Thursday, 22 August 2019

#Vietnam - Trees that grow green tea and their own snow

Well-known tea production areas in Vietnam are Mộc Châu, Thái Nguyên, Lâm Đồng and Phú Thọ, but when it comes to tea trees of hundreds of years old, the important provinces are on the axis from the northeast to the northwest such as Hà Giang, Lào Cai, Yên Bái, Sơn La and Điện Biên.

My search for old tea trees was motivated by tales about a tree hundreds of years old in the Hà Giang highlands that grows wild and has a white down. Monkeys are trained to pick this tea, because the job is dangerous for humans.

The trees are called chè (tea) san tuyết (san – transcription of a Chinese word which means mountain and tuyết means snow).

I started along the mountain range of West Con Linh in Hà Giang Province. This province shares its border with China on its northeast side. I was disappointed to find that some very big plantation tea trees – two or three people can barely join hands around the trunk – had been cut down, milled and sold away to China since 2008. The law does not prohibit the felling of plantation tea trees. There are only trees with trunks 20 cm to 40 cm across left. According to the tea-growers I have met, tea trees 20 cm across are 60 to 80 years old.
Until recent decades, the Dao ethnic groups used to grow tea trees. Above their doors they used to hang bundles of tea for the treatment of stomach upset or ailments caused by the weather or miasmas.

The lowlanders have known about the old san tuyết tea trees in Hà Giang since 1979 when their soldiers went to the frontier to defend the country against an invading Chinese.
Mr Ngo Viet Thanh, a tea dealer in Hà Giang, told me that san tuyết tea trees in Hà Giang grew untended on the highlands above 1,000 metres. The san tuyết tea in Hà Giang has a tart taste when drunk for the first time due to a high level of tannin, but then the taste becomes pleasantly sweet. ‘The ethnic people consider this a gift from the heavens and pick they take it without having to tend it’, he said.

Mr Thanh in 1993 he began to be interested san tuyết tea. He went to hamlets and villages in the Hà Giang highlands to bring it to the lowland markets. I accompanied him to the Nhìu Sang Dao hamlet, in the commune of Xín Chải, Vị Xuyên District, Hà Giang Province. It took us more than two hours to go 50 kilometres in a Russian automobile, covering steep, stony and dangerous tracks along the Vietnam-China border, with precipitous slopes above and below.
The old tea trees in Nhìu Sang, close to the Dao houses, have a diameter of 20 cm and more. A dozen kilometres away from Nhìu Sang, where the Mông Hoa (Flower Hmong) ethnic group live in Lao Chải, there are tea trees with trunks that can only just be circled by the arms join clasping hands. Mr Thanh said ‘It was hard to transport the tea out because of the tracks full of obstacles. People picked the tea, dried it in the sun, and sold it to Chinese merchants. It is a few kilometres from Lao Chải to China.

I was told that on top of Mount Fansipan, in the Hoàng Liên Sơn mountain range, there were tea trees hundreds of years old.

Having got through a number of paperwork formalities that required waiting two days, I had permission to enter Hoàng Liên National Park on foot in search of old tea trees. The path I travelled on there was the one travellers take for the peak of Mount Fansipan, the highest mountain in Vietnam.

At an altitude of 2,200 metres, I and my guide came to a fork. On the right a path led to Fansipan’s top. We took to the left, leading to a ravine. The guide warned me that the area where the tea trees grew had a warm climate that favoured several kinds of snakes.
The first tea tree I found was about a metre in diameter and taller than I could estimate. It was hard to recognize it as a tea tree because the whole area was dark green, every root covered with a lush, green moss. Under the canopy was a fern forest. Although I had seen several old tea trees, I had never seen such lofty and big ones. The trunks were close to each other and covered with a white mould. This made the tea trees very different from the other kinds of trees in the area. The guide told me that from the altitude of 2,200 metres up to 2,800 metres, there were old tea trees everywhere and the higher we got the smaller and shorter they would be.

  Ha Giang tea tree remains productive after 500 years
A 500-year-old Shan tuyet tea tree in the northern mountainous province of Ha Giang still retains its productivity and the special taste of its leaves.


Wednesday, 21 August 2019

Laos, Thailand To Build Another Friendship Bridge

Laos and Thailand are considering the construction of one more friendship bridge to connect the two countries in a move that would link Vientiane Province and Loei.

The governor of Vientiane Province, Mr. Khamphan Sithidampha told reporters on August 16 that Vientiane provincial authorities had proposed the project to the government for its consideration.

“We are conducting a study on the location of the bridge, to decide whether it should be in Sanakham or Meun district,” Mr. Khamphan, as quoted by Vientiane Times.

It is unclear when the construction of the bridge would begin.

The first friendship bridge to connect the two nations was built in 1994, with help from the Australian government.

Since then, the two governments have constructed a total of four Lao-Thai bridges across the Mekong River and have signed an agreement to build another bridge linking Borikhamxay province with the Thai province of Bueng Kan.
 Mr. Khamphan said the construction of the bridge and the upgrade of border crossings between Vientiane province and Loei Province would provide a significant boost for domestic and foreign investment.

Laos and Thailand have beefed up their efforts to improve connectivity between two nations in recent years.

The first freight train service to and from Laos was launched in early August, which will carry cargo from a container yard at Thanaleng Railway Station in Vientiane, Laos, to as far as the Laem Chaban seaport in Thailand.

Trains to and from Vientiane used to be only able to carry passengers only across the 3.5km track, while freight was carried across the border to Nong Khai by truck.

Meanwhile, Thailand is preparing to launch the country’s first bullet train that will run between Bangkok and Beijing, China, with Laos as one of the intermediate stations.

In particular, the first route, a Thai-Sino project linking Bangkok and Nong Khai in the far Northeast, is currently under construction and is scheduled to be completed by 2023.
In July, Laos and Thailand also signed an agreement to extend road and rail connections between the two countries worth more than THB 3 billion (USD 98.2 million).

Under the agreement, the two countries plan to improve the R11 road linking the Phudu border checkpoint in Uttaradit province in Northern Thailand with the Lao capital, Vientiane. 

The two-lane road will be paved with asphalt and will cost about THB 1.8 billion (USD 59 million).

Source - The Laotian Times 

Tuesday, 20 August 2019

Surge of Thai visitors lifts Da Nang hopes for tourism market diversity

 Da Nang, which wants to reduce its dependence on Chinese and South Korean tourists, is seeing a jump in the number of Thai visitors.

With 60 weekly flights connecting Vietnam’s third largest city with major Thai destinations, the number of Thai arrivals to Da Nang quadrupled year-on-year in the first seven months of this year to almost 107,000.

Thais accounted for 6 percent of Da Nang's total foreign arrivals, becoming the third largest group after South Koreans (1 million, making up 57 percent) and Chinese (500,000 or 26 percent), according to the city’s tourism department.

Domestic and foreign carriers, betting on this trend, have been racing to launch more flights. Vietnamese budget carrier Vietjet Air last year launched flights from Da Nang to Bangkok. In April Malaysian-owned budget airline Thai AirAsia began a daily service from Chiang Mai to Da Nang.

Da Nang is a major economy-tourism hub that attracts many foreign visitors, including Thai tourists, all year round, Santisuk Khlongchaiya, head of Thai AirAsia’s commercial operations, said.

 From Da Nang, tourists can easily travel to world-renowned destinations such as Hoi An, Hue and My Son, he added.

Da Nang, home to Asia’s most beautiful beach, My Khe, in the central region and next door to the UNESCO heritage site Hoi An, an ancien town, has long been a favorite for South Korean and Chinese visitors.

However, its heavy dependence on the two markets poses a risk, city tourism officials said.

"The Chinese market is volatile due to political and economic reasons,"
Truong Hong Hanh, Deputy Director of the city Tourism Department, said.

"The surge in number of Chinese arrivals also presents numerous challenges for the Vietnamese government such as ‘zero dollar tours,’ the use of Chinese electronic wallets such as WeChat Pay and AliPay and illegal payment devices at travel hotspots frequented by Chinese tourists that could circumvent Vietnam’s banking system and national regulations, leading to loss of tax revenues and other potential problems."

Meanwhile, the overseas travel trend of South Korean tourists is "very changeable", Hanh added.

Da Nang tourism authorities said they were therefore looking at diversifying the tourism market away from Chinese and South Koreans by working with airlines to launch more flights to and from other markets.
Tourists enjoy the blue sea in Da Nang in central Vietnam. Photo by VnExpress/Nguyen Dong.

Indonesia’s Sriwijaya Air is expected to begin services between Jakarta and Da Nang, while Cambodia’s Angkor Air is set to launch flights from Phnom Penh and Vientiane, both by year-end.

City authorities also s  aid they are striving to attract more Middle Eastern visitors, whose spending is higher than that of other Asians and Europeans.

Last year Qatar Airways began flying from the Qatari capital Doha to Da Nang.

The city's foreign arrivals in January-July was 1.9 million, up 11.2 percent year-on-year, with some of the biggest source markets posting huge growth. The number of visitors from Taiwan increased by 86 percent, while it was 81.5 percent for Germany, 79 percent for India, 70 percent for Malaysia, 68 percent for France, and 53 percent for Singapore.

Da Nang, which has won global attention with its annual international fireworks competitions in June-July and its spectacular Golden Bridge, has been improving its transport, healthcare, commercial, and services infrastructure to cope with the rising number of tourists.

Images of the two giant hands holding up the 150 meters long Golden Bridge at Ba Na Hills have gone viral since its launch in June last year.

The New York Times earlier this year included the city in its 52 best places to visit in 2019 while Australian travel website Finder listed it among 10 trending global destinations this year.

Last year Da Nang received 7.6 million visitors, 2.87 million of them foreigners, a 23.3 percent increase year-on-year.

Source - VN Express

Sunday, 18 August 2019

Thailand - Mae Sa and Tad Mork waterfalls in Chiang Mai closed

Doi Suthep-Pui National Park officials in the north of Thailand have closed the Mae Sa and Tad Mork waterfalls after heavy rainfall have caused high water flows and slippery paths “that may endanger tourists”.

Mae Sa waterfall is approximately 30 minutes drive north-west from Chiang Mai and Tad Mork waterfall about an hour drive north-west of Chaing Mai.

The national park chief Wuttichai Soamwipark told Thai Rath that his office will continue to monitor the situation and urged tourists to remain safe, and follow the directions of park signage and officials.

The two waterfalls are very popular with local and foreign hikers who visit the park every year.
Source - The Thaiger

Friday, 16 August 2019

You’ve read the social media, now watch the TM30 debate in #Bangkok

A panel of Thai and foreign experts and commentators came together yesterday to discuss the enforcement of immigration rules, government policies and concerns, and recent shifts in official procedures and attitudes. They attempted to clarify the TM30 reporting process, analyse its impact and discuss the future of this unpopular law. The speakers were…

• Pol. Maj. Gen. Patipat Suban Na Ayudhya, Commander of Immigration Division

• Pol. Maj. Teerapong Jaiareerob, Inspector of Sub-Division 2, Immigration Division 1

• Pol.Col. Thatchapong Sarawannangkul, Superintendent of Sub-Division 2, Immigration Division 1

• Penrurk Phetmani, immigration lawyer with Tilleke and Gibbins International

• Chris Larkin, director of the Australian Chamber of Commerce and a member of AustCham’s Advocacy subcommittee where he works on customs alliance and immigration issues

• Sebastian Brousseau, lawyer and managing director of Isaan Lawyers, specialist in immigration issues and leading member of advocacy group

• Richard Barrow, blogger and long-time Bangkok resident

Source - The Thaiger

#Ecotourism for ocean warriors: 5 places where travelers can help make a difference

It’s no secret that the world’s oceans are struggling. Overfishing, damaging commercial fishing practices, an ever-growing micro-plastic problem and the effects of climate change are taking their toll on seas, oceans and waterways across the world.

In response to the crisis, many initiatives have sprung up to address ocean health, some of these promote ecotourism and welcome anyone who is eager to pitch in and help. Travelers can get involved in diverse programs that directly address the issues faced by our oceans.

In an increasingly globalized world, international travel is now something more people than ever before can enjoy. But flights and the effects of mass tourism carry a carbon and ecological footprint that each destination and traveler need to reckon with. The rise of ecotourism may provide some solutions.

If you’re eager to do your bit on your next holiday, here are five places in Indonesia and beyond where ocean-loving travelers can be part of the change.


Straddling both the Pacific and the Indian oceans and with more than 17,000 islands, it’s little wonder that beach-going travelers and divers flock to Indonesia’s rich waters and island havens. In Indonesia, there are multiple ways to get involved in ocean preservation, including these three organizations.

The Philippines

Another firm favorite with divers and ocean lovers, The Philippines has a climate that draws divers and travelers from all over the world. With around 7,641 islands and miles upon miles of coastline, it’s fair to say that this archipelagic nation has the ocean on its doorstep.


Blessed with long stretches of coastline on both the Mediterranean and the Red Sea, Egypt’s beaches and reefs have been drawing sun-seekers from Europe and beyond for many years. However, it’s no secret that Egypt has a problem with plastic pollution. Travelers can do their bit for the Red Sea on their next beach trip.

Source - TheJakartaPost 

Tuesday, 13 August 2019

Thailand tightens the screws on TM30 reporting, petition ongoing

Nearly 5,000 Thai expats have now signed a petition pleading for modification or abolition of the TM30 immigration form. The well-organised petition calling for changes to the form is an unusual step for expats who, most of the time, keep their head down and out of the daily operations of the Land of Smiles.

For its part, Thai Immigration says it is simply robustly applying Sections 37 and 38 of the Thai immigration act to “strengthen security” and keep tabs on foreigners whilst in the country.

But the ‘robust application’ is causing headlines the Immigration Department would rather not see and is prompting panel discussions, YouTube interviews and online pleads from well-known bloggers and long-termers. There is one discussion planned for the Foreign Correspondents Club this Thursday.

The petition, whilst politely written, is not likely to succeed. The inconveniences to some locals needing to report their whereabouts when changing their reported address, will be outweighed by the need for national security.

That a group of foreigners could possibly change Thai laws to make things more convenient and useful, is also inconceivable. Even if there was some minor adjustment to the laws it could take years.
Bottomline, don’t get your hopes up.

In the meantime, the inconvenience of Section 37 will remain a clear and present annoyance. There has been no shortage of people spraying the internet with their individual problems and examples and the 24 hour reporting will certainly affect some expats more than others, especially travelling business-people whose movement around Thailand is just part of their work.

Tourists are not affected as the onus of reporting locations whilst on holiday is the responsibility of hotels and landlords.

The issue is being presented in the international media as a nail in the coffin for long-term living in Thailand. The reality is that expat numbers continue to rise although the demographic is evolving to the chagrin of many European, Australian and American expats who seem particularly aggrieved by the enforcement and have made their voices heard – through signing the petition and sharing their strongly-held feelings on various forums online.
The other issue angering or confusing expats is that, like many other immigration laws, the enforcement of the clauses continues to be patchy around the Kingdom – they really don’t know how, or if, it’s going to be enforced in their case. For the short-term we would recommend you play by the rules to avoid any unpleasant fines or surprises. If you have any queries it is best to visit an Immigration Office and ask questions to find out how it applies to your visa and situation.

Don Ross from shares some thoughts on how the laws could be changed…
“The director-general (usually the chief of police) can make changes to clauses 3 and 4. The DG can also through the Immigration Commission recommend a new ministerial regulation that updates the two clauses to make them more in tune with today’s online realities.

One possible change would be to stipulate that clause 4 reporting only kicks in after 72 hours away from home, rather than 24 hours. It would allow thousands of expatriates who are long-stay or retirees to visit other provinces for up to three days without triggering a clause 4 reporting hassle.”

If you want to read and sign the petition click HERE.

Source - The Thaiger