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Opinion: Tourism to the stars

Legacy Phuket Gazette

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Opinion: Tourism to the stars | The Thaiger
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Dr Utane Sawangwit, 33, has been an astronomer at the National Astronomical Research Institute of Thailand (NARIT) since 2012. He is a Phuket native who earned a PhD in Physics from Durham University in the UK in 2011 and his Bachelors and Masters of Science from the University of Cambridge.

Here, he talks about how astronomy should be incorporated into tourism.

PHUKET: When most people think of astronomy, they think of things that are very far away from us. What they don’t realize is that it is a part of our everyday lives and has the potential to be a positive facet of the tourism industry.

Though the light pollution in Phuket is not as bad as other big cities, in terms of the potential for astronomy tourism, it is very bad, as it is hard to see the stars from most parts of the island.

With this pollution, how can Phuket children describe what the Milky Way looks like? Years ago when I was growing up in Phuket, it was very easy to see the beauty of the Milky Way. Even during the day, you could close your eyes and imagine what it looked like at night.

Now, many people even miss important meteor showers. There are so many wonders of the night sky that children might now only see in a planetarium, on star maps or on their smart phones – they are losing an important connection with the universe.

As a Phuket native, who still very much loves his home, I can see that locals are no longer as happy as they used to be. The environment of the island has changed; the cost of living has increased and our natural resources are dwindling as all forms of pollution are increasing.

The tourism sector in Phuket must branch out in different ways. I think there is a need for quiet, safe places, set far from city lights and nightlife venues – places where tourists and locals can enjoy the peacefulness of the island under the stars, somewhere people can go outside with a telescope and view the night sky and appreciate the natural beauty of it.

Developing a facet of the island’s ecotourism around astronomy would be very good. The more time people spend outside in nature, the more of a chance they have to witness the changes that are being made to our planet. People will become more interested in preserving nature and less interested in selling out our beautiful beaches in the name of tourism.

It would be nice to see an area on Phuket that doesn’t already suffer from light pollution developed in this way, or even to see a resort taking the initiative to support astronomy tourism. It would be a good way to remind people how lucky we are to be surrounded by such extraordinarily beautiful nature.

This realization would prompt people to start doing what needs to be done to preserve it.

Because Phuket is rapidly growing, it is difficult to preserve the natural beauty of the island. It all comes down to those who live and work here, including the local government bodies, to manage the island and help it produce as little pollution as possible.

It is everyone’s responsibility.

— Chutharat Plerin

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Archiving articles from the Phuket Gazette circa 1998 - 2017. View the Phuket Gazette online archive and Digital Gazette PDF Prints.

Thailand

Is Koh Pha Ngan Thailand’s best island?

Caitlin Ashworth

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Is Koh Pha Ngan Thailand’s best island? | The Thaiger
PHOTO: Wikimedia

OPINION

Koh Pha Ngan was voted third best island in Asia in the 2020 Condé Nast’s Readers Choice Awards. The island is widely known for its monthly Full Moon parties on Haad Rin beach, but Surat Thani governor Wichawut Jinto, who boasted about the island’s recent rating, said there’s more to Koh Pha Ngan than Haad Rin.

Condé Nast publishes a monthly travel magazine, Condé Nast Traveller, as well as GQ, Vanity Fair and Vogue. It’s safe to say the publication’s target audience is more interested in luxury resorts than dirt cheap party hostels and monthly beach raves. For example, for the best islands in the United States, Hilton Head Island in South Carolina was voted number 1. It’s a golf lovers paradise and a popular vacation spot for suburban families.

A trip Koh Pha Ngan can be a completely different experience depending on where you go and what you do. Some stay on Haad Rin on the southeastern side of the island and have a trip like Hunter S. Thompson’s drug-fueled “Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas,” while some go to the western side for a yoga or healing retreat.

The Full Moon parties, which would draw more than 30,000 mostly foreign tourists, was put on pause due to the coronavirus pandemic restrictions in Thailand. But before the outbreak, the parties were known to be crazy with neon glow paint, fire jump rope and cheap buckets of alcohol and use of illicit drugs. The sand was so sticky that people were better off wearing shoes, and just about everyone pees (and pukes) in the ocean.

Even on the west side of the island, where it’s more known for yoga and meditation retreats, things can sometimes get a little weird. A tourist said she did a “spiritual healing” ritual on the island known as a kambo cleanse where secretion from a South American frog is applied to burnt skin. She said “I feels like you’re dying” but “it’s great.”

While the west side of the island has trendy resorts and bungalows, as well as a variety of yoga retreats and pricy vegan food, some people also live on a budget – a very tight budget. Some tourists even camped out on a hidden beach during the pandemic, a tourist claims. A local artist said he lives in a cave on the same beach.

Koh Pha Ngan topped Bali, Indonesia, which was number 9 on the list. Phuket was number 8 on the list and Koh Samui was number 10.

Here’s what made the top 10 Asia islands in the Condé Nast Reader’s Choice Awards 2020.

  1. Cebu & Visayas, Philippines 95.83
  2. Sri Lanka 95.45
  3. Ko Pha Ngan, Thailand 95.30
  4. Palawan, Philippines 95.22
  5. Siargao Island, Philippines 95.19
  6. Boracay, Philippines 95.06
  7. Lombok, Indonesia 94.59
  8. Phuket, Thailand 94.12
  9. Bali, Indonesia 93.27
  10. Koh Samui, Thailand 92.73

SOURCES: Condé Nast | Bangkok Post

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Thailand

Thanks for the COMMENTS, but…

The Thaiger

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Thanks for the COMMENTS, but… | The Thaiger

The Thaiger website is now receiving around 300 – 500 genuine comments a day (plus a lot of spam). We appreciate your engagement but, as you can imagine, it’s causing a few headaches as well, particularly in the current “situation”. To help us we would appreciate your following a few basic guidelines.

As it is, most comments are withheld for approval by a moderator. “Moderation” means us going through each comment and making sure there’s nothing that’s going to get The Thaiger, or YOU, into trouble. Not every comment is going to be approved.

Your IP Addresses and emails are stored in our server, but remain private information that will not be shared or sold.

At this time we need to keep a tight rein on all content on this website. Whilst we usually have a wide latitude in regards to free speech, we also have to protect our business and provide a “safe space” for everyone to express their views.

From an editorial point of view, The Thaiger won’t be taking any sides in the current protest coverage and will remain unpartisan. Other news outlets are welcome to take any stand they wish but our role will remain merely to pass on what’s happening, without fear or favour.

• Don’t include live links in your comments. They will automatically be unapproved. Whilst many links are a useful addition to your comment, a lot are just spam. Some are just unacceptable for reasons of liable or inappropriate content. Just copy and paste a passage from a site and quote it if you wish.

• Try and keep your comments on topic and about the story, and avoid making personal or defamatory remarks about other commenters.

• Criticism about the stories and our coverage is fair game. But avoid criticism about Thailand’s Head of State or making libellous or false comments about the Thai Government.

All we ask is a bit of common sense during this time so we can continue providing a free, independent news and information pipeline.

Editor, The Thaiger Pte Ltd

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Protests

How can the Thai government resolve the current protest crisis?

The Thaiger

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How can the Thai government resolve the current protest crisis? | The Thaiger
PHOTO: เยาวชนปลดแอก - Free YOUTH

OPINION

The Thai Government has no easy way out of the current protest situation.

Over the past months an organic, mostly young Thais, political movement has been building. It’s different from every protest movement in the past. The people attending the rallies don’t really align themselves or identify with the past political factions. They’re not red shirts or yellow shirts. They are new and say they’re seeking key changes to Thailand’s political system, and the role and powers of the Head of State.

Their demands – the standing down of the Thai PM Prayut Chan-o-cha, the dissolution of the Thai parliament, a new constitution to replace the 2017 Thai Charter and curbs on the powers of the Thai monarch – are unlikely to be met by the current government.

The protester’s 10-point manifesto, outlining their demands, pits them against a quasi-democratic government that includes many of the faces from its predecessor, the National Councilfor Peace and Order that removed the elected Shinawatra government in 2014 in a military coup. The leader of the coup, General Prayut Chan-o-cha, is now the prime minister, elected by a parliamentary majority. The entire upper house of the Thai parliament were hand-picked by the PM and NCPO, so a parliamentary majority is merely a formality.

There is little possibility the ruling government will concede to any of the demands of the protesters. They’re not going to simply step aside and hand over the levers of power to opposition parties. Whilst promising to convene an enquiry into constitutional reform last month, the parliament was unable to get the votes necessary and recommended a postponement. A postponement to an enquiry… blah, blah.

Thai politics has proved to be brutal over the past five decades with countless coups, periods of political instability, violent crackdowns on dissent and a 2017 constitution that guarantees that the status quo can continue, without the usual checks and balances in a modern parliamentary system.

But something else has changed this time.

The protesters are young and proving resilient and clever. There’s also lots of them.

Their defiance to the status quo has shocked the elite establishment. Everything is now being questioned, including the previously revered position of the Thai monarchy.

Just recall scenes over the past week…

• A royal motorcade driving right through the middle of a protest with protesters standing defiantly, metres away from the occupants of the yellow Rolls Royce, displaying the 3 finger symbol and shouting “our taxes”.

• People deciding to remain seated during the playing of the Royal Anthem which precedes all movies in Thailand.

• Usually compliant young Thai secondary school children displaying the 3 finger salute during the compulsory 8am school assembly and flag raising.

Even the public uttering of demands to change the role of the Head of State in Thailand were unheard of before this August.

Now, the genie is out of the bottle. What has been said cannot be unsaid and the young are now speaking about the issues openly. They’ve been emboldened by a government completely blindsided by the development and not knowing how to react to this new student-based voice. The only reaction has been the usual brute force.

Speaking to a young policeman, off the record, this morning. I asked how the younger members of the Thai police force felt when commanded to crackdown on their fellow young Thais. He said that there was a growing level of “unease” in the police and that it was getting more difficult to put their personal feelings to the side and act on the orders of their superiors.

The key problem now is that the young protesters face the Thai government and Army who are not adept at the skills of politics or negotiation. Chalk and cheese. Their upbringings are different, their experiences are different. The young say their seeking democratic reform. The establishment are trying to protest the status quo and the privileges they enjoy.

There is little room for negotiation.

The only way forward for the government will be crackdowns, curfews and brute force, most of which will attract almost universal condemnation from other governments and onlookers.

Simply, and starkly, the government are in a lose/lose situation. There are few ways they can extract a ‘win’ out this situation. To force a brutal crackdown on young, unarmed protesters will make them pariahs in a world of modern civilised governments. To do nothing, and allow the protest movement to fester and grow, will simply push their final demise a bit further down the road.

The only way out, to save face and diffuse the situation, would be to call an election. But with the current parliamentary set-up, the odds are stacked in favour of the current rulers to seize back power, again. Do you really think the Senators will step in to force a new election? Sack the PM? By precipitating the writing of a new constitution they would be effectively doing themselves out of a cushy, paid job. It won’t happen.

Everyone wants a peaceful resolution to this current situation but the stakes are high, and sustainable, realistic solutions are thin on the ground.

The views expressed in this editorial do not necessarily reflect the staff and management of The Thaiger.

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