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Phuket’s pedaling pioneer

Legacy Phuket Gazette

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Phuket’s pedaling pioneer | The Thaiger
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PHUKET: Martin Brot, the owner of Siam Bike Tours, is an extraordinary man. He is undoubtedly one of the pioneers of long-distance recreational cycling in Thailand, and his company has built an international reputation which lures hundreds of cyclists to Thailand and Phuket, every year.

Meeting Martin is a joy in itself… he’s a vital, energetic ball of wiry fitness and enthusiasm. He’s a living, breathing advertisement for the physical and mental benefits of a healthy, outdoor, cycling-based lifestyle. He’s also a man who has turned his lifelong passion into a successful business where his hands-on involvement brings happiness and healthfulness to hundreds of his clients. That, to my mind, is as close to a perfect definition of “success” as you will find!

Martin is an example of that famous adage about not judging books by their covers. He stands about 170 centimeters tall and weighs just 63 kilograms soaking wet – a weight that he’s maintained since he was a slip of a lad of twenty summers. But hidden within his sinewy frame are a heart and engine of extraordinary power and strength. He has incredible lung capacity, aerobic power and leg strength, which, coupled with his intense mental resilience, make him the incredible distance cyclist that he is.

How did this come about? As is the case with most first-class athletes, it is the result of genetic predisposition and training.

Martin was born in Davos Platz in the Swiss mountains surrounded by greenery and well-oxygenated air. He was also fortunate to discover his passion for cycling at a young age. He was given his first bike at 14 and immediately fell in love with cycling. He was already a keen hockey player and had developed great aerobic power and leg-strength as a result, and so a year later he started cycle racing.

He was naturally good at it, but soon realized he didn’t want the full-time commitment and single-mindedness that competitive cycling dictates.

While Martin is an excellent amateur cycle racer with many prizes in his trophy cabinet, he says, “Following a sort of Buddhist ‘middle way’ is my ideal for cycling. While I love racing and relish the competitiveness and challenge, I also enjoy a drink and even the occasional small cigar. For me, it’s more important to lead a balanced and happy life than to win races.”

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Thirty years ago, when he was 26, Martin and his vivacious wife Rosita started coming on holiday to Thailand. They discovered Phuket and immediately fell in love with the laid-back charm the island had in abundance in those seemingly far off times. They spent many happy hours cycling around Thailand on road bikes and then, 11 years ago, decided to ‘test market’ leading an international group of riders on a week-long Bangkok to Phuket adventure. The idea caught on like “blazing saddles”, and so they launched their Siam Bike Tours company.

“Our Bangkok to Phuket cycle ride was a wonderful way of engaging with, and intimately experience, the real Thailand. The locals we met were unspoiled and a group of Western cyclists in bright Day-Glo attire on road bikes was a huge novelty. The 810-kilometer-ride spread over eight days was designed to give participants a memorable biking adventure on beautiful, well-paved routes through diverse tropical landscapes in pleasant temperatures,” recalls Martin.

“I believe that experiencing the culture, seeing the sights, meeting locals, savoring Thai cuisine, making friends, enjoying traditional Thai massages and simply having fun while exercising in the Thai outdoors is a formula that’s hard to beat.”

Certainly, over the past 11 years, hundreds of happy participants would agree and the fact that more than fifty percent of Martin’s current clients are ‘returners’ is the best possible endorsement for Siam Bike Tours.

Following on from his Bangkok to Phuket rides, Martin expanded road-bike touring to all corners of the Kingdom. He now rides the fearsome loop northwest of Chiang Mai through Pai, Mae Hong Son, Mae Sariang and finally, to ‘the summit of Thailand’, the peak of Doi Inthanon at 2,565 meters – a tour of tremendous climbs and stunning mountain vistas which is certainly not for the faint hearted.

He leads tours through Thailand’s eastern national parks, then onwards to Cambodia and Koh Chang in the Gulf of Thailand; through Isarn from Udon Thani to Ubon Ratchathani along the Mekong River; and from Chiang Mai to Bangkok. He has even started specialized triathlon training rides working with legendary Ironman Jurgen Zack of Thanyapura and building on running and swimming sessions after the day’s rides!

Amazingly, Martin has led every single tour his company has conducted over the past eight years, clocking up some 22,000km last year alone. Now, at the age of 56, Martin is also approaching one hundred road tours of eight to 12 days’ duration.

Martin is both a pioneer and an inspiration. So much so, in fact, that Bicycling Baz has signed up with him to ride from Bangkok to Phuket starting on December 6, which will be further discussed in a future Blazing Saddles column.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I think I’d better start training!

— Baz Daniel

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

Chiang Rai

Ron Howard to direct cave rescue feature film ‘Thirteen Lives’ in Australia

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Ron Howard to direct cave rescue feature film ‘Thirteen Lives’ in Australia | The Thaiger
PHOTO: The entrance to the real Tham Luang cave near the Myanmar border in far north Thailand

The Australian Government is putting up A$13 million to Imagine Entertainment and film giant MGM to shoot a live-action feature film called Thirteen Lives, based on the Chiang Rai Tham Luang cave rescue story. The film will be shot in Queensland, Australia in the hinterland areas behind the Gold Coast.

The film will be directed by Ron Howard (A Beautiful Mind, Apollo 13, The Da Vince Code, Cocoon, Solo: A Star Wars Story, Splash, Frost/Nixon), and start filming in March 2021. The state’s Gold Coast hinterland will double for Thailand with a similar hot, humid climate.

The Australian Minister for Communications, Cyber Safety and the Arts, Paul Fletcher MP, says the production ishould inject more than A$96 million into the Australian economy, “directly creating around 435 jobs for cast and crew”.

Thirteen Lives will tell the remarkable story of the effort by many volunteers, including Australians, to undertake an incredibly complex rescue. And I am proud to say that this story will be told here in Australia.”

“I understand this project will also undertake a significant amount of cutting-edge visual effects work here, a great opportunity for our local post, digital and visual effects companies.”

Thirteen Lives follows the true story of the 2018 Tham Laung cave rescue of the Mu Pa (Wild Boar) football team, trapped in a cave by heavy rain and flooding in Chiang Rai, far north Thailand. After the team was stuck for days with no supplies and falling oxygen levels, a group of diving and rescue experts from all over the world were called up to work together with their Thai counterparts to save the 13 young men. Among those experts were a group of divers from the United Kingdom and Australia.

The first major feature film about the rescue operation was The Cave, released in October 2019. The film was quite critical of the Thai red-tape which hampered much of the early rescue efforts.

Ron Howard has worked with plenty of Australians in the past.

“From Thirteen Lives to the animated projected I am directing with Animal Logic in Australia, I am excited about the opportunity to film and work in Australia and dramatically expand on that list of collaborators whose sensibilities and work ethic I have long admired and respected.”

Imagine Entertainment and MGM’s Thirteen Lives will be distributed by Universal Pictures International.

Watch a message from director Ron Howard HERE.

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Thailand

Covid tourism standstill gives Thailand’s southern sea gypsies a break

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Covid tourism standstill gives Thailand’s southern sea gypsies a break | The Thaiger

Phuket’s sea gypsy communities are getting a much needed break after the Covid tourism standstill have their traditions a break from the tourism onslaught. 42 year old Sanan Changham says now there is an abundance of fish and shellfish to eat. Tourist boats have been docked at the quay, making fishing easier for the Chao Lay, or “people of the sea.“

“We don’t dive as deep as before, so it’s less dangerous.“

More than 9 million visitors came to Phuket in 2019, impacting the sea gypsies and their way of life, mostly located at the southern end of the island. The booming tourism brought a decline in fish stocks, decreasing fishing grounds and loud construction of hotels. And the traffic. Such hotels signal an even bigger threat to the 1,200 Chao Lay in Rawai, as property developers have tried to evict them from their ancestral strip of land that faces the sea.

Ngim Damrongkaset, a Rawai community representative, says he hopes the area where developers have taken a stake is abandoned.

“They want to drive us out of our homes, but also to deny us access to the sea.”

For the Chao Lay people, the fight to keep their land has been unequal as most are illiterate and were unaware of the fact that they could register their land, but the government is trying to help them. One way for authorities to buy the land and entrust it to them.

Narumon Arunotai, an anthropologist at Bangkok’s Chulalongkorn University, says the government must seize the opportunity provided by the pandemic to rethink their vision on Chao Lay.

“Covid is an opportunity to change mentalities. Mass tourism in Phuket has been a catastrophe for the sea gypsies.“

The land in Rawai was originally claimed by Indonesian ancestors of Sanan, before the island became flooded with international travellers. But since tourism has become more profitable, authorities have cracked down on the sea gypsies unless they are sailing in protected marine reserves.

“Before, we risked being arrested by a patrol or having our boats confiscated.“

For the animist Chao Lay the beach is a vital space where they keep their colourful wooden boats and where they pray and give thanks to their ancestors. But not only their unique cultural heritage has helped them navigate the waters.

The Chao Lay people are experts at detecting any abnormalities in the water, as such they were able to escape before the 2004 Boxing Day Tsunami hit, while saving loads of tourists. Furthermore, Children of the Moken have 50% better visual acuity in the water than their European counterparts, according to a 2003 study.

SOURCE: Thai PBS World

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Top 10

Top 10 English-language movies made in Thailand

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Top 10 English-language movies made in Thailand | The Thaiger
PHOTO: tntdrama - Hangover 11 (2011)

Thailand is active in attracting foreign movie makers to the Land of Smiles, and has been for decades. Many well known movies have been either partially or totally filmed in Thailand. From ‘The Killing Fields’ to ‘Around the World in 80 Days’. Here is our list of the Top 10 English-language movies that were at least partly made in Thailand. There’s also some excellent Thai-language films made in Thailand in one of the most prolific film industries in the world. But that’s a list for another day. Lights, camera, ACTION… Su su!

The Railway Man (2013)

A Colin Firth movie made partly in Thailand (also ‘Bridget Jones – The Edge of Reason’, 2004), ‘The Railway Man’ is a 2013 British–Australian war film directed by Jonathan Teplitzky. The movie also starred Nicole Kidman, Jeremy Irvine, and Stellan Skarsgård. The movie follows a tortured soul and his traumas as an ex-POW who was interred and tortured by Japanese troops in camps around the Thai Burmese border. He returns later in life to Thailand confront his demons.

From ‘The Telegraph’… “One of the most striking things about the terrain through which the “Death Railway” linking Thailand to Burma passed, is its extraordinary beauty. Much of the scenery is classically south-east Asian: lush and tropical, fringed with rugged, mountainous mystery. It is the stuff of travellers’ dreams. But as ‘The Railway Man’, the latest film to throw light on one of history’s darker chapters reveals, it is also the stuff of nightmares”.

The Hangover II (2011)

Hardly high art but a successful sequel to the original ‘Hangover’ starring Bradley Cooper, Ed Helms, Zach Galifianakis, Ken Jeong. The film was filmed almost entirely in Bangkok and around Phang Nga Bay including Phulay Bay, A Ritz-Carlton in Krabi. The film gives you the impression that you turn left in Bangkok, travel an hour or so, and arrive in Phang Nga Bay. Also the unlikely situation where you jump on a speedboat in Bangkok and arrive in Krabi on one tank of fuel! The reality is you would have to travel all the way south, around Singapore and then north through the Malaca Straits, a journey of three or four days.

The plot… well, anything and everything goes wrong! Tattoos, ladyboys, drugs, kidnapping, car chases, fingers chopped off. That’s about it.

In 2011 an Australian stuntman who was injured whilst filming in Bangkok sued Warner Bros. The case was settled out of court for an undisclosed sum. The film had a budget of US$80 million but returned nearly $600 million.

Good Morning Vietnam (1987)

‘Good Morning, Vietnam’ is a 1987 American military comedy-drama film written by Mitch Markowitz and directed by Barry Levinson. The movie is set in Saigon in 1965, during the Vietnam War. The movie was a major star-vehicle for Robin Williams as radio DJ Adrian Cronauer on Armed Forces Radio Service.

Plot, briefly… man becomes DJ on official military radio station in Saigon. DJ is widely popular with the US troops but very unpopular with some of the military bosses. Man meets woman, man falls for woman, woman’s brother is a Viet Cong pimp.

The film is famous for Williams’ radio broadcast scenes which were largely improvised. It was a critical and commercial success; for his work in the film, Williams won a Golden Globe Award for Best Actor – Motion Picture Musical or Comedy and was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Actor. ‘Good Morning, Vietnam’ was one of the most successful films of the year, becoming the fourth highest-grossing film of 1987.

The film was shot almost entirely in Bangkok.

Tomorrow Never Dies (1997) and Man with the Golden Gun (1974)

We throw these two Bond films into the same posting but extensive sequences in both were filmed in and around Phang Nga Bay in Southern Thailand. Ko Tapu, a limestone monolith standing all by itself, has become a major tourist attraction in the Bay and has even been renamed James Bond Island in honour of it’s backdrop performance in the Roger Moore ‘Man with the Golden Gun’. Probably one of the most boring of the Bond franchises but, hey, it spawned a whole new tourism attraction for the region!

‘Tomorrow Never Dies’ was the 18th James Bond film, this time with Pierce Brosnan with a license to kill. The Ho Chi Minh City scenes were shot in Bangkok and Phang Nga Bay, pretending it was some other asian location.

Heaven and Earth (1993)

Heaven & Earth is a 1993 American biographical war drama film written and directed by Oliver Stone and featuring a stellar cast including cranky Tommy Lee Jones, Haing S. Ngor, Joan Chen and Hiep Thi Le.

It is the third and final film in Stone’s Vietnam War trilogy, which also includes ‘Platoon’ and ‘Born on the Fourth of July’. The film was shot in Thailand as the Vietnamese government had decided Oliver Stone liked to depict their country in a negative light (it took them Stone’s two other films to figure that out). Town shots are filmed around Old Phuket Town and many of the wider shots of open paddocks and fields were filmed around Krabi.

The film was based on the books ‘When Heaven and Earth Changed Places’ and ‘Child of War’, ‘Woman of Peace’, which Le Ly Hayslip wrote about her experiences during and after the Vietnam War.

It was a box office flop earning only $5.9 million on a budget of $33 million.

Air America (1990)

‘Air America’ was a 1990 American action comedy directed by Roger Spottiswoode with Mel Gibson and Robert Downey Jr. as Air America pilots flying missions in Laos during the Vietnam War. All the ‘Laos’ shots were shot in Thailand.

Plot: When the protagonists discover their aircraft is being used by government agents to smuggle heroin, they must avoid being framed as the drug-smugglers.

Budgeted at $35 million, the production involved 500 crew shooting in 49 different locations in Thailand, London, and Los Angeles. Principal photography began on October 3, 1989 and ran for five months but the crew were called back six months later to film a new ending.

The producers rented 26 aircraft from the Thai military, although some of the stunt flyers refused to perform some of the stunts, with 60-year-old veterans being drafted for some of the more nuanced aerial shots. Sidenote: PepsiCo wanted the filmmakers to use a fictional soda rather than show opium being refined at their abandoned factory.

The Killing Fields (1984)

Not only a film made mostly in Thailand but also an Academy Award winner and a fitting story of the so-called Asian holocaust – the reign of terror by the Khmer Rouge in Cambodia between 1975 and 1979 where up to 2.5 million citizens were systematically starved, over-worked or killed.

The film focusses on two journalists, Cambodian Dith Pran and American Sydney Schanberg. It was directed by Roland Joffé and produced by David Puttnam. Sam Waterston played Schanberg, Haing S. Ngor as Pran, Julian Sands as Jon Swain, and John Malkovich as Al Rockoff.

At the 57th Academy Awards it received eight Oscar nominations; including Best Picture. It won three, most notably Best Supporting Actor for Haing S. Ngor, who had had no previous acting experience. Directer Roland Joffé said, of Haing S. Ngor’s performance… “Haing had been acting his whole life – you had to be a pretty good actor to survive the Khmer Rouge”.

From Roland Joffé… “We shot those scenes in the countryside outside Bangkok. Lots of very realistic looking corpses had been laid out. It was all very disturbing: you’d get a crawling feeling up your back during shooting. And there was a real panic when a farmer’s wife went out early in the morning and got a total shock when she saw them, poor woman”.

The Beach (2000)

The Beach is a 2000 British-American adventure drama film directed by Danny Boyle and based on the 1996 novel of the same name by Alex Garland. The film stars Leonardo DiCaprio, Tilda Swinton, Virginie Ledoyen, Guillaume Canet and, Robert Carlyle. It was partly filmed around Phuket Town and Koh Phi Phi Leh.

Producers got a lot of heat for bulldozing and landscaping sections of Ko Phi Phi Leh beach to make it more “paradise-like” including clearing some of the coconut trees and grass. Local environmentalists weren’t going to put up with that!

The lawsuits dragged on for years. In 2006, Thailand’s Supreme Court upheld an appellate court ruling that the filming had harmed the environment and ordered that damage assessments be made. Producers had made an allowance for repairing any damage but the 2004 Asian tsunami did its own ‘alteration’ of the beach.

The crappy old On On Hotel in Phuket Town, depicted in the movie, has had a major make-over since and now a very swish boutique hotel worth visiting anytime.

Did You Know? Ewan McGregor was cast as the main character before leaving due to disputes with the director. It was speculated that Director Danny Boyle was offered additional funding under the condition that DiCaprio be cast and his British character turned into an American (would have been more fun to hear Leonardo doing a British accent).

Around the World in 80 Days (1956 and 2004)

A grand Hollywood epic and a personal passion project for the, then, Mr Elizabeth Taylor, Michael Todd. The epic picture was directed by Michael Anderson and produced by Mike Todd’s company who financed the film by selling his Todd-AO 70mm film format. Admittedly, if you blinked, you’d miss the portions of the movie filmed in Thailand. A 2004 version, starring Steve Coogan and Jackie Chan, had segments also filmed in Thailand, posing as a Chinese village. It was a flop. Here’s an excerpt from Wikipedia about the original 1956 production…

Filming took place in late 1955, from August 9 to December 20. The crew worked fast (75 actual days of filming). The picture cost just under $6 million to make, employing 112 locations in 13 countries and 140 sets. Todd said he and the crew visited every country portrayed in the picture, including England, France, India, Spain, Thailand and Japan. According to the Time magazine review of the film, the cast including extras totalled 68,894 people; it also featured 7,959 animals, “including four ostriches, six skunks, 15 elephants, 17 fighting bulls, 512 rhesus monkeys, 800 horses, 950 burros, 2,448 American buffalo, 3,800 Rocky Mountain sheep and a sacred cow that eats flowers on cue.” There is also a cat, at the Reform Club. The wardrobe department spent $410,000 to provide 74,685 costumes and 36,092 trinkets.

The Impossible (2012)

Shot in 2012 and directed by Juan Antonio Bayona. Hard to leave out this one out as the story was about Phuket, Khao Lak and the Andaman Sea’s largest natural disaster – the Asian tsunami of 2004. The story revolves around a British family staying in Khao Lak for their Christmas holidays. The movie starred Ewan McGregor and Naomi Watts. Many Phuket extras were enlisted as extras for the movie. If we had one criticism about this film it would be the focus on the single family whilst the disaster killed up to 250,000 who were never referred to in the film.

Honourable mentions

The ‘Special Thanksgiving’ Award

‘Mechanic: Resurrection’ (2016). One big turkey. Probably better off un-resurrected.

The ‘Blink and you’ll miss it’ Award

‘Star Wars: Episode III Revenge of the Sith’ (2005)

Shot in 2005, directed by George Lucas, the finale of the original six Star Wars episodes. There were a few scenes filmed around Krabi Province to represent the Wookie home planet ‘Kaashyyk’. By the time the CGI crew got their hands on the original footage you’d be hard pressed to recognise the scenery.

‘Bridget Jones: The Edge of Reason’ (2004)

A 2004 sequel of ‘Bridget Jones’s Diary’ and directed by Beeban Kidron that reunites the same cast members: Renée Zellweger as Bridget Jones, Colin Firth as Mark Darcy, and Hugh Grant as Daniel Cleaver. This time, the movie’s plot takes them to Bangkok (some scenes were shot along the infamous Soi Cowboy), to Phuket International Airport, Nai Yang Beach, and Panyee Island in Phang Nga Bay.

An exhaustive list of big movies made mostly or partly in Thailand, HERE.

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