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Thai Travel ‘Advise’

Sunday, May 16th, 2010

I’ve never seen a more muddled presentation than that in the FCO Travel Advice section for Thailand. Not that I could care any less, but travelling against FCO advice will invalidate any travel insurance policies, so I need to know which particular ‘specific parts of Thailand’ they advice against travelling to.

And yeah, I know about Bangkok.

Escape The Winter Blues…

Sunday, May 16th, 2010

…and do something worthwhile next year!

Libong Nature Beach Resort
Libong Nature Beach Resort

By now, regular readers will know that I’ve recently become interested in the Libong Nature Beach Resort, part of the Lifelong Learning Foundation, a charity that, through its resorts, seeks to promote eco-tourism, local lifelihoods, education and wildlife.

The resort regularly receives volunteers who come to learn about life in the Sea Gypsy community, ecotourism and the local wildlife. They take part in various tours and activities, help with looking after the guests—mainly with translation and advise—and keep the books, for as the Professor said, an open book policy is fundamental to the charity’s goals.

In fact there is almost no limit to what you might get up to as a Libong volunteer, from helping to build a rainforest camp, teaching English to the local children (and staff) or becoming involved in local crafts and small business initiatives.

Now an opening has arisen for one or two volunteers to spend the peak season (Nov-April) at the Libong Nature Beach Resort, to work with guests and locals and teach visitors about sustainable ecotourism. Food and lodging is provided but there will be a donation of 10,000 baht a month to cover admin expenses and support the foundation.

You know it makes sense!

Sunset Sunset at the Libong Nature Beach Resort

‘Koh Taoism’: Conservation Initiatives Involving Travellers And Divers

Friday, February 5th, 2010

Ko Tao

‘Koh Taoism’ is an initiative by local businesses to preserve Koh Tao and its reefs and lessen the environmental impact of tourism on the island. The slogan hasn’t yet made it onto the web, but if you visit the island you can’t miss it.

Most of the large dive operators have signed up to the Marine Branch of Save Koh Tao which involves regular clean-up dives, among other things. These clean-up dives are free for certified divers, are great fun and you even get a certificate. Back on firm ground you can take part in the regular beach clean-ups which are usually followed by a party. On an individual level there is a drive to reduce plastic usage on the island. Plastic bags blown into the sea can kill turtles and other marine life. The 7:11 staff will act surprised if you bring your own bag along, but a few of the smaller shops and cafés support the ‘no plastic is fantastic’ initiative and use paper bags instead.

It’s a start. Koh Tao, it seems, is adapting to green tourism. But is it too late? Is this just scratching the surface or—cynics might suggest—putting a green spin on what is outright exploitation? After all there is no shortage of operators happy to charge big bugs for volunteer programs and conservation courses, and with over 40 dive operators crammed onto the island the impact might be just too much.

Well, yes and no. The best way for conservation would be to restrict visitor numbers and development on the island, but development is largely completed (bigger resorts are actively discouraged: here community initiative is vital in the absence of any real planning regulation) and tourism in this part of Thailand is a fact. Educating people about the need for conservation in the face of damage they can clearly see is more than greenwash. It is the way forward for more eco-conscious travel.

However, unless action is taken, there isn’t much point in monitoring the destruction. If the coral is bleaching, restocking and installing artificial reefs isn’t the answer. And if nutrient influx threatens to smother the reef, a wastewater treatment scheme will have to be instigated. Constructed wetlands are a low-tech approach that could be feasible on Koh Tao, but somebody will have to get their hands dirty and put their money where their mouth is.

Libong Dugongs Aerial Survey

Tuesday, January 26th, 2010

Research on the dugongs of Libong is ongoing, with another aerial survey completed. It’s odd that the Professor didn’t tell me about it since his Lifelong Learning Foundation has co-funded some of the research.

In fact it’s a long-term project. The current PI, Kanjana Adulyanukosol, has worked in the Libong area since at least the mid-nineties. Given her experience I hope that there is cause for optimism, though a slight decline has been observed. The variation in sightings is large and absolute counts are not possible, so I take this to mean that the decline is non-significant. In such a small population—and given the slow reproductive rate of the dugong—it would otherwise be cause for serious concern.

It would be interesting to compare the data from all surveys carried out from 1997 (which I think was the first) until now.

The Dept. of Marine & Coastal Resources in Phuket seems to have matters in hand. Maybe rather than trying to survey the dugongs myself (I’d thought about rigging up a blimp cam), I should focus on mapping the seagrass habitat.


One thing is for sure: the field is more crowded than I thought.

And that is a good thing.

Extraordinary Measures

Wednesday, January 20th, 2010

Suit Fitting

As far as I could tell, the suit fitted perfectly. John shrugged into the jacket and turned, looking over his shoulder, when a pained expression crossed his face.

“What is it?” the Tailor asked.

“Not enough, er—” he indicated his crotch, “—ballroom.”

The Tailor tsk-ed and walked around him, tweaking here and there.

“Bend over. Hm…” He gestured at the row of chairs. “Sit down and spread your legs. Let me see.”

John did, grimaced and got up again. “It’s no good. It’s too tight!”

At that moment a man on a scooter pulled up outside, grabbing several suit covers that were draped over the handlebar. The Tailor gestured and he tossed the suits over a rail and came over. The two exchanged a few words in Thai.

The man shook his head and the Tailor pointed towards John. Without taking off his helmet, the Driver walked over and crouched on the floor, where—with the Tailor leaning over his shoulder—he proceeded to feel John’s crotch.

The Driver tsk-ed and mumbled something.

“Not normal size,” The Tailor translated.

“Big, eh?” the Driver grinned. There was another short exchange in Thai, then the Tailor picked out the roll of Cashmere which had been the material for the suit. Waving his yard stick, he measured out a generous strap and ran his scissors through the precious material. He handed the strap to the Driver while shooting John an admonishing glance.

The Driver took the offending trousers and extra material and departed.

“Come back tonight,” the Tailor said.

John did. This time the suit fitted perfectly.

Had Chao Mai National Park: Crowded Paradise

Friday, January 15th, 2010

Crowded Paradise

I was already aching at the prospect of returning to bustling Bangkok and—all too soon—head for home, so signing up for the daytrip had been a good idea.

“Which island is it going to?,” I asked when I signed the receipt. I was surprised that the agent hadn’t discussed the various options with me.

“Four island,” she said. “Muk Island, Kradan Island, Chueak and Ma Island. Everything.”


[read on]

Trang: Morning Musings

Friday, January 15th, 2010

(Entries will be backdated as they appear, so scroll down. The dugong entries are coming soon!)

Koh-Pee: Trang's famous local coffee

Today I thought I’d engage in an act of mass tourism, since is was my last full day in Trang.

The day trip to the Hat Chao Mai National Park, taking in the islands of Ko Muk, Ko Cheuk and Ko Kradan, would leave from a travel agency near the station. Speed and efficiency ruled from the start. At the Sin Ocha Bakery, my breakfast was on the table before I could reach for my cigarettes, which meant that I was 45 minutes early for the minivan.

I could see the station from where I sat. The loudspeakers spewed forth a barrage of either political propaganda or morning pep talks as no trains were arriving at this time, leaving them free for other uses.

The street—alive with commuters—was lined with cake shops and travel agents, but there were no convenience stores, let alone newsagents. It made me wonder where to get the elusive Bangkok Post from. The copy at the Sin Ocha had been five days old.

Where do people in Thailand buy their newspapers? Especially here in Trang; a town full of pharmacies, opticians and whiteware stores—as well as the cakeshops and travel agents clustered around the station—but with amazingly little of practical value. Getting from the internet café to the nearest food outlet involved a fifteen-minute trek.

Music began to play from the loudspeakers and the girl in the chair next to mine gave me a prod.

“National Song!”

I blinked. Everybody had stopped doing what they were doing and stood still. I hastily rose, feeling like an Olympic athlete at somebody else’s medal ceremony.

The girl turned around and grinned. “National song,” she said again.

I almost hushed her, thinking that we should stand quietly to attention, but the man who had frozen in passing as the music started up joined in. “National Song.” —Just in case I hadn’t got it.

When the anthem was over, life resumed as if nothing had interrupted it. A gaggle of Schoolgirls walked by, dressed in pleated navy skirts and short-sleeved shirts. The Muslim girls wore white headscarves down to their shoulders, but that was the only difference.

Trang is a mix of Muslim and Buddhist and the atmosphere here is relaxed. There are no tensions like in the Southern provinces which were once part of a different Malay Sultanate.

“But they speak another language there!” I said (Yawi).

“Nonsense,” the Professor said. “They are all Thai, all go to Thai schools and speak Thai. What they speak at home is their affair.”

Little chance of a quick reconciliation then.

I have travelled through Hat Yai, Songkhla and Satun in the past, and crossed the border at Sungai Kolok without any problems. But in rural areas people are sometimes kidnapped and executed at random and bombs are regularly planted in the towns. The government’s harsh response has done little to calm tempers. So far Farang have not been targeted, but it is only a matter of time. Farang matter because the government could lose face internationally, and sooner or later the separatists will realise this. At least the Professor maintained that things have grown more relaxed with Thaksin gone.

Nobody would believe it just from travelling around the Land of Smiles (provided they don’t watch the news, but who bothers with that when travelling?) but politics in Thailand are volatile, and riots—even civil war—are not out of the question.

Nobody knows what will happen when the King dies.

Ko Libong: Future Research?

Thursday, January 14th, 2010

All good things come to an end, but there was no hair-rising scooter ride up-and-down slippery slopes at the end of my stay on Libong. Instead I split a longtail directly from the Nature Resort to Had Yao with the nice Swedish family who had enabled me to see the dugongs.

On the pier, I turned my back to the cool shade offered by its sister resort and faced the village square which was dozing in the mid-day sun. The minivan was already waiting. There was only one direction to go from here: back to Trang.


The van would leave when it was full. For now my backpack sat forlornly in the boot, while I sat in the shade on the terrace of a private residence, watching two children—a naked toddler and a little girl—squeal and run around, occasionally helped along by a friendly slap from an adult.

Village life at its most relaxed.

From the hammock behind me, the old man who had offered me the seat lobbed stones at the toddler’s battered plastic tractor, hitting it with great accuracy. An occasional scooter or pickup drove past, but half an hour later all was quiet. Apparently nobody was up for going on a shopping trip to Trang.

A refreshing breeze picked up. Two Brahimi kites circled high above the small hill at the back of the village, bringing back memories of other journeys.

Ko Libong lay behind me, separated by a three kilometre stretch of water, looking close enough to swim across. Just a mile or so to my left, closer to the island, we had seen dugongs yesterday. And I may not have seen the last of them.
[read on]

Different Things To Do In Thailand: Build A Rainforest Camp!

Thursday, January 14th, 2010

Green Wall

A large part of Ko Libong is covered with rainforest, which is protected under the ‘no hunting zone’. On my first day at the Nature Resort I decided to go for a walk up the hill at its back. The path let through fields and a rubber plantation, one of many that cover the flatter parts of Ko Libong like a park landscape with trees arranged in military rows.

I hesitated—this looked like private land—but a man sitting on the porch of a hut by the plantation’s edge waved me on. His dog Leila bounded after me, ignoring his calls, her nose to the ground and tail wagging in the air. There would be no snakes accosting us here!
[read on]


Thursday, January 14th, 2010

I’ve found my animal.

If I want a three months volunteer position to carry out research on the dugongs off Libong, it’s mine (!)

Normal service will resume shortly.