PHUKET: A man is standing out in the cold in the snowy town of Karlskoga, his fellow citizens walk briskly past, unaware that within about a month the man will be departing their homeland on an epic cycling journey across half of the world to the shores of paradise – Phuket.
Unlike many such great undertakings, which have been motivated by the historic words of Everest mountaineer George “Because it’s there” Herbert, Calle Wollgard is embarking on his trip for family. Not his family in Sweden, but the caretakers and dozens of orphans of Barnhem Muang Mai in Phuket. The trip will raise money for the post-tsunami orphanage run by Susanne Janson and Hans Forssell, as businesses in Sweden, Phuket and the rest of the world pledge cash for each 10 kilometer Calle and his team of three put between them and their homeland.
The largest hurdle to date for Calle was not in obtaining any particular visa or in the training, but wrangling a blessing for the trip from his distraught mother.
“First she began to cry,” Calle explains when asked about his mother’s reaction to the news that he would be riding from Sweden to Phuket.
“She couldn’t sleep for a couple of nights, and then she forbade me to do it.”
“I was still on my own at this point. So, in late August last year, when three friends of mine joined me for the trip, she was very relieved!”
Now that the hard part is done, Calle merely has to conquer 18 countries (including Iran), 16,000km of questionable road, insane traffic, mountain passes, visas and all the other unknowns that lurk within the epic pages of an adventure.
“I don’t know if it’s crazy, it’s just a way of travelling. I’m not going to worry about it.”
The three men that have joined Calle and helped him secure his mother’s goodwill for the trip are Fredrik Jessen, Tomi Blumen and Christofer Johansson, all 27 years old.
None are cyclists.Fredrik, reportedly handy in the kitchen, has been dubbed the cook. Christofer and Tomi’s – the Sandal Sultans – current claim to fame is making it to Mount Everest base camp in flip-flops while serenading fellow travellers with their guitar.
“I would say zero,” Calle replies when asked about distance-cycling experience on the team. Each member of the “Happy Tour” troupe is taking care of his own training – hitting the gym and spin classes as the heavy snows in Sweden keep them locked in doors.
For an estimated eight months, with a Christmas Eve deadline, the team will be averaging 80 kilometers a day on their heavily laden bikes.
“We’ll probably take one day of rest a week. Some days the rain will probably fall on us and there will be wind, so then maybe we will cycle for 50km or 60km. On other days, there might be perfect weather and the wind might be at our back so we might be cycling more,” Calle explains, seemingly unfazed by spending a cold, rainy day in the saddle and then having to set up camp in some remote part of Kyrgyzstan.
Though the team expects to spend 80-90 per cent of their time abroad camping, countries such as Uzbekistan have laws requiring them to stay in hotels. They will be asked for receipts when they leave the country.
“It’s a whole adventure in itself. We will be able to see so much, and meet a lot of people from so many cultures while we will live a very simple life in our tents,” Calle says.
The 18 countries they will traverse, each filled with its own diverse cultural groups are: Sweden, Denmark, Germany, Czech Republic, Austria, Slovakia, Hungary, Romania, Bulgaria, Greece, Turkey, Iran, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan, China, Laos and Thailand.
Dangers and Fears
“Traffic is a much bigger problem than terrorists. Of course there is a risk of that as well, but I think the traffic situation in Iran, especially around the capital, Tehran, is going to be crazy,” Calle says from Sweden during a Skype interview.
“Really, my biggest concern is that the equipment will fail – especially the bikes. I’m also worried about the bikes being stolen, that would really suck,” he says matter-of-factly.
The other major concern for Calle is visas, especially those for Iran, China, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan.
“A lot of people think I’m just going to die by going into those countries. I don’t think of it like that at all. I don’t worry about it.”
Failure? I Don’t Understand The Question Calle, unflustered ahead of events, seems willing to roll with whatever chaos and misadventures they meet on their way. However, what he seems unwilling to do is finish anywhere other than Barnhem Muang Mai in Phuket.
“I really want to make it, but of course if something happens, I mean, worst case scenario and someone dies, we will cancel it. Hopefully, no one will… you never know though. There is a lot of traffic, I mean things can happen.However, when it comes to government red tape, Calle is taking a much harder line than Thomas Stevens. Mr Stevens is the first man to ride around the entire world from 1884-1886; he and his penny-farthing bicycle were refused permission to travel through Siberia, forcing him into Afghanistan, where local authorities expelled him. If visas fall through, and visas to alternate-route countries are also denied, Calle is prepared to do whatever is necessary to get to Phuket
“I can’t turn around in Uzbekstan and say, ‘No, let’s turn around.’ That’s not going to happen.”
Sitting under a mango tree in the slightly over-grown court yard of Barnhem Muang Mai with Susanne and Hans, it is understandable why Calle has adopted the place and people as a second home. The orphanage is not shiny and new, it doesn’t have bells and whistles – it is rustic, honest and openly full of love and care.
“We will follow him with mixed emotions, horror and joy, as he has become kind of like our little brother,” Susanne says.
“He came down here as a volunteer, and we just connected. He got very close to Thailand and the children and the Thai staff here.”
“He is the volunteer that we have gotten closest to over the years, and not just us. It would be the same if we were to ask a lot of the staff and the kids,” Hans says.
Calle is the kind of person who blends in, becoming part of your life without a person even realizing it or understanding how it happened, they explained with contemplative smiles.Even Susanne’s relatives in Stockholm consider him family.
“He went to Stockholm to meet a sponsor, and I get an email from my sister, ‘Oh, our little brother was here sleeping.'”
The feeling is mutual for Calle.
“I spent so much time there that they have become like a second family for me. That’s why I’m doing this. The kids are great, the staff is great, the Swedish couple… If you think this is something, it’s nothing compared to her [Susanne’s] story,” Calle says.
“They have become, not parents, but like really, really close relatives. So I am doing it for them as well, but mostly for the kids of course.”
Learn to Walk Before You Ride
Hans and Susanne are able to offer a glimpse beyond Calle’s deep modesty, which could easily leave one wondering whether or not he and his friends fully understand the trials that come with this epic journey.
It was firsthand experience of Calle’s tenacity that gives Hans and Susanne a deep belief in his ability to complete the task at hand.
In 2011 Calle organized a group with four other friends to walk from Bangkok to Phuket to raise funds for Barnhem Muang Mai. They raised around 1 million baht for the orphanage.
“If he hadn’t been walking, I would have been like, ‘Okay Calle, just give it up, you can’t do it. It’s impossible bicycling through all these countries.’ But as he had already walked, I thought, ‘okay, if Calle wants to do it, then he w
— Isaac Stone SimonelliKeep in contact with The Thaiger by following our Facebook page.
New branding for the old town – tweaking Phuket’s Old Town
PHOTO: Many renovated buildings and putting the crappy overhead cabling underground is bringing the old town alive
Though Phuket remains among the world’s most popular tourist destinations, injecting some 477 billion baht to the Thai economy, with its “Pearl of the Andaman Sea” branding, its future status is being questioned due to competition from Indonesia and Vietnam.
In response, Phuket is making a move to focus on the city’s “Old Town” to attract more tourists, along with an “Endless Discovery” branding campaign to highlight the variety of local tourist options.
Don Limnantapisit, the president of the Phuket Old Town community, says most tourists have visited just about everywhere in Phuket but often bypass the Old Town.
Though the Old Town area has for 15 years encouraged tourist visits so that it wouldn’t disappear from Phuket’s map, only in the past two years has it seen much success in attracting tourists – thanks to the power of social media.
As well, CNN recently included Old Town on its list of Asia’s 13 most picturesque towns (it’s also in The Thaiger’s list of Asia’s Top 10 Prettiest towns).
Thailand’s Fine Arts Department and Phuket are working on a plan to register Old Town as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The new “Phuket Endless Discovery” branding aims to tease the curiosity of travellers, said the president of the Phuket Tourism Association, Bhummikitti Ruktaengam
Statistics show a significant growth in travellers for meetings, incentive travel, conventions and exhibitions (MICE) in Phuket. The figure for 2018 showed an increase to 2,216,230, up 168% from 2017, bringing in 19.5 billion baht.
SOURCE: The Nation – Pornpilin Julapan
PHOTO: phuketoldtownhostel.comKeep in contact with The Thaiger by following our Facebook page.
And the new Phuket mascot is ‘Nong Joong’
PHOTOS: Phuket Hot News
The Phuket mascot has officially been announced and the winning mascot is ‘Nong Joong’ – a baby lobster created by Jin Sataponsathitsuk, who received 100,000 for his efforts.
The baby lobster mascot represents a naughty kid who loves eating, exploring, and loves learning new things. His goal is to discover Phuket through fun activities, delicious food and great experiences. His best friend, Umi, a baby sea urchin, keeps calling him Joong, instead of Goong (that means prawn in Thai).
The mascots are expected to be the representative and symbol for Phuket tourism and will welcome tourists from all around the world. The organisers laid out the concept of the mascot, saying that it had to be “outstanding, beautiful, charming, impressive and approachable”.
The event was organised by the BIC Event Group. Earlier when the contest opened, there were more than 200 pieces of art submitted from many provinces across Thailand.
Phuket’s Governor chaired the award ceremony and handed out the prizes to the winners. Apart from first prize winner, Nong Joong, the second prize went to ‘Nong Ang Lai’ created by Panatratha Sae-Eung – a 12 year old girl who has pineapple head. The pineapple represent the ‘lucky fruit’ and also Phuket signature fruit. Nong Ang Lai is a playful and friendly character and wears a Chinese red dress, considered a lucky colour in Chinese culture.
The second place winner received a 20,000 baht prize, who also won the popular vote prize by Phuket Tourism Association.
The winner of the competition received a Bangkok Airways round trip ticket for Bangkok – Phuket and 3 nights complimentary stay at Baba House Phuket. The third place winner was ‘Andaman Boy’ created by Thani Muannut, who received a 10,000 baht prize.
SOURCE: Phuket Hot News
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“Phuket needs a world class exhibition and convention centre”
“Two key developments we are tracking is Central Festivals next phase of expansion and Proud Groups Andamanda project that both have significant concerence, meeting and incentive space.”
Plans to promote Phuket as a world-class MICE (meetings, incentives, conventions, exhibitions) location are being obstructed by many impediments – inefficient town planning, poor transport systems and poor availability of land in tourist locations.
Dusida Worrachaddejchai writes that Phuket’s deputy governor says the province has a blueprint to build an exhibition and convention hall to host international events with a capacity up to 5,000. But he said that town planning rules forbid building a hall larger than 6,000 square metres with a hight greater than 23 metres.
The prohibition for a proper convention hall by town planning appears to be one of the few projects impeded by lax town planning laws.
The project has been talked about for decades with Phuket’s potential as an active MICE venue being hampered by the lack of facilities, principally a large convention and exhibition centre.
If some provisions of the current town planning act for Phuket can be amended, the likely destination for a convention centre would be Thalang district. The deputy governor says he hopes it can be built in a few years and make Phuket able to bid for international events and expos.
But Thalang, although within 15 minutes of the Phuket International Airport, has little offer convention and exhibition delegates with most of the beaches and tourist infrastructure on the island’s southern coastal areas (Patong, Kata, Karon).
C9hotelworks’ Bill Barnett says proper MICE facilities have been a long time coming for Phuket.
“Phuket hotel developers are finally seeing the signifigance of the MICE trade. Two key developments we are tracking is Central Festivals next phase of expansion and Proud Groups Andamanda project that both have significant concerence, meeting and incentive space. TCEB ae active in the working on Phuket as a MICE destination so we see the future direction as positive, at last.”
Meanwhile the Thai government has foreshadowed that five Thai cities will be earmarked as MICE locations – Phuket, along with Chiang Mai, Khon Kaen, Pattaya and Bangkok. The deptuty governor sprouted Phuket’s existing MICE credentials – 600 hotels offering 40,000 guest rooms, 220 convention rooms, 615 meeting rooms, 14 piers and four private marinas. But these facilities are spread all over the island with poor access and almost no public transportation.
In the past the private sector – primarily Central Group and Jungceylon – have indicated their interest to build a convention hall in the Patong area. But town planning issues and the ever-dwindling available land in the seaside city have shelved any progress.
Southern beach locations, with excellent hotels, shopping and beaches – Karon and Kata – have also been flagged as potential locations but access, especially from the airport, remains poor. Travel times to the southern beaches from the airport is at least an hour and involves trips across the notorious hills roads at either Patong or Kata.
Progress on the Patong Tunnel has also stalled with successive governments unable to progress the project.
The government should improve mass transport from the airport to Patong and other western coast districts in Phuket, namely Karon, to facilitate large groups such as Mice travellers that require more than buses and vans, Ms Chalermluck said.
Last year, more than 2 million visitors arrived in Phuket for MICE events, generating 19.5 billion baht in income. But MICE industry proponents say that number could be easily tripled with a proper convention and exhibition venue.Keep in contact with The Thaiger by following our Facebook page.
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