More Bad News For the Tourist Sector

It’s the perception that counts. Whether or not King Power and their supposed cronies the Blue Shirts have a thing going on with the boys in brown is true or not is not the issue. What is true that the story has made the Associated Press, the BBC and several other agencies (A Google of “Bangkok Airport Scam” gives you over 300,000 hits). If foreign governments are issuing travel advisories about Suvarnabhumi, then insurance companies are raising their rates, or at least thinking about it, and tourists are thinking twice about visiting The Land of S***s.

From the AP story

Warnings issued about alleged Bangkok airport scam

By JOCELYN GECKER, Associated Press Writer Jocelyn Gecker, Associated Press Writer – Fri Aug 7, 3:31 am ET

BANGKOK – Travelers to Thailand have braved a variety of hazards in recent years but foreign governments are now warning about a new and different one: duty-free shopping at the airport.

Several European tourists say they were falsely accused of shoplifting at the Thai capital’s main airport and some recount being taken to seedy motels where they were shaken down for thousands of dollars by a shady middleman.

The Thai government has vowed a crackdown at Bangkok’s scandal-plagued Suvarnabhumi Airport, which has barely recovered from last year’s public relations disaster when anti-government protesters shut it for a week and stranded 300,000 visitors.

The airport opened in 2006 and has been dogged by corruption allegations, taxi touts with “broken meters” and baggage thefts — prompting a recent order for luggage handlers to wear uniforms without pockets.

But the allegations of extortion take things to another level.

“We are quite concerned about this,” Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Vimon Kidchob said Thursday. “The government of Thailand is doing everything we can to ensure the safety of tourists.”

It’s hardly the image the self-proclaimed “Land of Smiles” wants to project, particularly as Thailand’s vital tourism industry faces its worst crisis in years after political instability, the global financial crisis and swine flu scares.

The scandal has spawned lengthy chatter on travel blogs about other scams to watch for in Thailand and a string of overseas travel advisories on the perils of duty-free shopping in Bangkok.

Ireland is warning its nationals to “be extremely careful” when browsing at Suvarnabhumi (pronounced “sue-WANNA-poom”).

Britain and Denmark have updated their online travel advice to warn that Suvarnabhumi’s sprawling duty-free zone has hard-to-detect demarcation lines between shops and patrons should not carry unpaid merchandise between them.

British couple Stephen Ingram, 49, and Xi Lin, 45, technology experts from Cambridge, took the alleged scam public in late June. Their ordeal was pieced together based on accounts from police, airport and embassy officials and an interview the couple gave to British media.

The couple was approached by airport security before boarding a flight to London on April 25 and told that security cameras showed they had taken a Givenchy wallet.

King Power, the company that owns the duty-free store, has posted CCTV footage on its Web site that appears to show Lin putting her hand in her bag while browsing a wallet display. The security guards found nothing, but turned the couple over to police, said Sombat Dechapanichkul, managing director of King Power Duty Free Co.

“We are not aware of what happened next. It was then the job of the police to proceed with the case,” said Sombat.

Ingram told The Sunday Times of London that they were questioned at an airport police office and then transferred to a nearby police station where their passports were confiscated and they spent the night in jail. The next morning they were introduced to a translator — a Sri Lankan named Tony — who said he could arrange bail and get their case dropped, warning it could otherwise drag on for months.

Tony took them to a nearby motel, called the Valentine Resort, Ingram said. The couple managed a visit to the British Embassy on April 27 but then returned to the hotel fearing Tony, who had warned they would be watched, Ingram said. They didn’t leave Bangkok until May 1.

An investigation found that the couple transferred into Tony’s bank account 400,000 baht ($11,800) — half for bail and the other half for Tony’s “fees,” said police Col. Teeradej Panurak, who oversaw the case.

“Tony came in to translate for us. We can’t control what the accused agree to with a translator,” said Teeradej. He said the couple was released because there was not enough evidence to press charges.

A visiting British government official recently raised the case with Thai authorities, and the British Embassy was consulting other embassies about the alleged scam, said embassy spokesman Daniel Painter.

Tony resurfaced in June, when a Danish woman was arrested.

Danish Embassy Consul Tove Wihlbrot-Andersen says the woman was accused of stealing an item worth about 1,500 baht ($45) after she unknowingly crossed from one shop to another. Her allegations mirror those made by the British couple: She was taken to a police station, contacted by Tony the translator, released on bail and then “taken to a bad hotel in the vicinity for almost a week,” until she reportedly paid Tony 250,000 baht ($7,400) — for an offense that normally results in a 3,000 baht ($90) fine, the consul said.

Newspapers have published a steady stream of outraged letters-to-the-editor that note the Thai police force’s reputation for taking bribes and to call for arrests in the airport scam.

One recent letter in The Nation newspaper came from Mike Gilman in the northern Thai city of Chiang Mai, who lamented the scandal’s potential damage: “More nails in the coffin of an already devastated Thai tourism industry.”

___

Associated Press writer Ambika Ahuja contributed to this report.

It’s very quiet in Hua Hin for those who live here. Much too quiet for those trying to make a living. Handing your passport to an unsmiling person upon arrival, taxi touts and broken meters are things many travelers get used to. Fears of being locked up in a Love Hotel while some sneak named Tony brokers with unseen faces is enough to put anyone off.

Many are saying they’ve never seen a low season this quiet and have just about given up on any kind of high season in the near future.

For those willing to come to Thailand and Hua Hin this year, they’re going to find some very quiet beaches and probably some very good rates in the hotels.

Hua Hin Regatta 2009

Hua Hin Regatta 2009
Date : 30 July-3 August 2009
Venue : Hua Hin, Prachuap Khiri Khan

At the close of the month, 30 July, sailors gather for the annual Hua Hin Regatta 2008 that will test their skills over three days of competition. The coveted trophies are the Royal Vega Rudder trophy of His Majesty the King, Super Mod National Championship trophy from HM the King, OK Dinghy National Championship trophy from HM the Queen, and Princess Cup for Optimist Championship of the late HRH Princess Galyani Vadhana.

Hua Hin is considered the traditional home for the country’s sailing community, due to HM the King’s keen interest in the sport. A Southeast Asia Games winner in the sailing category, HM the King built his own racing dinghy and helped to establish the Super Mod class and is an enthusiastic patron of sailing resulting in this annual regatta being held in his honour off the coast of Hua Hin in sight of the palace.

Via YACHT RACING ASSOCIATION OF THAILAND UNDER THE ROYAL PATRONAGE OF HIS MAJESTY THE KING

From Long distance sailing across the gulf to the 10th Hua Hin Regatta

Forty years ago, His Majesty The King Bhumibol Adulyadej an accomplish
yatchman who was a boat designer, builder and racer sailed the OK Class dinghy,
“Vega 1, number Th 18” he build across Gulf of Thailand from Klaikungwon Palace,
Hua Hin, Prachuab Khiri Khan to Toeyngam Harbour in Marine headquarters,
Sattahip, Chonburi. The journey covered 60 nautical miles and took almost 17 hours.

The occurrence was marked notable considering the the fact that His Majesty
The King solely built and sailed the sailboat across the sea by his own hands.

His Majesty The King set the Marine flag on the historical stone pillar. Owing
to that, the Royal Yatch Association of Thailand under the royal patronage of His
Majesty the king founded in 1964, hosted the sailing across Thai Gulf competition to
commemorate His Majesty’s great role as the first pioneer in long distance sailing in Thailand.

Above all,His Majesty the King was also generously gave Royal Vega
Rudder to the champion of the long distance sailing competition. This trophy would
be handed to the winners of each year and their names would be inscribed on it.

This year, the 10th Hua Hin Regatta will take place from the 29 of July to the
2rd of August 2009 on the beach near Sofitel Centara Grand Resort and Villa.
Hua Hin.

UPDATE–Hua Hin Jazz Festival 2009 June 12-14

Jazz Festival web site is here.

A word to the wise. If you’re driving from Bangkok, be aware that several thousands of your neighbors are doing the same thing. If you want a parking place, you should already be here. On Friday, it will probably take you an at least an hour to get from Cha Am to the Sofitel.  Double or triple that on Saturday and you’ll probably end up parking at Suan Son as even the hotels with large parking lots will be filled. Traffic shouldn’t be as bad as it was during the Honda Summerfest in May, but that could just be wishful thinking on FBF’s part. Enjoy the festival and don’t forget to help clean up when you leave.             

From The Post.

WAVES OF WORLD-CLASS JAZZ

Bangkok Post/VANNIYA SRIANGURA Jun 5, 2009

Hua Hin’s annual music festival is promising a blockbuster line-up from around the world.

Hua Hin will once again host of one of the world’s few beachside jazz festivals over the next weekend. But the free concert event, initiated by the community simply as an activity to boost the town’s tourism, is never to be underestimated.

More than 35,000 jazz fans­both locals and foreigners­packed Hua Hin beach during last year’s festival.

Since it launched in 2002, the festival (with a few changes of title and organisers over the years) has welcomed over 300,000 visitors from across the globe, while its guest lists have included some of the world’s most prestigious jazz performers, including Grammy award-winner John Pattitucci and Kenny Garrett from the USA, Cannon Ball from Australia and Montefiori Cocktail from Italy.

Hua Hin Jazz Festival 2009, which will take place on June 12-14, is, as usual, hosted by Hua Hin Municipality in conjunction with Hua Hin Hoteliers Club, Provincial Authority of Prachuap Khiri Khan and the Tourism Authority of Thailand.

This year, the three-day fiesta is organised by Plus 5 and Fatima Broadcasting International and will see British jazz-funk band Shakatak, Danish jazz singer Malene Mortensen, and Brazilian bossa nova group, Popsanova, among a number of international and local artists who will perform on the stage with Hua Hin’s solemn sea in the background.

This is the first time Plus 5 and its sister company, Fatima Broadcasting, have gotten their hands on the Hua Hin affair. But the two companies aren’t a new face in the business. Vilasinee Chivanond of Plus 5 and Rawiwan Jinda of Fatima Broadcasting are veterans of the music industry, and that seems to be very important, especially when it comes to handling world famous performers.

”I think one of the reasons we’ve been selected to be this year’s organisers is because we have a good profile in music festivals and experience working with a lot of international artists,” said Vilasinee.

”Since this is a free concert, we don’t have financial ability to bring in world-class big names so we need to depend on a great relationship with the artists. Luckily, we happen to have that connection in hand,” she noted.

Other than these famous guests like Shakatak and Malene Mortensen from Europe, 2009’s line up of artists will see a rich blend of Asian artists including Noon, a sweet-voice bossa nova songstress from Japan, Estrella from Malaysia, as well as Mocca from Indonesia and Brass Munkeys from the Philippines. The latter two groups have performed in Europe many times.

British jazz-funk band Shakatak is expected to be another show stopper.

At the same time, the festival promises a neat selection of local jazz acts from three generations, from The Infinity and Bangkok Connection to Koh Mr Saxman and Gale Dila to Doobadoo and Mellow Motif, to name just a few.

”We try to make it as pure a jazz festival as possible, and not to combine several genres. But that doesn’t mean we are making it a hard-core jazz event, because a section of the audience will not be hard-core jazz lovers. They might come just to chill out and might not be very familiar with acid jazz or fusion jazz. So we try to offer a variety, from easy listening pop jazz, to bossa nova and big band,” Vilasinee said.

Among the underlined artists, Fatima Broadcasting’s Ravivan, who is also a famous songstress herself, said that this will be the first time Shakatak will perform in a free concert, while Popsanova from Brazil is another one of the most interesting acts.

”I bet most music lovers here have listened to [Popsanova’s] songs but didn’t not know who they are,” Ravivan noted. ”As far as I know, their CDs sold very well in this country, and this is going to be their first time in Thailand. Meanwhile, we shouldn’t forget Malene, one of the most requested artists. She joined last year’s festival and got an outstanding ovation from the audience.”

Hua Hin has been a current residence of His Majesty King Bhumibol Adulyadej. And this year the noble resort town is celebrating its 100-year anniversary. So the organiser aims to make this year’s episode a world-class affair that pays tribute to HM the King, whose musical talent, especially jazz, is highly glorified, as well as to celebrate Hua Hin’s centennial anniversary.

Among a rich blend of Thai jazz artists to take the stage this year is Nui Viriyapa.

With the ”green jazz” concept, other than a variety of entertainment activities which will pack Friday, Saturday and Sunday evenings, the organisers have come up with a number of community service activities to give something back to Hua Hin. These include planting trees and beach cleaning. But the big highlight this year is the fact that every single band _ local and imported _ will perform at least one of His Majesty the King’s numbers.

”Because jazz performance relies on the quality of sound and not other visual effects, we can’t compromise on the sound system. Actually it’s the most important concern among all artists, especially when they’re world-class performers,” said the organiser.

”We know that it is difficult to set a good concert outdoors, especially when the sound of waves and wind are the obstacles, but we hire the best sound engineers available, so audiences won’t have to worry.”

This year, the balmy jazz tunes will be presented on two stages: the beach stage near the Sofitel Centara Hua Hin Hotel and the city stage, officially called Jazz Royale satge, at Phone Kingphet park on Damnern Kasem Road. Between the two venues, the 200-metre strip, which will be open to pedestrians only, will see a number of activity workshops and booths that will keep the festival mood running all day long.

”The only difference between the two stages will be the atmosphere. The beach stage is more chill-out, while the park stage will be ideal if you’d like to enjoy the music rather than the ambience,” noted Ravivan.

For security issues, the festival has gathered support from the municipality, while the organisers have hired a team of security guards with extensive experience of working at outdoor concerts. ”They know what to do; how to react with music fans and festival goers,” confirmed the organiser.

Visitors are asked not to bring lots of food, due to security concerns. For example, any food on skewers will not be allowed into the audience area, nor will be glass bottles.

”There will be a number of local food vendors both from the five-star hotels and local food shops. So plenty of food and drink will be available at reasonable prices,” Vilasinee said.

And if you’d like to stay overnight, do book a room now because accommodation in Hua Hin and nearby Cha-am get booked up quickly during festival times. Most five-star hotels are offering special packages that weekend. Contact the hotels for more information.

US chemical weapons testing scandal in Thailand

I did a Google on Bo Fai today and discovered this little gem. I vaguely remember the story but in 1999 I had my mind on things other than Bo Fai.

This is from The World Socialist Web Site and I’m sure they don’t have any axe to grind…

US chemical weapons testing scandal in Thailand

By Steve Dean
25 June 1999

Details are continuing to emerge from Thailand of a growing scandal and cover-up involving the US and Thai military, environmental agencies and the Thai government, concerning US chemical weapons testing in Thailand in 1964-65.
Science, Technology and Environmental Minister Suvit Khunkitti has received documents from the US Ambassador to Thailand confirming that Agent Orange and other chemicals were tested by the military in Pran Buri and Bo Fai. US officials, however, insist that no chemicals were dumped haphazardly after the tests were completed.
Khunkitti said details of the Thai Defense Ministry’s involvement in the operations would remain secret. PCD chief Saksit Tridech backed his minister, saying, “it is the Defense Ministry’s policy not to reveal details about these chemical tests to the public”.
The scandal began to develop in late February, when a chemical dump was unearthed at Bo Fai airport in Hua Hin, during the construction of a runway. Immediately the government and its official environmental agency, the Pollution Control Department (PCD) went into damage control, denying that there was any evidence to suggest that Agent Orange was present in the soil. The greater likelihood, they claimed, was that the chemicals were paint solvents.
When soil samples were sent to the US and Canada for dioxin tests (Thailand does not possess the technology for these tests) contradictions began to appear in the official media releases. Director General of the Department of Medical Sciences, Renu Koysuko, confirmed that derivatives of 2,4-D and 2,4,5-T, two major dioxins contained in Agent Orange, were discovered in soil recovered from Bo Fai airport. This conflicted with earlier claims from the Agricultural Department and the US Environmental Protection Agency that no such chemicals were evident in the soil.
The US dumped more than 19 million gallons of Agent Orange, a defoliant, on Indochina during the Vietnam War. Nearly three kilograms of such toxic chemicals were used per head of the Vietnamese population. Health authorities estimate that up to 50,000 children have been born with birth defects as a result.
This chemical saturation was one of the most shameful chapters in the history of the US military, dwarfing the use of poisonous gases in World War One. The US military aimed not just to defoliate the jungle but also destroy the crops that fed the Vietnamese people. The entire country’s environment was destroyed and is still recovering to this day. US soldiers were also affected, with 250,000 suspected cases of toxic harm.
The comprehensive use of chemical weapons violated the 1925 Geneva Protocol that prohibited “the use in war of asphyxiating, poisonous or other gases”. The 1907 Hague Convention also forbade the use of poison or poisoned weapons.
Agent Orange and other dioxins are extremely hazardous to human beings. The US EPA has admitted that there is no safe exposure level. US National Cancer Institute tests have proved that dioxins cause fetal death and deformity, miscarriage, chromosome damage and cancer. In a recent study, the Cancer Institute proved that humans with a high exposure to dioxins (TCDD) have a 60 percent greater risk of dying from cancer. The presence of other herbicidal chemicals magnified the effects.
There is evidence of birth defects in Thailand. A textbook Environment and Ecology, written in the early 1970s by Kasetsart University lecturer Somchit Pongpangan, who participated in the research at Bo Fai and Pran Buri, shows that 20 local villagers were employed at the test site. One of them, a woman, who used to collect filters known to be contaminated with Agent Orange, gave birth to a child with an abnormal chest bone.
The identity and whereabouts of the woman and her family are unknown, but this evidence begs the question of how many more victims there are in Thailand, particularly among those who worked in and around the various military bases. Further chemical dumps are likely to exist. Agent Orange was sprayed from light planes, so that runways and chemical supply bases could have been set up anywhere. Thailand was also one of the US military’s most important supply routes during the war.
Moreover, the land at Pran Buri has been turned into prime agricultural land, raising serious health concerns for the inhabitants. Recent events in Belgium have shown how easily dioxins can be spread throughout the food chain.
In addition, Hua Hin is an extremely busy tourist resort. Among Thais it is the most popular holiday destination. The Tourism Authority of Thailand expressed its horror but, fearing a backlash from tourists and damage to the business community, suggested that the chemicals in the soil could not be “as nasty as some people imagine”.
In an attempt to contain the scandal, the Thai government has established a working group, containing government scientists and PCD officials. Its ability to unearth the truth has already been thrown into doubt by the Thai military’s insistence on keeping secret its part in the operations. As for Washington, its interests in ensuring a cover-up are all the greater in the light of the toxic damage inflicted on Yugoslavia over the past two months.

It’s been 10 years so it’s probably all dissipated by now, right? And we know that TAT is looking after our best interests…