There are two Top Ten lists for the most popular stories of 2018. This list is voted by The Thaiger as Thailand’s most influential or important stories. We will also have the list of the stories YOU clicked on the most – coming next week.
For now let’s see, in no particular order, which stories grabbed The Thaiger’s attention in 2018.
1. The international rescue effort at Chiang Rai’s Tham Luang caves
What state as a simply visit by 13 members of a junior football team into their local cave for a quick after-training visit, turned into one of the biggest international rescue stories in the world this year.
For a number of reasons, the story grabbed the attention of the world’s media and unfolded over a number weeks.
Twelve members of the team, aged eleven to seventeen, and their 25 year old assistant coach entered the cave on June 23 after football practice. Shortly afterwards, heavy rains partially flooded the cave, trapping the group inside.
Efforts to locate the group were hampered by rising water levels and strong currents, and no contact was made for more than a week. The rescue effort expanded into a massive operation amid intense worldwide public interest.
On July 2, after advancing through narrow passages and muddy waters, British divers John Volanthen and Richard Stanton found the group alive on an elevated rock about 4 kilometres from the cave mouth. Rescue organisers discussed various options for extracting the group, including whether to teach them basic diving skills to enable their early rescue, wait until a new entrance was found or drilled, or wait for the floodwaters to subside at the end of the monsoon season months later.
After days of pumping water from the cave system and a respite from rain, the rescue teams hastened to get everyone out before the next monsoon rain. Between 8 and 10 July, all of the boys and their coach were rescued from the cave by a highly skilled international team.
The rescue effort involved more than 10,000 people, including over 100 divers, many rescue workers, representatives from about 100 governmental agencies, 900 police officers and 2,000 soldiers, and required ten police helicopters, seven police ambulances, more than 700 diving cylinders, and the pumping of more than a billion litres of water out of the caves.
There was one fatality, Saman Kunan, a 37 year old former Thai Navy SEAL who died of asphyxiation on 6 July while returning to a staging base in the cave after delivering supplies of air.
Watch The Thaiger’s tribute to the Tham Luang cave rescuers HERE.
2. Tour boat sinking hits tourism industry hard
The capsizing of a tour boat off the coast of Phuket on July 5, killing 47 Chinese tourists, was the worst maritime disasters to hit Thailand.
The Phoenix, carrying 89 Chinese tourists plus 12 crew, and the Serenata, with 39 passengers and two crew members on board, capsized on the same day. However, unlike the Phoenix, everybody on board the Serenata was saved.
Shortly after the tragedy, which underscored concerns about safety, Thailand suffered another backlash when Deputy PM Prawit Wongsuwan blamed the disaster on Chinese tour operators, saying they did not respect local safety legislation.
Though calls in China to boycott Thailand were somewhat calmed down by the Thai Embassy in Beijing issuing a statement carrying Deputy PM Prawit’s apology and PM Prayut Chan-o-cha’s hastily arranged visit to the survivors and families of the deceased, the tourism industry and Thailand’s safety reputation still took a hit.
The number of Chinese tourist arrivals dropped by up to 20 per cent between August and October, prompting the government to roll out new incentives, including a waiver of visa-on-arrival fees from November to mid-January.
The full impact of the sinking may have been blunted by the Tham Luang cave rescue coverage which was happening at the same time, focussing attention of the world’s media on events in northern Thailand.
Read The Thaiger’s coverage of efforts to contain some oft he fallout from the disaster HERE.
3. Rap goes viral focussing on the country’s issues
The rap song “Prathet Ku Me”, released in October could be said to have topped the charts as it brought to light all the problems people have had with this regime.
The rap number, produced by a group of artists called Rap against Dictatorship (RAD), spoke about the rampant hypocrisy and injustice lower and middle-class Thais suffer due to the country’s unjust political structure. The music video was set against dramatic images of the October 6, 1976 Thammasat University uprising, which also reflected the country’s deep-rooted political problems.
The number, released on YouTube, has garnered nearly 50 million views so far.
Though loved by millions, this song has also raised quite a controversy. Conservatives in the country have labelled RAD as unpatriotic and responded by producing pieces of art also entitled “Prathet Ku Me” showing the good side of Thailand.
Read The Thaiger’s coverage of this story HERE.
4. Authorities close down access to Maya Bay
Leonardo Di Caprio, as the young traveller Richard, sits on the beach, embraced by the tranquillity of Maya Bay in a scene in the 2000 film, “The Beach”.
In reality though, Thailand’s top tourist destination, Maya Bay on Koh Phi Phi Ley, has been suffering from over tourism, resulting in severe degradation of the environment and its ecosystems, including the coral reef.
This was what led the Department |of National Parks, Wildlife, and Plant Conservation to make a clear-cut decision to close the bay indefinitely to allow |rehabilitation – an action that earned the department praise internationally for deciding to chose nature over money. But local tour operators weren’t happy about having their golden goose caged.
Many environmentalists, like noted marine ecologist Thon Thamrongnawasawas, said this action was a “bang” that would send ripples to other natural attractions that need healing.
Thanks to these measures, some marine animals, such as black tip reef sharks, are finally returning to the waterfront.
Due to this success, other places have followed suit – limiting visitor numbers or closing the door to tourists so nature can heal itself.
Read some of The Thaiger’s comprehensive coverage of the closure HERE.
5. “The luxury watches and rings aren’t mine”
The start of 2018 began with a hot scandal involving Deputy PM Prawit Wongsuwan’s controversial collection of luxury wristwatches, which many said were way beyond the means of an Army general.
The controversy kicked off late last year and continued grabbing public attention through most of 2018. When Prawit appeared at a Cabinet meeting wearing a 3 million baht Richard Mille, netizens could not help but dig up other images of the general sporting other luxury watches that would have cost a small fortune. He was later estimated to have a grand collection of more than 20 such pieces valued at more than 20 million baht.
As of this week the NACC has cleared General Prawit of any wrong-doing.
Read some of The Thaiger coverage of this story that kept popping up throughout 2018 HERE.
6. ‘Furious aunties’ win public sympathy
Two middle-aged sisters, caught on tape attacking a pickup parked in front of their house in Bangkok with an axe and a spade in February, shot to fame as the “furious aunties”. Initial public condemnation of their action quickly turned to sympathy when they told their story of how five illegal markets near their house, and the Bangkok Metropolitan Administration (BMA)’s lack of response, had made their lives miserable for years.
In May, the Central Administrative Court ordered the BMA to pay 1.47 million baht in compensation to the Saengyoktrakarn family and to clear all illegal markets from their neighbourhood, which is located inside the Seri Villa housing estate’s designated residential zone. Though the BMA said it was willing to remove the markets, it appealed the compensation ruling.
In November, a Bangkok court sentenced 37 year old Ratchanikorn Lertwasana, the woman whose pickup blocked the gate, to a one-year suspended jail term and a 5,000 baht fine. The court ruled that she had violated traffic regulations by parking on a public road in a manner that blocked a building entrance, and violated a criminal code by annoying or causing trouble to other persons.
However, not all decisions were in favour of the sisters. The Central Administrative Court on December 4 dismissed the family’s lawsuit against the BMA and the Bangkok governor, in which they alleged that the defendants had amended the law in favour of the markets and other commercial buildings within the estate.
Another one of those stories that just went on and on and on… HERE’S some of The Thaiger’s coverage.
7. Head of Italian-Thai construction company caught poaching endangered black panther
Premchai Karnasuta, president of Italian-Thai Development Plc, was apprehended on February 4 along with three companions in the Thung Yai Naresuan Wildlife Sanctuary, after rangers searched his unauthorised camp and found carcasses and parts of wildlife, including the carcass of a skinned black leopard.
Premchai was charged with six offences, including playing a part in poaching “protected species” and poaching protected species in a “protected area”.
If found guilty, he could face four to five years in jail along with a fine of between 40,000-50,000 baht.
The investigation has also expanded to other allegations, including attempted bribery to evade wildlife poaching charges, illegal possession of weapons and illegal possession of ivory – all of which Premchai has denied.
The court began deliberating the case in December, with both sides taking turns to provide testimony.
A story that truly caught the imagination of Thai netizens during 2018 HERE.
8. Judiciary under fire over alleged encroachment in Chiang Mai
Earlier this year, Chiang Mai residents noticed patches of cleared forest at the foot of Doi Suthep, a sacred landmark that has been proposed for World Heritage status along with the old city.
From an outcry over small patches being cleared at the foot of the mountain, the issue has escalated, tarnishing one of Thailand’s most revered institutions – the court.
The Office of the Judiciary had built a new office and residences for the Court of Appeals Region 5 and its officials at the foot of the mountain, claiming the 140-rai plot had been legally granted by the military and the Treasury Department a few years ago.
Despite its claim of legitimacy, locals believe the properties are encroaching into natural waterways of the pristine forest, which should have been integrated with the Doi Suthep-Pui National Park.
They also claim the structures – 45 houses plus nine low-rise condominiums and a court office – taint the spiritual value of the mountain, thus reducing the area’s chance of winning World Heritage status.
The government appointed sub-panels to settle the issue with the residents, who jointly formed the Doi Suthep Forest Reclamation Network, and they agreed that the structures be demolished, leaving the site as a “no man’s land”.
However, so far, no properties have been demolished as the government claims there are no laws backing this measure.
The Thaiger coverage of the Doi Suthep story HERE.
9. Old lady hippo ‘Mae Mali’ moves to her new home as Dusit Zoo shuts its doors
Bangkok’s beloved Dusit Zoo, known locally as Khao Din, said goodbye to Bangkok in September.
The 80-year-old zoo, located in the city’s heart, was part of many people’s childhood memories, which is why thousands showed up in the final two months to capture a souvenir photo. The biggest attraction, of course, was the celebrated 52-year-old hippo – Mae Mali.
As for the thousand or so residents of the zoo, the closure of their home marked the start of a new journey. In the largest relocation of animals in Thai history – more than 90 species were sent off to the Khao Kheow Open Zoo in Chon Buri, as well as zoos in Chiang Mai, Nakhon Ratchasima, Songkhla, Ubon Ratchathani and Khon Kaen Zoo.
These animals will remain in their new homes until their permanent, more spacious habitat – being built on land gifted by His Majesty King Maha Vajiralongkorn in Pathum Thani’s Thanyaburi district – is ready.
Mae Mali and her great grandson Tua Kheow, however, will live in Khao Kheow permanently with the rest of their family.
The 118-rai Dusit Zoo was built in 1895 during the reign of King Rama V, but only officially opened to the public on March 13, 1938.
Read about Mae Mali’s new home HERE.
10. A single person can make a big difference
An unlikely whistle-blower had a big impact on Thai society this year, as she has courageously brought to light large-scale corruption at the Social Development and Human Security Ministry.
When Panida Yotpanya first exposed irregularities at the Khon Kaen Protection Centre for the Destitute during her internship there in late 2017, she was just a 22 year old student at Mahasarakham University’s Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences.
Her complaints about suspicious activities at the centre got her into trouble with many lecturers. Yet she refused to back down.
Panida stood by her complaints about how officials at the centre suspiciously signed documents to claim reimbursements for funds that should have gone to the destitute.
Thanks to her unwavering determination, her complaints finally reached the ears of the Office of Public Sector Anti-Corruption Commission (PACC) and Prime Minister General Prayut Chan-o-cha early this year.
An investigation later revealed that several top officials were involved. On February 23, Prayut transferred many high-level officials at the Social Development and Human Security Ministry, including its then-permanent secretary Puttipat Lertchaowasit.
Two months later, the Cabinet approved 60 year old Puttipat’s dismissal unless his name could be cleared. On June 12, the Anti-Money Laundering Office seized Puttipat’s assets, and a few weeks later, he committed suicide.
Panida, who has already received several awards for her courage, is now an official at the PACC.
SOURCE: The Nation | The Thaiger
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