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Phuket In Focus: Outgoing Hon Consul Larry Cunningham

Legacy Phuket Gazette

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PHUKET: Australia’s Honorary Consul in Phuket, Larry Cunningham has announced that he will resign his post on September 30 after nine years on the job. During his time as Honorary Consul, Mr Cunningham has been a consistent and outspoken critic of the corruption and criminality facing visitors to the island.

In an interview with the Phuket Gazette he said that he was threatened by a government official for his vocal criticism recently, but rather than be intimidated, he has renewed his call for authorities in Phuket to face up to reality of corruption and criminality that is degrading the island’s international reputation as a safe holiday destination.

“Last week I was threatened by a government official – she told me ‘you be very careful, because you have a business in Phuket and you live in Phuket.’ Now that was a terrible thing to say, and there’s going to be a lot of problems as a result of what that person said.”

He also said that given his recent experience, finding his replacement may prove to be a difficult task. Maybe nobody wants the job. The last few days in particular have shown that the Honorary Consul’s job in Phuket can be a very difficult one.

“When you get threatened by a government official, it’s not a pleasant experience. So maybe we won’t get anyone to apply for the job.”

“Those sorts of things are very disappointing when they do happen, because as everyone in Phuket who knows me knows, I have the best interest of Phuket at heart.

“I have a resort in Phuket and I want people to come to the island. But Phuket has been slipping and sliding for the last ten years. The quality of tourists coming to Phuket now is lower than it has ever been.

“We have pollution, corruption, the highest taxi prices and tuk-tuk prices of anywhere in Thailand. We have aggressive assaults by tuk-tuk drivers, and taxi [drivers] and jet-ski operators and so on. So I think Phuket has a big chance to improve itself with the DSI, if the DSI do really make the changes that they say they will make.”

While acknowledging that all visitors must respect local laws and customs, Mr Cunningham also expressed his concern at the rising number of Australian tourists that are affected by these problems.

“The number of Australians coming to Phuket have increased quite a lot. When I was appointed there were about 3,000 Australians in Phuket on any given day. Today there’s about 25,000 Australians in Phuket on any one day.

“Now unfortunately some of these Australians behave badly and get into trouble – they do stupid things, they get drunk, they start fights – they steal things, they do things that are impolite, and generally speaking [when they do] they are arrested by the police or taken to jail.

“When that happens, I check with the police that everything is okay and that they pay their fine(s). If they come to Thailand they have to respect the country they come to and they should behave themselves. If they do bad things like that, they’re very silly and they don’t get a lot of sympathy from me.

“Unfortunately sometimes they are taken advantage of when they only do some small things and this is where I get upset and angry. Australians are extorted of money by corrupt police and officials in Phuket. Specifically in situations like jet-ski or motorcycle hire, where the damage is fake. Or where there is no damage or where the cost of the damage is just so very high that it’s not in keeping with the real damage that was done.

“Now when that happened, I have had to make sure that the Australians rights are protected and they are not ripped-off and extorted for money. Unfortunately I don’t get to see all of them. Some of them do not know that we have an Australian Consul here, and we only find out about the stories later.

“Unfortunately [by] then it’s too late. In many instances,they have already paid hundreds of thousands of baht to corrupt officials in Phuket. And this is what we have been trying to eliminate, this is why we are so happy the DSI is in Phuket, because for eight years we have been trying to do something about it and we have not been successful.”

Mr Cunningham went on to say that tourists from all countries have similar experiences and that such incidences played a large part in the declining numbers of European tourists visiting Phuket.

“I hope that we will be able to see a new start for Phuket, because Phuket has just dropped and slided away in the last few years – the European tourists have stopped coming because of the problems in Phuket.

“Unfortunately many of the officials in Phuket want to keep quiet about the problems but if you keep covering up these problems nothing is ever done to improve them.

“You would be much better [off] investigating and trying to fix the problems, and then [be able to] say to people ‘we have fixed the problem, here is the new Phuket, taxi fares at a sensible level, no more development, no pollution, no rip-offs by jet-ski operators, no extortion of money by police.

“If we had these situations you could then say: ‘okay, sure we have had problems in Phuket, but now we have fixed these problems – this is the new Phuket. Please come back and give us a chance’. In the hope that the European tourists would come back to Phuket.

Despite his criticisms, Mr Cunningham said he still loves his adopted home and remains positive that things will change for the better.

“Phuket is a wonderful place, it has been my home for the last 12 years. I have some very, very close friends in Phuket. Friends in the police force, friends in government, friends in the Phuket tourist association, fellow Honorary Consuls here in Phuket – my friends are probably 70 per cent Thai and 30 per cent non-Thai.

“It has been these Thai people, my Thai friends, who have been encouraging me to work with them to make Phuket a better place. So even though I will no longer be in an official position, as Honorary Consul, my heart is still in Phuket, because I believe Phuket can be better, much better, than what it is now. But it needs strong action, hopefully starting with the DSI, and hopefully followed through from Bangkok.

— S Mitrarat & M Knowles

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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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The Isan Project honours a hero of Tham Luang cave rescue

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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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King Bhumibol Adulyadej – in remembrance of the “Father of Thailand”

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King Bhumibol Adulyadej – in remembrance of the “Father of Thailand” | The Thaiger

His Majesty King Bhumibol Adulyadej was Thailand’s monarch for just over 70 years. At the time of his passing in October 2016, King Bhumibol was the world’s longest-serving head of state and the longest-reigning monarch in Thai history. Amongst his many other gifts, he was was revered as a calming and compassionate influence, overseeing Thailand’s stormy political history in the second half of the 20th century.

Four years later his enduring legacy casts a wide shadow over the Kingdom of Thailand with his influence shaping, not only Thai culture in the second half of the 20th century, but also Thailand’s standing in the region with a deft avoidance of some of the more debilitating conflicts around South East Asia.

His Majesty King Bhumibol, Rama 9, the ninth king of the Chakri Dynasty, was born on December 5, 1927 and passed away on October 13, 2016 at the Siriraj Piyamaharajkarun Hospital in Bangkok. He had been living in and out of the hospital in the years before his passing.

Bhumibol’s early days

It’s a surprise to some, but Bhumibol Adulyadej was born on December 5, 1927, in Massachusetts, USA, not in Thailand. As the second son born to his parents, and because his birth took place outside of Thailand, young Bhumibol was never expected to ascend Thailand’s throne. His reign came about through his older brother’s mysterious death.

His father, Prince Mahidol Adulyadej, was studying for a public health certificate at Harvard University. His mother, Princess Srinagarindra, was studying nursing at the same time.

When Bhumibol was a one year old the family returned to Thailand, where his father took up an internship in a hospital in Chiang Mai. Prince Mahidol died of kidney and liver failure in September 1929.

Thailand’s democratic revolution

In 1932, a coalition of military officers and civil servants staged a bloodless coup against King Rama VII. The Revolution of 1932 ended the Chakri dynasty’s absolute rule and created a Thai constitutional monarchy, with an elected parliament. Princess Srinagarindra took her two young sons and daughter to Switzerland a year later where the children were placed in Swiss schools for their early education.

In March 1935, King Rama VII abdicated leaving his 9 year old nephew, Bhumibol Adulyadej’s older brother Ananda Mahidol as Thailand’s new monarch. But the child-king and his siblings remained in Switzerland due to his young age and nascent political developments in Thailand. Two regents ruled the kingdom in his name. Ananda returned to Thailand in 1938 but his brother Bhumibol continued his schooling in Switzerland until 1945 .

King Bhumibol Adulyadej - in remembrance of the

PHOTO: King Mahidol Adulyadej and his younger brother Bhumibol Adulyadej

On June 9, 1946, the young King Mahidol was killed in his palace bedroom from a single gunshot wound to the head. Two royal pages and the king’s personal secretary were convicted of assassination and executed, although controversy still swirls around the incident. The young Bhumibol returned to the University of Lausanne in Switzerland to complete his degree and his uncle was appointed Regent, ruling in his place, back in Thailand.

Marriage to Queen Sirikit

The young King Bhumibol met the daughter of the Thai ambassador to France, a student named Mom Rajawongse Sirikit Kiriyakara, during a visit to Paris. Adulyadej and Sirikit began a courtship some time in 1946.

In October 1948, Adulyadej crashed into a truck and was seriously injured, losing his right eye and suffering back injuries. Sirikit spent a lot of time nursing and entertaining the convalescing king. King Bhumibol’s mother encouraged Sirikit to transfer to a school in Lausanne so that she could continue her studies and spend more time with the young King.

Adulyadej and Sirikit were married in Bangkok on April 28, 1950. She was 17 and he was 22 years old. Bhumibol was officially crowned a week later to becmme King Bhumibol Adulyadej. Queen Mother Sirikit is still living in Bangkok and is frequently visited by members of the Royal Family.

King Bhumibol Adulyadej - in remembrance of the

King Bhumibol Adulyadej - in remembrance of the

PHOTO: King Bhumibol Adulyadej, Queen Sirikit and his four children (a young Prince Maha Vajiralongkorn on the left)

Half a century of military dictatorships

In the early days of his reign, Thailand was ruled by a military dictator, Plaek Pibulsonggram, until 1957. Then the first of a series of coups, which would dog the Kingdom for the second half of the 20th century, removed him from office. The King declared martial law ending with a new military dictatorship formed under a trusted ally of King Bhumibol, Sarit Dhanarajata.

During the next phase of his rule the young King would revive many abandoned Chakri traditions, including the need for subjects and staff to kowtow – bowing and keeping their head below the monarch. He also started to make public appearances around the Kingdom – an activity which would become a hallmark of his reign, significantly reviving the prestige of the Thai monarchy and standing of the royal family.

Coups took place in 1963, 1977, 1980, 1981, 1985, and 1991 (and more in the 21st century). Although King Bhumibol worked hard to remain above politics, he refused to support the 1981 and 1985 coups, and was seen as a settling influence in the swirling political events, stepping in only when the situation needed to be diplomatically diffused.

Democratic governments

When a military coup leader was selected as PM in May 1992, huge protests broke out around Thailand. Known as ‘Black May’, the demonstrations turned into riots. Fearing a civil war, Kong Bhumibol called the coup and opposition leaders to a televised audience at the palace.

Adulyadej pressured the coup leader to resign. New elections were called and a civilian government was elected. This intervention was the beginning of civilian-led democracy that has continued, with a few military “interruptions”, to this day, most notably the intervention of the military in a coup in 2014 when the National Committee for Peace and Order seized power. A quasi-democratic government, mostly made up of leadership from the 2014 Army coup, was elected in 2019.

King Bhumibol’s image as an advocate for the Thai people, reluctantly intervening in the political fray to protect his subjects, became an enduring legacy.

Death

Since 2006, King Bhumibol suffered a number of health issues and was hospitalised frequently. He died at the Siriraj Hospital in Bangkok on October 16, 2016. Crown prince Maha Vajiralongkorn became the 10th King of the Chakri Dynasty, and his official coronation was held between May 4 – 6, 2019 in a grand spectacle watched on by millions of Thais.

Although Bhumibol was never intended to be Thailand’s king, he is lovingly remembered as a successful and beloved Thai monarch, who helped calm successive political turbulence over the seven decades of his reign. Indeed, he is fondly referred to as the Father of Thailand, reigning for more than 70 years.

King Bhumibol Adulyadej - in remembrance of the

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Soi Dog Foundation co-founder John Dalley honoured in Queen’s Birthday Honours List

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Soi Dog Foundation co-founder John Dalley honoured in Queen’s Birthday Honours List | The Thaiger

Thailand’s Soi Dog Foundation co-founder John Dalley has been honoured in the Queen’s Birthday Honours List and been awarded an MBE, the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire, for his animal welfare efforts in south east Asia.

John Dalley, from Leeds, UK, was named alongside celebrities, volunteers, medical staff and key workers in this year’s Queen’s Birthday Honours List. When asked for a comment, John expressed that the award was really a recognition of the work done by thousands of volunteers and supporters that have kept the foundation alive for the past 17 years.

One such supporter was John’s late wife Gill, whom he wishes was able to share in the award. Gill, also co-founded the organisation, and received many awards for her work during her lifetime. One notable achievement by Gill was being honoured with Asian of the Year in the Channel News Asia annual awards-a first for a non-Asian by birth to receive such an honour.

John and Gill founded the Soi Dog (soi=street in Thai language) Foundation in 2003 when they retired in Phuket, where the organisation has since flourished into an epicentre for sterilising and treating dogs – more than any other organisation in the world. Fellow retiree Margot Homburg also co-founded the organisation which is expected to see half a million animals sterilised and vaccinated since its commencement by this December, a feat that has recently been quite tremendous due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

Soi Dog Foundation co-founder John Dalley honoured in Queen's Birthday Honours List | News by The Thaiger

PHOTO: John and Gill Dalley, co-founders of Soi Dog Foundation. Gill died in February 2017.

Soi Dog’s Phuket shelter in Mai Khao has been hit hard by overcrowding this year as owners, affected by the pandemic, could no longer afford to take care of their animals. However, instead of closing its doors, the Foundation constructed new dog enclosures and purchased additional land. Such tenacity in times like this show the strength of the founders as it hasn’t been their first go with hard times.

Gill’s untimely passing in 2017 came after continuing her work with the foundation, despite losing her legs over 15 years ago. Since then, the foundation has fought Thai smugglers who engaged in selling hundreds of thousands of dogs to Vietnam’s meat markets and have pushed to strengthen the Animal Welfare Act, which the foundation helped to introduce in 2014. Dalley says education, legislation and large-scale sterilisation is the best way to help street dogs in the future.

With those goals in mind, the Soi Dog Foundation is opening a brand-new education centre which focuses on educating the next generation in respect for both stray and domestic animals. John says it will continue its mission to improve the welfare of dogs and cats in Asia, to create a society without homeless animals and to end animal cruelty.

The Foundation operates on donations and its ‘Catch, Neuter, Vaccine, Return’ program remains at the forefront of its objectives. Dalley, Gill and Margot have set a prime example of how a few people can truly change the world for the better.

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