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Saturday, November 10, 2018

Phadeng, a breathtaking viewpoint in Vangvieng, #Laos

The Phadeng viewpoint and the climb to reach it are among the many breathtaking activities to be experienced in Vangvieng district, Vientiane province.

Many people miss out on this fantastic experience because the climb to the top is not easy and Lao visitors in particular are likely to dismiss the idea, as hiking is not among their preferred leisure activities.

But the view makes the effort worthwhile and word has spread of its magnificence. And if you find yourself in Vangvieng, in the midst of majestic scenery, there’s not much excuse for not including this trek in your itinerary, especially when the rewards are so satisfying.

There are many viewpoints in this area and some have a shelter, and maybe a flag at the top to indicate someone’s visit.
 Last month I myself made the trek up to Phadeng, which is perhaps the most well-known of the viewpoints and is located in Ban Phonngeun, about 10 kilometres from the main town of Vangvieng.

We made the trip in the afternoon as we wanted to arrive at the top in time to wait around for the sunset.
A sign and the information provided in the village indicate that the hill is 400 metres high, but it took our group of fit young people about an hour to reach the top.

I couldn’t believe how much energy I expended during the trek. It was the most exhausted I’ve ever felt in my life.

I almost gave up because I felt that it would soon be dark even though it was only about 3pm.  We were walking in the shadow of the hill and through big trees. I wondered if I would have enough energy to walk back but my friends wanted to continue even though they were older than me. But they were really fit.

We made the climb slowly and stopped along the way to sit on a rock and admire the view. Fortunately we had brought insect spray, and enough water to quench our thirst.

We encountered other hikers and asked how much longer it would take us. They smiled and assured us it was not much further.

Then I could hear the voices of people talking but I wasn’t sure how far away they were. But I looked up and saw a hut not that far from us, which meant we were almost there.

When we were close to the peak we found some flowers growing in the rock. They were mauve and very pretty. One of my friends was tempted to touch and pick them but she said flowers were beautiful only when they were left in their natural surroundings.

We took another short break because there were more flowers along the path that engaged our attention but in less than 10 minutes we finally reached the top.

There was a hut with a vendor selling drinks and snacks. I asked for a cold Coca-Cola and talked to the young vendor even though I was still rather breathless, as I was curious to know how she got there.

I struggled to take in what I saw when I looked down over Vangvieng. The scene below me was like a painting, with farms, villages and forests outlined in delicate detail.

I went ahead to another hut and sat down. The breeze caressed my body and face. I breathed in deeply and after a minute I forgot the enormous effort it taken to reach this fabulous spot.

I looked around and saw other people brandishing their smartphones and cameras, taking selfies, photos and videos of the view.

We stayed there for a while until the vendors advised us to head back down as it would soon be getting dark.

We weren’t able to catch the sunset as it was obscured by a hill but we watched the sky turn red as the sun turned the clouds to flames and burnished the landscape with copper.

The descent was easy and we didn’t have to struggle. In less than 30 minutes we were back at our car.

Now I’m thinking of going back but this time I think I’ll go much earlier so I can watch the sunrise, as the locals say that’s the most beautiful time there.

Source - TheNation

Wednesday, October 31, 2018

#Cambodia - ‘Xi pushing further Preah Sihanouk investment’

As China continues to invest in Preah Sihanouk province, despite fears raised by residents over the recent influx of its nationals, an official from the Asian giant on Monday said President Xi Jinping is pushing for further investment in the coastal area.

“Cambodia and China are good friends and good neighbours. Jiangsu is a Chinese province [and] we are pushing for more cooperation with Cambodia,” Huang Xiqiang, the deputy director-general of the Foreign Affairs Office of Jiangsu Provincial People’s Government, told visiting Cambodian journalists to the southern Chinese province on Monday.

“President Xi Jinping regards [Preah Sihanouk province] as a role model of cooperation between China and Cambodia.”

Preah Sihanouk has seen huge growth in the manufacturing, tourism and gambling sectors, and a local real estate agency director said further investment in manufacturing would “help transform Cambodia from an agricultural to an industrialised nation”.

Bilateral trade between Jiangsu and Preah Sihanouk, which have just signed an agreement to become sister provinces, was valued at $1.2 billion last year. This is equal to one-fifth of China’s total trade with Cambodia and is expected to increase 30 per cent this year, Huang said.
 Jiangsu province accounts for 10.38 per cent of China’s total economy, with its GDP hitting $1.2 trillion last year. 
 Preah Sihanouk province has increasingly become a hotbed for Chinese investment in the Kingdom, and its geography has proven strategic in pushing Beijing’s Belt and Road Initiative in Southeast Asia.

“We encourage enterprises to invest in Cambodian production, from resources and labour to technology,” Huang said. “In the past, [investment] was more focused on garment manufacturing. In the future, we will cooperate in technology. This is a win-win strategy.”

Huang said the Preah Sihanouk Special Economic Zone has 125 enterprises and has created 21,000 jobs with $500 million in investments. He said the zone plans to create between 80,000 to 100,000 jobs.

Emerging Markets Consulting senior consultant Ngeth Chou said he welcomed an increase in investment in Preah Sihanouk province’s manufacturing, which he said would largely benefit the Kingdom.

He added that investment in the sector would help Cambodians acquire new skills and stable incomes, as opposed to growth in the gaming industry, which has been blamed for causing social problems.

“Casinos do not offer as many economic benefits as the manufacturing sector, because investment in factories could help Cambodia benefit greatly, from the use of local raw materials to [the creation of] a skilled workforce, as well as reduce migration.”
 However, Chou suggested that for sustainable development, the Cambodian government must also create mechanisms to control the nature of investment, such as insisting on the use of local human resources and raw materials.

Key Real Estate director Sorn Seap said that while the influx of Chinese has raised property prices in Preah Sihanouk, more investment in manufacturing would help create new jobs and technology for the future development of Cambodia.

“It will help transform Cambodia from an agricultural to an industrialised nation, and promote the Kingdom’s image on the international stage,” Seap said.

Preah Sihanouk provincial governor Yun Min, who visited Jiangsu province last week to strengthen city-level relations, could not be reached for comment on Tuesday.

Jiangsu provincial statistics showed that 200,000 of its residents visited Cambodia in 2016.
The increase of tourists led to direct flights between Jiangsu and Cambodia’s international airports, Huang said.

Source - TheNation

Monday, October 29, 2018

#Thailand - Ko Samui goes green to protect island ecosystem

The Tourism Authority of Thailand (TAT) is working together with local stakeholders and tourists on Ko Samui to eliminate the use of single-use plastics and encourage all to reduce waste, reuse and recycle to help protect the island’s ecosystem.

The local authorities on Ko Samui are proactively campaigning for recycling and waste management, urging residents and business operators to separate their waste for recycling to reduce the amount of garbage produce on the island.

Mr. Yuthasak Supasorn, TAT Governor, said, “Education and awareness are the keys to success for this initiative. TAT proactively encourages both tourists and tourism businesses to help reduce tourism waste on the paradise island of Samui.

“Changing behaviour doesn’t happen overnight. We are seeing an increase in reusable cloth bags when shopping, and both visitors and residents are pitching in to do their part and help keep the island clean.”

Waste reduction thinking is quickly gaining traction amongst environmentally concerned Thai businesses and globetrotters on Ko Samui.

With some of the most stunning landscapes in Thailand, it is little wonder that visitors to Ko Samui continue to increase at an astonishing pace. With this influx comes a need to find a balance between high levels of service and environmental impacts. Fortunately, as attention has turned to exploring ways to preserve the island’s delicate ecosystem, travellers can give back to the local Thai community by creating less waste and leaving a minimal holiday footprint.
 Local stores and shops on the island are campaigning against single-use plastics. Hotels and resorts as well as tourism-related businesses on Ko Samui are also helping to lead the way on responsible waste management by following the three ‘R’ principle: reduction, reuse and recycle. Luxury resorts on Ko Samui were among the first to introduce the plant-based straw revolution that is sweeping across Thailand and are endeavoring to make their tourism operations more sustainable.

One spearhead organisation is the ‘Trash Hero Ko Samui’ initiative, whose volunteers meet every Saturday at 10 a.m. to clean Samui’s beaches.
Under the TAT’s on-going responsible tourism strategy, a new ‘Travel Thailand in Style, Reduce Plastic Waste’ collaboration initiative with various stakeholders was launched in August this year. It has an ambitious target to cut tourism-related waste by up to 50 percent by 2020.

Targeting both tourists and businesses to address waste problems in key travel destinations, the TAT also encourages use of reusable or sustainable items; such as, plant-based drinking straws instead of plastic straws, cotton bags instead of plastic bags, water tumblers instead of plastic bottles, and reusable food utensils instead of single-use plastic or foam items.

Back in March 2017, TAT partnered with PTT Global Chemical and the Ecoalf Foundation to launch an ‘Upcycling the Oceans, Thailand’ initiative. It made Thailand the first country in Asia to join the global ocean clean-up effort to reduce debris along the country’s coastal regions, especially in popular tourist areas on the east coast, in the Gulf of Thailand and the Andaman Sea.

Source - TheNation

Saturday, October 27, 2018

#Philippines - The new-Boracay opens with a whole new set of rules

It’s open again. Boracay Island, forced to close after being described by Philippine President Duterte as a’cesspool’, has undergone a major makeover of infrastructure and opens with new rules to help control tourist growth in the future.

Tourists flooded back onto the island today as the island re-opened. Suffering the same problems as Maya Bay and southern Thai islands, Boracay Island had been suffering for years under the burden of too much tourist-love but without the necessary infrastructure to contain the growth. At its peak Boracay Island was attracting two million visitors a year, well above its ability to maintain services.

Under a new set of rules the Boracay beachfront has been cleared of the masseuses, bonfires, beach vendors and sunset bonfires. Even the builders of its famous ‘selfie’ sandcastles have been cleared away.

Buildings have been bulldozed and beach businesses set back to create a 30 metre buffer zone from the waterline.
 Many hotels and restaurants have been shut down because they didn’t meet the new standards and less that 160 tourism-related businesses have been approved to open their doors again.
All water sports have also been banned for the time being.

The island also had three casinos but they’ve also been shuttered whilst their future is being considered by Duterte.

The new rules have also determined that only 19,200 tourists will be allowed on the island at any one time. The government says they will be able to enforce that by controlling the number of hotel rooms available for bookings.

Additionally, drinking or smoking on the beaches are now banned and the huge beach parties dubbed “LaBoracay”, that would draw thousands of tourists during May each year, will not be operating in the future.

Tens of thousands of island workers were left without employment when the island was closed down six months ago. Many welcomed the re-opening of the island and hope its days as a ghost-town island are over.

Some of the new rules. Please note “Don’t vomit in public!”

Source - The Thaiger

Wednesday, October 24, 2018

#Thailand - Illegal fishing key threat to reefs

THOUGH EXCESSIVE tourism has garnered recent headlines over threats to the health of Thailand’s diverse saltwater seas, illegal fishing presents another big challenge to preserving their rich natural resources.

Remote off-shore islands and underwater rocks are at the greatest risk of damage from illegal fishing activities, say marine ecosystems experts. 

Meanwhile the National Park, Wildlife and Plant Conservation Department (DNP) and the Fisheries Department are working together to solve the problem of illegal fishing inside national park areas.

Shortly after Mu Ko Surin National Park in Phang Nga was opened for tourism last week, a group of scuba divers found a large fishing net covering a large area of coral reef at Mu Ko Surin’s prominent scuba-diving spot, Richelieu Rock.


 It took four days to remove the fishing net from the reef, and this was not the first time that Richelieu Rock’s sensitive reef ecosystem had been threatened by fishing impacts.

Tongkan Worapanya, one of the scuba divers to discover the fishing net debris at Richelieu Rock last Thursday, quickly contacted Mu Ko Surin National Park and fellow scuba divers to help raise it from the reef. 

“Though the damage to the corals caused by the net appears to be minor, I noticed that the fish population at Richelieu u Rock had greatly decreased when the net covered the coral reef,” said Tongkan, who is also an open water instructor at British Sub Aqua Club.

“We have been working tirelessly with national park officers to clear out the net and have just finished removing all of the fishing net debris.”

He suspects the net may have come from a fishing trawler too close to the rock, which accidentally entangled its net on the coral reef. Another possibility is the net was marine debris and had been washed over the reef by strong waves during the recent monsoon season.

Richelieu Rock is a submerged shoal within the Mu Ko Surin National Park, around 14 kilometres from Mu Ko Surin Islands, so any fishing activities at the reef or anywhere inside the national park are illegal.

The coral reef at Richelieu Rock is famous for its pristine deepwater corals and the high diversity of colourful marine animal, and so has become a prime destination for scuba divers to observe the scenic underwater world, and for illegal fishermen who come to catch abundant fish at the reef.
 Dynamite fishing

Tongkan further noted that this was not the first time that evidence of illegal fishing activities had been discovered at Richelieu Rock. Divers occasionally find fishing-net debris at the reef, and last year part of the vulnerable ecosystem was damaged by a blast from dynamite fishing.

Prominent marine biologist and member of the National Strategy Committee on Environmental Development, Thon Thamrongnawasawat, said illegal fishing presented a big problem to the efforts to preserve marine ecosystems. 

Not only are many rare marine animals caught and killed by illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing, he said, but the beautiful coral reefs are also destroyed, causing huge damage to both the ecosystem and the tourism sector.

“Despite the authorities’ best efforts, many remote islands and underwater shoals are still out of patrol range for officers to regularly check and prevent illegal fishing, so these areas are our main blind spots,” Thon said.

To mitigate the problem, DNP is now working with the Fisheries Department on a proposal for trans-agency data sharing from vessel monitoring systems tracking. 

That would alert them to encroachment in national park areas by any fishing vessels.

But data sharing agreements take time to hammer out. “There are still a lot of negotiations ahead until an agreement will be reached,” said Thon.

Source -The Nation

Monday, October 22, 2018

#Thailand - Marine protections ordered for #Samui to preserve ecosystem

THE DEPARTMENT of Marine and Coastal Resources has decreed protective measures for tourist destinations Samui, Pha-ngan and Tao islands in Surat Thani province that will halt several routine practices and popular activities.

Department director Jatuporn Burutpat signed the order in mid-August but it will not come into effect for 90 days after being published in the Royal Gazette. That puts it in effect at the end of next month.

The department said certain activities taking place on and around the islands had caused serious harm to marine and coastal resources, to the point that, if they are allowed to continue, the damage to the ecosystem could be irreparable.

“The protective measures are issued to cover areas of Tao, Pha-ngan and Samui islands in order to limit or suspend some activities that have had serious impacts on the resources there,” the decree says. “This is to mitigate the impacts while preserving the natural resources there.”
 The order aims to curtail four primary activities.

Boats will not be allowed to drop anchor on coral and must instead lash their anchors to the stationary buoys that are available.

No one will be allowed to feed marine creatures for any purpose, including tourism. 
“Sea walking” – an increasingly popular experience in which tourists don weights and air-fed helmets to walk around on the sea floor admiring the fish and coral – will be prohibited. 

Also banned is the dumping of wastewater and rubbish into the sea.

The anchoring and fish-feeding rules do not apply to authorities on duty or who are specially authorised by the department for work purposes.

The order will take effect at the end of November and remain in effect for two years.

Source - TheNation

Thursday, October 18, 2018

#Thailand - Similan boss ignores tour operator appeals

The Department of National Parks, Wildlife and Plants Conservation is refusing to bow to pressure from tour operators in Phang-nga for it to ease restrictions on visitors to the Similan Islands.

Songtham Suksawang, director of the National Parks Division of the department, said the decision to limit the number of daily visitors to 3,325, plus another 525 visitors for scuba diving, was intended to preserve the environment.


 Overnight Similan stays are also banned under the current guidelines.

 He said the department does not want a repeat of the situation of previous years when the number of daily visitors spiralled to 6,000 to 7,000 on some days, well beyond the capability of the islands to cope.

“The department doesn’t want to see the Similans end up like Maya Bay in nearby Krabi province, which was recently closed indefinitely due to extensive damage caused to coral reefs and the beach from unlimited visitors,” Songtham said. 

The parks division chief said he was not worried by the protest of tour operators, who claimed that their business would be affected by the restriction because they had already accepted advance bookings from tourists to visit the Similans and that they were given little notice about the restrictions.

Songtham said: “Park officials had been discussing with the representatives of the operators throughout the past year about the overcrowding problems and about measures to limit the numbers to preserve the environment for the long-term benefit of all parties.”

Only a few tourists visited the Similans yesterday – the second day of the two-day boycott imposed by tour operators to protest against the restrictions.

Tour operators have been taking tourists to Koh Surin over the past two days.

Source - TheNation