Coral Beach Resort have left government officers in a spin about what to do with complaints about noise, safety and even fuel left floating in the planes’ wakes.
At a meeting at Phuket Provincial Hall yesterday, Kathu District Chief Khantee Silapa said, “For nearly three months I have received complaints from hotels, restaurants, local people and tourists on Patong Beach about seaplanes landing on Patong Bay near the Amari Coral Beach Resort. “I filed the complaints with the Governor’s Office for consideration, which led to our initial meeting to discuss the matter on December 21.”
However, Phuket Vice-Governor Smith Palawatvichai said, “Seaplanes of Destination Air Co Ltd have permission from the Department of Civil Aviation [DCA] and Phuket International Airport [PIA] to land at predetermined points from November 11, 2007 to January 17, 2008, under nine conditions.” The permit has been continued, he added." ...
"Sumalee Sumpao, from PIA, presented the CAA’s permission for Destination Air’s Cessna 208 and 206 amphibian aircraft to fly between Phuket International Airport and 31 landing points in Phuket, Phang Nga, Trang, Krabi and Ranong.
In Phuket, Destination Air has permission to land at Koh Racha Yai, Koh Racha Noi, Yacht Haven, Chalong Bay, Patong Beach, Cape Panwa, Koh Naka Noi and the north and south ends of Bang Tao Bay.
However, the permit does not specify the exact locations of the 31 take-off and landing points.
“This case is new for Phuket. We cannot just ignore complaints, nor can we ban the seaplanes from flying because they have permission,” V/Gov Smith said.
"" ...
"
Pat James, Managing Director of Destination Air Co Ltd, explained that before landing the pilot is required to survey the landing spot and report to air traffic control whether he is clear to land.
Also, the pilot, with permission from the nearest air traffic control, has the authority to deviate from the scheduled flight path, he added.
However, Mr James said he would instruct his pilots to land further away from the shore and any hazards such as boats, but they will still land in Patong Bay.
It was agreed that the officers at the meeting would on Saturday be taken aboard a Destination Air seaplane and be shown in person exactly where the aircraft land – at no charge.
"

Links of Interest:



Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Thailand and International Drug Patents

Will the Thai government go ahead and break international patents to import medicines used in the fight against AIDs and cancer? A final decision hasn't yet been made by the latest government, but it's going to be a major firestorm if they proceed with their plans to save some money, and badly piss off the world's pharmaceutical companies, who will then bring enormous pressure on the US and European nations to downgrade the trading status of Thailand.

It's one thing to rip off tourists when they visit your national parks and museums with specially inflated "tourist" prices, but something else when you do it on an international scale.

From the Belleville News Democrat:

"When it comes to public health, Thailand's former government leaders would like the world to think that they're a collection of 21st-century Robin Hoods. Last year, the unelected military-backed government gave Thailand's state-run pharmaceutical firm, the Government Pharmaceutical Organization (GPO), permission to manufacture generic versions of drugs that fight heart disease and AIDS, even though the medicines were still patented by Western firms.
Robbing the rich to give to the poor, right?
Not really. Sick Thai citizens have yet to see any benefits and the move has set a dangerous precedent that will stifle medical innovation and endanger the health of millions.
Thai officials broke the patents by using "compulsory licenses," a legal maneuver afforded to poor countries by the World Trade Organization (WTO) in the event of a public health crisis. If a local government can't afford a pertinent patented drug, it can issue a compulsory license to produce it before the patent has expired.
But these provisions were never intended to be used by countries that could afford the medicines but are simply choosing to pay less in order to make other purchases - like tanks for example.
Last year, for instance, Bangkok spent $9 million on pay raises for military leaders. Since 2006, the nation has increased its defense budget by over 30 percent.
The reality is that the former military government officials used compulsory licenses to pursue their own economic development. Their scheme is just protectionism by a different name - and world governments and trade bodies should see it for what it is.
Giving the GPO permission to manufacture patented drugs is part of the Thai government's plan to establish itself as a globally competitive producer of generics. Of course, there is nothing wrong with the government wanting to encourage its own industry - but not when that's done at the expense of patients and other countries who abide by both the letter and the spirit of the law.
So far, the gambit has proven quite lucrative. In 2005, Thailand's GPO reaped $35 million in profits by copying medicines. Only 2 percent of that went toward research and development."
Links of Interest:

Sunday, January 27, 2008

Phi Phi situation 2008 after Tsunami rebuidling

This trip report from January 2008 looks in detail into the rebuilding done after the tsunami and the undramatic response of the local Phi Phi inhabitants to this (already forgotten) tragic event. As such a local myself, I can see that the author missed the point quite a number of times, still a good read if you want to come to Phi Phi and worry about the look of the island after the tsunami.

Within a few hours of reaching Koh Phi Phi Don island, off Thailand's west coast, I was lying prone in a massage pavilion beside a turquoise sea. The skilled hands of a Thai masseuse in a long, fitted silk skirt kneaded an elixir of warm coconut oil into my back. When I deigned to open my eyes, I could see a white-sand beach fringed with lush umbrella trees and tall palms.

Work? Troubles? Banish the thoughts! Only one notion lazed across my mind, a wisp of bewilderment: Hadn't a tsunami devastated this lotus-land only three years ago?

Yes. I'd watched it on the news: The day after Christmas in 2004, waves up to 30 feet tall had hammered mainland resorts and the islands. In Khao Lak, the waves roared almost 2 miles inland, and more than 4,000 people died. Phuket's west coast resorts, including the party capital of Patong, were seriously damaged.

Little Phi Phi, though, had the most dramatic story: The waves swept all the way across this low-lying isle. Two thousand people, a quarter of everyone on the island, died. Resorts and trees were smashed into toothpicks.

So how, then, I wondered, as I gazed at the mature trees and my nearby beachfront bungalow, had this place recovered so well?

Guidebooks often call Phi Phi Thailand's most beautiful island (or "koh" in Thai), and I had to agree. Was the entire place as flawless as this particular beach, Hat Yao? And were all the hotels as functional and friendly as the place I was staying on this beach, the charming, aptly named Paradise Resort?

Most strangely, all the Thais I'd seen so far, from ferry operators to this masseuse smiling over me now, seemed so serene, even happy. Maybe great chicken satay and a bath-temperature ocean work like Prozac, but still: How had the locals managed to move past their tragedy to welcome tourists with such grace?

Tentatively I asked my masseuse if she'd been on the island during the tsunami.

"Yes," she said and smiled afresh, her gaze warm but not betraying anything - though no doubt she'd lost family and friends.

"Well ... what happened to this beach?"

"No tsunami here." She explained that the waves had crossed Phi Phi only at the center, where the harbor, Ton Sai village, most of the resorts and the locals' homes lay - a 10-minute putt-putt on a longboat from Hat Yao. Other beaches had been spared.

This was good news. I'd thought the entire coastline had been flattened.

The next morning I hailed a longboat, the only motorized transport on roadless Phi Phi, for the 80-baht ($2.50) taxi ride to Ton Sai to check out the situation there.

The geography of Phi Phi is remarkable: two high, vegetation-covered limestone masses connected by a short, low isthmus - really just a sandbar. From the air the island looks like an emerald butterfly floating in a turquoise sea. At the nexus of the wings lies the village.

At the shore I took off my sandals and hopped out into foot-deep water and gritty sand. A few strides up the beach, and I was on the main lane of Ton Sai town.

I'd known this village well, right before the tsunami. In the closest I've come to dying in a disaster, I stayed in one of the adjacent resorts here just three weeks before the waves hit. (See Departures, D4).

But now I had to wonder: Had a tsunami really hit? Ton Sai was a carbon copy of its former self, a cluster of food stands, restaurants, bars, open-air tourist agencies and shops. I recognized the exact same shops selling the exact same stuff: sarongs, jewelry, T-shirts with sassy sayings. One proclaimed, "Same Same" on one side, "But Different" on the other.

Not much was different, though. Le Grand Bleu restaurant, the fanciest in Ton Sai, was even more upscale, but still inexpensive: The dinner special of fish filet with curry coconut and basil leaves was only $6.25. And there was a new, 500-square-foot bookstore. I bought two publications on the tsunami, the large-format, glossy "Back to Koh Phi Phi" and a magazine, "26.12.04: Wrath of the Tsunami," of local newspaper photos.

Over passionfruit gelato, I read that the tsunami on Phi Phi had consisted of two main waves. The first, 15 feet high, had slammed the isthmus from the north, tearing out the resorts and shops in its path and ending up in the opposite bay. Then a new wave roared from that other bay - from the south - smashing the pier and the rest of the village.

Everything was churned. The photographs showed the isthmus as a two-story-high pile of debris tangled with corpses. For 180 days, the island had been uninhabitable. Even the parts that hadn't been directly touched lacked fresh water and other services.
Desperate for dollars

When Phi Phi reopened for tourists, it was desperate for dollars. But for the first year no one came except backpackers who helped with additional clean-up and rebuilding. Divers journeyed here from around the world to hand-dredge the bays. Most of the town - walls, woks, the wallets of the dead - had ended up strewn for miles in the sea.

I finished my gelato and headed toward one of the tourist agencies. The island seemed fully back in business. Whiteboards listed hotels and advertised snorkeling trips, kayaking, scuba diving, rock climbing and boat tours of nearby Phi Phi Leh island, including uninhabited Maya Bay, where "The Beach" was filmed in 1999, making Phi Phi famous.

A female employee wore the island office uniform of T-shirt and shorts.

I asked, "How are you doing now in terms of tourism, compared to before the tsunami? Are all parts of the island ready?"

"All is good but Phi Phi full tonight! No more rooms. Tomorrow OK."

Okay, tourists were back. Good. I tried my more delicate question. "How have the people here, the locals who were here during the tsunami, recovered?"

She was brisk: "How many nights you want stay Phi Phi?"

In other words, "Why should I dwell on my past when I can sell a room to help my future?" That attitude was an answer.

I headed up the formerly ravaged Loh Dalum beach, on the other side of the isthmus from the dock. Pristine white sand was lined with rebuilt bungalows, beach bars, fruit stands, sun umbrellas and hordes of tourists.

The only reminder of the tragedy were "Tsunami Hazard Zone" signs (with the insightful advice, "In case of earthquake, go to high ground") and a few acres that hadn't been rebuilt - yet.

Nearby, workers were slapping up concrete for a resort with a Vegas-style fountain facing the beach: a wall of cascading water. So there, tsunami.

I asked a group of Thai men hanging out in a bar if they'd been here then.

"Yeah," a shirtless one answered. From his shorts pocket he pulled a couple of mini postcards that showed Phi Phi before and after the tsunami. Then he asked if I was single.

I guess he didn't want to talk about the trauma, either.
Reef madness

Next I tried one of the dozens of scuba shops. Maybe I could find a diver who'd helped dredge the bays and also could tell me about the damage to the reefs.

Marcus Bérubé, the Canadian manager of Princess Divers, had been in one of Phi Phi's safest spots during the tsunami - in the water, but far offshore, diving with clients. He'd felt the current but didn't realize what had happened until he was back on the boat, looked toward the island and could see straight over the isthmus. No more buildings to block the view.

"It was surreal," was all he would say about the arrival on shore. "You get to your bungalow and you think, well, I guess it would have been about here, but you have no reference."

After a short trip home to get a new passport, he'd returned to Phi Phi to help clean up the bays, which, he said, now were back to normal. He waxed philosophical about how the reefs had survived.

"Humans can't stand up to it, but Mother Nature builds herself to withstand her own fury. Real fragile coral that humans break easily? A tsunami comes through and the coral's still there."

Coral might remain, but as I popped my head into various accommodation options, I saw that the cheap backpacker beachfront digs were gone. They never were plentiful here, but Phi Phi now totally lacks the $5-a-night huts where guests can swat mosquitos all evening.

Maybe that makes this island expensive in Thailand terms, but I call it a lotus land for the middle class. You can get a decent, air-conditioned room near Ton Sai starting at $65 a night. Granted, at that rate the furniture is lacquered and the bathroom isn't spa-style. But you're kept comfortable in a tropical wonderland.
Heading upmarket

I did hear complaints that Meuh-la-Pauh ("Mom-and-Pop" in Thai) establishments were being squeezed out. One impassioned former small resort owner asked to remain anonymous, though she couldn't stop pouring out her tale. She'd been kicked off the bungalow property that she and her staff had operated for decades and rebuilt with love. Tragedy always brings out sharks, and now that business was strong again, their long lease had been challenged.

"It's like a second tsunami for us," she lamented.

There were other signs that Phi Phi is at risk of homogenization. The island is still funky - palm-roof architecture and hand-painted signs for mango sticky rice - but some rebuilding is mass-market style. I spotted an eye-level billboard for "Charlie's Plaza," a planned hotel for Loh Dalum beach, near the village. In the rendering, the Plaza resembled a three-story, 1990s Silicon Valley mixed- use office building.

As I explored the island over the next few days, I found farther-flung resorts. On the upper right (northeastern) butterfly wingtip of the island is the truly paradisiacal Loh Bakao. The tsunami didn't touch this spot, occupied solely by the island's most upscale lodging, Phi Phi Island Resort. A half-hour boat ride from Ton Sai, this spot is for lovers of solitude, though water sports are available, plus a spa.

It's possible to make a day-trip of Loh Bakao. A longboat and driver ($50 for a half-day) can take you to your choice of beaches and outlying islands.
The outer islands

Most notable among the nearby islands is Phi Phi Leh, a dramatic limestone karst outcropping. It features Monkey Beach (with real monkeys ready to steal your belongings) and the famous Maya Bay. A bit farther out are Bamboo Island and Mosquito Island, where the shallow reefs and drop-offs make for spectacular snorkeling.

Even without snorkeling equipment, you can see languorous, yellow-and-white butterfly fish, angelfish and parrotfish of rainbow hues. Buy a raft and just look down.

A new option offered by tour agencies is a small-group camping trip in Maya Bay - a great way to avoid the daytime crowds, as long as you're comfortable in a tent.

On my last day, I took a late afternoon tour of Phi Phi Leh. The stunning red karst cliffs glowed in the sunset. I felt sad to be leaving, and even sadder for all the suffering this place had endured.

Suddenly I called to the boat driver. "Is there a memorial for the tsunami?"

"It's under the water in Ton Sai bay" - a small monument marked only by a pontoon.

How appropriate, I thought as we motored to shore. Phi Phi remembers its tragedy, but keeps it beneath a surface of shimmering beauty, ready to offer to us.
FINDING THE BEACH OF YOUR FANTASIES

Sometimes you light upon a place that's exactly like a dream you've had: a protected turquoise bay with a white-sand beach surrounded by craggy cliffs, lush palms and jungle. The only way to get there is by canoe. It's your secret cove.

It's called West Railay Beach, and it's on the west coast of Thailand. Your dream is right: You can get there only by a little boat (see "If you go"). You have to jump onto it from a ferry that runs from Krabi, the nearest town. When the bottom of the Thai canoe (called a longboat) hits the shore, you have to grab your bag - you don't need much luggage in this warm climate - and wade the rest of the way.

Once on land, you stay barefoot as you check into your villa. Yes, other people are here, but not many. (The backpackers and young rock climbers - this is the best climbing region in Thailand - are mostly on the other side of the peninsula, at East Railay Beach, fronted with mangroves instead of your white sand.)

Maybe you'll choose the Railay Bay Resort and Spa (www.krabi-railaybay.com), at only $130 a night (high season) for a large, elegant room and the pleasure of an infinity pool right on the beach.

From there you can walk a rocky path or, better, paddle a kayak for 15 sublime minutes around the promontory to reach yet another beach, Phra Nang, uninhabited except for a silent, well-guarded resort (the expensive Rayavadee) and a cavern. Fringed with stalactites, this "Princess Cave" is a shrine to the fertility goddess of the sea, and she is supplicated by phallus images that fisherman leave at her feet.

Tell me this place isn't a Freudian dream fantasy.

Wade in the emerald waters. Lie in the sun on sugar-sand and open your eyes to the psychedelic display of red-hued karst drippings of rock overhead. Wake up; it's real.

Links of Interest:

Saturday, January 26, 2008

Highlighting the Isaan people through his cartoons

Cartoonist Padung Kraisri has made a name for himself for his character Noo Hin. Padung uses his creations to portray the people in Thailand's forgotten backyard, 19 provinces with a collective name of Isaan.



The most famous maid in Thailand is Noo Hin, a 15-year-old girl who manages to perform her household chores while hunting down lizards to eat and rescuing her employer from an evil supermodel.

The naïve and cheeky maid en-thralls about a million Thais who follow her comical adventure toiling for her 19-year-old filthy-rich and busty employer, Khun Milk.

Noo Hin is a cartoon character created by Padung Kraisri, a 47-year-old cartoonist from Ubon Rat-chathani in Thailand. In 2006, the popular Thai comic strip, Noo Hin, was fleshed out into a blockbuster movie, Noo Hin: The Movie.

The cartoonist, like his creation, is from the northeast, which for many tourists, according to the travel guidebook Lonely Planet, is Thail-and’s forgotten backyard. The collective name for the 19 provinces that make up the northeast is Isaan.

For Padung, Noo Hin is the embodiment of Isaan. Her characteristics – honest, diligent and yet naïve in a positive way – reflect the Isaan people. And with her very square nose, and dark skin, she has the typical look of Isaan people, the cartoonist noted, adding: “But the Isaan people are cute in a certain way.”

Milk, her Bangkok-based employer, is beautiful and sexy, while Noo Hin is diminutive and plain.

“Most good-looking people come from Bangkok. But I did not have the intention to portray Isaan girls as not so good-looking.

“It is just the way I drew Noo Hin,” explained Padung.

Lonely Planet states that “this colossal corner of the country continues to live life on its own terms: slowly, steadily and with a profound respect for both heritage and history.”

Padung agrees, saying that despite Isaan’s unforgiving climate of persistent drought, its people have always remained in the region.

“And they have kept their way of life. That is why many people feel that the real Thailand is in Isaan,” he said.

The northeast also has its own distinctive celebrations such as the Bun Bung Fai (Rocket) Festival, were villagers construct large skyrockets of bamboo, which they then fire into the sky to bring rain for their rice fields.

Drought has made Isaan, where rice planting is the main economy, the poorest region in Thailand. The people's poverty is also compounded by a high birth rate. And their plight gets more difficult with each generation, as a family owns only one or two rai (1,600 sq m) of rice field to distribute among numerous children, explained Padung.

So, like Noo Hin, when the children get older they have to migrate to bigger towns, especially Bangkok, to earn money. And in general, Bangkokians have a negative perception of northeasterners such as most bargirls are from Isaan.

“Most Isaan people have very little education, so they get the dirty jobs (housemaid and construction work) that no one else wants to do. They’ve become the driving force that keeps things moving,” says Padung

There are positives coming from Isaan, he insisted. And these are reflected in a poster he designed for Coca Cola’s advertising campaign The Coke Side of Life which was launched in Thailand in January.

Padung was ecstatic when the beverage company approached him to illustrate the northeast region as it was an opportunity for him to show Isaan’s positive side.

His Coca Cola artwork, which is plastered in billboards all over the northeast, include the Rocket Festival, a little kid riding a buffalo in a rice field (this represents 80% of how the Isaan people live), people in ghost masks for the Phi Tha Khon Festival, khoon (cheerful yellow flower of Isaan) and Isaan musical instruments.

In the middle of the artwork is his most famous creation, Noo Hin, who he insists is not a maid but a house manager.

Links of Interest:


Friday, January 25, 2008

'Good Thai Girls' and 'Free Sex' in Thailand

I really do not always agree with Stickman's observations on Thai girls or on how to find a Thai girlfriend, but with a little bit of common sense it should be really easy for everybody to find love and happiness here.
However, even if you are not carousing with bar girls, but with the so-called 'good girls of Thailand', is there something like 'free sex' like in the West?

From a previous Stickman Bangkok Weekly:

"I believe that in Thai society there is a pay off in most interactions between people. One person does something for another person - and they then expect a favour in return. You buy lunch for someone today, and expect they will do the same or similar for you soon. An underling helps the big guy with his every request and if the underling gets in trouble, the big guy will be there to help him out.
The idea that there is a pay off of some sort in all interactions helps to explain some concepts in Thailand.
The Thais often refer to "free sex" - a woman having sex for a man without any payment, be it direct or indirect - as a Western concept and some Thais, especially older Thais, simply cannot get their head around the idea of a woman sleeping with a man without getting something in return. (It is this belief that is one of the contributing factors that allows prostitution to flourish in Thailand)." ...
"After a period of time in a relationship a Thai woman might ask her Western boyfriend for a gold chain, or perhaps some money to send home to her parents. She is of the belief that she had been providing sex - without charge - and now it is his time to "pay". (That he picks up the tab for everything is considered irrelevant and not part of the pay off.) When he becomes aghast at this outrageous request for money and refuses, she will likely feel that she has been cheated. She had been giving for so long, and when she asked for something in return, he declined. The relationship will almost certainly go tits up."

Links of Interest:


Thursday, January 24, 2008

Bird Flu hits Thailand again

The deadly H5N1 virus has killed 400 chickens in central Thailand, in the first outbreak of bird flu in 10 months, livestock officials said Thursday.

From AP:
"The outbreak was confirmed by laboratory tests after the poultry deaths were reported Monday by a farm in the Chumsaeng district of Nakhon Sawan province, about 210 kilometers (130 miles) north of the capital, Bangkok, said Somboon Srisupthep, head of the province's livestock department.
About 50,000 chickens being raised at the farm were expected to be slaughtered later in the day to contain the virus, Somboon said.
The outbreak is the first in Thailand since March 18, 2007, when about 50 ducks and chickens were found dead in northeastern Thailand.
Bird flu remains hard for people to catch, but health experts worry the virus could mutate into a form that passes easily among humans, sparking a pandemic. So far, most human cases have been linked to contact with infected birds. At least 219 people have died worldwide from the virus, according to the World Health Organization."

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Phuket Full Moon

Currently, the full moon is standing high in the sky, giving off an errie lighting for a late evening beach walk -- such as I just did, coming from a few rounds of playing pool in Soi Bangla.

Links of Interest:
However, other than on Koh Phangan, Patong Beach has never managed to organize an event around this natural spectacle, which is a shame, as currently the numbers of tourists on Phuket is higher than maybe ever before and it would be a truly unforgettable rave.

This month it is already too late to go to Koh Phangan for the Full moon Party there, but maybe you came for the nice beaches of Thailand anyway? Especially between the parties, Koh Phangan is a really nice place to have a relaxing week in which you do nothing but listening to the breeze rustling the palm trees behind you while you get a nice suntan.

Links of Interest:

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Thailand Coup Leaders Disband

By Reuters:
The military council which ousted Thai Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra in a 2006 putsch disbanded itself on Tuesday and promised there would be no more coups as a Thaksin-backed coalition prepared to take office.
The Council for National Security (CNS), widely derided for presiding over an inept government, also called on politicians to stay out of military affairs, suggesting it feared vengeful Thaksin supporters in office.
"Everybody in the CNS, especially the army commander-in-chief, insist there will be no more coups," CNS spokesman Sunsern Kaewkumnerd told reporters.

Phi Phi Tsunami Evacuation Routes Completed

From Channel 11:
Three years after the Tsunami incident, evacuation routes directing people to higher ground in case of a Tsunami on Phi Phi Island are now completed. According to the provincial Town and Country Planning chief Sati Polyium, the routes are branches from different directions and lead to a safe site or evacuation shelter. The routes, built with 17 million baht, are well paved for residents and tourists safety with clear signs posted. Krabi Governor Siwa Sirisaowaluck is scheduled to attend the handover ceremony from a contractor this Friday. For this fiscal year of 2008, the Krabi provincial office is also allocated around 15 million baht to build an evacuation shelter on Phi Phi Island.
Links of Interest:

Monday, January 21, 2008

Chalong Traffic Circle to be removed

An icon and landmark for everybody living on Phuket is about to be removed, at least this is what the Phuket Gazette has heard.
"Motorists in the southern end of the island may soon be missing their favorite landmark as the provincial highways office is considering removing Chalong Circle and installing traffic lights at the five-way junction.
Saroj Suwinchai, director of the provincial office of the Highways Department, told the Gazette that the idea behind the proposal is to relieve traffic congestion at the junction.
“Our plan is to remove the roundabout and install traffic lights on the four main roads at the junction that lead to Kata-Karon [Patak Rd], to the bypass road [Chao Fa East Rd], to Phuket City [Chao Fa West Rd] and to Rawai [Wiset Rd].
“Vehicles entering the junction from Chalong Pier will be forced to turn left onto Wiset Rd. They must do a U-turn and come back and wait at the lights to enter the junction again,” he said."

Sunday, January 20, 2008

Phi Phi nude girl

Check it out: Phi Phi naked girl does some suntanning after her snorkeling. In the background the cliffs of Phi Phi Island.
It goes a lot against Thai customs (and is technically actually illegal in Thailand), hence I have not much problems posting it here.

Now I would wish the local Thai girls would show as little inhibition to display themselves nude on the beach -- that would be my birthday and Christmas rolled into one!

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Saturday, January 19, 2008

Tourism arrivals increased against last year

Tourist arrivals increased three percent in the first nine months of the year, compared to the same period of last year, according to Pornsiri Manoharn, head of the Tourism Authority of Thailand.
And of course, we all believe every single word of the Thai Tourism Organization, as if it would be the holy gospel itself...
"This year is another record year in tourism for Thailand, with 14.8 million foreign holidaymakers who spent 547.5 billion baht (1.6 billion dollars) here.
Arrivals in October rose by 15 percent due to a drop-off in tourism last year which were affected by the September 2006 military coup.
Japanese were the biggest group of arrivals, with one million visitors to Thailand, followed by South Korea at 760,000 and China at 705,000.
Thais are also urged to explore more of their own country. Thailand is planning to attract new visitors from Eastern Europe and the Middle East.
15.7 million tourists are expected next year so as to yield about 600 billion baht for the country.
Thailand has been successful in growing its tourism industry despite a series of setbacks like the 2004 tsunami, a military coup, and southern unrest."

Patong Beach without Thai food

The Thai government is in the process of forbidding hot food to be sold on Patong Beach, according to the Phuket Gazette that is.
Sadly, the Thai government has completely lost the plot, when it comes to advertising their country to tourists; to this day, it seems an impossible hurdle to understand, why we foreigners actually want to sit on the beach in the full sun all day long. Definitely not to have the hassle to walk around in search for some basic food, if somebody could just hand it to you right where you sit...

From the Phuket Gazette:
Patong Municipality has warned Patong beach vendors against cooking and selling food on the beach, saying violators will be arrested. “If we find any vendors selling food on the beach we will arrest them. Only drinks can be sold on the beach and all vendors doing so must pay a tax and trash-collection fee to the municipality,” said Chairat Sukkaban, Deputy Mayor of Patong Municipality.
Compare it to this idea a vendor had on Serendipity Beach in Cambodia... wow! Me, I would like to have one of those juicy prawns right now!However, the rest of the article following this shot (My Tiny World) is not really correct, maybe the author has never left the beach? Else he would know that Cambodian girls are as easy to get in Sihanoukville as Thai girls are available in the beach resorts of Thailand.
THE "largest and wildest" full-moon party, promised the yellow flier taped to a phone booth on Khaosan Road in Bangkok. Another installment of Thailand's girls-gone-wild bacchanal on the island of Ko Phangan? Or its bigger brother, Ko Samui? Or maybe it was the newcomer Koh Phi Phi, a remote island that is luring younger partygoers in the post-tsunami boom. And, yes, every month there's a full-moon party, reminiscent of Ko Phangan's infamous drug-addled raves.
Yet, it's a far cry from, say, Phuket, where the sex trade rules the streets. Sihanoukville's white, sandy beaches may run riot with local girls, but they are selling only handmade bracelets and fresh fruit. Likewise, guesthouses here cater to backpackers, and they are significantly cheaper than those in Thailand.
Links of Interest:

Cloverfield in the Phuket Cinema

Not really that much related to Thailand, but I just saw Cloverfield in the SFX Cinema at Central Phuket Festival. Wow!
The story is obvious, but the movie will be enjoyed better if you are actually take it as a surprise; be prepared that nothing much happens at all in the first 20 minutes of the movie, but the next hour plus is absolutely mad camera work. I do not know if I would have been able to stand this action much longer, afterwards I was totally spooked (especially as I have been once in New York 'on location', so I could relate to the action immediately).

From CNN:

""Cloverfield" is the first adrenaline-pumping monster hit of the year, bringing in more than $40 million dollars on its opening weekend. The thriller is told from the point of view of five young New Yorkers using their handheld camera. But for some viewers, being "part" of the movie is making them sick -- literally.
One blogger on the popular movie database IMDB.com said, "I had to get up and leave the theater for nearly 20 minutes just to keep from hurling." Other moviegoers have reported being nauseated and dizzy.
Most viewers are unaffected by the film, but for those who are, experts say the problem is in their heads.
"This is a classic case of vertigo," said Dr. Michael G. Stewart, chairman of otorhinolaryngology (ear, nose and throat medicine) at NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital/Weil Cornell Medical Center. "You can look around and feel like things are moving, when they aren't."
Vertigo is caused when a person's balance system gets confused. Your body feels a strong visual sensation of movement but in reality, you aren't moving at all. The disconnect confuses your brain sensors and can cause dizziness and nausea, Stewart said." ...
"So why does the film style affect some viewers and not others?
"People have different levels of susceptibility, similar to how some people cannot ride on a small boat without getting sick," Stewart said. "It's just a natural variation."
The good news is, experiencing vertigo is rare for most people. So if you are itching to see "Cloverfield" but are worried you might get sick, experts recommend taking a dose of over-the-counter anti-vertigo medicine, sold under such brand names as Bonine and Dramamine II. "It might not protect you from all the symptoms, but it could, and it certainly can't hurt," Stewart said.
Another tip is to briefly close your eyes during the movie. It may be enough to recalibrate your sensors and soothe your symptoms long enough to finish the movie."

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Friday, January 18, 2008

Chinese New Year Tourists

The Phuket Gazette says:
Despite many public events being canceled in respect of the passing away of HRH Princess Galyani Vadhana on January 2, the Tourism Authority of Thailand expects a 20% increase in the number of mainland Chinese celebrating the upcoming Chinese New Year in Phuket over last year.
The lunar-based Chinese New Year celebrations, this year marking the arrival of the Year of the Rat, is traditionally held over three days. This year if falls February 7 to 10.
Well, hotels will be all booked out over those days, or at least they will tell travel agents that until the last minute.

But when will we see that instead of always higher record numbers, Phuket tries to actually invite the 'quality tourists' the TAT's mouth propaganda wants to attract? One of those Thai riddles I am unable to grasp even after ten years of living here!

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Thursday, January 17, 2008

Zeavola Phi Phi Resort

Maybe one of the best deals on Phi Phi Island, regarding the more upmarket resorts, is the Zeavola Resort. It's 'Stay 4 nights, pay only 3 nights = 1 night FREE' Special is currently unbeaten in the region, where normally hotel rooms are very scarce at this time.
I had the great opportunity to stay there once myself, together with my girlfriend, and it was not only one of the most romantic stays in my life, it was an unforgettable experience for her as well. Mission accomplished (not by chance a lot of honeymoon couples choose the Zeavola Phi Phi for a week of luxury, or so I was told by hotel staff)!

From their website -- I could not describe the Zeavola Resort better than that myself:

"The all-suite Zeavola envelopes you in a fusion of luxurious comfort and the primeval beauty of its setting. The roomy suites are beautifully furnished and scented with the 'charms of rural Thai'. The spa will relieve you of all stress and strain reuniting body and mind as only the Thais know how!
There is a PADI-certified diving/sport centre so that you can explore the reef and all its myriad colors. Dining, too, is a delight!"

An 18 meter pool is rounding up the rooms furnished to greatest standards; a world-class spa will make you wish the day had more than 24 hours (set out by the famed Horwath Spa Consultancy firm, the same company who created the famous Chiva-Som Spa in Hua Hin).
Such a thing is truly unparalleled on the Phi Phi Islands, and even the Holiday Inn Phi Phi can only dream offering such services -- and their rooms are not even competitive in price...

Great rooms:
View from the beach at sunset:
Zeavola Spa:Links of Interest:

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Ajahn Chah Memorial Day

Today is Ajahn Chah Memorial Day, which is a time when the life and teachings of this great forest monk are commemorated with much chanting, bowing and Dhamma talks from senior bhikkhus. Fifteen years ago today Luang Poo (‘Venerable Grandfather’) Chah passed away after a ten year illness. Prior to this period of his life, the forest ajahn had spent many decades devoted to sharing the Buddha Dhamma with whoever came his way.



Over a period of several days the forest around Ajahn Chah’s monastery Wat Nong Pah Pong is populated with thousands of people living in tents and spending their time meditating, chanting, and sharing the Dhamma. There is also lots of freely donated and distributed food, and people from miles around come to get a free meal (or two or three).

It’s a reflection of how deeply-loved and respected Luang Poo Chah still is that so many people come to his temple every year to pay their respects to his memory. Scattered around the grounds of Wat Nong Pah Pong are signs that contain teachings of the ajahn. A typical example is the following message, pinned to a tree, and expertly translated by my personal assistant at Forest Wisdom (my wife!). The words on the sign say:

"Some people come to the temple on every holy day and listen, close their eyes and meditate. Then when they’ve gone back home, they can’t be bothered to keep it up. They argue with their family and other people. They think that the time to meditate has passed."

As we read the words above, we couldn’t help looking around at the people in the monastery grounds – would they “keep it up” when they returned back to their homes? And what about my wife and I: are we keeping our mindfulness in our every day lives? And what of you, dear reader, right now? Are you mindful of these words and your mind’s reaction to them?

Links of Interest:



Tuesday, January 15, 2008

FREE hotel stays in Thailand

Everyone likes the word FREE!

I recently received an interesting newsletter from a company called hotelATM.com with a preview of their 10 year anniversary promotion giving away free nights at all hotels worldwide when you book a certain number of nights through one of their websites.
The promotion has already started, but only their previous customers and newsletter subscribers have been notified that it’s available.

I initially found them when I stayed on Phi Phi island at my first stay in Thailand a few years ago, so I can vouch for their service.
Since I’m already thinking about my next break from work I’ve already had a look at a few places to see if their offer was true and it is.
As normal I search around a few different sites, for information and prices and on first look there wasn’t much difference price wise but it’s only when I viewed my instant quotation that you get your free night discount (and no they don’t make you sign up for anything).

If you’re looking at prices for your next holiday, wherever you plan on going, check them out. A few seconds of your time could save you the price of a night in your hotel.

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Monday, January 14, 2008

Phuket Ladyboys

When I first told my friends that I was planning an extended stay in Thailand, it is amazing how many times I heard the same stupid reply - "watch out for them ladyboys!"
Again and again, I heard this inane comment until it really started to grate. Everybody making the same stupid joke as if it was clever and original. What a ridiculous stereotype of Thailand, I thought -- as if there are ladyboys everywhere you go...

The funny thing is, once I moved to Thailand, I soon discovered that ladyboys, or katoeys as they are known in Thailand, really are everywhere. It is not just a handful of them working the tourist resorts. You will see them working in shops and restaurants. Even if you go out into the country, you will find katoeys.

What is a Katoey?

What exactly is a katoey? Thais use the term much more loosely than just for somebody who has already had a gender-altering surgery. They use the term for any man who acts like a woman. Transgender male is probably the closest English term. Men who have gender altering surgery are katoeys. So are those who take hormones to create female attributes such as breasts. So are those who dress up like a woman. In fact, even gay man who puts on a bit of make up is referred to as katoey.Why so many Katoeys in Thailand?

By this definition, there certainly are plenty of katoeys in Thailand. So why is this phenomenon so much more common here than in other countries? It seems unlikely that there is a genetic reason for Thailand to have more transgender males than other countries. I think the reason is much more to do with the tolerant attitude of the Thai people.

There are many katoey TV stars, singers and models. They even have katoey beauty contests. There have been several katoey movies such as 'Beautiful Boxer' which is the true story of a katoey who became a champion Muay Thai fighter. She would often kiss her defeated opponents.

Katoeys seem to be a widely accepted part of Thai society. This is probably partly to do with the Buddhist religion and its preaching of tolerance towards others. However, other countries with a strong Buddhist influence (Cambodia, Myanmar, Sri Lanka, Tibet, Laos, Japan) are not known for their ladyboys.

There must be something else at work. I think one strong factor is the Thai belief that life should be fun (sanook). When they see a katoey, they think it is fun. They will laugh and joke about it but not in a nasty way.

How Many Katoeys Work in Phuket?

In the wake of the tsunami tragedy and the media feeding frenzy that followed, a friend sent me an article from a British newspaper. The reporter was in Phuket and obviously struggling to compete for attention with reporters at harder hit areas. So he did what a lot of reporters in Phuket did and started focusing on the seedier side of the local nightlife. Quite what this had to do with the tsunami tragedy I am not sure.

This particular reporter seemed to be fascinated with the ladyboy scene. He made a few sweeping generalisations about Phuket's nightlife, suggesting the whole island was truly a cesspit of debauchery. He then claimed there were 5,000 ladyboys working in Phuket's sex industry and a huge demand for their services.

Where did he get this figure? It seems like a very bold claim. Is there a census? Do the authorities make a ladyboy count? I really doubt there was a reliable statistic available to this reporter. Like most of his report, I think he just made it up but he obviously saw enough ladyboys around to think it was a reasonable guess.

Phuket's high season population is estimated to be around 500,000. If 5,000 of them are ladyboys then that would be 1% of the population. That would seem very unlikely but not totally inconceivable. But he said 5,000 actually working in the sex industry. Where was this army of available ladyboys?

At Soi Katoey in Bangla Road, Patong, there are always a few dancing at the front of the soi. There is another katoey bar at the back and Moulin Rouge ladyboy show. But surely even at the highest estimate, there could not be more than 50 ladyboys working in Soi Katoey. There are maybe another 30 performing at Simon Cabaret Ladyboy Show - does that even count as the sex industry? For the sake of argument, let's say it does. Then there is the gay area around Soi Paradise. There are quite a few ladyboys around this area but I think an estimate of 100 would be very generous.

There are a few ladyboys freelancing along the beachfronts where they annoy passing drunks. But really, they are not there in very high numbers. Let's be generous again and say 100. Have I missed any? Maybe there are a few dotted around other sex establishments.

So even if we round up my figures, we have a very generous guesstimate of 300 ladyboys active in the sex industry. I actually think that is probably extremely generous. A lot of the above figures are probably the same katoeys moving from location to location and I think I have overestimated all my guesses. The total figure could be as few as 100.

So I would say somewhere between 100-300 katoeys working in Phuket's sex industry. Certainly not 5,000 but then a figure of 100 would not make good press.

Men and Katoeys

So what about the demand for Katoeys? Are there really lots of men looking for their services? Since their most common approach seems to be trying to fool very drunk men, I would guess that their services are not massively in demand. I have met a few men who have had sexual encounters with katoeys: most of them claim it was a drunken mistake.

I guess there is however some genuine demand for katoeys. There is a hard-to-define group of men who do find katoeys attractive. Certainly, there is a lot of curiosity about them. Every month, the word 'katoey' is in the top 20 list of search keywords that lead people to our Thailand travel sites.

Links of Interest:

Sunday, January 13, 2008

646-Pound Catfish Netted in Thailand

Fishermen in northern Thailand have netted a fish as big as a grizzly bear, a 646-pound Mekong giant catfish, the heaviest recorded since Thai officials started keeping records in 1981. The behemoth was caught in the Mekong River and may be the largest freshwater fish ever found.



From the Science Blog:

"It's amazing to think that giants like this still swim in some of the world's rivers," said Dr. Zeb Hogan, a WWF Conservation Science fellow and leader of a new World Wildlife Fund (WWF) and National Geographic Society project to identify and study all freshwater fish over 6 feet long or 200 pounds. "We've now confirmed now that this catfish is the current record holder, an astonishing find."" ...
"Local environmentalists and government officials negotiated to release the record-breaking animal so it could continue its spawning migration in the far north of Thailand, near the borders of Thailand, Laos, Myanmar and China - also known as the "Golden Triangle"). But the fish, an adult male, later died.
The species is declining, which fishermen in the region blame on upstream dams and environmental deterioration." ...
"The Mekong giant catfish is Southeast Asia's largest and rarest fish and the focus of Dr. Hogan's project along with about two-dozen other species around the world such as the giant freshwater stingray, the infamous dog-eating catfish, the dinosaur-like arapaima, and the Chinese paddlefish - all of which remain contenders for the title of the world's largest fish." ...
"The Mekong River Basin is home to more species of massive fish than any river on Earth. It is also the most productive fishery in the world, generating USD 1.7 billion each year. Fish from the Mekong are the primary source of protein for the 73 million people that live along the river."


It is high season in Pattaya and Bangkok

Right across the realm it is high season in Thailand, according to Dave the Rave and Stickman Bangkok that is.
The tourists have poured into the hot spots, especially Bangkok and Pattaya. For the tourist industry it is always a good thing to have foreigners from all walks of life pouring into Thailand. Despite some testing times Thailand still remains a top destination for millions of travellers.

Pattaya

Down in Pleasure Playground, Walking Street has turned into Crawling Street. It is literally teeming with people and pedestrian traffic is at its highest level. Several long-term expats have told me that they have never seen Pattaya so crammed with foreigners. Pattaya is on a high season high!

Pattaya Walking Street

Bangkok

Bangkok is also teeming with tourists, but they consist of a lot of married couples, families and a surprising number of elderly folks. Therefore, the married couples and families are out and about doing the regular rounds, which will include some tourist traps no doubt. I think some old hands here tend to forgot that Bangkok is a BIG draw to those who wish to enjoy classy hotels and restaurants. Also, the sightseeing and shopping opportunities are endless. This leads us to realise that only a minority of this type of tourist are going to be seen partying in the notorious neighbourhoods of Patpong, Soi Cowboy, or Soi Nana.Nana Plaza Bars in Bangkok

Soi Cowboy in Bangkok

Sometimes there appears to be mixed reports with one person saying that there are a lot of tourists and another saying that they think it is quiet. Remember that Bangkok is a HUGE sprawling metropolis and tourists can be in any number of places. One thing you will notice is that the kinds of visitors to Thailand varies much more than it used to. For example, you would not think that families or older people would go to Pattaya for a holiday, but surprisingly a lot of them do.

From Stickman Bangkok:
"It's high season and hotels in the popular tourist spots are packed. The bars aren't however and this confirms a trend which started a few years back and become more obvious in the 2006 / 2007 high season when the mix of visitors to Thailand started to change." ...
"The bar owners screaming that the take was down this year compared to what they made in the silly season last year aren't joking. Most venues were 20-30% down on New Year's Eve compared to last year." ...
"Down in Phuket, prices have been creeping up and it seems that the girls are getting in on the act too. Some of the girls beneath the Tiger Disco in Patong have been demanding barfines of 1,000 baht. Mortgages for the deed itself must be reaching scary levels."

Links of Interest:

Saturday, January 12, 2008

Thai girlfriend experience

Why are so many tourists flock to places like Phuket or Pattaya? Is it the sun, is it the beach, is it -- wow, I heard adult single males utter this -- truly #only# for the Thai food?!
Truth be told, Thai food is delicious, but would you spend a cool EUR 1,000 on a flight ticket, to eat the same Fried Rice you can have in the Thai restaurant at your corner back home?
The real reason, why many, many tourists come here, are the Thai girls.

This does not necessarily mean, they are sex tourists, or perverts of some sort. This might not even mean that they actually take a girl home to their hotel room.
Many men I have met are quite happy to have a nice evening in a bar, a few drinks, a few rounds of pool, and simply somebody nice to chat with. Just hearing a few kind words where life's reality might be a little bit harsher has healed many a scarred soul.

This is it, what many tourists here describe as the 'Thai girlfriend experience': somebody who will take the time to take care, say a few sweet words, all but unheard of things in many families in the west. Not always, there is a need for nudity in there.
Obviously 'kindness' goes both ways, so it is true that money will change hands; it is a service after all and not every utterance is an oath of love.
But maybe both sides to the game are happy with what they get: the tourists fly back to their work, wifes and life, just a little bit happier, while the Thai girls staying here have their own lives to life, and families to feed.


As long as everybody knows that this is the game, there might be not many better experiences than this one...

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Friday, January 11, 2008

Thai Studies at Thammasat U.

One of the few times I actually agreed wholeheartedly with something written in the Bangkok Post:

"Academic research and diverse views on Thailand supplied by foreign scholars help Thai society see itself more objectively, Her Royal Highness Princess Maha Chakri Sirindhorn said yesterday.
''As outsiders, they can see us from afar more clearly because we ourselves are too close to the subject,'' the Princess said while addressing some 500 academics at the opening of an international conference on Thai Studies at Thammasat University.
A wide range of topics and papers will be presented and discussed over the three-day conference, including the ''sufficiency economy'', censorship, the southern violence, Buddhism, sexuality, gender inequality and the monarchy.
In the seminar yesterday, academics lashed out at the inapplicability and irrelevance of the sufficiency economy concept in Thailand, saying the promotion of the principle was a political maneuver of the coup-installed government and Thailand's elite.
One of the critics, Peter Bell from the State University of New York at Purchase said the principle was not a coherent and viable economic theory. The United Nations Development Programme's (UNDP) recommendation for other countries to apply the approach was not relevant, he added. ''The concept is simply a strong critique of Thai capitalist development. It comes with a sense of anti-globalization in light of the financial crisis in 1997,'' Mr Bell said.
Andrew Walker of the Australian National University's Research School of Pacific and Asian Studies, said the sufficiency economy had become an ideological tool used by the elite to take the pressure off them to address any serious redistribution of income or resources.
HRH Princess Sirindhorn said Thai scholars should conduct their own local research to compare notes with foreign academics' work because better understanding can help the country solve its problems more effectively.
Prof Charles Keyes, a respected anthropologist at the University of Washington, traced the changes of Thailand over the past 40 years in his keynote speech. He said that Thai villagers had left the sufficiency economy behind to unequivocally embrace the global capitalist system, but their economic decisions, aspirations and life choices remain significantly tempered by the Buddhist teachings based on moderation and self-reliance.
Piriya Krairiksh, an art historian, said that although research on Thailand has shifted from the hands of amateurs a century ago to professional academics, their common aim to create a ''united, free and good'' Thailand remains elusive."

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Thursday, January 10, 2008

Phi Phi Viewpoint

The Phi Phi Viewpoint is -- besides Maya Bay -- maybe the most famous postcard and picture motive throughout the Phi Phi Islands.

Not really being that arduous a climb if one does it to view the sunrise (an excessively romantic moment you should not miss if you are with your girlfriend on Phi Phi!), it becomes a little bit more stressful under a full tropical sun; take water and wear a hat as a protection.

Also it has proven dangerous to do the walk in the dark and under the infuelce of alcohol, as one very unlucky guest of a New Years Party found out -- he fell down a cliff on the walk. So a minor amount of carefulness is warranted.

Right on the eastern side of Phi Phi Bay is also the Phi Phi Viewpoint Resort, raised six meters above sea level and comprising of 60 rooms; five of them are right on the beach front, with the most stunning seaview imaginable (and still relatively well priced for Phi Phi).


Links of interest:

Soapy Massage

Thailandis well known for their massage parlors that offer the best body treatment in the world. It is also known for a very erotic art of the body therapy called: Soapy Massage.

The typical 90 minute course is offered as follows: The customer pics a Thai girl from a selection out of a fishbowl and follows her to a private room without windows. The girl will soap an air mattress with a mix of oil and soap and massage your entire body with her own nude body. This is very joyful!
Now, around this setup, Soapy Massage, an Asian porn site produced with Asian pornstars in the USA, gives you a slight idea about the massages that you can expect in soapy massage parlors in Pattaya or Bangkok.

Tuesday, January 8, 2008

Phuket makes 2 Billion Baht over holidays

It is undeniable, high season on Phuket is roaring; the beach of Patong at least is packed and hotel occupancy is at a maximum. One does not need the TAT to tell, even though the actual numbers are maybe not entirely based in fact.

According to the Phuket Gazette:
"Businesses in Phuket’s tourism sector enjoyed a prosperous festive season, with many hotels fully booked and more than 2 billion baht generated by the industry during the period December 24 through January 2.

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Tropical Nudes in Thailand

Just for a little bit of spice, the tropical beaches of Thailand allow the one or other glimpse of nude sunbathing, like this girl here on a beach on Phi Phi Island.

While some (might) frown about it, others are rather happy that we left the dark ages behind us and allow the female form to be as freely shown as the male -- even more so if the girl being topless is actually attractive!

And never to forget -- bars full of Thai girls are just meters from the beach on Phuket or Pattaya; so while conservative Thai elements would rather not have tourists undress, it would be rather difficult to explain...

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Monday, January 7, 2008

Sea eagles in Phuket


Young white-bellied sea eagle as sighted near Central, most likely flying over from Bangwad Reservoir.
Or is it? Get oyur answer at the Phuket Birder's Blog from Ike Suriwong.

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Sunday, January 6, 2008

Rice Field Rats a la Isaan Style

Coming back from Isaan, my girlfriend brought me a very special meat that I wanted to taste for a long time: rice rats. They look like round, cozy versions of normal rats and are multiplying now after the rice harvest like crazy.

Therefore it is an everyday occurence in Isaan to take a rifle and go for a little hunt in the fields. Within a really short time, you can get four or five of the little buggers, and then it is time for a nice BBQ a la Isaan Style.

And don't they look tasty? They actually are, I tried!

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