Tourist arrivals in Thailand have increased from last year, despite a significant decline in Chinese visits since July.
A tourism ministry official reported that the country registered 28,541,887 arrivals for the first nine months of 2018, up 8.71 percent from the same period last year.
A total of 2.65 million foreign tourists visited the country in September, a 2.13 percent increase year-on-year. However, in the same month, the numbers of Chinese visits dipped 14.89 percent to 648,000.
Arrivals from China have dropped since the Phuket boat incident in July, which led to the deaths of 47 Chinese visitors. The ministry expects to lose 669,000 Chinese tourists from July to December.
The Chinese market has been an important contributor to Thailand’s tourism industry. Out of the 35 million foreign visits recorded last year, a third came from China. From January to September 2018, China was also the biggest contributor to foreign arrivals with 8.37 million trips. It was followed by Malaysia with 2.87 million, Korea with 1.33 million and Laos with 1.29 million.
To address the decline, the Thailand government plans to exempt tourists of 21 countries from visa-on-arrival fees in November and December. The move is expected to help boost overall foreign arrivals to 40 million and Chinese arrivals to 12 million, up from the initial targets of 38 million and 10.5 million respectively. The government is also considering waiving the 2000-baht visa fee from Chinese tourists.
The temporary tourist ban on Thailand’s Maya Bay has been prolonged as authorities announced that the destination will remain closed indefinitely.
The Department of National Parks, Wildlife and Plant Conservation (DNP) said on Tuesday that the marine ecosystem of the bay requires more time to fully recover from the warming temperatures and tourism-related damage. Maya Bay has been closed since June 1 for a rejuvenation program aimed at salvaging the coral reefs, with plans to reopen for public this month.
“Four months’ closure was not enough,” Songtham Sukswang, the director of the Office of National Parks, told Reuters.
“We need at least a year or even up to two years or maybe more for the environment to recover – this include the coral reefs, mangrove, and the beach.”
The DNP said the closure would remain “until natural resources return to normal”.
Maya Bay became a popular travel destination after its appearance in the 2000 movie “The Beach” starring Leonardo DiCaprio. The bay is part of the Hat Noppharat Thara-Mu Ko Phi Phi National Park, which the DNP expected to see 2.5 million visitors this year, an increase of half a million from last year.
A proposal to get Chiang Mai certified as a World Heritage Site has been prepared for submission to the UNESCO this month.
If the application is successful, this would be the sixth place to receive a protected status in Thailand.
Woralun Boonyasurat, head of the Chiang Mai World Heritage Initiative Project said more work needs to be done following the submission.
“Chiang Mai City has cultural sites within the old city walls and natural resources to be protected while it is developed,” said Woralun.
Sirikitiya Jensen, an adviser on the project said Chiang Mai should be conserved sustainably so that its cultural and sentimental values can be protected without sacrificing the city’s development.
“As we work on proposing it to be a world heritage site, people might wonder if this will push this city backwards into the past or not,” said Woralun. “I can say that it isn’t the case. We are doing this because we love Chiang Mai City and see the values that should be promoted and developed.”
There are currently 1,092 World Heritage Sites around the world. The five spots in Thailand that have received the World Heritage Site status are Ayutthaya, Sukhothai and associated towns, Thungyai-Huai Kha Khaeng Wildlife Sanctuaries, Ban Chiang Archaeological Site and Dong Phayayen-Khao Yai Forest Complex.
Thailand has won the Best Country for People title in the Condé Nast Traveller UK Readers’ Travel Award 2018.
The country was also voted into the third spot for Best Country by travellers around the world, following Italy and Greece.
“That readers of Conde Nast Traveller, one of the world’s leading and most highly respected travel publications, have again this year seen fit to recognise Thailand for multiple best of the world awards, is extremely pleasing,” said Tourism Authority of Thailand governor Yuthasak Supasorn.
“These well-heeled travellers are discerning by nature and as such they honour us with their choices, in the most satisfying of ways.”
The Best Island award went to Greek Islands, with Maldives as the runner-up and Thailand’s Samui island on the ninth spot.
Emirates received the honour for Best Business Airline and Best Airline – Long-Haul Holiday, while Norwegian Air grabbed the title for Best Airline – Short-Haul Holiday.
London’s Heathrow Airport was crowned Best Airport, with Singapore’s Changi Airport in the second position.
On the city level, Rome won Best City for Culture while York snatched Best City for Architecture.
Thailand will stop accepting electronic and plastic waste within six months to alleviate the country’s environmental problems, an official said.
“We need to prioritize good environment and the health of our citizens over industrial development,” said Environment Minister Surasak Kanchanarat on Thursday. The ban, which sought to stop the imports of over 400 types of electronic waste, comes after Thai media reported on the significant amount of foreign e-waste being shipped to Thailand from the US, the EU, Hong Kong, Japan and Singapore.
“We need to ensure that domestic and plastic wastes will be used as material by the recycling industry first, before we import these materials from outside the country,” said Surasak.
The Thai government also said plastic ban and improvement of waste management infrastructures are a priority.
Thailand is one of the Southeast Asian nations to introduce such initiative after China, the world’s top trash importer, implemented a stricter waste import policy. A few weeks ago, Vietnam announced a ban on new licences for trash imports and a crackdown on illegal shipments of plastic, paper and metal. On Wednesday, Vietnam’s central bank said financial institutions must have plans for environmental risk management by 2025.
Planning your holiday in Thailand? Make sure to know your options for getting around, so that you can explore the island country to the utmost corners.
To go from island to island, using boats such as jetfoils, speedboats and reu·a hăhng yow (long-tail boat) is common. These are often privately-run – avoid vendors that seem to overcrowd the ferries with passengers to avoid capsizing and/or other accidents.
Go for either the public buses run by Baw Kaw Shaw (BKS), or private buses from trustworthy companies like Nakhon Chai Air, the Transport Company and Green Bus Company. Buy the tickets from the bus station to get the best rates and avoid scams.
Cars and Motorbikes
Driving in Thailand can be a bit of a hassle due to the traffic jams, but you can also have more freedom in exploring the cities. Some rental places might require you to produce an international driving permit, but in general you can just use your regular driving license. When renting cars, be aware that drivers sit on the right side of the car and on the left side of the road. When renting motorbikes, don’t forget to ask for helmets – they’re required by law and reduce the risk of road hazards.
Thailand’s above-ground Skytrain, or also known as the BTS, is a clean and modern option to travel. There is also an underground choice or the MRT, but it has fewer stops. You can also take the city buses (fixed fare), motorbike taxis or mor·đeu·sai ráp jâhng, and túk-túk (bargained fare).
You can use trains for long trips to the North (Chiang Mai) or South (Surat Thani), or just as a substitute for cars for short trips.
After almost three weeks in the dark, 12 Thai boys and their coach, were rescued from a cave deep underneath the mountains that form the Thai-Burmese border. The boys, aged 11 to 16, were part of a soccer team that also dabbled in outdoor adventures with the charming nickname the “wild pigs” (“mu pa”). The snacks they are reported to have carried into the cave, to celebrate the birthday of one of their friends, likely sustained them during the ordeal.
The name of the cave, Tham Luang Nang Non, literally means “the cave of the reclining lady.” It is named after a princess who, as the legend goes, committed suicide after she was forbidden to be with her commoner love. Her body became the mountains, and her genitals, the cave. She is now the ruler – the “jao mae” – of both.
I first visited Nang Non Cave in the rainy season of 2007 along with my partner, for my book project “Ghosts of the New City.” While the current attention has focused on the treacherous flooded passages, the trapped children and their heroic rescuers, as I found, there is much more to this story.
Nang Non Cave
The cave is enthralling. Its entrance is broad, like a cathedral door, and during the rainy season the humidity pours out of it like steam. It looks like the gateway to another world. In some senses, it is.
I started down the rocky descent toward the entrance, drawn in by its vast scale and emptiness. Only my companion, having heeded better the sign at the entrance forbidding ingress during the rainy season, called me back. I returned reluctantly.
I was right to retreat. As the schoolchildren found out, during the rainy season the water levels at tight spots in the cave can rise dramatically, trapping would-be explorers inside. So in the faces of the trapped children, I can see a little of me, had I kept going.
But I spent a great deal of time in other caves around the region, interviewing religious attendants and local guides about how people in the region understand the power of caves and other sacred sites, and what their role is in Northern Thai mythology.
Lords of places
Just south of Nang Non Cave and about an hour north of the city of Chiang Mai, the capital of Thailand’s northern region, is Chiang Dao peak. It is an impressive mountain, rising straight up from rice fields, with sheer drops on most sides. And, like many such mountains in the region, there is a cave that winds down into its heart.
Local chronicle and oral legend varies on the exact story of the place: Some say the cave was the home of demonic giants – “yaksha” – who were nonetheless ruled from within the cave by a noble king. Others have a noble ruler founding the kingdom of Lanna (Northern Thailand) and then retreating to the cave only to have his realm fall into disarray.
My favorite such story has a Northern Thai lord – Jao Luang Kham Daeng, the Lord of Burnished Copper – who was tricked into following a beautiful woman into the cave, where he was later devoured by the spirits within. However, in his death, according to one version, he became its ruler.
In each of these stories, the cave becomes the home of a powerful but sometimes dangerous spirit, who keeps the Northern Thai region safe, prosperous and healthy so long as the spirit and the dangerous power of the mountain is respected.
The caves of Northern Thailand are places where these religious traditions blend: There are shrines to the Buddha, Hindu hermits and the spirit lords of the mountain, all in the same space.
These, as some might expect, are not three separate traditions. They blend together, especially so in cave legends. For instance, the caves in Sri Lanna National Park, in between Chiang Dao and Nang Non caves, are rumored to be the home of two princesses that hid after their kingdom was destroyed.
They sought protection in a cave, and the Buddha, hearing their pleas, appointed a monstrous ghost to keep them safe – a ghost that persists, according to legend, today. Thus, kingship, Buddhism, and spirits all combine in one story.
Places of danger and possibility
Caves are liminal spaces – an in-between space. They are openings to another world, one that is shrouded in darkness, difficult to access, and, as the story of the 12 boys shows, is often hostile to humans.
And in them are spirits. In Thailand, these nature spirits are often women, and, as counterparts to the figures of Buddhist monks, offer their followers something that Buddhism cannot provide: assistance with love, money, and other things of this world with which monks do not concern themselves. At the same time, they pose a potential danger if slighted.
As such, Thailand’s sacred caves are places full of power, but also full of danger. Such places, as I describe in my book, often have yearly rituals in order to ensure that the spirits provide for the village in the future.
In many, the spirits acquire a bit of a ferocious aspect. After all, they are the rulers of an inhospitable natural world that must be tamed before it can be of use to humans.
This acknowledgment of nature’s danger is a drama that is played out in rituals across the region, a number of which I attended as a part of my research. In Chiang Mai, for instance, each year the local people hold a tradition wherein two mountain spirits possess two human mediums, who in turn devour a raw buffalo and drink its blood, before surrendering to the Buddha and agreeing to help the city with cool breezes and clean water.
The story of the 12 trapped boys, then, is one that can be read at multiple levels. For some, it is a story of the heroism of rescue workers against an inhospitable environment. For others, it is a story that emphasizes the Buddhist piety of the team’s coach and the power of Buddhist prayers over the spirits of the mountain.
In my view, such ideas of danger and power were always a part of the liminal spaces of mountain caves. The stories of the spirit lords under the earth reflect both human fascination and human fears.
This article, originally published on July 10, was updated to incorporate the latest developments of the rescue.
A cave complex in Thailand where 12 schoolboys and their soccer coach were trapped for over two weeks before getting rescued will be turned into a museum, an official said on Wednesday.
The rescue mission in the flooded Tham Luang Nang Non cave, which ended on late Tuesday, proved to be dangerous and difficult with the death of a Thai rescue diver on Friday.
“This area will become a living museum, to show how the operation unfolded,” the head of rescue mission, Narongsak Osottanakorn said at a press conference. “It will become another major attraction for Thailand.”
Deputy head of national parks Chongklai Woraponsathron said the plan to turn the cave into a “world-class tourist attraction” would need to be approved by the Thailand Department of Natural Resources.
The Tourism Authority of Thailand director Karuna Dechatiwong said the agency would be prepared to work with local officials and the private sector to promote the (in)famous cave further. “The cave has become of interest for both local and foreign travellers.”
The 6-mile limestone cave in the Khun Nam Nang Non Forest Park is understood to be the country’s longest cave.
As the World Cup is approaching close, Thai authorities have ramped up efforts to battle illegal gambling.
Deputy Prime Minister General Prawit Wongsuwan has instructed police to crack down on football gambling and violence during and after the 2018 FIFA World Cup, which runs from June 14 to July 15.
As part of the operation “Pitakpai Dulaeprachachon 61”, police also plan to summon and investigate around 100 celebrities and internet presenters for allegedly promoting illegal football betting websites. Deputy commissioner of the Metropolitan Police Bureau, Phanurat Lakboon said on Tuesday these people may face a maximum imprisonment of one year and/or a maximum fine of 1,000 baht. He cited section 12 of the gambling law, which prohibits all forms of advertising and acts encouraging others to gamble.
The police also announced plan to block about 1,000 gambling websites.
Entertainment venues were also warned that allowing or organising football gambling is a punishable offence, which may result in them being closed down.
Phanurat also said a total of 763 people have been arrested since May 1 for their involvement in football gambling.
On the same day, nine elephants also participated in a football match against local students in Ayutthaya to raise awareness against illegal gambling. “They’re here to bring colour and joy, and create awareness that we can enjoy the World Cup without gambling and just cheer for the soccer players,” said Reangthongbaht Meephan, deputy chief of the Ayutthaya Elephant Palace and Royal Kraal.
The country’s Mental Health Department announced a gambling rehabilitation hotline 1323 and a Facebook page – @GamblingCounseling1323 – to offer counselling services from Thursday onwards, while 19 hospitals will open their doors to give further aid.
A survey by the University of the Thai Chamber of Commerce forecast that World Cup betting in the country this year will reach 59 billion baht.
Airports of Thailand has approved the construction of second airports for Chiang Mai and Phuket to accommodate more tourism arrivals.
The decision came in the same week as the closure of Maya Bay, one of the country’s most popular destinations, due to overtourism.
The second Chiang Mai airport will be located in Lamphun’s Ban Thi district, while the Phuket airport will be developed in Phang Nga’s Ban Khok Kruad district. The two airports, which will serve an extra 10 million visitors, are expected to cost 120 million Baht in total, with construction starting next year and slated completion for 2025.
The decision reflects Thailand’s tourism dilemma. The tourism industry accounted for 9.2 percent of Thailand’s GDP, a number that is expected to increase to 14.3 percent by 2027 by the World Travel & Tourism Council. There were 3.5 million travellers that passed through immigration at the Phuket International Airport, a 19 percent rise from the same period last year.
However, this tourism boom comes at a cost. Maya Bay, which rose to fame after the release of Leonardo Dicaprio flick The Beach in 2000, is closed to tourists for four months starting June 1 due to poor conditions and coral reef damage.
Telegraph Travel expert Lee Cobaj regretted AOT’s decision to build more airports in the busy districts.
“It’s disappointing to see that the Thai government’s response to rampant overtourism is to upgrade the airports at two of Thailand’s busiest entry points rather than focussing on sustainable less-damaging approach to its rapidly-increasing visitor numbers,” Cobaj said.
“Much of Phuket has already been concreted over, with ugly buildings, and little planning or concern for the environment. Without a radical new approach from the military junta, I would expect that long empty golden beaches of Phang Nga and Khao Lak will share the same fate.”