Thai island and coastal news for November 26 to December 10, 2020

Island Wrap #25

A big story in this 25th edition of the Island Wrap concerns the severe flooding that recently hit large swathes of Southern Thailand. You’ll also find info on a change to the country’s pandemic-related visa restrictions, a renewed threat of Covid-19, a whale shark named “Little Spot” — and plenty more.

Since the last Island Wrap I’ve published only one post (on hiking in the south of Ko Chang) due to a technology meltdown here at Thai Island Times headquarters. First my computer broke down last week, and then a laptop that I borrowed failed as well. I managed to write this with the help of an external keyboard, but I request your patience as I wait for my computer to be fixed next week.

I do plan to publish a new post about a 19th-century stargazing mission at a Prachuap Khiri Khan beach by next Friday. In the meantime, you may be interested in travel guides that I wrote about mountainous Thong Pha Phum and elephant-filled Kui Buri National Park, both on the Thai-Myanmar border, for Travelfish.

Over on Couchfish, Stuart ventures deep into Ho Chi Minh City and reflects on the Mekong River, “the $3 tour” and the joys of walking.

Pick of the week: CHARITY

The courageous activists behind Samut Sakhon-based Labour Protection Network (LPN) spent the last two decades standing up for migrant laborers, particularly those from Myanmar and other countries who are abused and enslaved in Thailand’s fishing industry. In 2017, co-founder Patima Tungpuchayakul was nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize for her efforts to free migrants who were trapped on fishing boats. This dangerous work was the subject of a Pullitzer Prize-winning AP story in 2012 and the award-winning 2019 documentary, Ghost Fleet. To learn more, check out LPN’s website and, if you’re able, consider making a donation.

Ghost Fleet is a riveting, moving documentary about formerly enslaved fishermen who Patima and others at LPN worked tirelessly to rescue from fishing boats in Indonesia. (Source: Vulcan Inc.)


Weather

Multiple Southern Thai provinces endured the worst flooding in 30 years as incessant rain pounded the region from late last month until earlier this week. “Nakhon Si Thammarat is the hardest hit with 19 deaths and about 180,000 houses swamped,” reports Bangkok Post. Further south, Songkhla Lake overflowed many of its banks and inundated several villages in eastern Phatthalung province.

Severe flooding was also reported in parts of Chumphon, Surat Thani, Songkhla, Pattani, Yala, Satun and Trang provinces. At least 29 people lost their lives and 550,000 houses have been damaged in the tragedy. Rough seas kept fishing boats docked along the southern Gulf for two weeks, and mudslides temporarily halted train services. Raging rivers ripped down many roads and bridges.

Usually monks are the ones receiving donations, but this group from Wat Tha Rong in Nakhon Si Thammarat handed supplies out to people in flooded homes. (Source: Dept. of National Parks)

This 77Kaoded article has dramatic footage of a river pounding a bridge in Khiri Wong, a village at the foot of the South’s tallest mountain. For some levity in the face of disaster, check out this clip of children zip-lining to school to avoid a downed bridge in another part of Nakhon Si Thammarat province.

Floodwaters are now receding after the rain finally let up a few days ago. The Gulf has also calmed down in time for the four-day holiday weekend that began yesterday, which the government added to the usual holiday schedule to boost domestic travel. All trains and ferries are operating normally. The sky is blue throughout most of Thailand, but parts of the South will be cleaning up for months.


Wildlife and environment

Greenpeace Thailand’s audit of plastic rubbish collected from beaches in Chonburi and mountains in Chiang Mai reveals that a high proportion of waste traces back to products from CP and four other large corporations. The organization also reports that “waste from Thailand’s food delivery services has increased 15 percent from 5,500 tons to 6,300 tons per day in the (pandemic) era.”

On the erosion front, people who live near Somboon Beach in Tha Chana district of Surat Thani are considering a new containment structure to hold back the Gulf. More than 40 households were forced to relocate from the seafront in recent years, a trend that is becoming increasingly common in Thailand’s coastal regions. Another example is Jomtien Beach in Pattaya, where sand is being trucked in to fight erosion.

Boat drivers in Phang Nga Bay are being asked to watch out for a young whale shark, dubbed “Little Spot,” that has been playfully swimming up close to boats near Ko Yao Noi, much to the delight of tour groups. Also in the Thai Andaman, boaters spotted bottlenose dolphins near the mouth of the Krabi River; and what are thought to be Bryde’s whales were filmed breaching near Ko Tarutao.

Sadly, the false killer whale calf that beached at Chumphon province’s Ban Ko Tiab late last month did not survive despite the efforts of locals and marine scientists. An autopsy showed that ingestion of sea rubbish and an injury most likely caused by a boat contributed to its death. Meanwhile, the hornbill that was shot in the face by illegal hunters on Ko Chang (Trat) also died after treatment in Si Racha. (For background on these incidents, refer to the previous Island Wrap.)

Archaeologists finished excavating the 3,000- to 5,000-year old whale skeleton discovered last month in Samut Sakhon, southwest of Bangkok. A Reuters story has more details on the find — and here’s a video showing the work of a skilled crane operator removing the ancient skeleton from the earth.

Scientists at the Phuket Marine Biological Center are developing a prosthetic fin that could give disabled sea turtles a chance to swim properly again. After much trial and error, the Dept. of Marine and Coastal Research reports that the latest prototype works well for a hawksbill sea turtle that lost a fin, though more testing is needed.

Leatherback sea turtle eggs appeared again on Bang Kwan Beach and, for the first time this season, on Bang Niang Beach, both in Phang Nga province north of Phuket. That makes nine leatherback nests so far this season, an extraordinarily high number given that the nesting season typically lasts through March and the record over the past decade is 13 nests in one season. Over on the Gulf coast, hawksbill sea turtles continue to nest near Bang Saphan in Ao Siam National Park.

In Songkhla, a fisher freed a hawskbill sea turtle from a net; and a fisher from Krabi released a green sea turtle after inadvertently catching it on his line. To protect sea turtles and other marine life, divers removed hundreds of kg of “ghost nets” from Shark Point near Ko Phi Phi and the King Cruiser wreck near Phuket. Over in Phang Nga Bay, divers recovered an additional 113 kg of discarded nets.

A reptile rescue team in Krabi spent all night extracting a five-meter python from the undercarriage of a van, dismantling much of the hardware in the process. And on Phuket, officials warned residents and tourists to watch out for king cobras after a two-meter one showed up at an office. The island’s 24-hour snake rescue hotlines are 076 246 301 for the Phuket town area, and 076 621 338 for Thalang.


Social media corner

It’s not often that Ko Phra Thong appears online so I was excited to see @BkkShadow’s tweet displaying the unusual interior of “Golden Buddha Island.” When visiting this mid-size island in Phang Nga province I’ve been struck by how much its savannah landscape contrasts the jungle and karst topography of nearby islands, like Ko Ra and Ko Chang (Ranong).

Covid-19

Thailand’s porous borders spark fear of a new Covid waveMurray Hunter for Asia Sentinel
Several Thai hotel/bar workers imported the virus into Thailand by illegally crossing the border from Myanmar in recent weeks. They carried or caused “39 infections reported so far in seven provinces,” namely Chiang Rai, Chiang Mai, Phayao, Kamphaeng Phet, Phichit, Ratchaburi, and Bangkok. These numbers do not include an additional outbreak among six nurses in Bangkok. Authorities say both outbreaks are being contained, and no lockdown measures have been imposed.

Domestic trips decrease over Covid jittersNarumon Kasemsuk for Bangkok Post
“Even though people will continue with their plans, some of them hesitated about the situation, which saw Chiang Rai and Chiang Mai heavily affected by cancelations.”

Covid infections, and blame, rise along Southeast Asian bordersHannah Beech for The New York Times
“‘Because these people came in illegally, they will lay low, work in hiding,’ said Suthasinee Kaewleklai, a coordinator for the Migrant Workers Rights Network in Thailand. ‘If they get sick, they will never go to the doctor or hospital to get themselves checked.’”

Thailand to sign Covid-19 vaccine agreement with Oxford-AstraZenecaPanarat Thepgumpanat for Reuters
The Prime Minister “expects (the vaccine) to be verified and ready for use by the middle of next year.”

Virologist says it will be difficult for 40 million Thais to get Covid-19 vaccine in 2021Thai PBS World
When taken with the speculation that Thailand will not allow foreign tourists into the country without quarantine until most, if not all, of its own citizens are vaccinated, this is a dose of reality.

Flew with Covid-19 positive passengers? Go get tested.


Tourism and economy

Thailand now open to the whole worldChatrudee Theparat for Bangkok Post
The availability of special tourist visas to all countries — not only those that have controlled Covid-19 —is good news if you’re desperate to come to Thailand as a tourist and don’t mind the 14-day quarantine. Other restrictions still apply.

Thai quarantine stays can now be booked on AgodaCoconuts Bangkok
“Listings are currently found in Bangkok and Phuket from about 2,500 to 5,300 baht per night.”

Foreigners stranded in Thailand due to Covid-19 can now stay until at least January 29, 2021ThaiVisa
“This means that those affected could potentially stay in Thailand until the end of March if they applied for a new 60 day extension on or near January 29th.”

Thai Sikhs step up for Phuket’s hungryThe Phuket News
Yes, food donations are still happening in many places. In fact, a separate donation drive on Phuket was led by the Thai Red Cross.

Thailand’s economic recovery may be the slowest in Southeast Asia, Nomura saysAbigail Ng for CNBC
“He added that cash handouts the government planned to disburse have fallen short of initial expectations at a time when Thailand needs ‘private consumption to stay afloat, to at least provide some buffer’ for the economy.”


Travel and food

Two Thai teens traveled nearly 24,000 km in pandemic to get back homeKhaosod English
“It tasted like the best krapao I had ever eaten in my life.”

New glass sky bridge in Si Racha is big domestic tourism hitAdam Judd for The Pattaya News

Tourists will be able to conquer Khao Ta Mong Lai in January 2021Apichat Hongsakul for 77Kaoded (Thai language)
A pair of soon-to-open viewpoints maintained by a forest park at the southern end of Prachuap Bay appear to be worth a climb.

A tour of Bangkok’s spookiest sitesChris Schalkx for CNN Travel
“Before we set off, I sign a waiver confirming that ‘any ghosts or black magic that attaches themselves to me will be my own responsibility.’”

Sao Ching Cha: Unraveling the secrets from 236 yearsNational Geographic Thai (Thai language)
Includes photos from when Bangkok’s iconic Giant Swing, or Sao Ching Cha, was used for extreme swinging as part of a Hindu-influenced rite.

Having a baby on Ko PhanganPhanganist
Filed under slow travel.

106 eateries, street vendors get Michelin’s endorsement this yearThe Nation
21 of Thailand’s Michelin-starred eateries are now in Phuket and Phang Nga.

Consumers warned not to buy grilled blue-ring octopus because it is highly toxicThai PBS World
A warning after poisonous octopus was found skewered and grilled alongside edible types of octopus in a Pathum Thani market.

In other news

Myanmar workers convicted of Ko Tao murders hold out hope for clemencyCoconuts Bangkok
Many observers believe that Zaw Lin and Win Zaw Tun were scapegoated for the murders of two British travelers in 2014. In August, the King commuted their sentences from death to life imprisonment, but the pair’s lawyers continue to advocate for their freedom after a widely criticized investigation and trial.

Ko Samui considering cable car to Ko TaenMatichon Online (Thai language)
What’s wrong with longtail boats?

Royal Forestry Dept. approves land for Patong tunnelThe Phuket News
Phuket inched closer to a road tunnel that would be carved through Patong Hill, which is notorious for accidents on its winding stretch of road.

Pattaya to splash out 775 million baht to help revive tourism industryChaiyot Pupattanapong for Bangkok Post
The slew of projects, including a 96-million-baht “scenic viewing tower,” seem a bit gratuitous given the dire economic situation for many Pattaya residents.

Ministries prepare marijuana tourNarumon Kasemsuk for Bangkok Post
Chonburi and Phatthalung are to be included on a tour that aims “to increase awareness of marijuana for medical purposes and inform those who are interested in growing the plant of the laws.”

Official Phuket Monopoly game to be launchedThe Phuket News
“Residents of Phuket will now have the opportunity to help produce this customized version of the world-famous game, the game organizer announced.”


Coastal oddity

A motorbike rider who blamed a ghost for his crash in Chonburi and a man who amazed Krabi residents with photos of naga-shaped clouds were in the running for this week’s oddity pick. But I had to go with the humble fisherman who struck it rich when he came across a 100-kg piece of whale vomit — known as ambergris and prized for its use in cosmetics and perfumery — on a beach in Nakhon Si Thammarat. Coconuts Bangkok reports how the hefty chunk could bag the fisherman more than $3 million USD, “if it turns out to be certified, Grade A whale vomit.” 🌴

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