One more coastal Thailand news wrap before I take a two-week break

Island Wrap #49

Welcome to the Island Wrap at Thai Island Times. This special edition has a full round up of news involving coastal Thailand, from the Phuket Sandbox to the Covid-19 crisis to illegal fishing and even an Olympic gold medal.

First though, I’ve decided to take a two-week break from the newsletter. I’m burning out here in “partial lockdown” after months of constantly monitoring news, statistics, government statements and social media, which is necessary to produce in-depth Covid-19 updates like the ones I’ve been publishing. I also need to focus on some freelance work to try and earn more cash during a tough time.

If you’re one of the readers who upgraded to a paid subscription or otherwise offered support for Thai Island Times, I appreciate it very much. I plan to make up for the lack of content over the next two weeks with some extras down the road.

I know that a lot of readers have found my in-depth Covid-19 updates useful since I first started writing them back in April, but I can no longer justify the huge amount of time or the mental toll that they take. Being required to constantly follow the tragic developments has not been great for my health, especially given that I lack the financial stability and institutional support of a media organization. I need a little time to take care of myself and chart a more sustainable path ahead.

My mission with Thai Island Times has always been to share the beauty, distinctive identities and challenges of Thai islands and coastal areas. Over the past several months, it’s become heavily weighted towards the “challenges” (mostly Covid). In the future, you can expect more original stories and fewer detailed news wraps that summarize the work of other writers and reporters. I never expected to mainly do news summaries, but that’s where this thing has been heading lately.

So, after the two-week break, it will be time to bring Thai Island Times home to the islands and coastal areas that I originally set out to cover when I started this thing back in April 2020. You’ll see exactly what I mean down the road. For now, I want to point you to the key sources that have informed my Covid-19 updates so that you can stay fully updated on that side of things, if you’re so inclined:

Over on Couchfish, Stuart McDonald has recent stories about Ko Phangan and Ko Tao. He also dipped a long toe into the “Phuket sandpit” debate. If you miss traveling in Southeast Asia, Couchfish might be the tonic you’re looking for.


Pick of the Wrap: WEBSITE

Also a shout out to Pekka Oilinki, a long-time Phuket resident who recently offered to support Thai Island Times through the use of his fantastic photos. Phuket is one of the only coastal Thai provinces that I did not cover for Travelfish from 2011 to 2019, so his photos will come in handy for my future coverage of the Phuket Sandbox. Give Pekka’s photoblog, oilinki.com, a look to see why I’m excited to be incorporating some of his photography into the newsletter. Here’s one example:


International tourism reopening

New Phuket rule passes — Chatrudee Theparat for Bangkok Post:
From August 1st, a rule change that was recently approved “in principle” would make it possible for inbound travelers to leave Phuket after a week and spend their second week at Ko Samui, Ko Phangan, Ko Tao, Ko Phi Phi, Railay, Ko Ngai, Khao Lak, Ko Yao Yai, or Ko Yao Noi. To me, the surprise on this terrific list of destinations is Ko Ngai due to its small size, lack of any sort of a medical facility and fairly remote location that will presumably require Sandbox travelers to pass through part of Trang province and use the recently upgraded pier in Pakmeng.

Concern over conflicting Covid tests on Sandbox tourists — Achadthaya Chuenniran for Bangkok Post:
Authorities were concerned that seven out of the 7,462 travelers who had arrived from abroad through the Phuket Sandbox program as of last Saturday had tested positive on their first Covid-19 test after arrival. This small number of cases doesn’t strike me as surprising, but it does draw attention to the fact that full vaccination is no shield against infection. As of yesterday, 25 out of the 10,849 total Phuket Sandbox arrivals from abroad had tested positive once on the island.

Phuket marks 18 new Covid cases for second successive dayThe Phuket News:
If this trend continues — and it looks like it might after 30 more cases were reported in Phuket late yesterday — the province could soon surpass the 90 case per week threshold that officials said could prompt a halt to the Phuket Sandbox program. Of course, officials also insisted that the program would not start until 70% of the local population was fully vaccinated, and they didn’t stick to that.

Sandbox visitor facing prosecution for failing to complete 14-day stayThe Phuket News:
A Thai woman who left Phuket by air after nine days and ended up in far-off Chonburi was apprehended and returned to Phuket to complete her mandatory 14 day-stay on the island. How she’ll be penalized for breaking the Sandbox rules, and how she was able to board a plane off the island, are both unclear.

Sealed tours urgent to save Phuket’s dive industryThe Phuket News:
“The project, called ‘Phuket Diving Seabox,’ aims to have local dive tour operators conduct sealed dive tour holidays for tourists coming to Phuket, allowing tourists to land on Phuket and be safely escorted direct from the airport to the SHA+ liveaboard dive tour boat that they will enjoy the first week of their holiday on.”

Your total guide to Samui PlusThe Koh Samui Guide:
This is a useful resource if you plan to come to Thailand from abroad over the next few months and you want to try your luck with an initial stay on Ko Samui, which reopened to international travel on July 15th, rather than Phuket. Few Covid-19 cases have been reported on Ko Samui this month, with none found on nearby Ko Phangan or Ko Tao for several weeks. Still, only 35 inbound travelers entered Thailand through the Samui Plus program over its first 10 days in action.


Pandemic

Record 15,335 new Covid cases, 129 deaths reported SundayBangkok Post:
Thailand is in deep trouble.

Infected Thais who are isolating at home find themselves with little helpErich Parpart for Thai Enquirer:
“The Erawan Emergency Medical Center said last week that they are helping at least 2,800 Covid patients who are currently waiting for a hospital bed at home in Bangkok but there are many other agencies that are doing the same thing in the capital.”

Bodies literally left lying in Bangkok’s streets as Covid-19 takes heavy tollCoconuts Bangkok:
“In a grisly indicator of Thailand’s soaring pandemic toll, at least three people died in less than 24 hours in Bangkok’s streets, where their bodies were left lying to be filmed and photographed by passersby without anyone attending to them.”

13 provinces to be under curfew, lockdown until August 2ndBangkok Post:
Ayutthaya, Chonburi and Chachoengsao were added to the 10 provinces in metro Bangkok and the deep South that were already under highest level (“dark-red”) control measures. Along with a 9:00 PM to 4:00 AM curfew, the “partial lockdown” now includes closure of all public parks as well as the beaches in Chonburi province. Three months of lockdown measures may be necessary to bring Thailand’s Covid-19 situation under control, according to one research institute.

Interprovincial travel restrictions for ‘Dark Red’ zone begin WednesdayThai PBS World:
Nearly all flights are grounded, all bus routes out of Bangkok are canceled and additional travel restrictions are in effect for many parts of the country. Phuket is one of several provinces with its guard up. One of the only airlines still flying is Nok Air, which got creative by rerouting flights to U-Tapao Airport in Rayong, located a hair outside of “dark-red” Chonburi. One of the only usual air routes that’s still open is between Phuket and Ko Samui with Bangkok Airways.

AstraZeneca says Thailand only requested 3 million doses per month in initial agreementCod Satrusayang for Thai Enquirer:
Leaked correspondence between AstraZeneca and the Ministry of Public Health showed how the Thai government’s repeated vaccine supply claims appear to have contradicted an agreement made with AstraZeneca last year, injecting more controversy into Thailand’s struggling vaccination program.

Thailand’s vaccine director apologizes for ‘slow, inadequate’ vaccine rollout, promises to join COVAXThai PBS World:
Some observers feel that the head of the DDC, who gave the public apology, was “thrown under the bus” by the Prime Minister and Public Health Minister, neither of whom have publicly apologized for the deepening crisis.

Suicide, mental anguish on the rise due to pandemic and its economic and social impactPear Maneechote for Thai Enquirer:
“It’s hard to grasp the devastation that has hit Thailand.” Indeed.

As Covid-19 batters Thailand’s economy, even pawnshops are running out of customers — Vijitra Duangdee for SCMP:
“People don’t have anything left to pawn,” said shop owner Danai Tangvatanangkoon.

Want to pitch in? These non-profits and foundations accept donations, volunteers — Alisha Pawa for BK Magazine:
“Some are helping local food vendors stay afloat. Others are providing medical assistance to Covid-19 patients. All rely on goodwill donations and volunteer support to continue offering their services.”


Wildlife and environment

Krabi officials find signs of illegal fishing77Kaoded (Thai language):
Many news articles have spun the pandemic as a positive for the environment, and while that’s true in many ways, it’s not so simple. One negative aspect of lockdowns and a lack of tourism is how illegal fishing becomes easier due to the lack of dive and tour boats at the reefs. Officials from Mu Ko Phi Phi - Hat Noppharat Thara National Park recently found evidence of fishing in protected waters when they pulled up a ton of nets and traps from the reef at Ko Thalu (aka Ko Mae Urai).

Where there’s a will, there’a whaleThai PBS World:
“So far, Thai marine biologists have discovered 61 Bryde’s whales in Thai waters, each with its own name.” According to a separate story from INN, three of these wan bruda were recently spotted between Ko Larn and Pattaya Beach, which is unusual as they tend to stick closer to Phetchaburi on the other side of the upper Gulf.

Humpback dolphin carcass is autopsied in TrangDNP News (government / Thai language):
Marine researchers and officials from Hat Chao Mai National Park believe that the dolphin, whose body washed up on Ko Mook, died of natural causes. Marine officials are on alert after numerous dolphins washed up ailing or deceased further north in Phuket and Phang Nga provinces earlier this month and in June.

55 hawksbill sea turtle hatchlings opened their eyes to the worldDNP News (government / Thai language):
The hatchlings continued a monumental year of natural sea turtle nesting at Ao Siam National Park, which includes Ko Thalu in the Bang Saphan area of the upper Gulf. Yet another nest was recently found in the area as well.

Si Racha residents were alarmed after two baby crocodiles were found at a lagoon in a public parkGoong Nang for The Pattaya News:
“Environmental authorities have to inspect this lagoon to see if there is a large crocodile present as it is not safe for locals who often fish and swim in the lagoon area,” said security guard Mr. Panna Poompanieng.

A rare two-headed python died shortly after hatching in Krabi77Kaoded (Thai language):
And in other serpentine news, a “massive python” got stuck in a drain in Si Racha as seen in photos from The Pattaya News, while reporters from CNA followed a team of snake catchers in Bangkok for a day. A lack of human activity could make snakes bolder in terms of where they go during lockdown; do keep an eye out!

Notorious ‘Tiger Zoo’ to close, relocate 5,000 animalsCoconuts Bangkok:
“The zoo, located southeast of the capital, said it would move its roughly 5,000 animals including tigers, crocodiles, horses, deer and camels to another unspecified property owned by the Sriracha Tiger Zoo Co. Ltd.”


Food and travel

Reinventing SongkhlaChris Schalkx for Destinasian:
An insightful look at one of my personal favorite provincial capitals in the South.

From mansions to mangrove forestsKarnjana Karnjanatawe for Bangkok Post:
The 118-year-old mansion known as Chinpracha House in Phuket joins the mangrove forest at Ao Kung Krabaen in Chanthaburi in this eclectic wrap of five spots that are worth keeping in mind for when unrestricted travel returns.

How a master chef catches giant river prawns for an ancient Thai dishTerri Ciccone for Eater:
“After excitedly catching prawns that are closer in size to lobsters, they go to the forest to cook their meal over an open flame. Killing the prawns, they’re careful not to ruin ‘the most prized part’ as Debhakam calls it — the fat in the head.”

From Sunda to SahulNicholas Thomas for Natural History:
Journey 50,000 years into the past, when Thailand’s modern islands, along with much of modern maritime Southeast Asia and Australia, were part of two contiguous landmasses known to biogeographers as Sunda and Sahul.

Ao Phang Nga announces the opening of tourist attractions on August 1stINN:
A weird aspect of Thailand’s Covid-19 crisis is how limited avenues for leisure travel are being carved out to entertain tourists entering Thailand through the Phuket Sandbox and Samui Plus programs, even as domestic travel is curtailed for most people in the country. The latest example is Ao Phang Nga National Park, where attractions like “James Bond Island” are reopening on the 1st. It will join marine sites in Hat Noppharat Thara - Mu Ko Phi Phi National Park east of Phuket and Ang Thong Marine Park west of Ko Samui to welcome boat tours.


In other news

Rights experts urge UNESCO to defer heritage status for Thai parkStephanie Nebehay for Reuters:
UN Human rights experts filed the statement ahead of the UNESCO Committee’s meeting today to review, among other issues, Thailand’s proposal to grant World Heritage status to Kaeng Krachan National Park despite a long-running dispute between the government and the indigenous Karen people over native land rights. The local Karen community issued a letter of its own to UNESCO.

Police net 20 in fish fighting gambling raidThe Phuket News:
“The 20 men were found with 10 fighting fish in five jars and 14 kratom leaves.” This wouldn’t be such a big deal if Phuket officials weren’t desperately trying to keep Covid-19 case numbers low in the island province.

24 years ago today was the infamous Jomtien Hotel fire that killed over 90 people - here is their storyAdam Judd for The Pattaya News:
On “July 11th, 1997, a tragic fire in Jomtien at a hotel killed over 90 people, many of them tourists, and led to significant changes in both local fire departments, emergency response times, and hotel policies.”

A fisherman in Bang Saphan found a melo pearl in his net77Kaoded (Thai language):
Likely worth tens of thousands of baht, if not more, the orange pearl was uncovered from a cooked sea snail which 40-year-old Mr. Prasarnphon Phunwan pulled up in his crab net in Ao Bang Saphan on July 17th. Meanwhile in Krabi, 49-year-old Ms. Baifern Onbut is hoping that the three “pearl-like stones” she found in the belly of a snakehead fish on July 23rd turn out to be valuable as well.

Panipak’s golden dream comes trueWanchai Rujawongsanti for Bangkok Post:
23-year-old Panipak “Tennis” Wongpattanakit, a native of Surat Thani, delivered Thailand its first medal of the Olympics with her stupendous taekwondo performance on Saturday. Other Thai athletes are in Tokyo to compete in table tennis, equestrian, boxing, shooting, badminton, and sailing.

But for now, it’s taekwondo star Ms. Tennis who captured the moment and brought much-needed hope to a country in crisis. “I would like to give this gold medal to all of the Thai people,” she said. “The situation at home hasn’t been great, so I want this to be the happiness and joy for us all.” Well done! 🌴


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