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Changing winds: Minister puts weight behind changes to boost marine tourism

Legacy Phuket Gazette

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Changing winds: Minister puts weight behind changes to boost marine tourism | The Thaiger
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PHUKET: A special task force has been formed to come up with viable suggestions for changes to visas and yacht-charter regulations to help boost marine tourism in Phuket, with a working deadline for rolling out the changes by 2016.

“The task force comprises officials from relevant government agencies, including the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Ministry of Tourism and Sports and the Immigration Bureau,” Tourism Minister Kobkarn Wattanavrangkul revealed to the Phuket Gazette in an exclusive interview.

“We are working together to come up with suggestions for changes to visas and other regulations that would be best for the country,” she said.

“This includes changes that will boost the chartering of foreign-flagged superyachts in Thai waters.”

Prime Minister Gen Prayut Chan-o-cha has pledged his full support for bureaucratic changes to help boost marine tourism, Ms Kobkarn added.

“I recently spoke with Transport Minister Air Chief Marshall Prajin Janthong about what can be done to push Phuket as a yachting destination,” she explained.

“Minister Prajin confirmed that he had met with PM Prayut, who he said pledged his full support for improving all aspects of marine tourism, including yacht and superyacht charters.”

Ms Kobkarn said she could not reveal any more details as any proposed changes had yet to be finalized.

“This is an important issue, as any changes will affect different types of visas and businesses. We must also consider internal security and safety measures a top priority, but I will support the changes suggested because it means a lot for tourism,” she said.

“We hope to have new rules in place by the end of this year to help secure the island’s position as the top yachting destination in the region.”

The move to overhaul the visas and laws regulating yacht charters follow a meeting with Phuket Governor Nisit Jansomwong and Gulu Lalvani, chairman of the Royal Phuket Marina, in January.
At the meeting, Ms Kobkarn vowed to raise concerns voiced about crew visas and the chartering of foreign-flagged superyachts.

“Changing the regulations in order to develop our tourism is a must in response to heightened competition from other yachting destinations in the region,” she said.

“It will take time for the suggested changes to be presented to the Cabinet and approved, but we are making good progress.”

Among the changes to rampup marine tourism in Phuket is the push for a multi-million-baht harbor expansion at the Deep Sea Port at Ao Makham, Ms Kobkarn added.

“Current regulations allow only one-year concessions to operate ports, but we are looking at what can be done to allow long-term concessions,” she said.

The expansion project plans to improve connectivity with other major tourist cruise line ports in the region, Ms Kobkarn explained.

“We are in talks with our neighbors to link together as cruise destination ports,” she said. “We plan to forge network links with Singapore and Vietnam, and Cambodia is drawing plans to develop their marine tourism too.

“Better connectivity will be good for us. We have a lot of beautiful places for marine tours, and cruise line passengers stopping in Phuket will be impressed by many beautiful stops and good facilities at the port.

“We are looking at becoming attractive hosts for yachts, cruise liners and superyachts – all for long-stay, not just short stays.

“This is what we aim to do and I hope to have a clear picture set by the end of the year.”

— 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.

Phuket

Phuket’s annual Vegetarian Festival lowers flags, spirits return to the heavens

Caitlin Ashworth

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Phuket’s annual Vegetarian Festival lowers flags, spirits return to the heavens | The Thaiger
PHOTO: Marina Krasnopolska

WARNING! Content below contains photos of self-mutilation that some may find disturbing.

The flags on Go Teng poles were lowered on Monday, ending Phuket’s annual Vegetarian Festival and symbolising that the spirits have returned the heavens. The flags are raised at the start of the festivities each year at participating shrines, calling on the spirits to descend from the heavens.

This year, 2 men were electrocuted while taking down the festival flags. A steel pole with the flag touched a power pole, electrocuting and burning the workers as they were trying to lower the flags. They were taken to the hospital.

During the festival’s street processions and ceremonies so-called “mah songs” channel the descended spirits. They enter a trance-like state and many practice self-mutilation to channel the spirits. “Mah” means horse in Thai, and some say the mah song acts as a horse for the spirit to ride.

Some mah song pierce their cheeks and other parts of their body with steel spikes and sometimes swords or other bizarre choices (we’ve seen petrol pumps, javelins, samurai swords and kitchen utensils). During the street procession, they walk for hours with the self-inflicted piercings, seemingly posessed by ‘spirits’ and muttering all sort of strange chants, verging on mild cases of Tourette syndrome. A team of devotees for each mah song wipe away blood and keep the wounds clean. Some mah songs even slice their tongue for the street procession. Blood drips on their chest and the ground. Waiting bystanders line the streets hoping for the blessing of a passing mah song. Some mah songs carry a black flag.

The event is an annual spiritual ‘cleansing’ for those in watching the processions. Onlookers lining the street bow their heads and place their hands in the “wai” position as the mah song waves flags and banners over their heads. Businesses along the procession route often set up an altar outside their shop and mah songs stop at each one to do a short ritual.

The Phuket government gave the festival organisers the “okay” to hold this years event with hopes that it would increase domestic tourism and generate much-needed revenue after the Thai government’s response to the Covid-19 pandemic crippled Phuket’s tourist economy. Before this year’s festival, Phuket City Mayor Somjai Suwansupana asked that the mah songs “limit the level of torturing.” He also called for a limit on the number of people at ceremonies to prevent the spread of the coronavirus.

His calls were largely ignored.

The spirits will again return in 2021 to Phuket again cleanse the island’s large Thai-Chinese community.

Photos of the 2020 Vegetarian Festival by Marina Krasnopolska.

Phuket's annual Vegetarian Festival lowers flags, spirits return to the heavens | News by The ThaigerPhuket's annual Vegetarian Festival lowers flags, spirits return to the heavens | News by The ThaigerPhuket's annual Vegetarian Festival lowers flags, spirits return to the heavens | News by The ThaigerPhuket's annual Vegetarian Festival lowers flags, spirits return to the heavens | News by The ThaigerPhuket's annual Vegetarian Festival lowers flags, spirits return to the heavens | News by The ThaigerPhuket's annual Vegetarian Festival lowers flags, spirits return to the heavens | News by The Thaiger

SOURCE: Phuket News

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Phuket

Phuket told to prepare “response plan” in case of second Covid-19 outbreak

Caitlin Ashworth

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Phuket told to prepare “response plan” in case of second Covid-19 outbreak | The Thaiger
PHOTO: Daily News

As Phuket awaits foreign tourists, city officials are told to prepare a “response plan” in case of a second wave of Covid-19. An official from the Ministry of Tourism and Sports held a workshop in Phuket today to discuss the risk of another outbreak as the country opens up to those on the Special Tourist Visa.

The ministry’s permanent secretary Chote Trachu says now that the country is allowing tourists (who are required to quarantine upon arrival) an infection “may somehow slip through.” He says a response plan needs to be in place in case this happens, adding that there should be corporation from the Ministry of Public Health and Ministry of Defense.

“If any tourists are found to be infected, the disease must not be allowed to spread among the people. There should be no panic, and public health officers will investigate the case. Tourist Police will track down the suspected person in an investigation with the Ministry of Public Health.”

Chote says all provinces – not just Phuket – should have a response plan. Although tourists must go through a mandatory 14 day quarantine upon arrival, Chote says there are some cases where the incubation period for Covid-19 is longer than 14 days.

“There are a variety of cases. Sometimes, the infection does not show after 14 days, or even 15 or 16 days. Each situation is different.”

Recently, a woman in Koh Samui tested positive for the coronavirus 5 days after she was released from a Samut Prakan quarantine facility. Traces of the virus were found on gym equipment the woman used at the quarantine, leading health officials to suspect she was infected before arriving to the island.

“We urge Thai people to not let their guard down. Everyone must wear masks, wash their hands and take care of personal hygiene. This will help prevent them from contracting the disease.”

SOURCE: Phuket News

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Business

Approval sought for multi-billion-baht Phuket medical hub

Maya Taylor

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Approval sought for multi-billion-baht Phuket medical hub | The Thaiger
Mai Khao beach in north Phuket - PHOTO: www.makemytrip.com

Industry officials are seeking the go-ahead for a project to transform over 140 rai of government land in Phuket into a world-leading medical hub. The project is budgeted at 3 – 4 billion baht, depending on which report you read. Kitkong Tantijaraswarodom, from the Federation of Thai Industries, believes the development of a medical and wellness hub in the sub-district of Mai Khao, north Phuket, will help revive the southern island’s battered economy. Phuket has become increasingly reliant on a steady flow of tourists over the past 2 decades.

The southern division of the FTI covers Phuket, Krabi, Phang Nga, Nakhon Si Thammarat, Trang, Patthalung, Surat Thani, Ranong, Satun, Chumphon, and Songkhla.

“The FTI will ask the government to green-light the project during the scheduled mobile cabinet meeting on the island on November 3.”

Kitkong says businesspeople in the south are anxious for the government to approve the project, which will provide both locals and foreign medical tourists with state-of-the-art medical care. The facility is expected to include long-term care, hospice and rehabilitation services, in addition to a dental hospital, sports therapy centre, and a medical training school for doctors, nurses, pharmacists and medical laboratory scientists.

The chair of the FTI’s southern chapter is also calling on officials to provide small and medium-sized businesses with additional support, in the form of access to loans, in order to deal with cash shortages.

“In the short term, the FTI wants the government to help SMEs, especially those in the tourism sector.”

SOURCE: Bangkok Post

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