Thai Island Times is back with the 50th Island Wrap!

Island Wrap #50 for July 27 to August 14, 2021

Dear readers, thank you for your patience as I took a break from Thai Island Times over the last few weeks. It’s hard to believe that this is the 50th Island Wrap. The morning I sent out Island Wrap #1 does not seem too long ago.

Before we get into the usual coastal Thailand news round up, here are some decisions I’ve made about the future of this newsletter:

1) Starting five weeks from now, half of the roughly eight monthly articles will be available to paying subscribers only. The subscription price will go up slightly starting September 20th, so do consider upgrading before then if you want to receive all paid content for only $5 USD per month, or $50 USD for a full year. I’ll send out an email with more info on paid subscriptions soon, including a price deduction option for readers who have already made a one-time contribution.

2) The Island Wrap is going back to a bi-weekly publication schedule. I’m discontinuing the “pick of the wrap” and will instead cover individual beaches, villages and other spots in dedicated articles. I’m also discontinuing the “social media corner” and “video corner” segments, but don’t worry, I’ll still share videos and social posts if they deserve to be in the Wrap. For example, you’ll find a link to a hilarious “full moon party” video down in the “food and travel” section below.

And without further ado, here is Island Wrap #50:


Pandemic

Thailand is deep in crisis as Covid-19 cases reach above 20,000 on most recent days and the Delta variant spreads in every province. With more than 200 deaths reported on many days and more than 5,500 patients currently in serious condition, Thailand is now one of the worst-hit countries in the world. In fact, the kingdom recently ranked last out of all 120 countries included in the Nikkei Covid-19 recovery index.

There is some good news. Patient recovery numbers have been eclipsing new Covid-19 case counts on some recent days. Vaccinations have also picked up steam, with 500,000 to 680,000 doses administered on several days this month. Those rates do however include tens of thousands of third vaccine doses being allocated to frontline health workers who had already received two shots of Sinovac.

Bangkok alone has reported more than 5,000 cases on several recent days, while daily case numbers in nearby Chonburi province, including Pattaya, are typically in the 1,000 to 1,500 range. Few provinces have been spared a severe uptick in Covid-19 cases over the past several weeks. Reporting no cases on some recent days, Phang Nga in the South appears to be one of the only bright spots in the country.

The coronavirus is finally catching up with some of Thailand’s islands as well. Phuket reported 723 cases from August 1st through 14th, forcing authorities to open multiple field hospitals in the island province. A total of 121 cases also surfaced on Ko Samui over that same period, and officials on nearby Ko Phangan are conducting mass testing after finding at least nine cases recently. Way down in Satun province near Malaysia, 32 cases were recently found on tiny Ko Lipe as well.

The worsening spread prompted Thai provincial governors to enact some of the strictest domestic travel rules since the pandemic began. Phuket was controversially sealed off from all domestic travel apart from food deliveries and other necessities as local officials desperately try to protect the Phuket Sandbox program. Ko Lipe and Ko Larn are closed to non-essential travel until later this month at the earliest. Even islands that remain open, such as Ko Samet, are nearly empty of tourists due to a minefield of travel restrictions that vary from province to province.

Nearly all domestic commercial flights are grounded until further notice, with one of the only exceptions being special Bangkok Airways flights that shuttle travelers who enter Thailand through the Samui Plus program from Bangkok to Ko Samui. Nok Air is offering limited flight options through U-Tapao Airport in Rayong. A one-way ticket to U-Tapao from Phuket costs nearly 6,000 baht, leading some Sandbox travelers who need to reach Bangkok to use a special bus to make the 12-hour trip. Regular interprovincial buses are suspended in much of Thailand.

An expansion of the highest-controlled dark-red zone brought a 9:00 PM to 4:00 AM curfew along with public park closures and other restrictions to 29 of Thailand’s 77 provinces. Though less strict, a number of Covid-19 containment rules are also being applied in orange and red zone provinces as well. For example, drinking alcohol in restaurants is no longer allowed in Phuket or Surat Thani. Traveling to destinations like Ko Phi Phi, Railay and Ko Tao requires proof of vaccination and a negative Covid-19 test, even if coming from elsewhere in the same province.

The economy has fallen off a cliff as minimal government assistance for certain businesses has been woefully insufficient. Many tourism-related businesses are being left out of the government’s latest income relief program, as has been the case since the start of the pandemic. Whereas tourism, transport and some service sector businesses were primarily affected during the earlier days of the pandemic, the economic ripple effects are now spreading to manufacturing, construction, education, trucking and more. Food supply lines are disrupted, and countless people are forced to rely on charity. In Bangkok, nightly street protests are getting ugly.

Two new websites that relate to the pandemic in Thailand are worth a look. Koncovid.com has maps and info for Covid-19 testing sites nationwide, while the Covid-19 Vaccine Tracker tells you exactly how many doses are administered daily and how far Thailand is from its goal of inoculating 50 million people. If you want to dig deeper into the crisis in Thailand, I also suggest these commentaries:

Covid-19 crisis response under Thailand’s authoritarian approach — Viengrat Nethipo for Prachatai:
Written by a political scientist, this analysis provides a lucid look into how Thailand was able to do so well in the early days of the pandemic, and how the authoritarian impulses of its national leaders have affected things more recently.

Covid blame game spreads like a virus in ThailandShawn W. Crispin for Asia Times:
“The shift from success to failure has rocked Prime Minister Prayut Chan-ocha’s government as public discontent with the perceived fumbling of the health crisis reaches a breaking point.”

Death by bureaucracyBangkok Post:
“Now that the deepening Covid-19 crisis has chiseled away at the government's popularity, the prime minister's centralized approach to tackling the pandemic has led to a new threat that adds insult to injury regarding the administration’s predicament and the infection situation.”

Opinion: People need to see some sort of a plan / road map / exit strategy from the current Covid-19 nightmare in maximum control provinces in ThailandAdam Judd for The Pattaya News:
“Let us have some straight talk then because ‘until further notice,’ especially with the limited financial aid programs being given and thousands of people lining up for charity in Pattaya daily is not working out.”


Tourism reopening

The Phuket Sandbox and Samui Plus programs are slogging on despite the dire nationwide situation and rising Covid-19 case numbers on these islands. A so-called “7+7 program” that would allow international travelers to stay in Phuket for only their first week in Thailand before spending a second week at one of several other spots in Krabi and Phang Nga provinces, is also expected to start soon.

As of yesterday, precisely 20,727 international travelers had entered Thailand with almost no time in quarantine since the Phuket Sandbox program launched July 1st. A total of 57 of them tested positive for Covid-19 at some point during their first two weeks in Thailand. The US was the top source market in July, with 1,802 arrivals. “This was followed by the UK with 1,558 arrivals, Israel with 1,455 arrivals, Germany with 847 arrivals, and France with 839 arrivals,” according to the TAT.

I’ll soon dedicate a full article to the question of whether it makes sense to keep inbound tourism programs going when Thailand is struggling so badly and domestic travel is strongly discouraged, if not blocked entirely. Similar programs that would make Pattaya and Hua Hin “sandbox” options for international travelers were postponed due to low vaccination rates and high Covid-19 numbers.

For more on the Phuket Sandbox, check out:

Thailand’s quarantine island: Phuket SandboxTodd Ruiz for Coconuts TV (video):
Want to know what it’s like in the Sandbox? Watch this.

Outbreak greatest threat to Sandbox, says TAT Phuket chiefThe Phuket News:
“‘Yesterday, the United States declared Thailand a Level 4 very high risk area, advising to avoid travel to Thailand, but it is not yet a travel ban,’ she said.”

Why Phuket’s ‘Sandbox’ pilot project matters to other islands in AsiaKate Springer for CNN Travel:
“‘It’s a contentious issue in Phuket, with the island effectively now sealed off to domestic travelers,’ says Gary Bowerman” (of The Southeast Asia Travel Show).


Murder in Phuket

The Phuket Sandbox took a tragic turn on August 6th when 57-year-old Swiss traveler and consular worker Nicole Sauvain-Weisskopf, who arrived in Phuket from overseas on July 13th, was found dead at Ton Ao Yon Waterfall south of Phuket town. Police charged a 27-year-old local man for murder and robbery two days after the body was found, adding an attempted rape charge on August 12th.

The crime made international headlines and prompted calls for better tourism safety in Phuket and Thailand at large. While it’s true that tourism safety standards in Thailand are subpar in many ways, a discussion about the society’s deep-rooted problems with sexual violence seems more appropriate in this case. Ton Ao Yon is the least popular of Phuket’s waterfalls, and similar sites are not typically monitored for security in Thailand or most other countries. In my opinion, the blame for this brutal murder lies with the perpetrator, and no one else.

The Phuket governor oversaw a memorial service for the victim on Bang Tao Beach on August 7th, and police later checked if some 3,000 security cameras are in working order around Phuket. Six natural tourist attractions, including Ton Ao Yon, were deemed to “have a high level of risk” due to isolation and a lack of security cameras. On August 8th, Phuket police were relieved to safely find a 58-year-old Danish tourist who got lost while hiking in the jungle near Nai Yang Beach.


Weather and shipwrecks

Missing man found deceased after speedboat capsizes in Chonburi, survivor swims five km to safetyGoong Nang for The Pattaya News:
“Mr. Tanawat Puengjaroeb, 59, self-described as a strong swimmer, had managed to survive the incident by swimming to shore, over four km away, with the help of an empty jug of oil to stay afloat.” His mate, 62-year-old Mr. Jarukit Saisinnawat, sadly drowned after the accident, which took place as the pair were attempting to boat from the Ko Si Chang area up to Chachoengsao on the mainland.

Search launched after strong rip current pulls man out to sea at Freedom BeachEakkapop Thongtub for The Phuket News:
Rescue teams were sadly unable to find 21-year-old Mr. Thanakit Srisuwanwichian after he was pulled off the southwest coast of Phuket on August 2nd. A body that “police strongly believe” to be his was found four days later on the rocky coast.

Fisherman rescued off Nakhon Si ThammaratINN (Thai language):
After falling overboard far out in the mid-southern Gulf, 33-year-old Mr. Praphap Sae-ho spent nine hours lost at sea before a Royal Thai Navy search team came to his rescue in the open water some 25 km east of Laem Talumphuk.

A young sailor narrowly escaped death off Ko Lanta77Kaoded (video / Thai language):
A shrimp catcher was tossed into rough seas when his longtail boat sank near Khlong Khong Beach off the west coast of Ko Lanta Yai. He managed to swim to an offshore cluster of sharp rocks before locals came to his rescue.


Environment and wildlife

Sunscreen banned in Thai national parks. Violators face 100,000 baht fineCoconuts Bangkok:
The new law bans the use of sunscreens containing Oxybenzone, Octinoxate, 4-Methylbenzyl and Butylparaben, all of which are harmful to coral. I see this as a positive step for reef conservation, even if enforcement could be difficult. Do buy some coral-safe sunscreen next time you hit Thailand’s marine parks.

World reacts to latest UN climate report, a “code red” for humanityPear Maneechote for Thai Enquirer:
“With a population of around 70 million and its geographic location, Thailand is actually particularly vulnerable to climate change. The country was ranked 22nd on the list of nations with the highest greenhouse gas emissions in 2018 and was placed 10th in the most affected countries from climate change in 2017.”

A green sea turtle found dead on Ko Phangan had fishing net in its throatDNP News (government / Thai language):
Discovered near Thong Sala on July 30th, the turtle is thought to have choked on four- to 10-cm long fragments of discarded fishing nets.

It took nine villagers to hold a six-meter giant python in Krabi77Kaoded (Thai language):
The python, found in Nua Khlong district, is one of the largest snakes I’ve seen since I started following Thai serpentine news closely last year. However, it’s arguably less scary than the two-meter king cobra that a wrangler caught with his bare hands after a girl noticed it coiled up on her bed, under a blanket, in Ao Luek.


Food and travel

Thai beaches and islands with David LuekensTalk Travel Asia (podcast):
I had a good time discussing some of my favorite island and beach spots with Scott and Trevor, the hosts of this excellent podcast.

Heading southStuart McDonald for Couchfish:
This post on the sedate and scenic Khanom beach area on the mainland near Ko Samui joins several others from Stuart about some of my personal favorite parts of the South, including Khiri Wong, Thale Noi and Phatthalung. He also recently wrote about vaccine passports, long-stay tourism and when international tourism in Southeast Asia might finally rebound in any meaningful way.

Seven great things you can do in Phuket during Covid-19Willy Thuan for Phuket 101:
Those of us who live elsewhere in Thailand are locked out of Phuket indefinitely, but anyone who’s already there or visiting through the Sandbox program will still find plenty to do, see and eat on the largest island in the country.

Seven of the best restaurants in Ko PhanganDuncan Forgan for DestinAsian:
“Indeed, a case could be made for the island having Thailand’s liveliest climate for international dining outside Bangkok, with the added bonus of wallet-friendly prices and all-around unpretentiousness.”

Kopi cultureTales of the Orient by Simon Ostheimer:
In addition to this profile of Kopitiam by Wilai in Phuket’s old town, Simon recently covered the underrated Takua Pa area north of Khao Lak.

Ting Tong Trip (official music video)Mysko Disko (video):
If you want a good laugh to go with some intoxicating beats, check out this video created by a Swedish electronic-music duo who recreated a Ko Phangan-style full moon party on their own, with the help of an RV, some fire-spinning gear and a few “party favors.” Hopefully they’ll soon be able to return to Thailand for the real full moon parties, which have been canceled since early 2020 due to Covid-19. (Thanks to Greg of The Bangkok Podcast for sharing this video.)


In other news

Did UNESCO add fuel to the fire by inscribing Kaeng Krachan Forest Complex?Thai PBS World:
In my opinion, UNESCO’s recent decision to inscribe this 2,950-square km national park as a World Heritage site is disgraceful given the Thai government’s systematic mistreatment of the indigenous Karen people through forced relocation, burning of homes and, allegedly, the forced disappearance and murder of Karen activist Porlajee “Billy” Rakchongcharoen in 2014. Three human rights experts from a separate branch of the UN “urged UNESCO not to inscribe the national park,” citing the unresolved land rights issues and opposition from local Karen people.

There has been bloodDiana Hubbell and Aaron Joel Santos for Eater:
An in-depth look at the conflict over land rights between a powerful palm-oil company and farmers in Khlong Sai Pattana in rural Surat Thani province.

Five years after blasts in Southern Thailand, few have faced justiceMariyam Ahmad for Benar News:
Only three suspects in the 2016 bombings of several Southern provinces, which killed four and injured more than 30, have been arrested to date. In my 15 years of traveling Thailand, this was the only time when I hesitated to take a trip due to a terrorism threat. The bombs targeted several areas frequented by tourists, including downtown Hua Hin, markets in Phuket and the train station area in Trang, where a department store that burned down after a bombing was still being rebuilt last I checked.

An uproar in Krabi after a statue costing 9.1 million baht is added to the seafront77Kaoded (Thai language):
Given the economic desperation in the tourism-reliant Ao Nang area, locals are questioning if now is the right time for the local government to be spending public funds on a statue of sea snail shells at Noppharat Thara Beach. A local politician countered that the statue had been planned for a decade.

Pattaya to Hua Hin ferry service officially ends, this time for seemingly good, as contract canceled and port returned to Pattaya cityGoong Nang for The Pattaya News:
Even before the pandemic, this ferry service linking two of the most popular beach areas on either side of the upper Gulf never really caught on.

‘People are telling lies’: British youtuber sues Thai woman who said he exploited monarchy for fame — Todd Ruiz for Coconuts Bangkok:
Jack “Dek Farang” Brown, a popular social media “influencer” who speaks fluent Thai, is now facing intense criticism for using Thailand’s harsh defamation laws to go after a young woman who shared what many observers believe to be valid criticism of Brown online. If he goes ahead with the lawsuit as planned, I wonder if the many big-name hotel groups and other Thai island and beach area businesses that have featured in his social media posts will think twice about working with him. 🌴


Thanks for reading Thai Island Times, an independent, reader-supported newsletter sharing the beauty, challenges and distinctive identities of Thai islands and coastal areas.

Share