The Royal Thai Army has helped its Cambodian counterparts clear landmines along the Sa Kaew border in Thailand’s east. Together they’ve cleared around 1.72 million square metres in the past financial year.
Lt Gen Sitthipol Nimnual, director of the Thailand Mine Action Centre visited the border at Sa Kaew’s Ta Phraya district where the TMAC-Cambodian Mine Action Centre project has been carried out.
The operation has been being carried out by the Humanitarian Mine Action Unit headed by Col Chitnupong Rodsiri. Sitthipol said the operation has so far cleared 2,570 mines.
Lt Nipon Rungruang of the mine team said around 306,100 square metres along the border at Ta Phraya remained to be cleared.
Cambodia has a major problem with landmines, especially in rural areas. This is the legacy of the three decades of war in the wake of the US incursions into Vietnam in the 60s and early 70s. Cambodia has some 40,000 amputees, one of the highest rates in the world. The Cambodian Mine Action Centre estimates that there may be as many as four to six million mines and other pieces of unexploded ordnance still in Cambodia.
The Chinese made landmines in Cambodia were placed by the Cambodian factions – including the Lon Nol, Khmer Rouge, the Heng Samrin and Hun Sen regimes, as well as the Coalition Government of Democratic Kampuchea – which clashed during the Civil War in Cambodia in the 1970s and 1980s.
Raffles reopens historic Grand Hotel d’Angkor in Cambodia
Raffles Grand Hotel d’Angkor, one of the most iconic heritage properties in south east Asia, reopened its doors to guests this week after a six-month closure for renovations and refurbishments.
One hundred and twelve of the landmark property’s 119 rooms and suites have been fully refurbished, buttressing the intrinsic appeal of a property renowned for its classic facade, its expansive pool, a celebrated metal and timber elevator, and a guest list that runs from Charlie Chaplin to Jackie Kennedy.
“In the Grand Hotel, we’re custodians of an incredible historical asset,” said Raffles Cambodia Cluster General Manager Oliver Dudler.
“The careful restoration and refurbishments will enhance guest comfort by offering new modern amenities while staying true to our longstanding heritage and classically elegant ambience.”
Among the contemporary touches, spotlights have been added to brighten up the rooms, and power ports and USB charging stations have been fitted. The French windows, which swing open to views of either charming street scenes or the plantation-style grounds of the hotel, have been upgraded, and each room now has a writing desk and vintage rotary telephone, thanks in part to the added floor space created by removing cabinets and replacing them with built-in wardrobes.
The greatest makeover is to the bathrooms, with all-new Italian tiling and fixtures, and separate rain showers.
PHOTO: Raffles Grand Hotel d’Angkor’s newly renovated Landmark Room features vintage touches such as a rotary telephone
The main difference that returning guests will notice upon arrival is that the façade and the entire exterior of the hotel is now painted alabaster white, rather than its former cream-beige hue which is the color of Royal Khmer architecture across the country.
The hotel’s Elephant Bar, renowned for its celebrity patrons, retains the air of a bygone era. Contractors David Grace Designs have brightened up the Café d’Angkor, while refurbishing the interior design in the conservatory, famed for its afternoon teas and baby grand piano. Meanwhile, a new signature restaurant, named “1932,” stands poised and polished, ready for its official launch next month.
The biggest structural addition to the property is the complete renovation of the outdoor Apsara Terrace, where Khmer performances are enacted, into a new MICE and banquets venue to be called the Raffles Marquee. With Angkorian boundary stones of laterite, and surrounded by lush gardens, the new canvas-roofed center aims to meet the growing luxury MICE business demand.
Fronted by a labyrinth of lawns, orchards and gardens, the Grand Hotel d’Angkor was designed in 1929 by French architect Ernest Hébrard, whose vision endures in many of the longstanding French colonial buildings of Ho Chi Minh City, Hanoi, and Phnom Penh. Hébrard and his contemporaries set out to incorporate facets of local architecture, which was better suited to the regional climate, into their designs, which became known as the style Indochine.
The Grand Hotel opened in 1931-2 with just 63 rooms, all with private bathrooms – a revelation in its day. Its first visitors were treated to an interior combining Khmer art and furnishings with Art Deco influences such as black and white marble floors. Many of those early guests were foreign archeologists and explorers to the nearby site of Angkor Wat.
The property, along with its sister heritage hotel, Le Royal, in Phnom Penh, was taken over by Fairmont Raffles Hotels International in 1997 at the invitation of Cambodia’s King Sihanouk. The Siem Reap resort’s reopening comes two months after Raffles reopened its flagship hotel in Singapore following a two-year closure for renovations.
Top 10 prettiest towns in Asia
Tropical nights, curious mountain silhouettes, sprawling rice paddies and pungent cuisine. And some snow-topped mountains as well. The Thaiger has selected the Top Ten of these camera-worthy towns. Southern Asia is a concoction of the ancient, very modern, traditional and enigmatic.
Amongst the islands, megacities and spectacular scenery there are also some very pretty towns that deserve your days pottering around and investigating. Some of them you would have never heard of. Here’s our Top Ten, in no particular oder…
Old Phuket Town, Thailand
Most tourists head for the beaches, but the southern Thai island of Phuket offers a lot, lot more these days up and down the west coast and across to the island’s east coast as well, not just Patong.
The historic old quarter of Old Phuket Town, located in the central east coast of the island, is lined with Sino-Portugeuse colonial shophouses, built during the island’s tin-mining boom of the 18th and 19th centuries.
Twenty years ago you couldn’t give them away. Now the old shop-houses are hot property and getting spruced up and re-used for a new generation of tourists and culture vultures. There are plenty of hip shops, cafés, restaurants, bars, art galleries and book shops. The area is also filled with Chinese temples, crumbling mansions and cultural museums.
Check out the weekly Sunday night ‘Lard Yai’ market along Thalang road for some local market vibes in amongst some local ephemera, astonishing Thai street food, some local performers and a few bargains. Kicks off around 4pm. If it rains during the island’s wet season (May to November), you’ll get wet but it’s always around 30 degrees C and you can duck undercover anywhere around the Old Town’s sidewalks.
Galle, Sri Lanka
On the southwestern coast of Sri Lanka is the walled town of Galle, an important trade port for centuries.
The UNESCO-listed fortress has been through three bouts of colonial rule – the Portuguese from 1505-1658, the Dutch from 1658-1796 and the British from 1796-1948. These days, many of the old merchant houses are renovated into museums, boutique hotels, shops, restaurants and bars.
The dining scene has grown in breadth and popularity, with fresh seafood, excellent Sri Lankan curries and egg hoppers (dome-like pancakes).
There’s also plenty to see as you walk off all that food. The Dutch Reformed Church, Sudharmalaya Temple, Galle Clock Tower, Galle Lighthouse, Meeran Mosque and the old Spice Warehouse.
Then head down the southern coastline to enjoy the surf, diving, whale-watching or just laying around Unawatuna Beach.
City of Vigan, Philippines
Experience a rich history of Spanish colonial-era architecture in the city of Vigan. It lies on the west coast of Luzon island in northwestern Philippines. Vigan was established by the Spanish in 1572. It’s also a UNESCO World Heritage City.
Conquistador Juan de Salcedo developed a modern grid plan for the city, and Spanish architects designed beautiful churches, grand mansions and schools with unique windows and dark timber interiors.
Most of the colonial buildings are situated around the Plaza Salcedo, including the St Paul’s Cathedral. This beautiful Baroque structure was first built in 1641 and then restored after several earthquakes and fires.
Hoi An, Vietnam
Located on the central coast of Vietnam, about 40 minutes drive south of Da Nang, Hoi An’s Old Town has an international reputation as a haven for photographers, architecture lovers and lovers of food. Added to the UNESCO World Heritage list in 1999, the town was a former French colonial trading port that has been a commercially vital town for Vietnam since the 16th century. It’s now more important to Vietnam as a commercially vital tourist magnet.
The rambling narrow streets of Hoi An feature rows and rows of charming mustard coloured old trading houses. Many are now trendy restaurants, bars, design boutiques, coffee shops and tailors. Seemingly with a production designer preparing the town as a set for a ‘colonial asian’ movie, lush foliage spills from the rooftops and silk lanterns light up the town at night. It’s right out of a picture book.
George Town, Malaysia
Designated a UNESCO World Heritage site, the sprawling historic quarter of George Town on Penang island showcases its many cultural influences over the centuries. You’ll also find some similarity with Phuket’s Old Town, just 600 kilometres north, but with a broader cuisine and more colonial influence.
George Town’s colourful heritage traces back 500 years when the former British colony was a prominent hub of trade on the Malacca Strait, enabling cultural exchange between Malay, Chinese, Indian and European residents. The town still resinates with influences from all of these cultures.
There is an eclectic mix of pastel-hued shophouses, Chinese mansions, churches and temples, colonial buildings, food and fortresses.
George Town deserves its reputation as the “food capital of Malaysia” and remains one of the best food cities in Asia – from street food to hawker centres, chintzy local restaurants to fully renovated mansions serving up high end fusion cuisine. Like the architecture, the local cuisine captures George Town’s multicultural history.
If you’re heading to George Town, take your appetite.
Luang Prabang, Laos
The former capital of Laos on the banks of the Mekong River, is the picturesque Luang Prabang, home to temples and dramatic natural scenery.
It’s either one of Southeast Asia’s most spiritual places or an emerging party town for the backpacker set, or both. Either way Luang Prabang makes a dramatic first impression.
The town is hugged by mountains as it rests at the bottom of a valley in central Laos. The location was the first kingdom in Laos from the 14th to 16th centuries, Luang Prabang was long a strategic location along the famed Silk Route. Since then the French have also had their time as colonial overlords which has resulted in a fusion of European and Laotian architecture creating a distinct townscape.
Although Vientiane, on the Thai border, is now the capital, Luang Prabang, named a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1995, continues to be the country’s cultural and artistic capital.
In addition to the graceful architecture, Luang Prabang is also home to beautiful natural attractions including the Kuang Si Waterfalls and Phousi Mountain. There are also more than 30 Buddhist temples, the Royal Palace Museum, night markets, river boat rides and biking tours.
Think Cambodia and you automatically think ‘Angkor Wat’, but Cambodian travellers are falling in love with the southern charms of Kampot.
The serene coastal town, on the southern coast along the Gulf of Thailand, is getting a reputation as one of the prettiest small towns in the region. Think colourful French colonial shophouses, tidy pedestrian-friendly streets, river activities and a feast for the cameras. You can spend your days kayaking, mountain trekking, biking, river cruises, paddle-boarding, or you could take a day trip through the countryside’s lush paddy fields, cave temples and waterfalls.
Kampot has a growing foodie reputation as a culinary playground with everything from traditional Khmer cuisine to vegan delights. The town still has a bit of a ‘rough’ reputation but is well worth a visit and certainly deserves its place amongst the top ten prettiest towns in Asia.
Kota Gede, Indonesia
Among the oldest parts of Yogyakarta in central Java, Kota Gede is known for its silver industry, cute laneways and photogenic architecture.
The location’s history goes back to the 15th century, when Yogjakarta was the seat of the Mataram Sultanate, the last kingdom before the Dutch colonised Java island. Wealthy merchants built palatial homes in the Kalang style, a mix of Dutch structural elements, traditional Javanese layouts and local craftsmanship.
Travellers in the 21st century can now walk along Jalan Kemasan and browse through boutiques, art galleries and silver workshops showcasing the famous jewellery and elaborate tableware. For a little history, travellers can also venture out to Yogyakarta’s most famous UNESCO-listed landmarks – the Prambanan Temple and the eighth-century Borobudur Temple.
In amongst one of the world’s most chaotic and messy countries, lies Mawlynnong, located in the East Khasi Hills of northeastern India, which has been named the “Cleanest Village in Asia”. Go figure!
The village lives up to its reputation thanks to the Khasi community who call the town ‘home’ and take great pride in keeping the village pristine. The town is famous for its meticulously pruned gardens.
There’s a popular 85 foot high tree house called Sky View constructed of bamboo that overlooks the jungle canopies all the way across the plains of Bangladesh to the south. There’s also the Mawlynnong Waterfall, while a living tree root bridge creating a scene from Game of Thrones or an Indiana Jones movie.
Ghandruk is a mountain village at the foothills of the Himalayas in central Nepal. The village is more than 2,000 metres above sea level, the highest in our Top Ten list.
The village is about a five-hour hike from Pokhara, a pretty lakeside city in central Nepal that acts as the starting point for the popular Annapurna Circuit (and also worthy of a visit for a few days).
You’ll find traditional tea houses, a mountain-top temple, horseback riding and the local customs of the Gurung people who live here.
Members of this Nepalese community have served in the British Army’s Gurkha regiments during many conflicts and you should make time to visit the Old Gurung Museum which provides lots of fascinating historical insights.
And the village has quite a spectacular backdrop with Mounts Annapurna, Machhapuchhre and Himalchuli looming large as you look over your shoulder.
Dams, politics and greed are killing the mighty Mekong River
Original story by Piyaporn Wongruang – The Nation | PHOTO: Sophie et Fred
Dr Chainarong Setthachua, a lecturer and ecology expert at Maha Sarakham University, was at a loss when asked to describe the ongoing Mekong crisis.
“The most disastrous situation in history.”
Little is being done by governments despite recent stories and stark photos of the dried-bed of a major river that passes through Thailand, Laos, Cambodia and Vietnam. The Mekong River is the twelfth longest river in the world at 4,350 kilometres. It starts in the Chinese Himalayas and flows through six countries to its mouth in Vietnam and out into the South China Sea.
“We used the river as a political tool and an asset for economic development. Yet, we did not supervise its development, which has resulted in a real disaster. I don’t see any solutions because every government is only focusing on building dams, but not on the scars these development plans are leaving behind.”
China built the first Mekong dam in 1994, without consulting the Thai river communities downstream. A decade later, impacts from the dam finally kicked in, said Chainarong, who founded the Southeast Asia Rivers Network to track the effects of Mekong water resource management.
Thai communities impacted by dam operations were finally given a voice in development plans, which were being driven by international investment, especially from Thailand. However, as Thai protests grew, investors turned to neighbouring countries including Laos, which declared plans to become the “battery of Asia”.
Drought takes Mekong River to its lowest in 100 years, threatening food supply – National Geographic
According to the independent International Rivers organisation, China has completed 11 dams on the upper Mekong since then. The biggest are the Xiaowan and Nuozhadu dams, whose 250-300 metre high dam walls hold back reservoirs of 40 billion cubic metres capacity. Of the 11 dams planned for the lower Mekong, at least three have entered production. Xayaburi Dam in Laos was being tested during July ready to go online in October. Don Sahong is under construction, and Pak Beng is at the pre-construction stage.
But completed dams are already having a dramatic impact. This month, Thais living downstream from the Jinghong Dam woke to find the river level had dropped sharply. No one had warned residents of Chiang Khan district on the Laos border that the dam was undergoing maintenance, dramatically reducing their access to water.
The people in the lower Mekong predict the unstable water level will decimate migratory fish stocks and impact food security in an area where local communities depend on river fish. Studies report that Mekong communities depend on river fish for up to 80 per cent of their daily protein consumption.
A study from the Australian National University states that Mekong Basin dwellers are struggling to find new protein resources as a substitute for the fish. It would take both massive water and land resources, especially in Cambodia, to create new protein substitutes.
Downstream, communities in Vietnam’s Mekong Delta decline are suffering coastal erosion and salination of their once-fertile land. Dams are threatening the country’s “breadbasket” as locals experience food shortages and are unable to access freshwater for daily needs.
Despite the expanding concerns, the Thai government has not launched serious measures to study, monitor, or prepare remedial plans for people suffering the impact of dams.
Niwat Roykaew, chairman of Rak Chiang Khong conservation group, said that the old [top-down] way of working would not solve any problems, adding that he believed in the power of local people more than the government.
“It’s too late to say no to dam building. We have to find a way to live together, find a middle way between the engineering perspective and the human interest.”
Read the original article HERE.
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