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Natural sanctuary

Posted by pakin On July - 7 - 2016 ADD COMMENTS

Boontoemphu Rongluean has never thought that one day he would offer a cruise boat service in Yala. The province does not have access to the sea, but it has a reservoir where tourists can board a boat to the Hala-Bala Wildlife Sanctuary. The lake was created after Bang Lang Dam was completed in 1981, blocking and diverting Pattani River.

Boontoemphu is Yala’s Than To district chief. He wants to promote tourism in the province by providing the boat trip for large groups of travellers. His double-decker boat called Thep Phitak Balae can accommodate up to 100 people.

“Thai people are afraid to travel to the southernmost province. But travellers from our neighbouring countries like Singapore and Malaysia always come to Than To district and board the boat cruise during weekends,” he said.

If the level of water is very low, visitors can see ruins of the old masjid of Ban To village submerged in the water. Many hills became islands like Koh Tuat. In the past, people spent three hours climbing up from the foothill to the top, but today the top of Koh Tuat can be reached by a short walk from a boat.

Koh Tuat is one of the popular attractions in Bang Lang reservoir. People come to worship the guardian of the mountain known as Luangpu Ruesi — or the late old hermit — as they believe that their wishes will come true. Another popular tourist activity is fishing. Visitors can take a day trip or an overnight stay on a boat or raft house offered by other operators in Than To.

Thanyathip Supawongjongrak, wife of the Than To district chief, who manages Thep Phitak Balae boat, said staying in a portable tent on the deck of the boat is a favourite tourist activity.

“You can see lots of stars at night and a sea of fog in the morning,” she said.

We boarded the boat for a night stay from a temporary pier around To Ku Sae Bridge, not far from Ta Phayao Pier where visitors can board a long-tail boat or a rafting house for a boat trip to Bang Lang Dam.

The double-decker boat has a large space on its first floor on which the owner arranges performances by local artists to entertain visitors during the four-hour ride.

Our destination was a pier at Chulabhorn Phatthana 7 project centre, overseen by the Department of National Parks, Wildlife and Plant Conservation. We planned to get off the boat at the centre to trek into Hala-Bala forest the next morning.

We reached the park before sunset and Thanyathip recommended that we try our luck at spotting gaurs at their feeding grounds in the area.

We boarded a long-tail boat for about an hour to reach the river mouth of Hala-Bala. Along the ride, I heard the chirps of birds interspersed with the voices of other animals like monkeys. I saw many dead trees standing in the water. They looked eerie, especially after sunset.

When we reached the river mouth, our boat operator pointed to a small island full of tall yellowish grass. He killed the engine and paddled the boat while we approached the gaur’s feeding ground. There was no movement, except grass gently swaying in the wind. We found only footprints of the majestic beasts.

We lingered for a while in the hope that we might catch a glimpse. But the sky darkened; we had to return to our main boat. Our driver used a torchlight and skilfully made the safe return.

We wanted to try our luck again after our morning trek in the rainforest of Hala-Bala. The night was quiet and cool. The sky was clear and we said goodnight to those twinkling stars.

An alarm clock woke us around 5am. Our trekking journey was about to start. The project centre’s chief, Kowit Wangthaweesab, and his team of forest rangers were ready to lead us. Some of the rangers were wearing leech protection socks. I wore two stockings under my jeans. It worked pretty well as no leeches bit my feet or legs during our trek.

The walking trail was only 1.5km, but took almost two hours. Sometimes, we had to slowly slide ourselves down the high slopes or climb up steep parts. Many times we had to grab long branches of trees or arms of rangers to balance ourselves. Somehow this little adventure made me feel young again.

We stopped occasionally to take pictures of items we found along our trek such as mushrooms, moss, ferns and insects. We also helped each other pull leeches from our trousers and shoes.

According to Kowit, Hala-Bala has always attracted birdwatchers, especially those with an interest in hornbills.

The chief estimated that there are about 10 species of hornbills — out of 13 found in Thailand — living in the southern forest.

“The months of July and August [known as a flocking season] are the best time to see hornbills because they will fly in a flock,” said Kowit, adding that when the birds fly together, they sound like a loud helicopter.

Again without luck, we couldn’t spot any of them. I took my time to absorb the ambience of this rainforest. As I looked around the green forest which spreads out as far as the eye can see, I felt fortunate that we had a chance to explore Hala-Bala forest even though it was only within a small area.

Hala-Bala is a giant green classroom for nature lovers and a healthy refuge for those who love scenery.

Thailand joins Myanmar in banning movie

Posted by pakin On July - 7 - 2016 ADD COMMENTS

“Twilight Over Burma”, a film about a Shan prince and his Austrian bride, was not just banned in the land of its origin, but also in Thailand where it was mostly filmed.

The film was removed from the Thailand International Film Destinations festival as well as from last month’s Human Rights festival in Myanmar.

Though the organisers have not issued any official statement, the reason behind the withdrawal is said to be related to bilateral ties between the two countries.

The film, known in Thai as “Singsaengchan” is based on the book “Twilight Over Burma – My Life as a Shan Princess” written by Inge Eberhard (now Sargent). Sargent was an Austrian student on a US scholarship who fell in love with Sao Kya Seng, a young mining student from Burma, in the 1950s. On their wedding day, she discovers that he is the prince of Myanmar’s Shan State. Her husband ends up being jailed after the military coup in 1962 and she is unable to do anything.

In reality though, the prince disappeared and Sargent fled to the United States with her two daughters. In the film Sargent is played by German actress Maria Ehrich, while Sao Kya Seng’s character is played by Thai actor Daweerit Chullasapya.

The film was mainly shot in Chiang Mai province and at Inle Lake in Shan State’s capital Tongyi.

“Twilight” was one of the four films withdrawn from the festival line-up.

Starting yesterday at Bangkok’s Paragon Cineplex, the three other films removed from the festival line-up were the Chinese comedy “Detective Chinatown”, Swedish comedy “Happy Hour in Paradise” and French comedy “Pattaya.”

“Detective Chinatown” was released in local cinemas in April.

The festival runs until July 12 and features films from different countries that have been shot either partially or fully in Thailand. This festival held annually since 2013 aims to promote Thailand as a film location.

The scripts of foreign films featuring Thailand have to be first submitted to the Thailand Film Office before shooting can begin. The government aims to encourage more international film productions in Thailand and has recently announced a 15 per cent cash incentive.

Aeon Mall plans bold Asean expansion

Posted by pakin On March - 24 - 2016 ADD COMMENTS

AEON MALL, the leading Japanese retail group, aims to create a strong footprint in Asia and become the No-1 retailer in Asean by investing in about 10 new shopping malls in the region, including one in Thailand, by the end of the decade.

“Under our 2020 strategy, we are planning to open five new shopping malls in Jakarta, after entering the 250-million-strong market with our first Aeon Mall in Indonesia last year. Meanwhile, the company is also adding three more branches in Ho Chi Minh City, and another in Hanoi,” Mitsugu Tamai, director and executive general manager for Aeon Mall’s Asean division, said yesterday.

The company is also studying the feasibility of business development in Thailand, Laos and Myanmar, and hopes to have its first Aeon Mall property in Thailand by 2020, he said.

Asked about the possible location and investment format for a Thai venture, Tamai suggested that an appropriate site would possibly be in the outskirts of Bangkok due to urbanisation and the growth of communities in such areas, while the project would be undertaken either though its own investment or via a joint venture.

Besides Aeon Mall BSD City in Indonesia, Aeon Mall currently operates at 24 locations in Malaysia and has one other shopping mall in Asean – in Phnom Penh – while another will soon be opened in the Cambodian capital.

In the new Phnom Penh project, Bangkok-based Major Cineplex Group is continuing its collaboration with the Japanese retailer to open another Major Cineplex operation at its second Aeon Mall in the country.

Vicha Poolvaraluk, chairman of Major Cineplex Group, said his company was investing about Bt200 million on a new theatre consisting of 10 screens, including an IMAX laser theatre, and 20 bowling lanes.

Other Thai companies – S&P, Fuji Restaurant, Jaspal and Black Canyon Coffee – are also interested in opening branches at the new mall.

Aeon Mall’s new project, which occupies an area of 100,000 square metres in Phnom Penh’s Pong Peay district, is scheduled to open in the first half of 2018.

Apart from Asean, the leading Japanese retailer is also focusing on China as a key destination for its overseas business expansion.

It currently has 11 shopping malls in the huge Chinese market.

“By 2020, we hope to have more than 10 per cent of our revenue contributed by overseas business, up from 2 to 3 per cent now.

Due to aggressive outlet expansion, the company aims to see a 120-per-cent year-on-year increase in terms of revenue from overseas markets,” Tamai said.

Aeon’s overall revenue came in at about ฅ8 trillion (Bt2.49 trillion) last year.

How to make Thailand the educational hub of Asean

Posted by pakin On January - 25 - 2016 ADD COMMENTS

TRANSFORMING Thailand into Asean’s educational hub within the next five years is the ultimate goal of Suphachai Chearavanont, co-chairman of a working panel on basic education and leadership development under the Joint Public-Private Steering Committee.

But to achieve that ambition, the country needs to start building a favourable landscape now, with world-class laboratory facilities, massive funding from both the state and private sectors, and top researchers, plus attractive incentives from the government to make all this happen.

“Our long-term goal is to make Thailand the Asean educational hub. We have to begin by defining which research areas are important to the future of the world. The researches that are important to the world future are biotechnology, digital technology, robotic technology, or nano-technology,” the True chief executive officer said in an interview with The Nation.

He said Thailand had good fundamentals for doing research in the biotech, digital and robotic arenas. The country needs to set up open and world-class lab facilities to conduct research in these areas.

Suitable universities should be selected to host each of these labs, while the state and private sectors step in to provide support and incentives. The labs will also enlist top local and international academics to strengthen their work.

Suphachai estimated that setting up one lab would require funding of US$1 billion, so focusing on three areas would mean an investment of $3 billion (Bt108 billion). The government could allocate this funding from the annual education budget of Bt500 billion. If it did so, there is a chance that the three universities hosting the labs would see their rankings move up.

If all of the above could be realised, parents from all over Asean would send their children to enrol in these universities, which would make Thailand the centre for producing competent human resources in the region, said Suphachai, who also serves as vice chairman of Charoen Pokphand Group.

But this is the long-term plan. For now, his working panel is focusing on the immediate plan of reforming the country’s basic education.

He said that to reform education, four areas had to be improved: transparency in the educational system, evaluation processes, learning methods, and the human resources that could help lead the changes, including school principals.

He said citizens and private companies could donate money to help schools, as they were eligible for tax deductions, but they might feel hesitant to do so, as they could not easily check how schools spend their donations and how they were performing. Once people could be confident about schools’ transparency, he believed a massive number of people would be happy to provide financial help to them.

He added that school principals had to be evaluated and at the same time rewarded, according to their performance. The parents in each school’s area should also be encouraged to take part in this evaluation to create engagement between schools and communities.

He suggested that recruitment of foreign principals would help boost the education system. If the country wants Thais well versed in foreign languages, it must be willing to spend on hiring foreign teachers.

Moreover, teaching and learning methods should be changed from one-way communication to two-way, moving away from urging children to memorise text towards encouraging them to ask questions.

Students should be encouraged to engage in debate among themselves, while teachers assume the roles of facilitators and encourage the students to build up their potential. In Suphachai’s opinion, the learning process should be child-centric.

“When children ask ‘why’, they will then go on to do research or Google, and that is a life-long perspective of the entire learning process,” he said.

To accelerate these changes, he said the private sector could play a major role by becoming what he calls “dedicated sponsors” of their preferred schools and provide them with mentors to see what these schools really need. The mentors would also work closely with the principals to improve school performance.

The working panel has passed its plans on to Deputy Prime Minister Somkid Jatusripitak and Education Minister Dapong Ratanasuwan. Dapong chairs the team in the working panel from the state sector, while Suphachai chairs the private-sector team.

Among the top executives in Suphachai’s team are Isara Vongkusolkit, chairman of Board of Trade and Thai Chamber of Commerce, and Kan Trakulhoon of Siam Cement Group. The panel is working out more details of the plans before submitting them to Somkid in the next couple of weeks.

Suphachai said that when the immediate plan is approved, the government would deploy it in a large number of schools.

The working group on education is one of 12 joint public-private-sector working groups appointed by the government last month to help it steer the economy.