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Gardening: Between a rock and a hard place

Legacy Phuket Gazette

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Gardening: Between a rock and a hard place | The Thaiger
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PHUKET: I was recently invited by my good friend Paul Maitland-Smith to Cebu, in the Philippines. Like Phuket, Cebu is an island, and on much the same latitude. It is, however, considerably larger, with mountains rising to 3,300 feet – twice the height of those in Phuket. Much of the tropical vegetation there prompted memories of the hillside rainforests in Phuket – mangoes, bananas, huge clumps of bamboo, myrtles, banyans and mountain ebony, even the odd African tulip tree and flame tree in brilliant scarlet bloom.

But limestone underfoot had replaced Phuket’s granite, and the temperatures were two or three degrees cooler, especially at the elevations – 2,000 feet or so – where we were reconnoitering.

The result? Plants growing wild that I have not seen in Phuket. For example, the steep hillsides had abundant displays of deep purple spikes of verbenas, and masses of eggplant bushes with tiny green, pea-like fruits (solanum torvum). They are valued as a food source in Thailand, but here the locals seemed indifferent to their presence. Lantanas, known here as coronitas, had established a flowery footing on many of the slopes.

Another more eye-catching shrub, native to the Philippines, was surviving at these altitudes – the medinilla or rose grape. It has attractive clusters of pink flowers and red seed pods complemented by bluish green, deeply veined leaves. Brugmansias, which I have always struggled to grow in Phuket’s salty and humid climate, were there growing wild in the mountain upland air.

In Thailand, you have to go to Chaing Mai and its environs to find similar specimens. On the adjacent terraced slopes – a surprise to me – the local farmers were growing row upon row of chrysanthemums destined for the cut-flower trade.

Paul’s current project is an extraordinary one. On an exposed rocky outcrop, he envisages the creation of a structure which will not only make a magnificent new home, but will incorporate both a museum and an art gallery to house some of his unique collection of antiques and ‘objets d’art’, as well as to provide a dramatic space in which local artists can display their creations.

And here’s the rub: Instead of flattening the existing craggy rocks and thereby creating a level platform, our visionary has decided to retain these limestone shapes, eroded into fantastical patterns and textures by eons of rain and wind, and incorporate them in his design.

Part of a series of enclosing structures composed mainly of plate glass and stainless steel, the rocks will feature both within and without its confines, part and parcel of a mountain citadel approached by winding steps which follow the contours of the terrain from the landscaped gardens below, and rise past a huge rocky pool complete with waterfalls and koi carp. As you climb, you will pass through the portals of an Indian temple, ancient pillars and arches reassembled in this remote setting.

There is more. A number of these outcrops are embraced by the serpentine roots of banyan trees, clinging like giant octopods to these immovable crags. They too will be a feature of this domain. Once completed, you will be able to enter this series of glazed structures and see on every side, the sea or mountains. Look in the immediate vicinity and you will literally be within touching distance of rocks and roots. Man and nature in harmony.

My brief was to recommend plants for such a high, arid environment which might enhance the visual experience of owner and visitor alike. Below, down in the valley, and set in checkered shade, were plants in abundance, already expertly selected and cared for – feathery columnar ferns, lady palms, spiky yuccas, huge bird’s nest aspleniums, colorful bromeliads, all sprouting from a dense carpet of creeping vetches and aesthetically landscaped amid rocks, water features and statuary.

In the micro-climate above, conditions are less bountiful, since soil is always at a premium in
exposed craggy sites. It gets washed away by unremitting tropical rain, thus revealing the bare rock beneath. What little soil that does exist is a mixture of broken down grains of rock and deposited organic matter such as dead leaves.

Thus many plants that exist on mountain rocks in holes, declivities or crevices are epiphytic, that is to say they need little soil for their roots and take their nutrients and moisture mostly from the atmosphere. Many of these are bromeliads.

It is good to see that Paul, fast out of the starting blocks, has already planted a number of gold and red neoregelias which have rapidly become established in cracks or where there is a thin covering of soil. Because of their sculptural shape, bromeliads look particularly effective when used in mixed plantings with other, maybe less dramatic neighbors.

A good way to start the ball rolling.

If you have a question or a garden that you would like featured you can email me at: drpaccampbell @gmail.com. Further information about this gardening series and Patrick’s other work can be accessed at: patrickaccampbell.wordpress.com

— Patrick Campbell

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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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Thailand

Things that have changed in Thailand in the Covid Era | Top 10 | VIDEO

The Thaiger

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Things that have changed in Thailand in the Covid Era | Top 10 | VIDEO | The Thaiger

Top 10 things that have changed in Thailand during the Covid-era

Things have changed. In some cases they’ve changed a lot and may never be the same again. Many people are suffering as a result of the impacts of lockdowns and the border closures. Some people are being forced to re-invent their lives as a result. Here are some of the main things we believe have changed since January this year.

Face Masks

The now every-present face mask is now with us for a long time. In Asia, it was never uncommon to see people wearing face masks, for traffic, air pollution, fears of disease or just to a fashion statement.

In the Covid-era, mask wearing will now just become a normal thing we wear when in public spaces. Even when the government relaxes the actual laws about the wearing of face masks, most people, we predict, will continue to wear them anyway.

Taking Your Temperature

It’s everywhere, it doesn’t appear to be very effective or reliable, but it’s not uncommon to have your temperature taken by someone pointing a gun-thing at your head, numerous times a day. The only people to have benefitted from these temperature checks are the manufacturers of infra-red temperature check machines.

Flying in the Covid-era

While the domestic carriers are all flying again, they’re doing it tough. Planes are sometimes half-empty and there’s certainly less choice of times and destinations, compared to before the Covid travel restrictions set in.

But it hasn’t stopped the budget airlines from making the situation extremely competitive with the fares still very low. The aviation industry will certainly re-emerge with fewer airlines as some will be unable to weather the Covid storm.

Confidence

Many business had to close during the lockdown. Some have re-opened, some tried to re-open but have since closed again, and some are struggling along as best they can. But people, through fear or simply being unable to afford it, are going out and spending less. The impacts of recessions across the reason will have long-lasting, profound effects on consumer confidence.

Eating Out

There’s been few clear winners in all this Covid mess. Delivery companies are just one of them, and the local motorcade delivery services in particular. Grab Food and Food Panda are just two examples of the new way we eat and many restaurants are changing their table service model, and even their take away services, to suit the new normal of food on demand. Some restaurants have even closed their doors forever and turned into virtual restaurants, delivering food exclusively through the convenience of app ordering and delivery.

The Travel Industry

Apart from the obvious lack of international tourism, there’s no doubt we’re simply going to be travelling less in the short to medium term. Many people will be unable to afford the long holidays of the pastand may travel less, or not at all.

For the communities that relied on tourism, the changes in their situation has been profound. Businesses are having to reinvent their model to cater for domestic tourism or simply find other ways to diversify their business plan, or just wait out the situation.

The Economy

Thailand is in recession. So is everywhere else, and the situation, sadly, is likely to get worse as the Covid-era stretches out and restrictions hold back investment. Some previously good businesses are now out of business. Businesses that were struggling before have been proven unsustainable.

Globally, the government stimulus poured into local economies has caused artificial spikes in some stock markets. In other countries, where the government paid salaries for companies that were forced to close up or sack staff, are finding it hard to ween people off the grants and get them back to work.

In Thailand the economy has been hit hard, particularly in the export , tourism and hospitality industries. The downstream effects of all the staff losing their work, will have an effect on the local economy for many years.

Shell shock

Thailand, reliant on international tourism, has found itself exposed once the borders were closed. As the situation extends way past the ‘few months’ people were expecting, the full impact is starting to hit hard, particularly in places like Pattaya, Phuket and Chiang Mai. Their reliance on tourism has exposed their economies and left thousands wondering what else they can do to sustain themselves.

Whilst Thailand has recovered quickly from past political unrest, tsunamis and past pandemic threats, this time there will be a much longer path to recovery and will force many businesses to re-evaluate their businesses.

The red light industries

The reality has certainly hit home for tens of thousands of Thailand’s sex workers. Although not officially recognised in Thailand, prostitution has been a huge local industry in the past, creating an enormous underground market for locals and international tourists as well.

Without official government acknowledgment, their jobs are not recognised and their salaries vanish once the bars and borders close. No rights, no unemployment pay. The number of prostitutes in Thailand could be upwards of 100,000, and these workers have had to head home, many back to the northern and north east provinces. Thailand’s red light districts were locked down for almost 3 months and bars and clubs, and the bar girls and boys, have been struggling ever since.

The pause button

There are few people that have not been profoundly affected by the impact of the coronavirus. Whilst some have been confronted directly with health issues, and even the deaths caused by Covid-19, of friends or relatives, others have had to put their lives and businesses on hold.

People have been unable to travel, business doors have been closed, many people have lost their job and thousands of events have had to be cancelled or postponed.

Even though many parts of the economy are being to grind back into action, there will be a lingering hang-over for just about everyone as they re-orient their lives to suit the new situation.

In some cases, the pause button may have to be hit again, as the world continues to battle Covid-19, and find new ways to live with it.

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Tourism

Riding and renting a motorbike in Thailand | Top 10 tips | VIDEO

The Thaiger

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Riding and renting a motorbike in Thailand | Top 10 tips | VIDEO | The Thaiger

Motorbikes and scooters are the most popular mode of transport in Thailand, and most of south east Asia. In many cases, they’re the ‘engine’ for the local economies. Most of them just go and go and go, they’re astonishingly reliable. Getting around on a motorbike is easy enough and will get you to your destination faster, whilst the cars and trucks are plodding along in the traffic.

But riding a motorbike in Thailand can also be very dangerous. If you stick to the common sense basics – ride within the speed limits, wear a bike helmet, obey the traffic rules and don’t drink and drive – it remains a perfectly reliable way to get around.

Here’s our Top Ten tips to make your journey on the motorbike safer, and, more comfortable.

Number 1. Wear appropriate clothes. Falling off a motorbike without anything covering your knees or elbows, is going to be painful enough – having at least some fabric between you and the road is going to reduce the painful grazes a bit. Long pants and a long shirt are a good start. Always wear shoes for the same reason. And a motorbike helmet as well – it’s the law and it could save your life.

Number 2. Keep your bike in good condition. As hardy and reliable as the modern motorbikes are, they will run better and for longer if you keep up the service schedule, and change the oil around once a month. Apart from changing the engine oil, keep an eye on the tyres as the road surfaces in much of Thailand, plus the heat and humidity, will wear down your tread quickly. Your brakes will also need checking. Then there’s the lights at the front and back, which are your best way to inform other driver’s what you’re doing in the traffic. Indicators may not be used much by the locals, but YOU should.

Number 3. Make sure you have a proper license. Your car license in your home country isn’t legal in Thailand to ride a motorbike. Your International Drivers License for cars, issued in your home country isn’t going to cut it either. Legally, the only document that will satisfy the Thai legal system, officially, is a Thai motorcycle license. Keep this in mind if you want to rent a motorbike! If you live in Thailand you simply must get a proper motorbike drivers license of you want to ride a motorbike here. And whilst we’re talking about a Thai Motorbike License, we’re talking about the ones you get from the Land Transport Offices, not along Khao San road for 500 baht!

Number 4. Check your travel and health insurance. Every week The Thaiger hears from tourists stuck in a Thai hospital with mounting hospital bills and an insurance company that won’t pay out because they didn’t have a proper drivers license. Or no insurance at all. And even if you have travel or health insurance, check the fine print because most insurance contracts don’t include driving on motorbikes in Thailand.

Number 5. Driving is different in Thailand. Many of the rules are the same as countries that also drive on the left-hand side of the road. But it is a totally different vibe. Apart from the lunatics that drive too fast, drink-drive or ghost ride…. That’s driving against the flow of traffic on the wrong side of the road…. there’s just a different attitude to driving. It’s a bit like swimming with a school of fish… if you just go-with-the-flow, and keep in the stream of traffic, you’ll generally do well. Be extra careful and mindful if you’re not used to the flow of Thai traffic. Number

Number 6. Green lights mean GO. Red lights also mean GO…. sometimes. You’ll see what we mean. Don’t even think about trying it. You’ll either end up fined, or dead.

Number 7. Have a practice. If you’re either new to driving a motorbike or new to driving a motorbike in Thailand don’t thrust yourself into a busy stretch of road immediately. Try something a little calmer and slower to get a feel of the subtle differences in Thai traffic movement. You’re sharing the road with trucks, cars, buses and passenger vans.

You’re meant to stay on the left hand side and you’d be well advised to do so, despite the behaviour of some Thai motorbike drivers that want to mix it with the ‘big boys’. Get some confidence with your motorbike and way it handles, and moving in and around traffic on a quiet road before you tackle the main roads.

Number 8. There’s pot holes, then there’s POT HOLES. The roads around Thailand have really improved in the past decade but you’ll still find pot holes in places there wasn’t one the day before. If you want a really good reason for giving plenty of distance between you and the car in front, it’s to see the pot hole before you end up IN it. Whilst car tyres might glide over these holes in the road, your motorbike is likely to come to an abrupt halt, with you continuing over the front of the handlebars – something to do with Newton’s first law of motion.

Number 9. If you’re not sure, don’t. Never ridden a motorbike? Didn’t ride a motorbike in your own country? There’s two good reasons not to try it for your first time in Thailand.

It can be a bit of a challenge for even experienced motorbike drivers, well different anyway. There’s plenty of other ways to get around and if you want THAT selfie for your Facebook page there’s thousands of bikes parked by the side of the road where you can get a photo. Just because your friends did it when they travelled to Thailand doesn’t mean you have to.

Number 10. Police will often arbitrate on the spot at an accident. If you are in the wrong and damaged someone or someone else’s bike you’re probably going to have to pay up. Now, there’s the ‘official’ way to sort things out in these case and the ‘unofficial’.

The policemen will get to the scene soon enough and, often, decide there and then who was at fault. They’ll often negotiate how much should be paid as well. The urban myth is that Thai police always side with the the locals – that’s not the case although, if you are indeed in the wrong then you’re IN THE WRONG!

If you are concerned that you’re being rolled by the locals in sorting out a simple motorbike accident then call the Tourist Police or your consulate immediately. DON’T agree to pay any money to anyone until you’ve spoken to at least the Tourist Police.
Getting into an argument with the local police will almost certainly guarantee you’ll come off second best. Demanding that you speak to the police chief, etc, will also usually end up in the situation not going well in your favour. Be patient and don’t lose your cool. You are in a foreign country, you’re a guest and they do things differently – end of sentence.

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Bangkok

Khao San Road to reopen for Halloween

Caitlin Ashworth

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Khao San Road to reopen for Halloween | The Thaiger
PHOTO: Facebook: The Club Khaosan

The party is coming back to Khao San Road this Halloween. The once booming backpacker district went through a renovation during the lockdown period and now the Bangkok governor says they’re ready to reopen the street.

Khao San Road has long been a district frequented by foreign backpackers. It’s known for it’s grungy and lively bar scene as well as its eccentric mix of street food, like scorpion on a stick. During the lockdown, 48.4 million baht was put into the streets for major renovations like leveling out the road and footpaths, adding some gutters and designating space for emergency vehicles.

Bangkok governor Aswin Kwanmuang says a Khao San Road Halloween party to help stimulate travel. There was talk about removing street vendors from Khao San Road, but the idea got a lot of backlash. Luckily, street food will stay put and 240 food vendors will be set up along the street from 9am to midnight for the Halloween weekend.

Khao San Road will also run a street market and set a stage for performances on the November 28 and 29 as well as News Years weekend, according to Nation Thailand.

Aswin says events are also planned for Loy Krathong and New Years. The area around the street was so packed during last year’s New Years, that streets and alleyways were more like mosh pits. Phones were stolen, fights broke out. It was a mess.

Loy Krathong happens every year on the 12th month of the Thai lunar calendar. People make offerings for the water goddess and ask for forgiveness. A krathong is usually made of banana stems, leaves, flowers, candles and incense sticks. It’s then floated down a river.

Khao San Road isn’t known as a place where people ask for forgiveness, but apparently Loy Krathong will be celebrated along with other cultural events, according to Coconuts Bangkok. Loy Krathong happens to fall on Halloween this year.

SOURCES: Coconuts Bangkok | Nation Thailand | Bangkok Post

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