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Island hopping in The Philippines

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I’m never at my best at 5 o’clock in the morning. But here I am, bumping along the streets of Dumaguete in the Philippines, clinging to the seat of an open-sided bus as the sun tries to poke up over the houses and shops flashing by. Why? I’ve been promised leaping dolphins and a community on stilts in the sea.

Keri Jones

From Phuket, there are direct flights to The Philippines or short connections in Bangkok or KL.

Island hopping in The Philippines | News by The Thaiger

Island hopping in The Philippines | News by The Thaiger

These ‘Jeepnees’ look familiar.

Island hopping in The Philippines | News by The Thaiger.

But The Philippines are a long way to come from Europe. But if you’re prepared to travel the fourteen hours from London to Manila and then take an additional hour-long internal flight, you will find that your money also travels much further here on Negros Island in the central south of the country. When you switch pounds for pesos, you can enjoy luxury living – a good restaurant meal costs around £6. It’s the low cost of living here that has attracted so many European and American relocators.

Island hopping in The Philippines | News by The Thaiger

Gordon Mckissock is one of those. He moved from Canada to start a successful tour company, PhilCan Tours. Gordon told there are 4,000 expats in Dumaguete, a city of 120,0000. I don’t think the foreigners have changed the city much. Dumaguete still offers a taste of the real Philippines – cluttered, chaotic and colourful. Look up and you’ll see the jumble of electric and phone wires – hundreds of black cables twisted together and sagging between poles. I thought it was tough untangling my Christmas lights!

Island hopping in The Philippines | News by The Thaiger

You’ll have to ride in a ‘trike.’ They’re part of the Philippines experience. It’s a covered motorbike with a sort of welded-on sidecar in which you and up to two other passengers can sit. It can be a cosy ride for those with, lets say, a fuller figure so make sure you’re travelling with a loved one or at least a close friend. They’re darting around everywhere – thousands of them. In the centre of town there’s even a ‘trike’ fire engine on display. The fire service roll call would have been shorter than Trumpton’s – they’d reach Pugh and Pugh but be lucky to squeeze on Barney McGrew…

Trikes reach about 30mph, which is fine in a city where vendors meander between the motors to make sales before the traffic moves on. Owners personalise them in bold colours. Most proudly state the name of the operator’s wife or girlfriend. There are lots of good catholic names scrawled or painted on the bodywork – Maria, Rosa, Theresa. Some also contain the names of saints. The Philippines is a devout Catholic nation and all around Dumaguete you’ll see billboards quoting bible verse. “It is 95% Christian although there are some Muslim areas too,” Gordon told me. “There is a lot of value placed on the church but it’s all respectful. Families are large and stick together here.”

Dumaguete’s number one attraction has a religious connection too. A city centre tower was built in 1811 to house bells to warn of invading pirates. The name Dumaguete comes from Daguit, which means ‘to snatch.’ You can climb the landmark, which stands on the skyline like a 30m high grey, coralstone lighthouse. Underneath there’s a grotto with some religious statues. Women sell incense and candles outside.

But Gordon says there’s a lot see away from the frenetic activity of the town. “A big draw is Po Island,” said Gordon. “It’s a world-class wildlife sanctuary and it’s popular for diving and snorkelling. You can also swim with whale sharks in Oslob, at nearby Cebu Island, go on a tour to see waterfalls and bathe in hot springs.”

I boarded one of Gordon’s open-sided minibuses, a ‘jeepny,’ for the 28-mile ride to the port of Bais. The journey took us through a succession of small towns straddling the coastal highway. Men were carrying large bottles of water home on their shoulders for the morning washing and cooking. And the distinctive and pleasant smell of wood smoke filled the air.

An hour later we were in the countryside and driving alongside paddy fields, providing another unique aroma. I’d never smelt rice ‘in the field’ before but for a few minutes, the scent in the air took me back to school dinner days. The jeepny filled with the sweet, familiar smell of rice pudding!

We passed mangrove swamps and sugar plantations and 90 minutes later, we were on the long concrete wharf at Bais. I removed my shoes and socks and waded into the water, to board the wooden trimaran. The small eight-seater was fashioned out of bamboo poles bound together with plastic ties and with a plywood deck. A yellow canopy strung across the top provided shade.

Tour guide Jong’s assistant pushed off using a huge bamboo pole, like a Philippine gondolier, and the engine started up. We headed out into the bay and 45-minutes later there was an excited scream!

There was a dolphin. Then lots of them. Maybe half a dozen were teasing us by offering just a brief view of their dorsal fins. Then, just what everyone wanted, the group leapt a few feet from the water into the air. There were another four sightseeing boats on the sea near us and they soon latched on to our dolphin discovery, speeding over to get a closer look. Whether this disturbs the dolphins or provides them with some ‘hide and seek’ fun, I don’t know. But the dolphins soon vanished. Minutes later, they were back, 200 yards over on the starboard side. The show resumed.

Island hopping in The Philippines | News by The Thaiger

Have you ever had the urge to seek solitude on holiday? There are different ways of achieving it, depending on your budget. If you dream of being stranded on your own desert island, watching the tides rise and fall and the sun set and rise in the knowledge that nobody will disturb you, I might have found the perfect place for you.

As part of the trip out of Bais, our trimaran took us to a sandbar in the bay. Standing 25ft above the water were four platforms, topped with single-storey wood and thatch cottages. The steel legs holding them up made them look like oilrigs. I got off the boat and waded through the thigh-high, warm water to the small concrete platform on the sand. We’d timed it well. The sandbar is completely dry twice a day in the low tide but the water also rises above head height.

Wooden steps led the way to the accommodation above. On entering the simple two-room unit I found an elderly man brushing the deck. Tour guide Jong had accompanied me up the stairs and he translated my questions for the caretaker, who couldn’t speak English. The unit had a viewing deck and bedroom. A bucket on a rope provided the ensuite facilities and although fish could be caught and prepared, there was no cooking facility. So self-catering guests would have sushi at sunset!

Whether you stay overnight or wade out onto the sandbar for an hour, standing upright in the middle of the ocean, seeing starfish on the sandy bottom and sea urchins darting between your legs is a special experience.

Our final boat stop was at Talabong Mangrove Forest and Bird Sanctuary. It’s the largest remaining mangrove forest on the island and a very long wooden boardwalk leads you from the small boat dock, over and above the swamps to the heart of the mangrove. After years of destruction, the locals are now realising how important these habitats are as nurseries for fish. My interest piqued when Jong told me that monkeys live in the reserve. Sadly we didn’t see any.

PhilCan Tours offer a variety of trips around Negros Island, including my dolphin watching tour, as well as diving with whale sharks, fishing and mountain biking experiences. You can book on their website at philtraveltours.com.

I stayed at the Santa Monica Beach Club. The resort is a bumpy twenty-minute ride from Dumaguete airport, down a long, pothole-filled lane. And it’s got one of the biggest outdoor pools I’ve seen. The hotel feels safe and there is on-site security with officials patrolling all night. The hotel also provides free insect repellent made the traditional way from lemongrass. It works – a nice touch.

Keri Jones

Great Destinations Radio Show can be heard on The Thaiger 102.75 FM Saturdays and Sundays at 9am.

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Bangkok

The Isan Project honours a hero of Tham Luang cave rescue

The Thaiger

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The Isan Project honours a hero of Tham Luang cave rescue | The Thaiger
PHOTO: Former Thai Sports and Tourism Minister with Vernon Unsworth MBE

The Isan Project has collaborated with the TAT on new marketing campaign featuring music commemorating the Tham Luang cave rescue.

The story of how 13 young men, members of the Mu Pa (Wild Boar) football team, were saved in the caves of Chiang Rai continues to ignites interest in the miraculous internationally-followed rescue in July 2018 from the flooded Tham Luang cave

To honour the safe rescue music video company The Isan Projectrecently launched “Where the Eagles Fly”, video to pay tribute to the British hero of the dramatic saga, Vern Unsworth MBE.

The release of a movie and Netflix mini series shortly will also boost interest globally in Thailand. The series includes the first individual interviews with the boys and they coach.

The launch, in collaboration with the Tourism Authority of Thailand, and supported by the Hyatt Regency Bangkok Sukhumvit and Serenity Wines, was attended by several key persons involved in the rescue mission two years ago, including former Tourism & Sports Minister, Weerasak Kowsurat, who played a major role in flying in special cave divers from the UK as requested by Vernon Unsworth, a recognised cave explorer, who knows virtually every inch of the Tham Luang cave.

“It is absolutely true that without Vernon’s persistence in obtaining the help from the UK cave diving experts to initially spearhead the rescue mission, the boys and their coach would not be alive today.”

“Needless to say, assistance from experienced and skilled cave divers from around the world, who later volunteered to join as well as our own Navy Seals, all contributed to the mission’s ultimate success.”

Vernon Unsworth MBE, his partner Woranan Ratrawiphakkun, and his caving buddy Kamon Kunngamkwamdee, all starred in the “Where the Eagles Fly” fantasy music video, which was set in deep jungle and caves in the mountain of Doi Nang Non in Chiang Rai, Thailand.

“I’m truly honoured to have this song written about me. It was very moving to relive parts of the rescue while making the music video, especially when I think back on how Kamon and I covered over 16 km. on the first day after we knew the boys were missing. We virtually lived in the cave for the first 4 days prior to the arrival of my cave diving colleagues from the UK”.

The story of how the football team were saved in the caves is a heart warming one. For many attending the event it was a privilege and an honour to meet 63 year old Vernon Unsworth in person. An event filled with stories of bravery, emotion and moving music.

Vernon, who has mapped the cave system for 8 years, was the first professional cave diver at the site and realising the enormous danger the boys were in, played a significant rôle in the rescue and earned him the UK’s high honour, an MBE medal.

As the rescue became a race against time ahead of impending monsoon rains, Vernon undertook reconnaissance dives upstream through flooded passages against strong currents.

Weerasak Kowsurat, the former Minister of Tourism and Sports, recalled how a message written on a piece of paper by Vernon and handed to his colleague for safe keeping with instructions that it was to be handed over in case Vernon, fearing the worst, didn’t make it out on an exploratory dive. It was very dangerous work and one Thai diver died during the course of the rescue.

Although Vernon was safe, the message was handed to the Minister who was at the cave site. The message was to contact the British Dive Caving Association and gave names of expert divers and telephone numbers. Within 24 hours the Tourism Minister had managed to get the UK divers on a hastily arranged flight to Thailand to assist in the rescue effort.

The team of UK divers, working under appalling conditions and with time running out, in poor visibility located the team marooned on a ledge above the water about 4 kilometres inside the cave complex.

Writer and executive producer of The Isan Project, Will Robinson says… “Although I had penned and produced “Heroes of Thailand” honouring all those involved in the Tham Luang cave rescue, I felt it was time to pay a special tribute directly to the mastermind of the extremely complex mission.”

“Vernon is such a humble man, I wanted to create a song not only to honour him, but also to establish Tham Luang and what is now known as the ‘Wild Boar Cave’, where the boys were found, as a new tourist attraction for those who love to explore caves.”

At the beginning of the video it reads…

“On June 23, 2018, 12 boys from the Wild Boar football team went exploring the Tham Luang cave with their coach in Chiang Rai. They never returned home that night, next day locals contacted cave explorer Vern Unsworth in nearby Mae Fah Luang. Over the course of the next two weeks Vern put his life on the line for the young football team with a daring rescue engineered by Vern and Elite British cave divers. This song was written in honour of Vern Unsworth M.B.E. and inspired by the above events.”

You can watch the video HERE.

Commenting on the Isan Project Tanes Petsuwan, TAT’s Deputy Governor of Marketing Communications said, “TAT appreciates Will’s love of Thailand, and we are delighted to be supporting this launch. We also believe that this song combined with the newly-published children’s book, “All Thirteen” and the soon-to-be released Hollywood movie, “Thirteen Lives”, will help to dramatically boost tourism in and around Chiang Rai even though we will need to rely mainly on domestic tourists until the end of the year while international travel is still restricted.”

“Where the Eagles Fly”, co-written by Will Robinson and Daniel Ryan, and performed by Daniel himself, is tipped to top the charts when the MGM blockbuster movie, “Thirteen Lives” and the Netflix mini-series about the epic story of the Tham Luang cave rescue are released. The song is now available from all digital music stores including iTunes, Spotify, Apple and Amazon.

The Isan Project honours a hero of Tham Luang cave rescue | News by The Thaiger

From left: Mr. Sobchai (Ford) Kraiyoonsen Singer/composer, Mr. Tanes Petsuwan TAT’s Deputy Governor of Marketing Communications, Senator Weerasak Kowsurat former Minister of Tourism and Sports, Mr. Vern Unsworth British cave explorer, Mr. Will Robinson Writer and Executive Producer of The Isan Project, Mr. Nithee Seeprae TAT’s Executive Director of Advertising & PR Department, Ms. Woranan Ratrawiphakkun Vern’s partner, Mr. Sammy Carolus GM of the Hyatt Regency Bangkok Sukhumvit

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World

The World’s 50 Best Foods… Thai massaman curry tops the list

Maya Taylor

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The World’s 50 Best Foods… Thai massaman curry tops the list | The Thaiger
PHOTO: Young Sok Yun on Flickr

The humble Thai massaman curry has topped a list of the World’s 50 Best Foods, compiled by the CNN Travel team. Thailand’s smooth coconut milk and potato-based curry (add meat, tofu or vegetables of your choice) comes in at Number 1, with 2 other popular Thai dishes also making it into the World’s Best food list.

The hot and spicy shrimp/prawn soup, Tom Yum Goong, comes in at Number 8, with papaya salad, aka somtam, in 46th place (mai phet please!) Tell us your favourite Thai dish, and why, in the comments section (below).

CNN Travel says its staff conducted extensive research on global cuisine to find the 50 best dishes ever created. Nice work if you can get it…

Italian pizza, Mexican chocolate, Japanese sushi, Chinese Peking duck, Penang Assam laksa, Malaysia and German Hamburger also top the delicious list.

Here’s what the writers had to say about the 3 Thai dishes that made the top taste grade…

First Place, Massaman curryEmphatically the king of curries, and perhaps the king of all foods. Spicy, coconutty, sweet and savoury. Even the packet sauce you buy from the supermarket can make the most delinquent of cooks look like a Michelin potential. Thankfully, someone invented rice, with which diners can mop up the last drizzles of curry sauce. “The Land of Smiles” isn’t just a marketing catch-line. It’s a result of being born in a land where the world’s most delicious food is sold on nearly every street corner.

Eighth Place, Tom Yum Kung

This best food Thai masterpiece teems with shrimp, mushrooms, tomatoes, lemongrass, galangal and kaffir lime leaves. Usually loaded with coconut milk and cream, the hearty soup unifies a host of favourite Thai tastes: sour, salty, spicy and sweet. Best of all is the price: cheap.

The World’s 50 Best Foods... Thai massaman curry tops the list | News by The Thaiger

PHOTO: Richard Lee on Flickr

46th Place, Som Tam/Papaya salad

To prepare Thailand’s most famous salad, pound garlic and chilies with a mortar and pestle. Toss in tamarind juice, fish sauce, peanuts, dried shrimp, tomatoes, lime juice, sugar cane paste, string beans and a handful of grated green papaya. Grab a side of sticky rice. Variations include those made with crab (som tam pu) and fermented fish sauce (som tam pla ra), but none matches the flavour and simple beauty of the original.

The World’s 50 Best Foods... Thai massaman curry tops the list | News by The Thaiger

PHOTO: www.needpix.com

SOURCE: Thai Residents | CNN Travel

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Protests

K-Pop fans show their support for the young Thai protesters, donate 3 million+ baht

The Thaiger

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K-Pop fans show their support for the young Thai protesters, donate 3 million+ baht | The Thaiger
PHOTO: Fan-funded 'happy birthday' signs around Thailand's BTS and MRT station

Art meets politics again, this time with hundreds of thousands of K-Pop fans raising funds in support of the growing student protest movement in Thailand. So far they’ve raised more than 3 million baht (as of 10am this morning) but the amount is rising quickly as Thai and overseas K-Pop fans respond. The most popular band in Thailand at the moment is BTS, the South Korean septet which is currently the most popular band in the world (as of today BTS commands the Number 1 and Number 2 positions on the US Billboard singles chart).

BTS fans have so far been the largest contributors donating funds to the protest cause.

The BTS Thailand page, not to be confused with the BTS Skytrain, is urging K-pop fans to stop the practice of paying for billboards in support of their favourite idols and to celebrate the birthdays of the 7 members. RM, Jin, Suga, J-Hope, Jimin, V and Jungkook issued a statement on their fanpage asking fans to stop funding the BTS and MRT “inconvenienced protesters and normal citizens from getting home and putting them in danger”.

Bangkok’s two main rail systems were closed down over the weekend as police and protesters played a cat and mouse game. The protesters were withholding the announcement of protest locations to the last minute whilst police second-guessed their moves, ending up in mass inconvenience for the wider public in shutting down the entire network, including the Airport link.

“We’re calling Armys and other fans to stop buying ad projects with the BTS and MRT.” (“Army” is the name of BTS fans.

Fans of K-pop groups as well as other “idol” groups often pool their resources to purchase display ads in the MRT and BTS stations wishing their stars happy birthday or on other significant anniversaries.

It’s thought that many more millions of baht will be raised by the K-Pop fans in the next few days.

The young Thai protesters are tapping into a strong social media network, and have “weaponised” the social media and messaging platforms. The main App they are now using, to communicate their intentions, is “Telegram”, developed by a young Russian couple but now operating out of Germany. The App features encypted messages, impossible to track, and has 400 million monthly active users.

Telegram is a cloud-based instant messaging, video telephony and voice over IP service with end-to-end encryption for secret chat only, whereas Cloud chat uses client-server/server-client encryption and its messages are stored encrypted in the Telegram Cloud – Wikipedia

Meanwhile, other K-Pop acts that have mobilised their fans win support include Girls’ Generation, GOT7, NCT, WannaOne, Nu’est, X1, Day 6, Red Velvet, MonstaC, Woodz, Shinee, Super Junior and R1se. We’re sure the fans of Black Pink are also contributing but didn’t have their figures available at the time of publishing. Fans of popular Thai actors and celebrities are also donating to the pool.

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