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Phuket Boats: Set a course for adventure aboard the Argo

Legacy Phuket Gazette

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Phuket Boats: Set a course for adventure aboard the Argo | Thaiger

PHUKET: With a crew of 26 university students, most who had never been aboard a yacht, the 112-foot schooner Argo sailed out of Yacht Haven Marina mid-last month, set on a course for adventure and education on the high seas.

The Bangkok-built ship was launched in 2006 and was designed and commissioned to be the flagship for SeaMester, a unique maritime educational program for university students. Since her launch, Argo has circumnavigated the globe twice, and offered hundreds of SeaMester students the chance to cross oceans while furthering their educational and personal goals.

Her current voyage has so far taken her around Phang Nga Bay, Krabi, Koh Phi Phi and north through the Andaman Sea to the Similan islands, their next leg will take them on to the Maldives. On the way back, they will head up the Gulf of Thailand, stopping at Koh Samui and Koh Samet as well as Jomtien port before arriving in Bangkok in mid-April.

Along the way, the 26 students will learn seamanship skills, become certified PADI scuba divers and take classes in marine biology from the team of seven dedicated and professional crew members – not to mention the invaluable teamwork and life experience they will gain during their three months on-board.

Jim Stoll, one of the key figures behind SeaMester, has been deeply involved in teaching and sailing since the 1960s – turning the usually quiet summer season at his family’s marina into a thriving summer sailing school for teenagers. In 1970, Jim expanded the concept, taking his school to the water full-time. Jim sailed the Atlantic waters aboard 156′ Te Vega and 175′ Te Quest, enrolling 86 teenagers every year in a high school program of study and travel.

Some twelve years later, with children of his own, Jim moved back ashore to develop motivational programs for young adults. In the mid-eighties he once again headed to the water, and in 1995, Jim was joined by Mike Meighan and Travis Yates. As a recent oceanography and marine biology graduate, Mike dreamed of creating a truly interactive educational experience. Using the principles of experiential education, Mike developed SeaMester in 1998 and acquired the 88-foot school ship, S/Y Ocean Star, in 1999 and later commissioned the Argo.

“We started teaching sailing and diving programs in the mid 60s and for all of the 70s we had two schooner yachts that took 86 students and 22 staff aboard for nine month voyages as a floating high school, operating mostly in the Caribbean and the Mediterranean, although we made trips from the Amazon to Helsinki and all around the North Sea as well for 12 years,” says Jim.

Jim is adamant that the sailing, scuba and marine biology skills are only the starting point of the SeaMester experience.

“Life skills are more important than seamanship skills at SeaMester. We are doing our job well when our students take on the full responsibility of operating the vessel over the 90 days that they are on board.”

“Seamanship is of course a natural part, yet working cooperatively and taking on responsibilities aboard are more important than the seamanship aspect. Personally, I like seeing them come together as a team and take on a variety of responsibilities. At the end of the program they are so bonded that many remain friends for life,” says Jim.

The Argo also takes part in several Yachting events in Phuket, having competed in the King’s Cup Regatta three times and she also regularly attends the Phuket Superyacht Rendezvous to give the crew as chance to relax after their long trip.

Blair Williamson was lucky enough to get a place as a student aboard Argo during her maiden voyage and was instantly hooked, she now works for SeaMester as a crew member and teacher.

“I joined SeaMester in hopes of getting to see remote islands of Thailand and Malaysia, to get some hands on sailing experience and do my PADI Divemaster course. What I got out of the experience was that and so much more,” says Blair.

It was during this voyage that Blair became addicted to life at sea, and she remains ever-grateful for the life experiences and opportunities that the program provided her. In fact, she remembers the exact moment when she knew that sailing was what she wanted to do for a living.

“I was on bow watch, to make sure we didn’t hit anything, and all of a sudden I noticed some different splashes and a slight glow off the bow. I looked down to see glowing darts in the water in every direction. Hundreds of baby dolphins had joined us and were swimming in every direction. Their movement in the water caused the bio- luminescence to glow and created quite a light show for me. That moment was unbelievable and something I will never forget. It’s moments like this that you realize how beautiful life at sea is and it hooked me for life,” says Blair with relish.

Custom built as a training vessel, the Argo has no electric winches for raising the sails and everyone on board has to do their part and work in unison to get her moving and learn sailing the traditional way.

“Sailing Argo is incredibly exhilarating. You have to work as a team to do everything. The boat was designed and built specifically to be a school training vessel, so Argo moves and operates because the students are making it happen. All responsibilities are shared equally across both students and staff members. Having the program designed this way creates such a sense of accomplishment for everyone on board,” says Blair.

As part of the program, students take turns writing an online blog detailing their experiences. The latest batch of students have only been aboard for two weeks, but are clearly thrilled to be taking part, especially in the scuba diving.

“Diving was great fun for all, we finally got to test out our new skills in deep water and catch our first glimpse of the marine life that we will soon come to memorize and know by name. Everyone really enjoyed the dive, especially because it brought us one step closer to certification. The enthusiasm on board is contagious, everyone is so excited to be here and be experiencing this wonderful opportunity,” wrote Caroline, who boarded the Argo just two weeks ago in Phuket, on the SeaMester blog.

If you want to read more blog posts from the SeaMester students as they continue their journey over the next two and a half months, or if you want to learn more about how you or your children can get involved in the program, visit their website here.

— Mark 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.

Entertainment

Sex toys popular in Thailand despite conservative laws

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Sex toys popular in Thailand despite conservative laws | Thaiger
PHOTO: In Thailand, sex toys are very popular and very illegal.

While Thailand is a conservative country with conservative laws, the underground sex trade and sex toy economy is a thriving not-so-well-kept secret. Thailand is famous for its LGBTQ acceptance and red-light districts, but many don’t realise that most drugs, gambling, soliciting for prostitution, sex toys, and even vaping are against Thai law.

The customs department confiscated more than 4000 sex toys just last year, and owning or selling these toys carries a 60,000 baht fine or up to 3 years in jail. The strict laws are in place to align with the traditional Buddhist Thai society but seem very contrary to the underground sex industry Thailand is known for.

The need for sexual privacy rights and relaxed laws governing sex has been gaining popularity for years with the juxtaposition of strict laws and hedonism creating a very profitable black market. Bangkok’s red-light district is estimated to be worth US $6.4 billion, and in districts like Soi Cowboy, Nana, Patpong and Silom, sex trade and sex toys are sold openly even though it violates the law. The sex industry is thought to comprise up to 10% of Thailand’s gross domestic product. Then there’s Walking Street in Pattaya, Bangla Road in Phuket, etc, etc.

Still, Thailand is a Buddhist country with traditionally conservative values so laws are unlikely to change anytime soon. Even sex education in Thailand is geared towards the negative consequences of sex and not open to sexual rights or embracing sexuality, according to a UNICEF report in 2016. Those who oppose decriminalising sex toys and the sex industry believe that embracing it legally would lead to a rash of sex-related crimes.

Others argue that decriminalisation would be liberating and empower women by reducing the stigma of being sexually free. It would allow a modernized view on sexual well-being. It would also likely reduce teen pregnancy rates, by removing the negativity towards those who need or use contraceptive.

Nisarat Jongwisan has been fighting for the destigmatisation and legalisation of sex toys since 2018 when she appeared on a TV program speaking out against the Ministry of Culture. She now intends to use the Thai parliamentary mechanism for creating a petition and gathering 50,000 signatures, which would allow her to submit a bill to the parliament for a vote.

With strict laws, the black market will continue to grow. While sex toys and the sex trade can be criminalized, sexual desires are not easily quashed, and people will find ways to satisfy them. Without any regulation, black markets can profit freely, selling sex toys with no concern over fair pricing or quality control. The global sex toy industry sold nearly US $34 billion dollars last year, and with continued lockdown and the closures of entertainment venues, these sales are set to only increase, even in the face of Thailand’s conservative laws.

SOURCE: Vice

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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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