PHUKET: In the bad old days of the Cold War and Mao’s Cultural Revolution, this part of Hong Kong, San Tin, used to be called the “Bamboo Curtain” – the 30-kilometer border, and a few kilometers either side, between what was a British Crown colony and the People’s Republic of China.
Just to the southwest of the Lo Wu border-crossing between Hong Kong and mainland China – the second-busiest land-crossing in the world after San Diego’s San Ysidro into Mexico – lies a remarkable village that time seems to have forgotten.
There are no ATMs or convenience stories or glaring illuminated shop-signs here. And in futuristic, fast-paced Hong Kong, San Tin is the largest of now just a handful of villages that are unique in their total lack of modernity.
San Tin literally means “new rice-paddies” – and was named by the first inhabitants, members of the Man clan who arrived in this swampy corner of present-day Hong Kong, in the 14th Century, from their homeland in China’s Jiangxi province, approximately 700 kilometers to the north-east.
At that time, Kublai Khan and his hordes were rampaging through the Middle Kingdom, and the Man Clan was one of many Han Chinese clans displaced by the Mongolian invasion.Since then, San Tin has been the turf of this clan, one of the five major historical clans of Hong Kong, who are all descendants of the 13th century scholar-general Man Tin Cheung. More on him later.
Today, San Tin – in places a shantytown – is a time-warp border-village with an long, epic past and a precarious future. At night the skyscrapers of the China’s Shenzhen City cast reflections in neon colors on the duck ponds between San Tin and the mainland. And yet 21st century China seems eons away, as dragonflies flit in elliptical circles above the greenery and wetlands around the village, the kinetic clatter of mahjong playing reverberates through the the maze-like alleyways, and feral dogs yip-yap in the distance.
Since the 1980s – the blink of an eye in the history of one of the world’s longest continuous civilizations – Shenzhen has mushroomed out of the paddy-fields north of what is now simply called “the boundary” by both the mainland and Hong Kong governments, and into a city with a bigger population than Hong Kong itself. This boundary however is still very much a border, and a rather expensive one to cross for non-Chinese visitors.
San Tin’s population hovers around just under three thousand, and the majority of inhabitants here are still surnamed Man. While most of the New Territories – the rural land between the sky-rises of the Kowloon peninsula and Shenzhen – has become increasingly urbanized as Hong Kong’s suburbs encroach northwards, San Tin remains quirkily undeveloped.
Indeed, many parts of the town resemble movie-sets for productions of the Hong Kong of the 1960s. There’s not a single dwelling over five-storeys, and large number of centuries-old, uninhabited buildings are crumbling to the ground, especially in the heart of the village. These give San Tin the appearance of a ghost-town when the sun arcs down into the nearby Mai Po marshes at the end of each day.
A still-intact protective wall constructed by villagers during the Yuan Dynasty of the 14th century, can be found in the village’s center, though it takes some effort – and often the assistance of an obliging Man – to find it.
During the day in San Tin, there’s a gentle buzz in the streets. Old-timers play mahjong in the open-fronted fan-cooled ground-floor rooms of Qing Dynasty shophouses. Young children make their own fun, playing tag, catching frogs, fishing, playing cards, riding their bicycles and enjoying other non-digital joys long-forgotten by the rest of Hong Kong’s youth.
The village is a pocket of poverty in a wealthy city, and very few people of working age can be found in this corner of Asia’s most economically dynamic city (as the city has dubbed itself). There are simply no employment opportunities in San Tin or its environs, except for drivers for the shuttle-buses to the nearby Lok Ma Chau checkpoint, and the village’s two cha chaantengs (cheap, no-frills eateries). Most of San Tin’s denizens are poor, but community life is rich.
Neighbors natter about the weather instead of the Hang Seng index. Traditional festivals are fulsomely enjoyed and feature communal feasts prepared by the clan’s welfare organization. And residents watch out for each other, and their children. Mandarin has a much greater verbal presence here than other parts of Asia’s premier Cantonese city. Indeed, San Tin is basically bilingual, and linguistically feels like an offshoot of Shenzhen, which is a 15-minute bus ride away.
The non-human sounds of San Tin are pleasing to the ear. Plovers and lapwings tweet away in the boughs of vast centuries-old banyan trees, and in the bamboo groves that flourish between old masonry. And bullfrogs croak at dusk. The village truly belongs to an earlier, gentler, less consumerist age.
Unlike most other Hong Kong communities, San Tin is not a 24-7 beast. She sleeps soundly from dusk to dawn, when the only sounds are the faint traffic noise carried on the breeze from the mainland. The most unifying aspect of the village is hereditary. The Man Clan cherishes its past. And because many Mans stay here for evermore (or return on retirement), the village is home to one of Hong Kong’s best-preserved ancestral halls. The Man Lun Fung Ancestral Hall was declared a historical building of notable merit by the Hong Kong government in 1983, nearly 400 years after it was constructed in honor of Man Lung-fung, an 8th generation Man patriarch of great distinction. The building, a baked-brick structure, features exquisitely ornamented fascia boards depicting scenes from Chinese folklore.
The “soul tablets” of ancestors are placed in the middle hall to honor deceased Mans in the after-life. The hall remains in use in the traditional manner, as a place for worship of ancestors and a focal point of which there seems to be one every other week.
Nearby stands the Tai Fu Tai Scholar’s House. Built in 1865 during the Qing Dynasty, this was originally the residence of the bookish Man Chung-luen. Recently restored, this most impressive structure is one of the best-preserved examples of traditional scholar-gentry Qing architecture in greater China, and features a beautifully decorated roofless room that Chuen-luen retreated to in order to pen poetry under the moonlight and the stars.
The most famous Man, though, throughout the clan’s long history remains the scholar-general Man Tin Cheung, one of the great heroes of the Song Dynasty. And a memorial statue of the great soldier – revered for his strict moral righteousness – stands atop a hill just east of the village. Perhaps the second most famous Man is Wen Qimei, who was the mother of Zedong (Wen is the Mandarin form of the Cantonese surname Man).
Life in San Tin has changed little over the centuries – with one abrupt exception – the dark days of the Pacific War. The Japanese occupation of Hong Kong was especially harsh here, with random killings of villagers of all ages being a routine occurrence. So many were slaughtered that a mass grave had to be dug behind the ancestral hall.
In the post-war years, the Man clan has spread overseas, principally to the United Kingdom and the Netherlands, where westward-travelling Mans have opened and operated a large number of Chinese restaurants. As such, the first question a rare western visitor to the village is asked is the quaintly odd: “Are you Dutch or British?”
As timeless and restful as this unspoilt village feels today, a faster pace of life is rapidly approaching. Work has already started on a mass-transit rail link that will join Hong Kong’s West Rail route to Shenzhen by means of a spur-line with three new stations. And one of these proposed st
— Nick Walker
Strong baht a concern for Thai hotel sector
by Bill Barnett
Thailand’s baht performance against Asian currencies in 2018, was unmatched, with the exception of the Japanese yen.
Commenting on the trend financial news Bloomberg have highlighted that in 2019, a further 4% in growth this year have it sitting at the top of the table.
Oddly, one of the underlying factors stimulating the baht’s appreciation is the recovery in tourism arrivals which has a double-digit impact on the country’s GDP.
While the elections remain a wild card on forward expectations, the reality is that the currency has not been hit like the Chinese yuan, which has been disrupted by a threatened U.S. China trade war and slowdown in its economy.
Despite higher than expected tourism numbers in 2018, hotel owners are cautiously optimistic on the prospects for the year.
In reality, despite rising prices for visitors, the economic climate is leading many property developers turning to hospitality assets as the real estate market remains volatile. The general view is that sustainable cash flow as part of their business mix is good and that tourism fundamentals remain strong.
Still, looking at nearby competitors such as Vietnam, which is rapidly growing from a cub into a tourism tiger, the issue of affordability is concerning. Currency swings remain a real and present factor in demand, so expect hoteliers to keep watching currency levels closely in 2019.
Chinese tourists spend big during Chinese New Year holiday
Spending by Chinese tourists during the Chinese New Year holiday around the world was the highest in Thailand.
Alipay, a leading digital payment platform offered by Ant Financial, an affiliate of Alibaba Group has done the sums. The transactions were recorded between February 4-10, and data drawn from the 54 international markets where Alipay is accepted.
The number of transactions in Thailand ranked second worldwide after Hong Kong, and topped the list in Southeast Asia with an average spending of 1,646 yuan (7,650 baht).
The high spending was put down to convenience stores and duty-free shops accepting Alipay and offering special promotions for Alipay users.
King Power Duty Free recorded a 50 per cent increase in transactions thanks to discounts for Alipay users, while transactions at convenience stores also rose by 38 per cent due to their “Alipay corner”.
Chinese visitors are also now able to get tax refunds at 7-Eleven branches in the capital.
Chinese spenders, although spending less time per holiday, spend more per person, per day than other tourist demographics entering the country.
Read a previous story about tourist spending patterns HERE.
Top 10 Phuket fitness options – get fit on a tropical paradise
by Krix Luther
Living and working in Phuket for more than 11 years as a full-time Personal Trainer, I have had the pleasure of watching the island develop and make its mark on the wider Health and Fitness industry. I can comfortably say it is becoming an important Health, fitness and wellness hub of South East Asia.
The island has an incredible amount to offer, so much so, you could get lost if you don’t know exactly what you’re looking for. Knowing what is what, what to do, where to start and which is best for you and your fitness journey, can be a daunting task.
Here’s a snapshot of what the island has to offer, whether you’re a beginner, average gym rat, fitness enthusiast or pro athlete. You will find something that suits you.
So, in no particular order, here are the Top 10 Phuket fitness options.
1. Phuket Detox Centres
Phuket Detox Centre? At first, most people think a Detox centre is some sort of Drug Rehab facility. Although a lot of detox centres in Phuket will state they can aid their clients in overcoming some addictions, their primary objective is to help people cleanse and detoxify the body through different variations of fasting and or dieting.
(The Thaiger recommends you should consult with a medical professional before undertaking any detox treatment)
Phuket detox centres offer similar options. Full fast (which means eating nothing but supplements), Juice cleanse, Raw Food Diet and Healthy Eating. There are plenty of other programs available around the island.
Included in these programs are, yoga, meditation and fitness/movement classes, morning beach walks, wellness talks and a variety of other holistic practices, all tailored to help the body heal itself, emotionally, spiritually, mentally and physically.
I have worked with pretty much every major detox centre on the island, and they all have their own niche, styles and methods.
2. Phuket Muay Thai Camps
Thai Boxing (Muay Thai) is Thailands national sport and is huge in Phuket. 13 years ago there was only a handful of local Muay Thai Gyms in Phuket. It wasn’t until a gym called Rawai Muay Thai decided to build a professional website, social media presence and advertise Muay Thai training in Phuket to westerners abroad.
Watching its explosive success, it wasn’t long until more gyms popped up doing the same thing. Sinbi Muay Thai, Tiger Muay Thai, Dragon Muay Thai, etc. Then with the growing popularity of UFC, some of these Muay Thai Gyms started hiring MMA coaches along with Brazilian Jujitsu specialists and trainers with wrestling backgrounds. I believe Phuket Top Team were the first to do this followed by Tiger, now you have dedicated MMA gyms like AKA Thailand joining the island.
Muay Thai Gyms in Phuket seem to be popping up as fast as 7 Elevens, some are closing with equal speed as well. But if you are looking to better your Muay Thai game or just would like to get fit by trying something new, then you can check out the list of well established Muay Thai gyms in HERE.
3. Phuket Fitness Centres
There are a lot of gyms now that are just 100% dedicated to fitness classes. Like Phuket Cross Fit, Yoga, TRX, Circuit & HIIT training, correction workouts, workshops and more. They don’t have a regular weightlifting facility or gym membership where you can just rock up and hit the weights whenever you want. It is just a pure class schedule fitness centre.
The main open Phuket fitness centres I would say are Titan Fitness and Unit 27. By “open” I mean you can pop in for 1 class or buy into monthly or block packages. Then there is Phuket Fit, and Phuket Cleanse that is more closed and comprehensive, what I mean by that is they include on-site accommodation and meals, and you can not just walk in for the one-off session, you have to be booked into their program.
All are great facilities. If this is something that’s more of an interest to you, then you can check them out HERE.
4. Phuket Gyms
Phuket has a vast selection of high-end gyms, with top-notch equipment and facilities as well as your old school dirty, rough, broken equipment, no hygiene, Rocky Balboa style gyms. Whichever your preference, Phuket has a gym that suits your needs and budget. So if you are just looking to join a gym on your visit then here is a list of the best gyms in Phuket.
RPM Health Club, Koh Kaew – PHOTO: Phuket Index
5. Phuket Personal Trainers
There are a lot of Personal Trainers in Phuket but only a few freelance ones. Most are attached to a gym or fitness centre and cannot work outside these places. Many people wonder, is a personal trainer worth it? In my biased opinion, the answer would be “Yes… if you can find a good one.”
You can read my article here on “what makes a good trainer.” So you can make your own assessment of the trainer you hired or are about to hire.
6. Phuket Yoga Retreats
Just like personal trainers, there are a lot of yoga instructors in Phuket and few Freelance ones like my friend Kim White. But there are also some great Phuket yoga retreats. These yoga retreats are similar to the detox centres, they are enclosed facilities with accommodation, food, yoga classes along with other holistic heal classes and workshops.
PHOTO: Yoga Health Journal
7. The Great Outdoors
One of the best things about Phuket is that it’s beautiful, the oceans, the beaches, and nature surrounded it. Despite the island’s obsession with getting rid of single-use plastics it still has fantastic places to swim and snorkel.
You can hire a bike and cycle around the mountain roads and be mesmerised by the stunning views, or you can join in the Clean The Beach Boot Camp and have a great workout on the beach once every two weeks, exercising in the sand, the ocean and nature. There is nothing like kicking off the shoes and training in your bare feet. Enjoy the beaches, rainforests, walks and activities around the island. It’s warm and hot all year round (with a bit of rain between May and November). Here’s a list of our Top 10 beaches.
As a last resort, and you’re not a ‘bicycle’ sort of person, rent a motorbike and let the engine do the hard work for you. Make sure you wear a helmet (it’s law), have the appropriate health or travel insurance and appropriate driving license.
In the health and fitness industry, meditation is very much underrated, but there are a lot of physical benefits of meditation, not just mental/psychological ones. And in Phuket, there is a great place to learn how to meditate or take your meditation to the next level at the Phuket Meditation Centre.
If it’s something you were curious about then I would highly recommend trying it out. They have free introductory classes every Tuesday and Thursday.
9. Phuket Free Diving/Scuba Diving
Just like the great outdoors there are some great spots to do a bit of diving in Phuket. Whether you are a hardcore free diver or looking to get your first Scuba Diving certificate, then Phuket has some great options for you. Make sure your divers are accredited and check their experience in diving around the island.
10. Massage, Ice Baths, Sauna
If you going to train hard, then you best recover hard. There is nothing like booking a fitness holiday and overtraining in the first week and getting injured. Phuket has some great relax and recovery facilities, from massages to Sauna and Ice Baths and even float therapy in a sensory deprivation tank. These are great for reducing stress, lowering cortisol levels and preventing you from seeing those classic signs and symptoms of overtraining.
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