PHUKET: The Mai Khao region in Phuket’s northwest has long been home to breeding Andaman sea turtles, not to mention an abundance of other species of flora and fauna, although Homo Touristicus remained noticeable by their absence until quite recently. Nowadays, that’s all changed, as a gathering influx of both tourists and residents flood this formerly quiet corner. The opportunities for quiet, traffic-free cycling in beguiling surroundings, it seems, are certainly still a major draw for Phuket’s lycra louts.
Peace and quiet are becoming rare on Phuket and are now found only in a few places, of which Mai Khao is definitely one. Here, there’s still a vision of a tropical island as it used to be. The sand stretches for miles, palms sway in the breeze and the sea is begging for you to swim, although seasonal rip tides need to be carefully researched prior to jumping in.
There are a few big-name Mai Khao resorts now, but on the whole the area has yet to be overtaken by development. Part of the reason is that Mai Khao is actually part of Sirinath National Park, and as a result, much of the land is protected and currently the subject of fierce debate and investigation.
The national park is a fantastic attraction in itself, spread over 90 square kilometers and comprising a saltwater mangrove forest, a nature trail with a huge wooden walking platform, several lagoons and a wide variety of plants and animals.
Mai Khao remained undeveloped and largely ignored by tourists as late as the turn of the millennium and only two types of visionaries seemed to see any potential in “White Tree Beach” – one reptilian and the other human.
Leatherback and Ridley’s sea turtles have laid their eggs on Mai Khao since time immemorial, literally so, since this 850-kilogram species has been around for at least 150 million years. The females return every year between October and February after migrating huge distances, to the very beach upon which they themselves were born, to lay their precious eggs. Human activities such as netting and egg gathering severely impacted the species and they are now on the World Wildlife Fund list of Thai fauna that are “critically endangered”.
Mai Khao visionary was one William Ellwood Heinecke, Chairman of the Minor Group, who in partnership with the Marriott Group opened the JW Marriott in Mai Khao in 2002. While seeing the great potential of Mai Khao, Bill Heinecke was also aware of the need to conserve the unspoiled environment, as this was a major attraction to visitors, and one that would become increasingly compromised in Phuket as unregulated development proceeded. His developments were built with the utmost care for the natural environment and he instigated educational programs and the famous Marine Turtle Foundation which became part of the ethos of his Mai Khao resorts.
We had the pleasure of staying at another Bill Heinecke development, the gorgeous Anantara Resort (meaning literally “without end” in Sanskrit) which is dedicated to introducing its guests to the delights of Thai culture, which Heinecke clearly reveres. Heinecke’s favorite architect/designer Bill Bensley worked his creative magic in landscaping and designing the 83 pool villas spread around the gorgeous lagoons with wooden walkways, fountains and even splashing ducks that inhabit their very own “duck pool villa”.
Complementing the luxury resort’s inviting accommodation is a host of services and facilities for the well-heeled. There’s even a cycling program that takes guests around the local area with guides and bikes provided.
We opted to cycle around the lakes of Mai Khao on the evening of our stay, spotting mud-bathing water buffalo and fat monitor lizards waddling about the banks. Then we cycled out onto the highway and turned left up to the Sarasin Bridge, keeping well onto the side of the road shoulder to stay clear of the hurtling traffic.
Half of the old Sarasin Bridge stands below the busy new traffic lanes and provides a pleasant picnic and promenading spot for locals while offering glorious views across the expansive estuary to the west and into Phang Nga Bay to the east.
Here we stopped for a breather and gave thought to the bridge’s very own ghosts and mythology. The myth is a love story featuring Dam, a poor bus driver who fell in love with Gem, who was, you’ve guessed it, from a wealthy family. “Not possible”, said the family whose hard eyes only understood the lure of filthy lucre and not true love!
Forced apart and unable to see each other, they bound themselves together and jumped off the bridge. On the night of February 22, 1973, the bodies were found tied together by a loincloth and their ghosts still walk the waters to this day.
We didn’t actually witness any ghostly sightings, but we did enjoy the most glorious sunset while sitting with a cold beer back on west-facing Mai Khao Beach, enjoying the natural bounty which heading north up to this corner of Phuket can bring.
— Baz Daniel
500 people own 36% of equity in Thai companies
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
Thais go bananas over freak plants in pursuit of lottery numbers
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
The K-pop Olympics: performers battle in the K-pop festival
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.
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 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.”
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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