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Blazing Saddles: Khao Lak Attack

Legacy Phuket Gazette

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Blazing Saddles: Khao Lak Attack | The Thaiger

PHUKET: Gadabout pedal-philes living in Phuket are continually in search of more benign, cyclist-friendly venues in which to enjoy their passion.

Naturally enough, many such cycling getaways tend to be found across the Sarasin Bridge, which a waggish friend recently described as being “where Thailand really starts”.

Almost as soon as you do cycle across those 1,500 meters of turquoise water, you feel as though things are starting to calm down. Traffic isn’t quite so maniacal, the locals seem to have a little more time and smiles for you and the air is certainly cleaner.

While eternal vigilance are the watchwords of the lycra lout pedaling anywhere in Thailand, once across the bridge there does seem to be a little more time to look around and smell the buffaloes.

Heading north up the west coast of the Isthmus of Kra on Highway 4 (Phetkasem Road), you’ll soon come to the famous tourist area of Khao Lak.

The area boasts some lovely, long, scalloped beaches bisected by rocky promontories. Inland, the forest-clad hills rise steeply and as a result a series of waterfalls cascade off these rocky slopes in a tumultuous rush to the sea.

As you enter this area from the south, the road becomes a switchback of snaking turns and hills through the Khao Lak-Lam Ru National Park headland. The park entrance is at the highest point on the road overlooking the Andaman Sea and offers some good forest hikes down to the beaches below and around Kao Lak Mountain with its Chinese temple dedicated to the wizard of the mountain.

Highway 4 then descends into the Khao Lak itself on a recently widened band of black tar macadam so broad you could land a Jumbo jet on it. Your senses are immediately affronted by the jumbled bric-a-brac strip development along the highway, which seemed to reassert itself with rapacious abandon soon after the horror of the 2004 tsunami that so devastated Khao Lak. This stretch of road is anything but cyclist-friendly, as it’s hot, congested, dusty from ongoing construction, and because it is the main north-south artery to Ranong, it hosts some very fast and dangerous traffic including the infamous visa-run minivans.

So, why come to Khao Lak with your bicycle?

Well, thankfully there is another very appealing side to this area as we discovered when we turned west off the main highway a few miles north of the main town and followed the signs to The Sarojin Resort and Spa.

Sarojin is a stunning oasis right on the white sands of Bang Sak Beach with the most sumptuous gardens, limpid pools, great dining and luxurious accommodation. In addition, they have pioneered the experiential concept of assigning “imagineers” to help their often young honey-mooning guests get the most out of the surrounding environment.

The “imagineers” provide all sorts of alluring trips and experiences such as candlelight dinners by mountain waterfalls; snorkeling and offshore dining adventures on the resort’s opulent launch the Lady Sarojin; or cycling adventures around the quiet environs of the Sarojin.

They give their guests free use of mountain bikes with maps attached to the handlebars for self-guided tours, or an “imagineer” will, if you like, accompany you and show you the rides.

We arrived at around 4pm which was perfect timing to quickly drop our bags in our suite and then head out with Khun Jack, our helpful guide on a trip to the Nam Tok Sai Rung (literally seven colors, or rainbow waterfall).

The ride took us past cool lakes, once the site of tin mining works, now reclaimed for more bucolic pastimes such as kayaking and fishing. Then, after a short ride along busy highway 4, we turned inland along Nam Tok Sai Rung Road through silently brooding rubber tree groves and, after a short uphill hike, to the primary forest around the falls themselves.

These falls are one of seven sets that plummet off the escarpment inland from Khao Lak and the Sarojin also offers candlelit champagne dinners alongside these tumbling waters to their young, “loved-up” clientele.

We then rode back towards the coast past the entrance to the Sarojin and the Tsunami Monument to catch the sunset at Pakarong, or Coral Cape. This is a lovely west-facing promontory between the broad sweeps of Khuk Khak Beach to the south and Bang Sak Beach to the north upon which the Saroijin sits.

We arrived at 6pm as the sky morphed into pyrotechnic sunset splendor and ordered up cold beers and som tam from the little beachside restaurant, then settled down to drink-in both the beer and the relaxation that comes after a good ride.

Another great Khao Sok ride is along Khuk Khak Beach itself at low tide. The sea goes out a long way here leaving an expanse of hard-packed sand ideal for a fat tire mountain bike ride at sunset. Of course it’s a highly saline environment which can take a toll on your bike, so best take an old one…or borrow a friend’s!

You can cycle for miles along the Khao Lak beaches all the way back from Pakrong headland to the main nightlife area for beers and food and then cycle back by moonlight. We found it impossible to get lost on the return leg… all we had to do was keep the sea on our left and keep pedaling as the moon rose over the ocean!

With a little ingenuity and help from friends like those at the Sarojin, a Khao Lak cycling attack can be most enjoyable… and it’s all only a hundred kilometers north of Phuket Town.

— Baz Daniels

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

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Business

500 people own 36% of equity in Thai companies

Greeley Pulitzer

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500 people own 36% of equity in Thai companies | The Thaiger

Roughly 36% of Thailand’s corporate equity is held by just 500 people, highlighting wealth inequality in the Kingdom, according to a study released by the Bank of Thailand’s research institute.

Each of these 500 amass some 3.1 billion baht (102 million USD) per year in company profits, according to the report from the Puey Ungphakorn Institute for Economic Research. In contrast, average yearly household income in Thailand is around 10,000 USD.

A report out this week from the Economic and Business Research Centre for Reform at Thailand’s Rangsit University also pointed to divisive and polarised politics being another root cause of the economic divide.

Thailand’s private sector is dominated by tycoons running sprawling conglomerates. According to the World Bank, the gap between the mega-wealthy and the rest of the Thai population of 69 million is among the many economic challenges for Thailand. According to Bloomberg, the perception of a divide, exacerbated by an economic slowdown, is a major political fault line.

“Magnates arise in Thailand from institutional factors that privilege certain businesses,” said the executive director of PIER, author of the study.

The institute said Thailand needs to promote competitiveness to reduce profits from monopoly power and bolster entrepreneurship to create a more equitable distribution of corporate wealth.

The research is based on analysis of 2017 Commerce Ministry data on the 2.1 million shareholders in Thai firms, and was funded by the University of California San Diego.

SOURCE: Bangkok Post

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Thai Life

Thais go bananas over freak plants in pursuit of lottery numbers

The Thaiger

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Thais go bananas over freak plants in pursuit of lottery numbers | The Thaiger

PHOTOS: Daily News

The answers are in the banana leaves.

Thai people LOVE playing the lottery (and gambling generally). In fact they’re BANANAS about the twice-monthly lottery (it was drawn again today). Daily News has reported about two unusual banana trees growing in front of a shop in Klong 4 Pathum Thani, just north of Bangkok. The trees did not have blossom and on one plant two bananas were pointing skywards. On another there was a whole bunch pointing up into the sky.

There was a steady stream of the faithful lighting incense, praying and rubbing powder on the trees to get lottery numbers. One group thought ‘542’ was the magic numbers and a path to riches (we’re not sure how they came to this conclusion). 53 year old Surachai says the trees had been growing for a few months and that he’d never seen anything like it before.

An unnamed agricultural expert suggested that there was probably something wrong with the banana plants. Trees and malformed animals are a favourite source of inspiration to select numbers for the lottery, as are numbers of houses and vehicles involved in events where people experience “miracle” escapes from danger, or even bizarre accidents.

SOURCE: Daily News

Thais go bananas over freak plants in pursuit of lottery numbers | News by The Thaiger Thais go bananas over freak plants in pursuit of lottery numbers | News by The Thaiger

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Entertainment

The K-pop Olympics: performers battle in the K-pop festival

The Thaiger

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The K-pop Olympics: performers battle in the K-pop festival | The Thaiger

On the streets, in parks and garages, seven Cuban youngsters spent seven months practising K-pop moves to secure a spot on their dream stage: an appearance in South Korea to imitate their idols. 13 final teams from 80 countries are competing in the 2019 event.

At the grandly titled and government-funded Changwon K-pop World Festival contestants from around the globe perform imitation dances or sing cover versions of the genre’s biggest hits, with thousands of fans cheering them on.

In terms of global heft, South Korea is overshadowed by its much larger neighbours China and Japan, but the event is a way for Seoul to derive soft power from one of the country’s biggest cultural exports. In terms of pop-power, South Korea’s K-Pop is now a recognised world-wide music phenomenon with bands like BTS and Blackpink figuring amongst the other big-hitters on the Billboard charts and outselling their western counterparts with millions of albums and downloads.

The K-pop Olympics: performers battle in the K-pop festival | News by The Thaiger

Finalists for this year

Cuba’s Communist government is one of North Korea’s few remaining allies: when President Miguel Diaz-Canel, successor to the Castro brothers Fidel and Raul, visited Pyongyang last November he was only the third foreign head of state to do so since leader Kim Jong Un inherited power in 2011.

But rather than geopolitics, Havana performer Karel Rodriguez Diaz – whose mannerisms and sleek hairstyle could easily be mistaken for those of a K-pop star – is more motivated by high-tempo beats and superslick dance moves.

“We never had a place with a mirror or a choreographer who could teach us the steps” but they kept on practising, he said.

His team-mate Elio Gonzalez added: “We are so excited to represent not just Cuba but also the whole of Latin America.”

Some 6,400 teams from more than 80 countries entered the competition, according to organisers, with 13 groups from places as diverse as Kuwait and Madagascar winning through to the final in Changwon, where they appeared on stage waving their national flags.

“This is like watching the Olympics, a K-pop Olympics,” said the event’s host Lia, a member of K-pop group ITZY.

The K-pop Olympics: performers battle in the K-pop festival | News by The Thaiger

The Korean Wave

K-pop – along with K-drama soap operas – has been one of South Korea’s most successful cultural exports to date. A key part of the “Korean Wave” which has swept Asia and beyond in the last 20 years, the K-pop industry is now estimated to be worth $5 billion, with boyband BTS its latest high-profile exponent, becoming the world’s most successful band in the past 12 months, selling out stadium concerts within minutes, around the world.

The South Korean government has financed a variety of K-pop themed events in what CedarBough Saeji, a visiting professor at Indiana University Bloomington in the US, said was a form of long-term “soft power diplomacy”.

“When you are covering you get to ‘become’ those idols for the three and a half minutes of the song,” she said, adding that performers will go so far as matching their clothing, accessories and hairstyle to their heroes and heroines.

“The cover dancers of today will be diplomats, news reporters, and business leaders in forty years,” she went on.

“And hopefully they’ll still have a soft spot in their heart for Korea. Korea can’t win the world through hard power – armies, economic bullying – but with soft power even a small country like Korea has a chance.”

The music also provides an artistic alternative for overseas fans, especially those in developing countries, Saeji added.

“The West, especially the United States, has been so dominant culturally for so long, and having a different cultural pole to look to provides hope that one’s own country can experience similar success in the future.”

The K-pop Olympics: performers battle in the K-pop festival | News by The Thaiger

Be who you want

Beneath its glitz and glamour, the K-pop industry is also known for its cutthroat competition, a lack of privacy, online bullying and relentless public pressure to maintain a wholesome image at all times and at any cost.

Sulli, a popular K-pop star and former child actress who had long been the target of abusive online comments was found dead on Monday, with her death sending shockwaves through fans around the world.

“I think a day where (people) would be ashamed of the K-show business will surely come,” a South Korean online user wrote in the wake of the star’s death.

“I think an industry that makes money by (making people) sing, dance, undergo plastic surgeries and go on a diet to please the gaze of others since they are teenagers should really go bankcrupt.”

But for Kenny Pham, a finalist from the US at last week’s contest, K-pop’s diversity – with some tunes having dark themes, while others were “cute” or sensual – is what gives him a sense of liberation.

“I like how expressive you could be,” the 19 year old told AFP last week.

“I feel like it’s a place where you could show the passion you have for music, dance or fashion. No one is bashing you for what your likes are.”

SOURCE: Agence France-Presse

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