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Monsoon season skies – Phuket Aviation

Legacy Phuket Gazette

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Monsoon season skies – Phuket Aviation | Thaiger

PHUKET: Air. Of all the things we take for granted in our life, few are as easily overlooked as that chemical soup that surrounds and sustains us, breath by breath.

Air is easy to take for granted; after all, it is colorless and odorless. Unless you are climbing Mt Everest, trapped in an air-tight vault, or happen to live near the smoldering remains of a burning retail complex, there is usually more than enough high quality air to go around, right?

That might be true most of the time as we plod through our daily routines, but pick up the pace a little and we quickly get a sense of what a crazy substance air can be. Try throwing a cotton ball as far as you can, or stick your arm out the window of a fast-moving vehicle. Watch a formula 1 car that has spun out on a straightaway quickly go airborne, or images of a space shuttle during re-entry.

With all this in mind, flying a small aircraft above the island during Phuket’s notorious monsoon season might seem to be tempting fate with a mysterious, potentially dangerous mistress. After all, the crash of the ill-fated One-Two-GO (OTG) Airlines Flight 269 came during very strong monsoonal conditions – and that was a big jet (click here for article).

What chance would a tiny, two-seat ultralight aircraft have under adverse conditions aloft?

To learn more about monsoon season flying, we headed to Pa Khlock to visit Phuket Air Park, the only privately run airfield in the South of Thailand.

Here we spoke with Pat James, managing director of Aero Pro Management, which provides a wide range of aviation services. Pat has flown countless hours in monsoon conditions in a wide variety of aircraft in South America and throughout Asia, including two tours as a combat helicopter pilot for the US Army during the Vietnam War.

Asked if it was more dangerous for small aircraft to take to the skies when monsoon conditions prevail, he replied: “Well, a smaller aircraft has a higher level of limitations in terms of the winds it can be subjected to. It’s a question of scale. For example a large airliner can hit a large air pocket and hardly even bump, whereas a small general aviation aircraft might lose – or rise up – a thousand feet.

“When an aircraft is flying, you are in the air mass. The wind could be moving at 100 knots, but if you are flying in it you would not even know, provided that it is not turbulent wind, other than the fact that you would see your ground speed affected.”

So, like everything else in the universe, when it comes to flying it is all relative.

“There is no limitation on the speed of the wind you can fly in, but there is on the turbulence level, and that depends on the individual aircraft. I have flown over the Rocky Mountains when the wind was moving at over 100 knots and I basically flew sideways, but that does not make it rough or turbulent or dangerous,” said the Texan.

But isn’t the monsoon famous for creating turbulent conditions? Who in Phuket hasn’t seen calm weather turn nasty in a matter of seconds, blowing laundry off the line or even knocking over half-empty beer bottles, spilling their precious contents onto the ground? Who in their right mind would enter that realm in a tiny aircraft?

The real dangers of flying during the monsoon season stem more from lack of visibility than turbulence, which under normal circumstances can be easily avoided, he explained.

Both the recent crash of an aircraft into a river in Laos (click here for article) and the OTG 269 flight here in Phuket in September, 2006 were both due to poor visibility, he explained.

According to the investigation report of the OTG crash, the aircraft experienced a ‘microburst’ that could have been avoided if visibility had been better.

“Monsoon season weather is generally very benign, but embedded in the monsoon can be thunderstorms that can create microbursts, which are tremendous wind forces pushing down,” he said.

“When you are close to the ground these micro-bursts can be very dangerous, but they are generally confined to very small areas beneath moving thunderstorms,” he explained.

“On a normal hot summer day, you can see a thunderstorm 10 or 15 miles away. You can see them, so of course you avoid them. But thunderstorms embedded in rainy monsoon conditions with poor visibility – therein lies the danger,” he said.

Microbursts are an extreme version of turbulence known as “wind shear”, a difference in wind speed and direction over a relatively short distance. Using an analogy, Pat said that wind shear is to air what rip currents are to the sea: both are quite limited in extent and easy to avoid if one knows what to look for.

“Microbursts” are probably the most extreme version of wind shear that local aviators would ever possibly encounter, but they are typically very easy to avoid at altitude as well as when preparing to land a plane – of any size.

“It’s easy, you just increase your air speed, or circle at a distance, and let the thunderstorm pass over the airfield. The visibility might still be bad, but the thunderstorm and all the associated winds will be gone. Rather than fly into the jaws of a demon, you just let the demon go away. You don’t tempt fate. It is not necessary because these things are small and moving fast, so they do not stay over your target for very long,” he said.

Pat concluded that visibility is typically excellent in the Andaman region during the monsoon season and, while something to keep an eye on, should be no barrier to general aviation.

“On a day like today,” he said looking at the cloudy sky, “it has been ‘severe clear’; you can see forever, as the expression goes. You go up a thousand feet and you can see Phi Phi on a day like today. Those clouds you see are very high up, maybe nine or ten thousand feet. Most of our flying is well below that.”

Asked why the sky was not filled with small aircraft, he said it was only a matter of time.

“General aviation in Phuket is in its infancy. Until recently, there was no place to fly out of. It was only this year that Phuket Air Park allowed general aviation activities. Before it was more of a real estate proposition, but over the past 14 to 18 months activity has picked up tremendously,” he said.

For more information about going airborne in Phuket and in general, contact Pat James on 085 258 0006 or email: pat@aeropromgr.com.

Keep checking our Lifestyle pages for the latest happenings across Phuket. Alternatively, join our Facebook fan page or follow us on Twitter.

— Somchai Huasaikul

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

Thai Life

“Mommy, there’s a snake!” – Expat in Phuket shares her story

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“Mommy, there’s a snake!” – Expat in Phuket shares her story | Thaiger
Pope's pit viper / Stock photo by Thai National Parks via Flickr

The following story was written by Amy Sukwan, an American who has been living in Thailand for 7 years.

To share a story with The Thaiger, click HERE.

“Mommy, there’s a snake!” my 8 year old daughter Eliza said, waking me up in the middle of the night.

I came out of our modest bungalow in Phuket at some unholy hour in the middle of the night, to see what my daughter’s whole “snake” thing was about. In the light of our front porch light, about 3 metres from our front door, 3 of our cats were surrounding something that looked at first to me to be a stack of rotting bananas.

“Eliza it’s nothing.” I tried to assure my daughter. Right at that moment the rotting bananas rose up into an aggressive posture as 3 cats circled it, hissing viciously. It was a surreal sight in the porch light.

“Mommy can you kill it!” My daughter begged me, as the thing, about four feet or over a meter long, lashed at one of our cats, who was quick enough to jump away. The snake had a big head that I could see in the porch light. It was distinctively mallet shaped, in what I was pretty sure was the viper class.

As much as I wanted to go back to sleep and pretend that this was all a bad nightmare, I now had a crying, frantic daughter who was terrified for her cats and a situation that I was quickly recognizing was pretty bad. Mai dee.

I needed to call in backup – my Thai husband. Eliza was already screaming his name. “Ka! Loon Ka!” My 8 year old screamed.


There are many venomous snakes in Thailand. Most people know about cobras but the viper class is the most deadly in the world, as vipers are both unpredictable and very difficult to charm. I was looking at a pit viper of some sort, I was pretty sure.

Snakes normally don’t bother you if you don’t bother them. But interactions are most common late in the dry season in Thailand, as it is now, in late March, as the snakes slither around houses in search of water. Thais don’t want them around for obvious reasons. You don’t want venomous snakes to breed and make babies close to your homestead.

If you are not sure if a snake is venomous or not, a good rule of thumb is to look at its head size in proportion to its body size. If the snake head is close to the same size as the rest of its body, and the snake is generally more wormlike in appearance, it is probably not venomous. If the head is large, say two or more times the diameter of the body, it might be poisonous. This does not constitute medical advice. If you get bitten by a snake, you should go to the hospital.


My husband woke up as Eliza was screaming for him. He came out groggily but as soon as my daughter pointed at the snake he saw the problem. “No good! I kill!” Ka said as he grabbed a machete from our kitchen rack. He wasted no time in coming to this decision.

So after being bathed in the surreal sight of three cats circling a hissing, striking, and very likely deadly serpent under our porch light, I got to be treated to an even weirder view. Ka went full Steve Irwin on the snake as he danced around with the machete. The viper sideswiped and tried to strike him. Then, it suddenly backlashed and made contact with his knee. Both me and Eliza cried out from the sidelines.

“She bit me!” Ka said as he macheted the viper’s mid body, and then its neck. Among my many shortcomings is a complete inability to gender snakes. So I will remain with my husband’s classification of the viper as female.

The snake stilled over the course of several minutes as my eight year old screamed in terror. It still seemed to be wiggling even five minutes later, though its body slowly stilled. Ka helped me put it in a plastic bag.

“You go hospital now!” I screamed at him.

“No worries. She don’t bite me with poison.” Ka seemed sure of this. He’d grown up on a 50 rai spread of backwoods in Phuket and was something of a designated snake killer.

My husband had tracked and killed a 5 foot long snake months before, which he had assured me had no poison, but which he had not wanted around the house. I was able to identify that one through Google images and a snake discussion group as an Indochinese Rat snake, which was indeed not venomous.

There was only one bite mark on his knee the viper had come in from an unusual angle and only one fang had punctured through. But I could see from closer inspection of the now dead snake what I had already known. It looked like a dark green Pit Viper. She was about 4 feet long, or maybe 130 centimetres. The poor girl had probably been looking for water.

Symptoms of a poisonous snake bite include pain at the site, swelling, and changes in heart rate or breathing. Needless to say Ka is still alive and well, and probably had enough experiences of snakes to know that this was a dry bite, or one without venom, as about 50% of snake bites are. I wouldn’t have taken my chances on this, though.

The reason that poisonous baby snakes are thought to be more deadly is not because they have more venom, but because they always release venom when they do bite. I prayed in Buddhist style for the snake to have a better life next time, as she had made merit by not killing either our cats or my husband. But for the amateurs out there, I wouldn’t advise going to Steve Irwin about these things. Normally snakes bite you because you bother them.


It turns out that sometimes you chase the story. And sometimes the story chases you.

I’d seen a recent post on The Thaiger asking for guest bloggers to share their stories regarding Thailand. I think I laughed out loud on reading it. After 7 years in the “Land of Smiles,” with 2 Thai husbands and after giving birth to 2 children here, I’d like to think I’ve seen it all. I probably have 10,000 stories.

But what do I want to write about? Should I mention my early days as a farang in Thailand, during the time when I was working as an OPC for a timeshare? Do I want to give advice on making visas, as an American staying in Thailand or for a Thai going to America? Should I talk about going to Thai hospitals? Or maybe I should write something about Thai Buddhist funeral proceedings? I’ve put my first husband and both my mother and father in law in the ground at Wat Prathong. Should I talk about ASQ and travelling during Covid madness? Or should I mention the Full Moon Party on Koh Pha Ngan? I’ve been to five of those, personally.

This weekend I was harvesting cashew fruit with a Thai friend of ours in Phuket who has a large spread of family land. We burnt the cashew nuts, and I thought that this would make a great story, as many farang ask me about growing and harvesting practices in my little outback area. Unfortunately a quick Google search revealed that cashew nuts are dangerous, even to people without allergies, as they contain a chemical close to poison ivy. Only professional processors should deal with cashew nuts, in short. I’ve been eating the fruit and burning the nuts for years. But I gathered that life is too dangerous. So much for that story.

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Food Scene

Thai Airways food landing in 7-Eleven next month

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Thai Airways food landing in 7-Eleven next month | Thaiger
PHOTO: Yum yum, it's airline food 'on the go'

Warning. Some low-altitude turbulence is coming to a 7-Eleven near you. Thai Airways has cooked up a new money-making scheme during Covid-19 to sell its airline food in 7-Eleven. Set to take off on April 15, the mostly grounded and indebted airline will attempt to offset its losses during the pandemic by selling food in the ubiquitous convenience store and other supermarkets throughout Thailand.

It’s a clever strategy for a struggling company, but will customers take the bite? Surely a few crispy pork and rice dishes will knock the edge of that 300 billion baht debt!

Claiming that their busy flight schedule has always previously stood in the way of the airline’s foray into the fast food market, Thai Airways now has the supply (and time) with most flights grounded by the pandemic’s decimation of the travel industry and less hungry mouths to feed in the sky.

The first meals schedule to arrive on the shelves of 7-Eleven just after the Songkran holiday are Thai Airways’ halal chicken biryani dish, and the traditional Thai dish nam phrik long ruea, crispy and fluffy fish and sweet pork served in a fermented shrimp chilli paste. The primary push into the food industry will be more unusual meals to stand out in 7-Eleven’s selection.

The question remains whether the food selection will fly off the shelves, but the airline’s hopes are high after their airline launched pop-up restaurants in September and the public ate it up. It seems that, contrary to a million stand-up comedy jokes about how terrible airline food is, people have really missed it with so much cancelled travel due to border closures and restrictions.

Thai Airways hopes this creative departure from their main business will help bolster the struggling airline, who were previously denied a government bailout after declaring bankruptcy last year. They have tried everything from the pop-up restaurants to jumbo yard sales to renting out flight simulators. Even with the sharp reduction of flights due to the pandemic, flying will still be the company’s main mealticket, but they hope meal sales will make up for low ticket sales until the travel industry recovers.

So stow your tray table and fasten your seat belt as we see if the 7-Eleven offerings of Thai Airways’ food takes off.

(The Thaiger has a better solution. Let 7-Eleven lease Thai Airway’s grounded planes and run the whole business instead)

SOURCE: Coconuts Bangkok

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Chon Buri

Banquet for ghosts held in Chon Buri cemetery – some food left over

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Banquet for ghosts held in Chon Buri cemetery – some food left over | Thaiger
PHOTO: flickr.com - a Thai Graveyard

To fulfill a woman’s dying wish, townspeople in the Panthong district of Chon Buri hosted an elaborate banquet for ghosts in a local cemetery this week. The 36-table extravaganza was set up 43 year old Tanawan Choti. His mother had asked him to give a free banquet for all the ghosts of her friends and family that had died before her… a welcome party to the afterlife.

Tanawan honoured his mother’s request earlier this week before she passed away, with a no-expense-spared feast featuring food and drinks, luxury dishes and silverware, and entertainment for the ghosts of honour. Living speech-makers imparted their best wishes to the Chon Buri ghosts. The locals set up the 36 tables for a Chinese-style banquet and entertained the guests for about an hour.

A local event food service worker said that, despite years in the industry, this was the first ghost dinner he’d catered for. He said he found it “abnormal to serve the paranormal and was left with a ghastly feeling working in the cemetery”. (We figure there was quite a lot of food left over as well.)

While graveyards are not common in Thailand, since Buddhists cremate their dead, burials still occur amongst descendants of Chinese-Thai people. Regardless of religion or heritage, belief in ghosts or other paranormal phenomenon is common throughout Thailand. Spirit houses are frequently built outside local homes for ghosts to live in, and serviced every day with fresh offerings.

While the otherworldly banquet may be viewed by some with confusion or scepticism, the feast did have a real-world happy ending, Eakkaluck explained…

“After finishing the banquet ceremony, the food was given to poor people in the area as unfortunately, it appeared the ghosts could not actually consume earthly substances.”

SOURCE: The Pattaya News

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