by Keith Fitzgerald
I head over to a little beach called Ya Nui so I can rent a kayak for 100 baht an hour, and paddle out into the beautiful Andaman Sea at the southern end of Phuket. Since I was a kid, I’ve had this fantasy of rowing on a tranquil blue-green sea. Floating around, maybe jumping in for a swim.
I paddle first toward Man – pronounced as mahn – Island, just across from the beach because the kayak-rental guy tells me it’s a good place to snorkel. When I get up close to the rocky edge of this isle with no beaches, there’s an American couple struggling because of all the sharp rocks, the lack of any place to get a foothold. They swam here from the beach. I see nowhere to tie up the kayak so I can commune with tropical fish, so I navigate around the island and out to the sea.
I’m determined to get all the way to Buddha Island, which is the name of it for farang. The real name is Koh Kaew Yai. It means Magic Glass Island. I’m not sure why, exactly. But my bed sheet and floor have bloodstains on them now.
Buddha Island (Koh Kaew Yai) is just over a kilometre from Cape Promthep, the southern end of the land. No one rows kayaks or anything else out there. I do see a man in a strange hat who’s foot-paddling what looks like a combination catamaran-sailboat-bicycle. He’s so relaxed and comfortable and he drinks bottled water. I curse him.
As is my way, I haven’t prepared at all. Like the time I did what turned out to be a 10 hour hike through South Korea’s Wolchulsan National Park; I didn’t think to take any water. That journey took me up high peaks and to an ancient stone Buddha which I nearly dropped dead trying to get to, even though I’m as atheist as a toad.
Ya Nui Beach
The kayak moves. I move it. But, after a few minutes, the point comes home to me that I’m not in good shape. Acute shoulder pain. Every stroke sends a shot of it. Still, on that first leg, after I pass beyond Man Island, I am in the paradise that I wanted to be in. Way out in the distance, I see some longtail boats and a fishing vessel. The figures of tourists on the bluffs of Cape Promthep. Busloads of them, especially Muslims from the deep south, go there every day.
My destination. I can tell from this far out that the Buddhist statues are garish gold, rather new, and nothing to die for in a kayak without a life raft, anything to drink, or anyone to rescue me if, say, another tsunami hits.
On a rock cliff at the north end of Ya Nui beach is a plaque to Heather from her love who lost her on December 26, 2004. The kayak man told me that three people were killed at this beach, all foreigners. The tidal waters went one kilometer inland. Over 5000 people whose names we have were killed in Thailand. Nearly 4000 are still unaccounted for.
At a certain point in my now slow row to the Disney Buddhas, the waters get a bit choppy. Nothing big enough to even splash into my boat, but the fear strikes. What if it’s a tsunami? I’ll be swallowed up and no one will ever know. I’ll just go missing forever.
That passes after a few minutes. I catch ahold of reason. Keep rowing and rowing through the stabs of pain and the lovely water.
Man island, Ya Nui, Cape Promthep recede. Closer and closer to my goal. Exhausted. I paddle straight towards where I see stairs. I’ll dock there. Tie up my boat. Then go exploring. Find a place to swim. Take pictures. Head back.
Maybe it takes an hour from where I started to Scylla and Charybdis. I steer my craft to the only point where it looks like I may be able to moor it. The closer I get, the rougher the current. Sometimes, it seems like I can cut a quick path to a safe place to land. Two seconds later, the waves are enough to make a mess of me against the rocks. I try to get into a notch. Can’t control the kayak. I don’t have the experience. Anyone who does wouldn’t think to land here. I see nowhere else to do it.
First try, I closely avert a disaster, as in: capsizing, losing the oar and my waterproof plastic duffel bag for my wallet, camera, and keys. Worse than that – being smashed against the rocks covered with barnacles like razors.
My heart is racing. I have to be calm. I wait. Let the water settle. Watch what it’s doing. And when it’s calm, I will use the oar to get into a slot where the kayak will stick and I can scramble out, take my bag and oar, tie the boat to a post, and go see shiny Buddhas.
A few small cuts and then success. Don’t fret about how the hell I’m going to get out of here until after I see this place. Everything in its time.
After tying up the kayak, I go up the stairs to the peak. Near the top of the stairs is a man with a mean face and half a right foot. No Thai smile. More like: What are you doing here? Go away or I’ll steal your yellow kayak and leave you here to rot. After I get your money.
I go take pictures of a sensuous ladyboy Buddha who looks out toward Man Island. Then I head for a little chapel which is dirty and has a green glass Buddha in a glass booth. Near the entrance is a magazine featuring photos of people with eerie deformities and various severed appendages.
Back on the path and down the hill through a forest and ratty dorm rooms for the monks. Maybe people like the glaring half-footed man.
Then down to a building on a little beach that looks like a temple but it’s not. I should have rowed to this place.
In front of this structure at a long table sits a 75 year old monk smoking Marlboro Golds. His body is tattooed all over. Tufts of hair sprout off the edges of his ears. Not from inside, like you see with some guys. These are like those ancient whiskers on a Chinese chin. He speaks Thai to me. A lot. And is not deterred by the fact that I have no clue what he’s saying. A lady gets me some orange juice and a glass with ice. She cleans the table which is covered with dirty dishes.
I drink the juice. They offer me more. And water. I say no because I’m shy and I’m a fool.
Then I go down to the beach and four very friendly black dogs surround me, greet me, ask me to take them with me. I tell them there’s not room for more than one of them on my boat and I may not make it back anyway. Best to stay here as strays on the beach. The monks and the ladies will throw you scraps of food.
I head over to the main Buddha attraction – a big seated figure with a long pointed nose. He’s on a sort of throne which is wrapped by the coil of a huge Naga serpent. He looks with utter indifference at the tourists on Promthep Cape.
I check him out but am not impressed. In a shack nearby is a chubby, snoozing monk in his early 60s. Orange and brown robes dry on the line.
I go back to the black dogs. Say goodbye and thanks again to Hairy Ears and the orange juice lady. Then back up and down the path, past the green Buddha, the shrine for dead children, the magazine of malformities. To my kayak, bright yellow in front and orange-red in the back. Some of the red is my blood.
Untie the bark, take it to the place of danger and fear and pain and now I understand about ships wrecked on the coast and men of the sea respecting it like no one else does because if they don’t and even if they do, they may die in an awful way. I think if you die at sea, you really know about being abandoned by God. I already know about it, but today I know it better.
I turn my boat around, get ready to push out into the channel between the cape and this island. The water is mean. It comes at me relentless. It’s making a point. I have to get this point. The point is: Stay back. Don’t think you’re so special because your tribe went to the moon. I will kill you if I feel like it. The rocks and the barnacles and I will put an end to you. It will be days before anyone finds whatever is left of you.
I listen to this. The water roils between big rocks. When it lets up a bit, I try to get out. The swells and the fury come back quick. I wait again. Stillness comes. I move the kayak out for a try. Waves rise and I almost lose everything. The violence of it is enough to give me good judgment. I will not go if it isn’t safe.
In the distance, I see a longtail boat fisherman. He’s watching me. Sees me stuck. In trouble. He’s way too far for me to see his face, but I can tell he’s concerned. Must think I’m one stupid farang. I’m hoping he will come here and figure out some way to help me. Except there’s no place for him to stop. What can he do? He can watch me get pulverized. One less potential customer.
Another longtail comes up near him. The first guy gestures toward me, as in: That guy is in trouble and maybe we should help him but, well, there’s nothing we can do.
They check me out for a while, then leave. Humans can be as detached as that Buddha on his perch with the Naga snake protecting him. And the sea itself.
Patience. A time comes. The sea settles. I see my chance and bolt out between the death rocks. Out away from the coast. A brilliant maneuver by this first-time captain of his own little ship.
Rowing and rowing and rowing. Ya Nui is far. An hour from here. There is no rowing without pain. As I get closer to the cape, I see that the waves crashing against it are much more deadly than what I just escaped. I have to stay clear of that. Head out to the sea so I don’t get caught up in anything that can bring me close to that.
I need to drink water. I shouldn’t think about it but I can’t stop. Shouldn’t think anything but positive thoughts. Eyes on the prize. Ya Nui beach. Just an hour or so away. I can bear the pain. One stroke at a time. Rest if I need to. Take it slow.
But the sea is pulsing. Tsumani paranoia comes back. People on the cape are watching me. They’re thinking I’m a fool and they’re waiting to see if I will die. It’ll be a good show. Indy 500 without the crashes and flames. They will just watch like the longtail boatmen did.
I want to drink ocean water. Now I know this kind of crazy. Doesn’t matter how many TV shows I’ve seen about this sort of end. I need to drink. Give me salt water.
The man in the strange boat foot-paddles past me in his bliss. He doesn’t know I’m in trouble. The trouble is in my head. Big trouble there. My shoulders are the least of it. I can’t bear to look at the surf exploding on Promthep Cape. I can’t look at the Muslim tourists from Yala watching the Keith-goes-under show.
Row and row and row and row and row. Away from that cape which I stood at the top of just a few days ago, looked out to this sea, to Buddha Island, and wanted nothing more than to be where I am now.
But in spite of everything, I make steady progress. The sun is going down. No one could do a thing for me if I capsize. I have to make it back because I have a comfortable bed in my tiny apartment in Rawai. Some people care for me. My book will be published.
Don’t drink the Andaman Sea. Don’t give up, no matter what. Even if a monsoon comes, darkness falls.
As I slowly get closer to home base, I notice that, though it seems like the way should be easiest coming back in because that’s where the waves are headed, in fact, it’s very hard to get any momentum. Can’t figure it out. God is dead. God is cruel. God has nothing to do with this. The current is going across my bow. I’m worn out. If I make it to the beach, I will put the boat in the sand and collapse.
I stay clear of Bash-Your-Brains-Out Rocks to my right. Closer and closer to safety and rest I go. Here, just near the end, there are shoals. A last danger. I navigate around them and cut a line on a current straight to the sand. The triumph of sanity.
I just turned down the volume on all the demons chattering in my ears. Drink the sea. You’re sure to get sucked into a swell that’ll send you into the rocks over there. Another tsunami is coming. The people watching you want you to die. Buddha is just tacky gold statues.
I have made it. I drag myself to the other end of the beach where I got the kayak. I need the man’s help to carry it back. He says he can do it himself. I say no. Too heavy. Just let me get some water.
We go get the kayak. He’s so tan, he could be Sri Lankan. He has a Muslim name, but his woman wears no headscarf. They are sweet to me. You went to Buddha Island? They laugh. Crazy farang. He doesn’t charge me for the snorkeling gear.
When I was out there in distress, I thought of how great it would be to see people again. To talk with someone. Not just to be on land. I talk with these people. The man and woman and the water and the ground on which I stand — this is the beginning.
He tells me that, in a month or two, no one will be here. The waves will be too rough. Too much wind. I ask them what they will do then. They say they have a portable noodle stand. Maybe rent out motorbikes. You get by.
Some vague thought comes to me about the three people killed here by the tsunami in 2004. Heather and two others. There’s a sign for Heather. But the thousands of others who just disappeared – there’s no sign for them.
‘Coconut Water Gang’ arrested for trafficking children in Phuket
“The child told him that a gang gathered some kids and forced them to sell coconut water and would beat them up sometimes.”
Patong police have announced the arrest of the ‘Coconut Water Gang’. There were four suspects from Nakohn Si Thammarat. The gang was accused of trafficking children by forcing them to roam the streets of Patong selling coconut water. There were four suspects in the case – Wattakarn Aramsee, Khemmika Uppakankaew, Pornthep Uppakankaew and Wachira Poonchuay, who have all been charged with human trafficking.
On October 28, the Phuket District Chief and his secretary identified a child of 10-13 years old walking into the Muang Phuket District Office selling coconut water. The child looked very thin and dirty so they asked the child what happened. The child told him that a gang gathered some kids and forced them to sell coconut water and would beat them up sometimes.
Manager Online reports that the team of police and Phuket Office of Social Development and Human Security, as well as Phuket Children and Family Shelter investigated the child story before taking the child to the shelter. Police also followed up by issuing an arrest warrant.
The suspects from the arrest warrant reacted to this incident by reporting the case to Damrongtham Center in Nakhon Si Thammarat and held a press conference saying that the officers do not have right to keep the child in their custody. They already reported to the Nakhon Si Thammarat police and said that there was no progress.
They also said they will sue Phuket police as well. Following the matter, PM Gen Prayuth Chan-Ocha and Deputy PM Gen Prawit Wongsuwan urged the department involved from Bangkok to investigate the case.
Pol Lt Gen Jaruwat Waisaya, chief of the Royal Thai Police’s Office of Legal Affairs and Litigation, said that the children are underage and were used to sell heavy packs of coconut water and coerced to work more than 10 hours per day.
“They also got abused sometimes. This is unacceptable and we would like to announce that this human trafficking in Phuket must be completely suppressed within few days. This gang forced children to roam around selling coconut water from 7am – 1pm and from 1.30pm – 6pm.”
The price was 40 Baht per pack. The children would hold at least 10 packs of coconut water per person per time. Someday, they can make about 400 Baht and the money would be taken to their families in Nakhon Si Thammarat. If the children wanted to spend the money, it would be deducted from their income. When they returned late or didn’t meet the daily target, they would be “punished”.
Each of them stayed at Saphan Hin village and repeated their routine every day. They made about 6 digits of income for the gang.
From the investigation, the children said that the coconut water wasn’t real coconut water. It was just water mixed with syrup and sugar. There was just a little amount of coconut water in each pack. Also, on November 9, police found four children selling snacks and fruits on the street. The first one was brought by the grandmother to sell snacks in front of a bar in Patong, the second one was brought by the mother to sell flowers at a restaurant in Patong, the third one was brought by the father-in-law to sell floral garlands at a BBQ shop in Soi Ta-Iad and the fourth ones was brought by the sister to sell flowers at a Som Tum shop in Phuket Town.
There was a 63 year old Cambodian man and a 23 year old woman illegally selling items in Phuket town area as well.
Kata Group launches new 512-room Phuket family resort – Pamookkoo Resort
Kata Group, Phuket’s oldest hotel group, is launching its eighth resort, the Pamookkoo Resort. The cost of the investment is 1.75 billion baht. The new resort is in the heart of Kata.
Kata Group opened its first hotel on Phuket 40 years ago and was a pioneer in attracting the early tourists to the island’s southwest coast.
The new hotel will be managed by the son and heir to Kata Group’s founder Pramook Achariyachai, and will focus on “fun-and-sun loving family groups”, according to the press release. Pariyawit “Benz” Achariyachai says that all of the hotels by Kata Group have their own distinctions, and are trusted by existing and new customers.
Pamookkoo Resort will have 512 rooms, ranging from 32.8 square metres up to 77 square metres.
According to the media release, Pamookkoo will be a themed hotel, designed as an adventure into the past, with a “Mesopotamian concept and a décor of golden earth tones”. The resort will target Thai and international visitors, from countries such as Scandinavia, Russia, China, and India.
Like other recent new and re-branded resorts in Phuket, the new hotel is aiming at family vacations with special facilities for kids.
The four-star resort, covering more than 16 rai in Kata, is set around a large pool with a four storey water slider. It has a playground for kids and the biggest “Kid’s World” in Phuket, at 135 square metres, two storeys high, equipped with ball pools, colouring stations and a nap area. There is also three restaurants in the new hotel.
For corporate guests and events, the hotel offers new meeting rooms and facilities, function rooms of different sizes, the largest of which can sit over 1,000 people, one of the biggest MICE spaces in Kata.
The new resort has three restaurants and its gym provides features a wide variety of modern fitness equipment.
“We are truly confident that Phuket tourism will continue to significantly grow, with a consistent 70-90% occupancy rate for our properties throughout the year. There are other up-and-coming world-class destinations, and the improvements in infrastructure including the expansion of Phuket International Airport all make Phuket one of the greatest of international destinations.”
Kata Group now has a total of eight hotels and resorts in operation. Beyond Resort Karon in Phuket and Beyond Resort Khao Lak in Phang Nga are both open to visitors over 18. Beyond Resort Krabi and Beyond Resort Kata, Phuket target family vacations.
Kata Group plans to further expand business on the Andaman coast, adding one or two new hotels within the next three to five years bringing the total accommodation to around 2,000 rooms.
You can find out more at their Facebook page HERE.
New eyes for the bionic man – modern lens exchange surgery
Tim Newton is the CEO of The Thaiger and edits the English-language website.
Healthy, happy, busy and no feeling that I’m actually 60 years old. But here I am about to get eye surgery that should rid me of reading glasses and give me an equivalent of the vision I had when I was a lot younger.
I’ve spent the last 20 years wearing 100 baht reading glasses, of progressively stronger power. Now my distance vision has been been getting worse over the past year and night time driving has become a blur of lights and not a lot more. I needed to get something done.
What I’m looking forward to is a house without a pair of reading glasses in every room and always screaming at my staff “Where are my glasses?”
It’s not LASIK, it’s called RLE – Refractive Lens Exchange. It’s like cataract surgery but instead of replacing my tired old lenses inside my eyed with a single-focus artificial lens, the doctor will put a multi-focal lens inside my eye. It has a range of focus for near, middle and far distance, all in the same, tiny little artificial lens. They will stay in my eyes for the rest of my life.
Somewhere between excited and petrified, I will have the surgery this week – over two days and around an hour in the operating theatre each time. The surgery is very procedural, cataract surgeons do this probably thousands of times a year, and have done so using the current techniques since 1967.
A small incision (about 2.5-3mm) is made on the side of the eye, a phaco-emulsification tool is inserted into the eye, uses high-frequency sound waves to break up the old natural lens, then sucks all the bits out (I’m really dumbing all this down). An artificial lens is then inserted through the same incision, all rolled up, and unfolds where the old lens used to be.
Voila! Perfect vision. Sort of…
The whole procedure is usually done over two days – in my case one day, then the next, but some surgeons prefer to leave a few more days between. The idea being that the doctor wants to evaluate the success of the first operation before moving onto eye #2.
The surgery is done while the patient is fully awake with topical anaesthetic eyedrops. Scary, right? But the doctor has assured at least this patient that there will be no pain but perhaps a little ‘discomfort’ and feeling of pressure on the eye during the surgery.
I run a media business in Thailand – I am used to mild discomfort every day of the week!
The results should be seen almost immediately following the surgery and improve, according to the doctor, over the next few months as my brain adjusts to the new lenses. He told me to expect everything to be lot brighter and more colourful as my brain would have been over-compensating as my natural lenses have become cloudy over the years.
There are a few side-effects to the surgery, the most common may be halos around lights, particularly at night – some patients get this worse than others.
For me, any side-effects will be the trade off for good vision whilst working in front of the screen, something I do most of my working day.
I started looking at getting this done about four years ago when I was reading daily TV news for a local media company and I simply wasn’t able to read the autocue (prompter) anymore whilst on camera. So I started just ‘winging it’ with scripts but became overly nervous as, particularly with news, I like to consider and check everything I’m saying before actually presenting it – the journalistic control freak! Wearing glasses on camera is not easy with all the reflections.
PHOTO: Reading the auto-prompter on TV became difficult, then impossible – The Phuket News
The RLE procedure is not cheap – about 85,000 baht per eye, plus paying for your pre and post medication; lots and lots of anti-inflammatory and anti-bacterial eyedrops.
I will gladly report on the results after it’s all over. I’m paying for the surgery out of my own pocket so will be able to deliver an honest appraisal. I am having the procedure done by a highly skilled ophthalmologist at the Bangkok Hospital Phuket.
So farewell, adios, sayonara and good riddens to my cheap reading glasses and my own, natural lenses inside my eyes. Speak to you after the surgery.
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