Do you ever wonder what it was like to travel Thailand 30 years ago? There were fewer tourists then of course, smaller crowds and shorter queues for sure.
In many ways that describes the attraction of Yala today in 2019. Top tourist attractions, like the Iyerweng Sea of Mist, might get a little busy at peak hour. But that’s because they’re popular with local Thais, or the odd Malaysian group, with few international visitors to be seen. Other attractions, like Hala-Bala Wildlife Sanctuary, seem virtually deserted and literally unseen to all but the boldest visitors.
This, however, is poised to change if those in charge have a say. Local Thai officials in Betong are keen to promote these attractions and bring in more international and domestic Thai travellers to the area.
According to Mr. Anan Boonsamran, Chief District Officer of Betong, the new 1.9-billion Baht Betong International Airport in Yala and the expanded ‘skywalk’ at the Iyerweng Sea of Mist will be game changers for both Betong itself and the extended province of Yala as a whole.
Anan Boonsamran, Chief District Officer of Betong
“The new Betong International Airport is scheduled to open in June 2020, at the same time as the new signature ‘skywalk’ at the Iyerweng Sea of Mist. Together with Hala-Bala, we have important pieces in place to be a gateway to Southern Thailand’s tourism gems while showcasing Yala’s most pristine natural attractions,” Mr. Anan said.
It’s easy to see why he’s excited about the Hala-Bala Wildlife Sanctuary. There are few places like it left in the world, much less Southeast Asia. On a recent day out, only one other boat was spotted on its massive lake and canals. It was a live aboard houseboat-like vessel available through local tour operators for charter on a one-night, two-day basis. It looked like an ideal way to explore Hala-Bala’s wilderness-like waterways, complete with creature comforts and a very cool waterslide on the stern.
Hala-Bala Wildlife Sanctuary
Hala-Bala Wildlife Sanctuary
Hala-Bala Wildlife Sanctuary
Hala-Bala Wildlife Sanctuary
The Hala-Bala Wildlife Sanctuary was officially established in 1996 near the Thai-Malaysian border and covers the Sankala Khiri Mountain range, Hala Forest and Bala Forest, which are deep first generation jungle forests. The diverse flora and fauna create an ecological balance here that makes it a not-to-be-missed attraction for nature lovers and birdwatchers alike. And is also home to several endangered species native to Thailand including the large black gibbon or Sia Mang.
The new 50-metre Iyerweng Skywalk will also boost the destination’s profile. It will extend from the side of the existing tower that sits on a peak just 100 metres above the Iyerweng Lake. Every day at sunrise and sunset, mist envelops the Skywalk giving visitors the feeling of floating above the clouds.
Iyerweng Sea of Mist
Iyerweng Sea of Mist
Iyerweng Sea of Mist
The 91-million Baht project is the jewel in the eye of Betong Mayor Mr. Somyod Lertlamyong, who believes the attraction plus new airport will make Betong the pride of Southern Thailand.
Mayor Somyod said, “When the new Iyerweng Sea of Mist Skywalk and airport open, Betong will have some of the best natural attractions in Thailand, if not the world. We intend to bring down the reigning Miss Thailand World for a photoshoot to help put Betong on the international map.”
Somyod Lertlamyong, Betong Mayor
Mayor Somyod noted how Yala’s natural attractions complement the quaint tourist sites in and around town. Betong boasts a plethora of tourist attractions just outside the city, including Wat Phutthathiwas, the Betong Hot Springs, Winter Flower Garden, and the former communist stronghold at the Piyamit Tunnel.
Others within walking distance of the city centre include the Betong Museum, Clock Tower roundabout, the self-proclaimed world’s largest Post Box, and Betong Mongkollit Tunnel, the first and largest road tunnel in Thailand.
Betong Mongkollit Tunnel
Winter Flower Garden
Betong Clock Tower
Mayor Somyod is also keen to promote Betong’s considerable culinary treats and position it as a city of gastronomy. He cites the toothsome convergence of Chinese, Muslim, and Southern Thai cuisines that the city is famous for. To be sure its street food is as tasty as any in Thailand, the city has a signature dish that it is very proud to promote: Betong Chicken.
Betong’s Hainanese chicken style rice dish
Betong street food
Betong street food
This free range bird is beloved by owners and diners alike. Betong chickens cannot be raised on an industrial scale and are the essential ingredient in the Hainanese chicken style rice dish the town is famous for. So much so that the city even has towering statues and colourful street art celebrating its love for Betong chicken.
Both Thai officials are obviously banking on a tourist windfall when the new airport opens in 2020. Infrastructure that helps tourism development is always a good thing, as it means more income for local Thai communities.
However, for intrepid visitors still hungry to experience what it was like to travel Thailand 30 years ago, there is no better time than the present to experience the natural beauty of Betong and Yala province for what it is: one of the Kingdom’s last unseen destinations and a true hidden gem.
The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of the Tourism Authority of Thailand’s (TAT) Newsroom. The TAT Newsroom does not assume any liability for the materials, information and opinions provided on, or available through, this web page. Details provided regarding travel in Yala, Pattani and Songkhla provinces are based on the best available information when the trip took place in April 2019.
Bangkok, 20 May 2019 – The Tourism Authority of Thailand (TAT) has overhauled the knowledge sharing session of its annual Thailand Travel Mart Plus (TTM+) 2019 to better align it with new social, cultural and ecological transitions under way in the kingdom’s fastest growing foreign exchange earning industry.
Under the theme of “Making the World a Better Place through Travel”, the TTM Talk will feature a line-up of 10 well-recognised experts who will cover a broad range of social, cultural, marketing, management and development topics of critical importance to many aspects of the past, present and future of Thai tourism.
The session will be held concurrently between 15.00-16.00 Hrs. on Wednesday, 5 June, 2019, just before the start of the doing business trade session of the Thailand Travel Mart Plus 2019 at the Ocean Marina Yacht Club Pattaya. This is the second consecutive year the TTM Plus will be held at the same venue.
Mr. Siripakorn Cheawsamoot, TAT Deputy Governor for Digital Research and Development said, “This year it was felt to be a good time to bring together 10 movers and shakers from a broad cross section of disciplines including tourism, media, education, agriculture and more, “to present new perspectives, alternative practices, and inspiring stories that prove you truly can make the world a better place through travel.
“This is the first time that we have invited purely local personalities to share their insights and expertise at the TTM. It covers both a historic perspective of Thai tourism development, some of the key current challenges, and insights into many of the new strategies that will be required to develop a more sustainable tourism agenda in the future.”
List of Speakers at TTM Talk Session “Making the World a Better Place through Travel”
Topic: “Thailand: The Greatest Story in Global Tourism HiSTORY”
Mr. Imtiaz Muqbil, Executive Editor of Travel Impact Newswire, Thailand’s second longest serving travel trade journalist, will explore some of the great marketing strategies that have helped Thai tourism become what he calls “The Greatest Story in Global Tourism HiSTORY”.
Topic: “Food Innopolis, Innovation for Economic Growth”
Dr. Akkharawit Kanjana-Opas, NSTDA Vice President and CEO of Food Innopolis, will focus on how Thailand’s agriculture and food industry can play a role in tourism development and help the country strengthen its status as a global food innovation hub.
Topic: “Urban Tourism and the Regeneration of Cities”
Ms Niramon Kulsrisombat, Director of the Urban Design and Development Center (UddC), will outline how urbanisation is linked to the rise of mass tourism, and how it can help cities create job opportunities, education, strengthen social inclusion and create a meaningful experience for visitors.
Topic: “Slumdog Millionaire, the Transformation of Khlong Toei”
Mr. Somsak Boonkam, Founder and CEO of Local Alike will share his experience in developing ‘off-the-beaten track’ tourism via the example of ‘Khlong Toei’, a low-income Bangkok community, where visitors can help contribute to economic development in a careful and sensitive manner.
Topic: “Organic Tourism and Alternative Business Model”
Mr. Arrut Navaraj, Managing Director of Suan Sampran, will discuss how his family business Sampran Riverside, an eco-cultural destination resort, has been reinvented in line with the principle of the Sufficiency Economy, which emphasises balance and moderation and promotes organic agriculture.
Topic: “Niche is Great, Travel in a World of Fragments”
Stang Puapongsakon, Travel Editor of The Cloud, will attempt to make sense of the rapidly advancing world of communication technology, social media platforms and hyper-connectedness, and how businesses can turn fragmented customer interests and personalisation into an opportunity.
Topic: “Fun at Any Cost? Tourism vs. Environment”
Sirachai Shin Arunrugstichai, a Photojournalist specialising in marine conservation issues, will reflect on the extent to which the tourism industry bears responsibility for damaging the marine environment, and what it can do to alleviate this problem.
Topic: “Tourism: Love, Death + Robots”
Jitsupa Chin, an IT Specialist, will highlight the role of information technology in improving the quality of the visitor experience in a way that inspires true innovation and alleviates the impact of over-tourism.
Topic: “#SoulFood – Local Food, Local Wisdom”
Chef Van (DAG), gastronomic expert, will explain how local cuisine is intrinsically linked with the local community and ecosystems, and how choosing the right meal can make a difference to your destination, your travel, and your life.
Topic: “From Root to Last: Akha Ama Coffee and a Sense of Loving the Home Town”
Lee-Ayu Chuepa’ a young Thai who hails from a rural town in Far North Thailand and has been inspired by the late monarch, King Bhumibol Adulyadej, to develop high-quality brand of home-grown coffee, based on the business model of the Sufficiency Economy.
Bangkok,17May 2019 – The Tourism Authority of Thailand (TAT) is pleased to announce the success of the second ‘ASEAN Pop Culture’ activity, which took place in April in Trat province in the Laem Ngop Lighthouse area.
At the ‘Experiencing Pop Culture’ event in Trat, spectacular street art was created on walls of old buildings at two locations in the Laem Ngop Lighthouse area.
Indonesian artist Andrew Suryono adorned the wall with street photography under the theme of ‘dancing together’.
Trat’s homegrown rapper band Run Trat and local school band Trat Buri, together with music artists DJ Muninn from Thailand and Alisson Shore from the Philippines brought another building to live with colourful paintings. They also created music that combined the sounds of nature with traditional Thai and modern music instruments.
During their time in Trat, all artists created their works in the format of workshops with the local community to rope in participation and interest from the locals, as well as to instil them to be a ‘good host’.
The ‘ASEAN Pop Culture’ project aims to promote connectivity between Thailand and its neighbouring countries in Southeast Asia. It is also to position Thailand as the hub of this kind of event to connect both Thai and foreign tourists.
The project involves events in cities in Thailand, Myanmar and Cambodia featuring famous Thai and ASEAN artists, who can use their popularity and social media networks to stimulate art and cultural activities in the focus areas.
Mr. Yuthasak Supasorn, TAT Governor said, “The ASEAN Pop Culture project promotes ASEAN tourism as well as secondary destinations and community tourism in Thailand. This is helping to direct tourism revenue to the communities involved, while also presenting these destinations to tourists in new ways like arts and crafts, music and local culture.”
Three more ‘ASEAN Pop Culture’ events are also planned for Chiang Rai in Thailand, Mandalay in Myanmar and Battambang in Cambodia during May, June and July, this year.
Street photography by Indonesian artist Andrew Suryono Colourful street art by Thai artist Jirayu Koo Street art by Trat’s homegrown rapper band Run Trat
Bangkok, 16 May 2019 – The Tourism Authority of Thailand’s (TAT) Newsroom is gearing up for this year’s second Blogger Thailand completion, which is open to entries from international bloggers residing in Thailand until 31 May, 2019, after a recent site inspection uncovered off-the-beaten-track experiences reflected the ‘Open to the New Shades’ campaign.
The TAT’s International PR Division embarked on a journey from 10-12 May to take in the sights and sounds in Prachin Buri, Nakhon Nayok, and Nakhon Ratchasima provinces. They also dropped by at Khao Yai National Park, which borders all three of these provinces.
*Some of the locations visited during the recent site inspection trip.
The purpose was to research and create itineraries that feature off-the-beaten-track destinations and unique experiences in locations known to tourists reflecting the TAT’s ‘Open to the New Shades’ campaign. It seeks to introduce and highlight new experiences in both well-established and emerging destinations around Thailand.
The exclusive four-day itinerary is the reward for the six successful applicants and scheduled from 25 to 28 July this year.
This second competition accepts submission of photos, videos, or blogs that highlight off-the-beaten track Thai destinations or unseen experiences around Thailand. The entry can cover any of the following subjects: local Thai culinary tours, less crowded natural attractions, local Thai festivals and folk performances, unique Thai traditions, homestays or community markets.
Applicants should create well-composed entries that are organically beneficial to the Thai tourism industry by promoting the country’s good image. Only approved entries will be published for the short-listed selection process by the TAT Newsroom team supported by colleagues from the TAT’s International PR Division.
The competition accepts only one entry per applicant. It can be a blog, vlog or photo (all content should be submitted in English only).
Tensions between Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte and his detractors are reaching a boiling point. Many of the president’s critics have been accused of attempting to overthrown the establishment.
In the last month, the Malacanang (the presidential palace) has released two matrices, both one-page web diagrams naming individuals and groups who are supposedly threatening the country’s national security by discrediting the Duterte administration. Most of the people singled out were lawyers, journalists and opposition candidates in this year’s midterm elections. Both iterations of the so called “ouster matrix” drew flak from the media and the public for containing widely unsubstantiated accusations and, to some, extent for their mere absurdity.
Palace spokesman Salvador Panelo said that the intelligence sources came from an anonymous text addressed directly to the president. Thesecondmatrix released just days later had more people scratching their heads. Television hostGretchen Howas included, despite having dinner at the Malacanang less than a week earlier. When pressed for more information as to the validity of the claims, Panelo brushed it off bysaying“the President does not lie.”
These claims from the palace, however, are only the latest in a string of allegations hurled at critics or even perceived critics of the regime. More than most, the favored labels used for any whiff of opposition to Duterte are “communist” or “terrorist.” The extent to which the administration has pummeled public perception with ideas of an impending political conflict has become dangerous.
Duterte himself regularly brands progressive, militant, and even church organizations as mere fronts for insurgent activity. Human rights network Karapatan cited six instances in which the president “maliciously tagged” them as a communist front in his speeches. In early 2018 the government produceda terror listof 648 individuals, including the UN Special Rapporteur for the rights of indigenous people (she was later removed).
Running in tandem with the above mentioned allegations is the government’s own counterinsurgency plan to safeguard national security and quell perceived threats. To do this, the government increased military spending this year by 37 percent from 136.5 billion Philippine pesos to188.2 billion(from about $2.6 billion to $3.5 billion).
All the Kings Men
Last November Duterte signed Executive Order No. 70 creating the “National Task Force to End the Communist Insurgency.” The decree formalizes what had already been laid out in the Armed Forces of the Philippines’ (AFP) “whole of nation approach,” which outlines utilizing all levels and types of state machinery to target legal organizations operating as supporters of terrorist activity.
Rey Casambre, a veteran activist of the Philippine Peace Center argued last year in a forum that the “whole of nation approach” will strangle critical voices by fabricating charges against individuals, cutting funding to organizations and NGOs and promoting outright physical assault.
Ironically, a few months after speaking on the matter,Casambre and his wife were arrestedand charged with attempted murder and illegal possession of firearms and explosives. The couple are well into their senior years and yet were alleged to have murdered someone on the other end of the country.
On the other hand, Interior and Local Government Assistant SecretaryJonathan Malaya downplayed the dangers of the executive order upon its passing, saying it would primarily take civilian initiatives instead of military ones. This, however, was precisely what Casambre had earlier called out, saying “the military seeks to control and manipulate access to basic and social services for their anti-insurgency campaign while feigning that they are apolitical.”
On live television recently, National Youth Commission Chief Ronald Cardema invoked the “whole of nation approach” as he attempted to berate several progressive political parties for their purported support of armed rebellion. He cited gatherings of agency heads to hear a lecture by former members of the Communist Party of the Philippines who enumerated the same organizations that are usually in the administration’s line of fire.
Congressman Carlos Zarate of the Bayan Muna (People First) party, one of the alleged rebel supporters in Congress, challenged Cardema to produce evidence and file cases in court. Witness testimonies done behind closed doors should not be enough, said the lawmaker.
Early this year, aPhilippine delegationtravelled to meet with representatives from the European Union to specifically ask donor nations to halt all funding toward “communist organizations.” Among the organizations named by the AFP was Karapatan, which subsequently filed forprotection orderswith the assistance of the National Union of People’s Lawyers in light of the allegations. Karapatan added that 48 of their colleagues had already been slain by the armed forces since 2001.
In response, AFP Spokesman Brig. General Edgard Arevalo maintained that they have damning evidence against the rights groups and will present them to the Supreme Court soon.
Karapatan and a few other grassroots organizations also had their registrations revoked by the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC). A late 2018 SEC memorandum (No. 15) explicitly underpins the military’s pursuit to identify groups, through “resource sharing” with the commission, that receive “terrorist funding.”
“This has never been part of the SEC mandate,” said Nonoy Espina, head of the National Union of Journalists of the Philippines (NUJP). Espina went on to say that “they don’t even have to inform you that you are being investigated.” NUJP, among many others, is being required to submit their own financial records next month after being tagged as a “high risk” organization.
Arguably the most glaring and violent reflection of the counterinsurgency design were the peasant killings on the island of Negros, central Philippines. In October 2018, nine farmers from the National Federation of Sugarcane Workers were gunned down, including two children while the bunch was sharing a meal.
Three of the victims’ bodies were burned. A month later, thelawyerfor the families of those killed was shot dead while he was at a local store.
A multitude of arrests, destruction of crops, burning of homes and synchronized assassinations in six different towns across the island followed in late December 2018, all perpetrated against leaders of farmers organizations pegged as being rebel supporters.
On March 30, 14 farmers were killed and 15 others injured and arrested by various police teams.
The Union of Agricultural Workers (Unyon ng Manggagawa sa Agrikultura or UMA) recently finished a fact-finding mission on the island. UMA says all those detained were slapped with charges relating to illegal possession of firearms or drugs, designed to paint them as insurgents, involved with the illegal drug trade, or both.
The police drew the ire of some lawmakers who wanted heads to roll. Philippine National Police (PNP)Chief Oscar Albayalde, however, deflected critcism by saying “I attest that there is no basis to call for action against our part in the light of the death of 14 suspects during a recent series of police operations in Negros Oriental as I swiftly ordered the administrative relief of the Provincial Director of Negros PPO and three Chiefs of Police in the province to pave the way to the thorough investigation on the incidents.”
While the PNP sacked officials directly responsible for the massacre, they still managed to turn the tables on critics and even the victims themselves who were branded as national security threats. “We should vehemently send our condemnation against these people supporting the perceived enemies of the state to gain power themselves, even sacrificing the innocent lives of young students to attain their own propaganda against our country and government,” said Albayalde, alleging the recruitment of young people to join the communist guerrilla group New People’s Army.
Central to law enforcement in Negros is theSynchronized Enhanced Managing of Police Operations, or SEMPO, which has also villainously been dubbed by police themselves as Oplan (operation plan) Sauron. Karapatan calls it an offshoot of the “whole of nation approach.”
The group’s secretary general, Tinay Palabay, explained: “In Negros, the pattern of attacks though has gone beyond merely anonymous killings and arrests using warrants on fabricated charges – the police and military are killing before an audience, calling these killing sprees Oplan Sauron/SEMPO as ‘legitimate’ operations and conducting these killings and arrests using spurious and unsubstantiated search warrants.”
Palabayalso drew parallels with President Duterte’s infamous drug war, particularly the summary executions, portrayal of the victims as criminals, and the planting of the evidence to support such charges.
“Tokhang(drug war)-style killings have now become a staple method of the authorities in their counterinsurgency campaign. It serves to discredit the victims and rationalize the vicious acts perpetrated by the police primarily.”
Karapatan’s tally of peasant killings under Duterte has surpassed 200 nationwide.
A Return to the Dark Ages?
On more than one occasion Duterte has teased a return to Martial Law and dictatorship. For Mindanao, the southernmost group of islands, military rule in response to an insurgency has been in effect for close to two years.
Palabay called it a “militarist design that miserably fails to address the roots of the poverty and armed conflict and has done much harm to civilians, most especially peasants and farm workers. Counterinsurgency measures want to press the people into submission and/or condition them into wanting iron fisted rule.”
Duterte has also led the charge for a shift to a federal government, one which would grant greater power to local governments. To accomplish this, a change in the constitution is necessary. Some experts have noted that the proposed amendments in of themselves present a whole other danger.
Former lawmaker and constitutionalistNeri Colmenareshas been vocal about rewriting the state charter. After dissecting the proposals he said “charter change will open up the country for… transnational corporations, no term limits, no political dynasty prohibition, and of course cancellation of elections in one of the provisions.”
The results of the recently concluded midterm elections are also telling. Duterte-backed candidates swept the Senate, while the voting process in general was marred by allegations of fraud and vote-buying.
On election day, at some polling places members of the police force reportedly distributed “newsletters” actively discouraging the public not to vote for the “terrorist” opposition. Such instances were a clear violation of election laws that have so far gone unpunished. PNP chief Albayaldesaid this week“we will look into that,” reminding reporters that the police are “non-partisan and apolitical.”
TheCommission on Electionsadmitted while votes were being cast that problems with the vote-count machines tripled since the polls back in 2016. In addition, around 1,000 SD or data cards, each holding the votes cast from different precincts, also malfunctioned. Probably the mostresoundingissue among the public was the seven hour gap in transmission of the election results, as opposed to the real time updates that were expected. Before and after the gap ,the results remained largely unchanged in favor of administration backed candidates.
The election results represent a resounding win for Duterte and his allies at all levels in the country, from his hometown of Davao to the newly comprised Senate, in which no opposition candidate gained a spot.
Coupled with the intensification of counterinsurgency activity and the vilification of Duterte disparagers, the administration seems well positioned to implement its desired policies.
Michael Beltran is a freelance journalist from the Philippines.
Bangkok, 15 May 2019 – Siam Commercial Bank (SCB), The Mall Group, and Visa – with support from the Tourism Authority of Thailand (TAT) – have announced the launch of a new SCB M Visa prepaid tourist card for foreign tourists who can use it for cashless travel and shopping when in Thailand.
To celebrate the launch, the first 1,000 customers who apply will receive vouchers worth 500 Baht when spending 2,000 Baht or more at The Mall Group’s department stores from 1 June to 31 December, 2019.
Information and applications are available at the Tourist Lounge at the Emporium, Emquartier, Paragon Department Store, and SCB exchange booths at Don Mueang International Airport.
Mr. Siripakorn Cheawsamoot, TAT Deputy Governor for Digital Research and Development (above photo, 7th from left), said the new card supports the Thai government’s national e-payment policy to transform Thailand into a cashless society, while strengthening and promoting the country’s tourism industry.
“The government strongly believes the payment industry will play an important role in the development of Thailand’s tourism industry. Traveller’s needs are inherently diverse, so driving the adoption and usage of digital payments is the key,” Mr. Siripakorn added.
In addition to greater convenience, international security standards and confidence to spend during their time in Thailand, cardholders will also benefit from a number of privileges from more than 53 million Visa-accepting merchant locations in more than 200 countries around the world, according to SCB.
Privileges are also offered at participating vendors nationwide in Thailand, including airlines, hotels, spas, restaurants, shops, tourist attractions, and other services. All spending will earn accumulated “M Points”, which can be used for additional discounts and other privileges when shopping in Thailand.
The promotion targets 50,000 SCB M Visa prepaid tourist card users within one year with spending exceeding 600 million Baht (US$18.8 million).
The SCB M Visa prepaid tourist card is valid for five years, allowing cardholders to enjoy special privileges during every visit to Thailand throughout the validity period. There is no sign up, annual, or re-issuance fee, and cards can be topped-up for a minimum of 100 Baht at any of The Mall Group’s customer service counters.
The card also offers additional privileges when using accumulated points for discounts at The Mall Group department stores. The offers form part of the results from The Mall Group’s research on tourists’ shopping behaviour to create marketing plans to persuade them to return to Thailand, which will help generate more revenue for the country.
Cardholders are also eligible for 5 to 10% discounts at all The Mall Group department stores and Gourmet Markets, and up to 50% in discounts at shops located within one of its shopping complexes, including M privileges from leading partners nationwide.