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Phuket Explore: Escape to Koh Kho Khao

Legacy Phuket Gazette

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Phuket Explore: Escape to Koh Kho Khao | The Thaiger

PHUKET: You know it’s going to be a good day’s cycling when you see more water buffalo than you do hurtling pick-up trucks, and when the smiling locals stop what they are doing and rush out to greet you with a hearty “Hello Farang!”

Such pleasures are rarely found in Phuket these days, but just 80 kilometers north of the Sarasin Bridge, we discovered a rather decrepit ferry which acted as a magic gateway to a laid-back world that reassured us that the “Land of Smiles” is not dead.

Just eight kilometers south of Takkua Pa on highway 402 heading north to Ranong, you’ll come to the village of Baan Muang. Here you’ll spy a large “Highway Police” building on your left and it’s here that you should turn to catch the ferry across the one kilometer stretch of silty brine to the confusingly named island of Koh Kho Khao.
My fellow Lycra Lout Steve Lawrence and I managed to get lost even on the short stretch of road from Highway 402 to the ancient creaking ferry, but a helpful granny in a sam-lor sprang to oxur rescue and led us to Nam Khem ferry pier. She didn’t look too prosperous and while I didn’t want to patronize her, I thought a few baht might prove helpful. But she was having none of such nonsense and waved my foolish baht away with a hearty gap-toothed smile and a “welcome to Thailand”. Well, that was a little different from most days in Phuket!

Koh Kho Khao is about 18 kilometers long and six wide and doesn’t look too different from the mainland, yet psychologically it’s a world apart. Its main attractions are long deserted beaches, ideal for great swimming and sunset walks; quiet traffic-free roads perfect for cycling and a sleepy laid-back ambience with locals who are genuinely happy you took the trouble to visit them.

The first clue that you are about to enter a different, slower world is the decrepit car ferry itself. Apparently, said ferry answers to no specific timetable and tends to make the twenty minute crossing to the island whenever it feels like it, or perhaps when there are enough customers to merit the ferry-boys leaving their beers and card games and springing into action. The ferry set us back the princely sum of 150 baht to transport Steve’s pick-up with our mud-spattered mountain bikes roped to the back, plus the two of us Lycra Louts over to the magic island.

Upon arrival at Baan Pak Koh at about 5pm, the island presented itself as a friendly place with a couple of taxis, restaurants, shops and a sleepy tour company with an ancient couple sitting outside eating som tam. They made a call and booked us into the excellent Hapla Beach Cottages half way up the island’s west coast and right on the beach. We then unloaded the bikes from the pick-up and set off for a sunset ride.

The island felt like a secret place – markedly sleepy and friendly, yet slightly haunted, possibly because it was seriously inundated during the 2004 tsunami. It is characterized by grassy sand flats towards its center and a sprawling area of mangroves and canals to the east. To the northwest there’s an overgrown air strip that was used by the Japanese during World War II. Other sights and activities include the small but pretty Toan Thong Waterfall in the northeast, a bird watching tower in the north and a kayaking operation that runs excursions into the northern and eastern canals.

The flat paved two-lane road ran straight from Baan Pak Koh all the way to the island’s northern coast and everything on the island seemed to be located down a series of side sois off this road. At low tide it’s possible to walk along the beaches for several kilometers shaded by the abundant Casuarina trees, but at high tide parts of the southern beaches become impassable.

We cycled until about 7pm and enjoyed returning to our pick-up, without bike lights, but perfectly safe with little traffic about and with a crescent moon and diamond-like Venus rising in the west to light our way home.

When we arrived at Hapla (literally “look for fish”) Beach Cottages the kitchen had already closed, but the couple who own the resort happily opened up and cooked us a wonderful supper of local crabs, prawns and fish. We’d brought a couple of bottles of wine with us, for which they charged us no corkage and then they left us to our own devices when they went to bed at 10pm, leaving the bar fridge open so we could help ourselves. We sat out in the beachside restaurant until 1am, watching huge Hermit Crabs weaving their trails across the sands and basking in the quietude.

Next morning after breakfast, we cycled to the far north of the island to Nok Nan Beach, a remote stretch of sand bereft of humanity but home to a boisterous herd of buffalo in their muddy plunge pools. In the north it’s also possible to cycle the dirt paths that wind deep into the mangrove areas to the east.

Historically, Koh Kho Khao was one of the first landing spots for the Diaspora of ancient settlers who spread across Southern Thailand and Malaysia, and before that was a popular topping-off point among Chinese and other traders during the Takua Pa area’s heyday as a tin mining center around the 15th century. The island was also a trans-shipment point on the Maritime Silk Route that started 2,000 years ago linking ancient Greek and Roman traders to Xian in China.

We returned to Phuket after only one night away and two delightful bike rides, but it felt as though we had reconnected with the real Thailand and the real joy of cycling in tranquility as it was meant to be.

— Baz Daniels

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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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Bangkok

Professor: Military government too interested in tourism – not people’s welfare

Greeley Pulitzer

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Professor: Military government too interested in tourism – not people’s welfare | The Thaiger

A professor of Rangsit University has criticised the previous military government for focusing too much on tourism and not enough on the welfare of the Thai people. The professor was speaking at Chulalongkorn University at a seminar discussing street stalls and urban development.

She questioned the National Council for Peace and Order’s policy of clearing street vendors in all but a few areas such as Yaowarat and Khao San Road that mainly cater to tourists.

She claimed that the NCPO – in power since the coup of 2014 until this year’s election – was more interested in economic development through tourism than in the welfare of the public.

Having affordable street food options was not just about tourism, she said, it was vital for poor workers who have migrated from the countryside, adding that it was part of an informal rather than a formal economy.

“For years people had earned their living from selling goods and services, including food, on the streets.”

This in turn provided an affordable option to eat for workers who came to Bangkok on for large investment projects. The issue, she said, was not just about tourism but the wider economy that might benefit.

The professor noted that CNN had once called Bangkok the best place in the world for street food but this had changed with the sanitized food trucks that have appeared since stalls and vendors were banned from most areas.

The Thaiger notes that banning street vendors has divided the capital. Many are happy that the sidewalks are easier to navigate, but others – including tourists – have said that the lifeblood and character of the city has suffered.

SOURCE: Naew Na | ThaiVisa Forum

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Chiang Rai

Journey back to Tham Luang in ‘The Cave’ – VIDEO

The Thaiger

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Journey back to Tham Luang in ‘The Cave’ – VIDEO | The Thaiger

PHOTO: Tom Waller on site during the filming of The Cave – AFP

Determined divers racing against time. Rising waters threatening lives. 12 teenagers and their soccer coach trapped inside for two weeks. A remote cave that most had never heard of.

The stuff of a Hollywood drama, except that it’s all true and happened in Chiang Rai last year. Now the first of several re-tellings of the story comes to the big screen in The Cave.

The ordeal in late June and early July last year had barely ended when filmmakers began their own race to get the nail-biting drama onto cinema screens. The first of those projects premiered at the start of October, when director Tom Waller’s The Cave showed at the Busan Film Festival in South Korea.

The film was shot over three months earlier this year and has been in post-production since then. The 45 year old Thai-British filmmaker says the epic tale of the Wild Boars (Mu Pa) football team was a story he simply had to tell.

“I took the view that this was going to be a story about the people we didn’t know about, about the cave divers who came all the way from across the planet.”

The 13 young men entered the Tham Luang cave complex after soccer practice and were quickly trapped inside by rising floodwater. The boys were forced to spend nine nights lost in the cave, whilst Navy Seal and other diver searched frantically, before they were spotted by a British diver.

It would take another eight days before they were all safe, against all odds, in a risky mission.

Waller was visiting his father in Ireland when he saw television news accounts of the drama.

“I thought this would be an amazing story to tell on screen.”

But putting the parts together after their dramatic rescue proved to be a challenge. Thailand’s government, led by the military NCPO, became very protective of the story, barring unauthorised access to the Mu Pa team or their parents. Waller often feared his production might be shut down.

His good fortune was that the events at the Tham Luang cave in Chiang Rai province had multiple angles and interesting characters. Especially compelling were the stories of the rescuers, particularly the expert divers who rallied from around the world. He decided to make a film “about the volunteer spirit of the rescue.”

Other people proposed telling the story from the point of view of the boys, and Netflix nailed down those rights in a deal brokered by the Thai government.

“I took the view that this was going to be a story about the people we didn’t know about, about the cave divers who came all the way from across the planet. They literally dropped everything to go and help, and I just felt that that was more of an exciting story to tell, to find out how these boys were brought out and what they did to get them out.”

Waller even had more than a dozen key rescue personnel play themselves.

Waller said they were natural actors, blending in almost seamlessly with the professionals around them, and helped by the accuracy of the settings and the production’s close attention to detail.

“What you are really doing is asking them to remember what they did and to show us what they were doing and what they were feeling like at the time. That was really very emotional for some of them because it was absolutely real.”

Waller says his film is likely to have a visceral effect on some viewers, evoking a measure of claustrophobia.

“It’s a sort of immersive experience with the sound of the environment, you know, the fact that is very dark and murky, that the water is not clear.”

“In Hollywood films, when they do underwater scenes, everything is crystal clear. But in this film it’s murky and I think that’s the big difference. This film lends itself to being more of a realistic portrayal of what happened.”

Some scenes were filmed on location at the entrance to the actual Tham Luang cave, but most of the action was shot elsewhere.

“We filmed in real water caves that were flooded, all year-round. It is very authentic in terms of real caves, real flooded tunnels, real divers and real creepy-crawlies in there. So it was no mean feat trying to get a crew to go and film in these caves.”

The Cave goes on general release in Thailand on November 28.

ORIGINAL ARTICE: Associated Press | Time.com

Journey back to Tham Luang in 'The Cave' - VIDEO | News by The Thaiger

PHOTO: Tom Waller – Associated Press/Sakchai Lalit

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Hua Hin

Tale of two cities – Hua Hin vs Pattaya

The Thaiger

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Tale of two cities – Hua Hin vs Pattaya | The Thaiger

by Kornrawee Panyasuppakun

Property buyers looking to buy a seaside villa or condo in a coastal town in Thailand, relatively close to Bangkok, confront one question – should I buy a property in Hua Hin or Pattaya?

And rightly so, because these two choices have similar aspects. Both have kilometres of coastline, good beaches, and are just a couple of hours away from Bangkok – 3 hours for Hua Hin and 2 hours for Pattaya. They also have good year-round weather, large expat populations, and are some of the best places in Asia for water-sports and playing golf.

Yet, each place suits buyers with different lifestyles and goals.

Town or City?

If you want a laid-back beach town feel, Hua Hin is the right choice. If you like to live in the middle of action, with a greater range of things to do, Pattaya is the winner. It is simply more established and has a longer development history in terms of western-style villas and condominiums.

Hua Hin has a population of around 100,000 plus a growing tourist reputation. The lazy town offers long, sandy beaches that run 5 kilometers along the coast and are not fully obstructed by high-story condos on the beach, due to building regulations.

Hua Hin may not be the best place to swim in Thailand, as the sea-bed is a bit rocky, but it makes up for it with clean beaches, dedicated beach cleanup groups consisting of locals and expats, and regulations which, among others, restrict commercial tourism on the beaches on Wednesdays, and town planning which controls high-rise along the coast.

Hua Hin also suits those in search of a peaceful getaway because the town does not have a seedy reputation and is far from any industrial enterprises. This is thanks to a strong tradition of royal patronage and residence in the district, such as Mrigadayavan Palace and Klai Kangwon Palace, the latter is owned by the late King Bhumibol Adulyadej (Rama IX).

Nevertheless, the town has a growing reputation for restaurants and new attractions for tourists; it is a favourite resort town for Thai upper-class and Bangkokians who like to go to Hua Hin on weekends.

Check out the largest selection of properties in both towns HERE.

Tale of two cities - Hua Hin vs Pattaya | News by The Thaiger

Pristine beaches of Hua Hin, larger and longer than Pattaya

Pattaya, on the other hand, is home to almost 400,000 people, plus plenty of international tourists. The city is highly developed and has a higher density of high-rise buildings along the coastline and many great sea-view villas on the hillside, both of which are harder to find in Hua Hin due to the tighter building regulations.

During the day, the beaches in Pattaya attract sun worshippers and all different types of water sports, from kitesurfing to waterskiing. At night, Pattaya’s Walking Street is an international adult entertainment playground. But that doesn’t mean you can’t find a quiet place in Pattaya. There are less-popular beaches like Jomtien Beach and nearby islands like Koh Larn and Koh Samet.

Pattaya is part of Thailand’s eastern seaboard, the Eastern Economic Corridor, meaning the city is situated close to Thailand’s main industrial facilities and sea ports, as well as airports like Suvarnabhumi Airport, which is around an hour and a half away by car. It also has its own airport about 40 minutes from town called U-tapao International Airport.

Tale of two cities - Hua Hin vs Pattaya | News by The Thaiger

The famous sweeping coastline of Pattaya, a haven for nightlife and entertainment options

Holiday home, Retirement, or Investment?

Hua Hin and Pattaya are both highly qualified for holiday home buyers with an impressive choice of villas and condominiums. But Hua Hin is better known for retirement and Pattaya for investment.

Hua Hin has been named as one of the best retirement locations in Asia by countless surveys. It offers a high standard of living, great golf courses, first-class restaurants, quality medical care, close proximity to Bangkok, as well as “the big foreign community that connects through reading clubs, festivals, cycling clubs, soccer leagues, wine tastings and darts tournaments,” wrote the US News and World Report in 2019.

Foreign property buyers are those who buy a holiday home or a retirement residence. Most are from western countries, especially those from Scandinavia, Germany and England. Many buy in Hua Hin to spend the winter with their families, rent out when they are away, and eventually live there when they retire. Also, a hi-speed railway will soon be built to link Hua Hin with Bangkok, which will make travelling to Bangkok airports even more convenient. It already has a multi-lane highway, train and bus services.

Pattaya is a popular choice for investment. It has a large and growing tourism industry, with over 12 million tourists last year, as well as a healthy mix of nationalities, including Israeli, Russian, European, Indian, and Chinese, making its tourism less susceptible to change from a single demographic.

Additionally, Pattaya is part of the Eastern Economic Corridor, the Eastern seaboard that targets high-tech industries and attracts foreign direct investments, especially from Japan. It is also linked to Bangkok airports, sea ports, and main industrial facilities in Chon Buri and Rayong by the upcoming hi-speed rail. Plus, the city itself is positioned as an international medical hub.

Overall, a stream of foreign tourists and business travellers means a steady source of income for investors. Those who buy the property to rent out short-term and long-term can enjoy a realistic Return On Investment of about 7 – 8% year. In Pattaya you can already see investors from Western countries as well as Asian countries, from China to India and the Middle East.

Tale of two cities - Hua Hin vs Pattaya | News by The Thaiger

There is an excellent selection of international-standard golf courses in Hua Hin

Lifestyle

Both offer a cool selection of eateries, shopping malls, and activities, but if compared by the variety of choices, Pattaya is the hands down winner.

That isn’t to say that Hua Hin doesn’t have plenty of options. Most buyers in Hua Hin like to play golf and enjoy the outdoor spaces – town is one of the best golfing destinations in Asia. There are also first-class Thai and international restaurants, a huge eco-friendly water park, and several night markets that sell fresh seafood and local crafts, like Hua Hin Night Market and Cicada Market.

Furthermore, Hua Hin has stylish shopping malls like Blueport and Market Village, the latter of which offers so-called “you hunt, we cook” options. You can also try the new Latitude Wines at a vineyard in Hua Hin or head to a cool bar that offers familiar labels.

Pattaya may be infamous for its red light areas and nightlife – go-go bars, beer bars and nightclubs – but that is not the only side of Pattaya. In Pattaya you can find quality lifestyle with a burgeoning choice of family options and entertainments.

It offers a range of Thai and international cuisines, from award-winning restaurants with amazing views, sky bars, and Italian wine bars, to family-run restaurants, 100% vegan places, and local seafood. It also has a range of options to entertain people with different budgets.

Pattaya also offers lots of chic shopping centees like Terminal 21 Pattaya, Central Festival Pattaya Beach and Central Marina. There are also lots of family-friendly choices like water parks and museums, in addition to a wide range of extreme sports, such as Muay Thai, kitesurfing, waterskiing, and skydiving. You can also go snorkeling or plan a day trip to nearby islands like Koh Larn and Koh Samet.

In both cities, you can expect to find theatres with international blockbusters and supermarkets that sell western products. And there is a daily ferry between Hua Hin and Pattaya (during high season).

International Education

Expat families can find an excellent international school in both cities.

Hua Hin has a couple of options for expat families. With quality education and great sporting activities, Hua Hin International School, for instance, is one of the choices that follows the national British curriculum and the IB program, and recruits teachers from the UK. There are also several bilingual programs available.

Expats in Pattaya have more choice when it comes to international education. There are several internationally-recognised international schools with excellent facilities like hi-tech campus, drama studios, and a big theatre. Some of the best schools are St Andrews International School, Regents International School, and Tara Pattana International School.

Tale of two cities - Hua Hin vs Pattaya | News by The Thaiger

Health Care

Hua Hin and Pattaya offer high-quality hospitals that cover basic and advanced medical care and cater to patients with different budgets.

Top private hospitals in Hua Hin are, for instance, Sao Paulo Hospital which caters to lower budgets, and Bangkok Hospital Hua Hin which is part of the renowned BDMS group. These hospitals both offer quality specialist care including cardiology, urology, and orthopaedics, to name a few, and English is widely spoken.

For Pattaya, top hospitals are Bangkok Hospital Pattaya, Pattaya International Hospital, and Pattaya Memorial Hospital, with Bangkok Hospital Pattaya charging the highest fees. Also, as Pattaya is recognised as one of the best medical tourism centres in Thailand, and the region, there are tons of tourists flying to the city for medical care, and hospitals employ staff who are fluent in various languages.

Bangkok Hospital Pattaya, for instance, has interpreters in more than 20 languages, including Arabic, Chinese, French, German, Russian, Spanish, and Swedish.

The bottom line … It depends on your goals and lifestyle. If you want a peaceful hideaway with grand royal history, or are a golf enthusiast, you may choose a property in Hua Hin. If you want to a city that is always switched on, close to investment areas and airports, and has lots of leading international schools and shopping malls, you may like Pattaya more.

Tale of two cities - Hua Hin vs Pattaya | News by The Thaiger

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