Phuket and Ko Samui open to a more sustainable future in tourism

Image: Shutterstock

With Phuket and Ko Samui now open to fully vaccinated international visitors, local tourism operators are hoping to welcome guests back to a rejuvenated and more sustainable Thailand.

While the world stood still, across Thailand, operators have been working to improve infrastructure, care for the local environment and learn how to operate more sustainably. Operators in Phuket and Ko Samui have paid particular attention to their precious coastal and marine environment.

Some improvements have been intentional, most notably the closure of tourist hot spots, Maya Bay, Ko Tachai and Ko Yoong areas within the marine parks. Some changes have taken place naturally due to the absence of mass tourism, such as endangered leatherback turtles returning to Phuket’s sandy shores to lay their eggs.

Sharks return to Maya Bay

Danny Boyle’s film ‘The Beach’ made Maya Bay as famous as it is. The depiction of a hedonistic secret paradise in Thailand’s hidden crystal-clear bay encouraged a huge surge in tourism to the area. Despite the fact that ‘The Beach’ was supposed to be located in the Gulf of Thailand, closer to Samui, Ko Phang Ngan and Ko Tao, Maya Bay was the location chosen for the film, for its magnificent limestone cliffs and enticing turquoise waters. This fame came at a price, influencing thousands of tourists to visit the small bay.

With hundreds of speedboats and hordes of people littering the bay each day, a visit to the iconic Thai attraction was no longer a thing of beauty, it was downright unpleasant. The authorities closed Maya Bay completely back in 2018, to help regenerate and preserve the bay, and the results have been outstanding.

The closure of Maya Bay is a testament to Thailand’s efforts to address the negative impacts of tourism on marine life. According to Thailand’s Department of National Parks, Maya Bay is now home to well over 100 black-tip reef sharks, the highest shark population in Thai waters.

Leatherback turtles nest in Phuket

With the closure of beaches during Phuket’s first lockdown and the drastic reduction in tourist numbers and light pollution, rare Leatherback turtles have returned to the beaches to lay their eggs. Leatherbacks are the world’s largest species of sea turtles and are listed as endangered in Thailand. Dr Kongkiat Kittiwatanawong, the director of the Phuket Marine Biological Center, said this is the greatest number of leatherback sea turtle nests that Thailand’s beaches have seen in 20 years.

Boat Operators cleanup Ko Tao

Over in the gulf of Thailand, the small island if Ko Tao has been particularly affected by border closures, with some 90 per cent of the island’s boat operators now out of work.

The UNDP Biodiversity Finance (BIOFIN) initiative has launched a new crowdfunding campaign that will place 200 of the island’s laid-off boat operators into an alternate stream of work: cleaning up the island.

Ko Tao has struggled to manage the estimated 30 tons of waste a day left by tourists in recent years, and this year’s lull has provided its marine ecosystems with much-needed respite.

“Without tourists, the coral reef ecosystem is recovering quite well,” says Niran Nirannoot, project manager for BIOFIN in Thailand. “But there are some areas where we need to provide support for conservation. The local government is aware that if they do not preserve the ecosystem, they may not be able to attract tourists to come back.”

Starting in December, the 200 boat operators are being paid a monthly sum of THB 3,000 (USD 100) – raised entirely through the crowdfunding campaign – to clear waste and marine debris from the island’s beaches and waters. They will also be provided with training in financial literacy, courtesy of Krung Thai Bank (KTB), one of the project’s main sponsors.

So far, the campaign has raised THB 1.81 million (USD 60,000), with KTB chipping in THB 583,000 (USD 19,000). Donations from within Thailand make up over 90 percent of contributions.

Sustainable Diving: Andaman Sea

Phuket-based Holger Schwab, Managing Director of Sea Bees Diving, says, “Pandemics may be awful, but they are teaching us valuable lessons. Most of those lessons relate to humans’ treatment of the Earth. It’s possible that these lessons will spark a long-term change in conservation. Perhaps this means a different type of tourism model in the future, slower and more considerate of the ecosystem we are working within”.

Scuba diving in the Andaman Sea can often offer some of the best experiences in the world, thanks to its dazzling and colourful marine life, with world-class dive sites including Richelieu Rock, Ko Ha, Hin Deang and Hin Muang.

During the first stages of reopening the region to tourism, Phuket can now offer much richer underwater experiences to visitors, with the most sought-after diving spots now much quieter and a joy to dive.

“We are seeing an increase in certain species, there’s more anemonefish and barracuda in the Andaman Sea than ever before.

“A more sustainable approach to enjoying our underwater world has been needed for a long time, and we hope that the effects of the pandemic prove to be positive in this regard for the marine parks in the Andaman region”.

Phuket Sandbox Welcome Vouchers

To celebrate the launch of the ‘Phuket Sandbox’, as Phuket opens international borders to fully vaccinated visitors, the Tourism Authority of Thailand Sydney Office would like to enhance your first visit back to Phuket with a spa voucher and a complimentary half-day tour.

The vouchers are eligible for travellers departing from Australia with valid Certificate of Entry (COE), travelling to Thailand no later than 30th September 2021 under the Phuket Sandbox program.

Spa Vouchers

Tropical Retreat Spa, Laguna

Indulge yourself with the ultimate spa experience with highly trained therapists at Oasis Spa Phuket, at the Tropical Retreat Spa in Laguna.

Terms and conditions
This offer is valid for travellers to Thailand under “Phuket Sandbox” program with valid Certificate of Entry (COE) number departing from Australia. Travellers must travel to Phuket before 30th September 2021.
Vouchers are available for first 300 eligible travellers. The voucher is non-transferable, non-refundable, and not redeemable for cash.
The voucher must be presented upon arrival and is available for use at Oasis Spa (Tropical Retreat Spa, Laguna Phuket. Tel. 076 337777)
Pre-booking is required and subject to availability.

Complimentary Half Day Tours

Option 1 PES Canopy Walkway (Phuket Elephant Sanctuary)

This 90-minute program is a first-of-its kind experience in Thailand and takes ethical tourism to new heights – literally! Explore our new, 500 meter-long canopy walkway and observe 12 rescued elephants as they roam, forage, bathe and socialise freely in the jungle below.

Our tour guides will be happy to share the story of each elephant, and to provide you with interesting facts about the largest land mammal on earth. The program also includes an opportunity to feed some of the elephants, as well as a complimentary T-Shirt.

At the end of the tour we serve refreshing iced sodas and unlimited snacks from our snack bar while you can rest and enjoy the serenity of the sanctuary. Transfer Joined roundtrip transfers included from any accommodation in the Phuket province and back to the same location.

Option 2 Half Day Phuket City

What to do in phuket when it rains: Old Phuket Town
Old Phuket Town

There is a lot to see of Phuket away from its pretty beaches. This sightseeing tour takes us inland to Phuket Town, home to the small enclave of Phuket Old Town which is brimming with Sino-Portuguese architecture. Exploring this part of the island takes us back to yesteryear when Phuket was in the midst of a tin boom that brought its initial affluence and its grand architecture.

We then head to Phromthep Cape which has sublime views across the water, making it a popular photography spot.

Promthep Cape
Phromthep Cape

Transfer Transfers included from any accommodation in the Phuket province and back to the same location.

How to Claim:

Email: info@thailand.net.au with scanned Certificate of Entry (COE)
Tel: 029247 7549

Refresh, Restore and Renew

Last week, the Tourism Authority of Thailand (TAT) managed an innovative hybrid event to show case Thailand’s tourism promotion strategy to a roomful of travel agents at Dolton House in Sydney, and a whole lot more throughout the country via a live online streaming event.

The afternoon’s presentations were inspiring, explaining the Kingdom’s strategy to reopen borders, a heightened focus on sustainable tourism and updates from over 20 Thai suppliers, airlines, hotels and attractions.

In between presentations, delegates enjoyed a delicious Thai lunch and enjoyed a cooking demonstration by Chat Thai’s celebrated chef; Palisa Anderson.

TAT Sydney Director Suladda Sarutilavan explained Thailand’s C-A-T policy for tackling the ever-changing the ever-changing situation:

  • C for COPE. Cope and react to the situation, putting wellbeing and safety first.
  • A for ADAPT. Implementing change through innovation and digital technology.
  • T for TRANSFORM. Thailand is transforming to Quality Tourism, with a goal to enrich the experience for tourists, and the environment.
The TAT Sydney Team

Roadmap to Recovery

The roadmap to reopening in Thailand starts with the ‘Phuket Sandbox’. Phuket will be the first region to open to vaccinated tourists on 1 July 2021, with an aim to have 70 per cent of the population vaccinated by the time borders open.

Then on 1 October, other major tourist destinations will follow suit including Krabi, Phang Nga, Surat Thani (including Ko Samui, Ko Phangan and Ko Tao), Chonburi (including Pattaya) and Chiang Mai.

Wellness and Responsible Travel

Two tourism categories that are a focus of TAT’s marketing efforts are wellness and responsible travel. Thailand is a destination that offers numerous world-class wellness retreats, that help you achieve any fitness goals.

The other focus is Responsible Travel which can be achieved by considering all tourism implications towards the environment, wildlife, plantations, to Thai locals.

“Our aim is to provide tourists with a more meaningful experience.”

Marketing in Lockdown

TAT has sponsored and partnered with several local events in Australia, to keep Thailand top-of-mind with all those Aussies with a pent-up desire to travel as soon as borders open.

With the family travel market in mind, TAT participated at this year’s Sydney Royal Easter Show and collaborated with NRL’s South Sydney Rabbitohs.

To highlight Thailand’s efforts to support and promote marine conservation and responsible tourism, TAT, in collaboration with the Thai Consulate Sydney, took part in a beach and underwater clean-up at Chowder Bay in Mosman.

Slow food, slow tourism.

To highlight Thailand’s gastronomy tourism strategy, Chat Thai’s Palisa Anderson gave a cooking demonstration with a difference, introducing a captivated audience to traditional Thai ingredients, and explaining the importance of using local seasonal produce, a strategy many of Thailand’s resorts have adopted to support local producers.

Thailand Experts

Also launched at the event, TAT’s new online training program for agents, an opportunity to upskill your knowledge of Thailand and new developments to the Kingdom’s tourism infrastructure, presented at the hybrid event by marketing manager Sherly Handjojo.

“We want to focus on the positive.”

Tourism Authority of Thailand supports local Beach Clean-up in Sydney’s Chowder Bay

The Tourism Authority of Thailand (TAT) Sydney Office, in collaboration with the Royal Thai Consulate in Sydney, took part in a beach and underwater clean-up event at Chowder Bay.

The event was held at Clifton Gardens Reserve, on the foreshore of Chowder Bay, with Thai massages and a delicious Thai lunch provided by Spice I Am for volunteers, followed by a Thai Cooking Demonstration by Chef Sujet Saenkham Founder and Owner of Spice I am Restaurant and Thai Performance by Siam Classic Dance Group at Taronga Zoo.

According to TAT Director, Suladda Sarutilavan; “in efforts to show our appreciation for those local heroes volunteering their time to protect our oceans we are proud to support the effort of local conservation group Friends of Chowder Bay.

“The travel restrictions imposed on us all by the COVID-19 pandemic has inspired, in many of us, a heightened awareness and appreciation for our precious natural environment. Many tourism operators in Thailand have spent time in lock-down looking at ways to operate more sustainably.”

40 volunteers took part, including seven scuba divers, who spent a combined 456 minutes underwater collecting over 2kg of debris, much of this fishing debris with an estimated 200m of discarded fishing line, 63 metal hooks and sinkers and 25 plastic fishing lures.

Above water, volunteers collected 191 cigarette butts, 54 straws and other plastic cutlery items, an estimated 250 plastic fragments, 120 plastic bag remnants, 155 polystyrene fragments and 27 balloon fragments.

Data from the underwater clean-up was uploaded to the Project Aware global debris database, while topside clean-up data was uploaded to Tangaroa Blue’s Marine Debris Initiative, helping campaigners and scientists find solutions for marine pollution.

Organiser and co-founder of the Friends of Chowder Bay, Diveplanit Travel’s Deborah Dickson-Smith explains the significance of Chowder Bay:

“Thailand’s underwater world shares many wonders (and indeed critters!) with Australia and suffers similar threats – from plastic pollution and fishing debris. Mosman’s Chowder Bay is a unique biodiverse marine environment, home to many colourful critters including frogfish, decorator crabs, moray eels and the endangered Whites (Sydney) Seahorse.”

Scientists have recently installed ‘Seahorse Hotels’ at Chowder Bay in attempts to regenerate their dwindling population. Volunteers were treated to a presentation from marine scientist and SEALIFE Sydney Aquarium aquarist Mitchell Brennan, who is monitoring the seahorses’ progress.

The Friends of Chowder Bay are doing their best to keep the ‘hotels’ clean from plastic waste and fishing debris as part of their regular underwater and beach clean-ups. 

The show of support from TAT and the Royal Thai Consulate Sydney highlights efforts to promote Thailand as a sustainable tourism destination, with tourism operators in Thailand encouraged to conserve their local environment, use local produce, support local communities, and minimise their carbon footprint.

One such example is a new offering from Sunsail yacht charters. The company has partnered with Ocean Crusaders for a Phuket Clean-up Flotilla in March 2022, a week of sailing the Andaman Sea and undertaking beach clean-ups to help preserve this beautiful part of South East Asia.

More information:

Take your taste buds on a tour of Thailand… in Sydney

The flavours of Thailand range from south to north, with chilli, tamarind, ginger and shrimp paste flavouring seafood dishes in the south, while in the north, chicken and pork curries feature spices such as galangal and turmeric. And in between, the street food of Bangkok has a personality all its own, with a wide mix of flavours accompanied by a vibrant night life. Did you know you could experience all this in Sydney?

While Sydney (and most of Australia) has enjoyed an abundance of Thai restaurants for many years, more recently there has been a demand for more authentic Thai food, as more and more Australians discover the true taste of Thailand on their travels there.

Some Thai trailblazers have been catering to this increasing demand in recent years, restaurants such as Spice I Am, Chat Thai and @Bangkok igniting a love for authentic Thai food and attracting a new generation of foodies.

Recognising this demand, Thailand’s Department of International Trade Promotion (DITP), in partnership with import company Asian Inspirations has established an accreditation system for Australian Thai restaurants: Thai Select.

The award is divided in two categories; Thai ready-to-eat/ready-to-cook products and Thai restaurants.

“It’s not just a meal; it’s a journey into Thai culture”

Thai Select restaurants serve authentic Thai meals, made with Thai produce using traditional recipes. The service provided by restaurants with a Thai Select Award must be of a high quality, in an atmosphere that transports you to Thailand with that famous Thai smile. More information, including a directory of Thai Select restaurants can be found here.

Caysorn: Southern Thai Food

Our journey into Thai Culture begins in Phuket, via Caysorn Thai Restaurant in Sydney’s Haymarket. Caysorn is the creation of owner Chalio, who comes from the southern Thai region of Phatthalung, an area renowned for its spicy dishes. Chalio moved to Australia in 1973, and after a few years working in some of Sydney’s top restaurants, opened one of the first Thai restaurants in Sydney in the 1980s. After winning a small business award in 1990, Chalio realised a dream; to open a restaurant with food from his home province.

Our tasting plates start with Gai Yang Kaow Lae, named after the traditional painted fishing boats in southern Thailand, similar to satay, but sweeter and stickier, melt-in-your-mouth BBQ Pork Cheek and Kao Yum, an aromatic herb salad.

Our main course is three varieties of curry; fish kidney soup, crab coconut curry and tamarind soup served with kanom jeen noodles. All of this is washed down with Thai Milk Tea before dessert is served; sweet coconut simmered cassava.

Address: 06/8 Quay Street, Prince Centre Building Level 1, Haymarket NSW 2000. Open 7 days: 11am-9:30pm http://www.caysorn.com.au/

Show Neua: Northern Thai Street Food

From Phuket, our taste buds journey north to the walking streets of Chiang Mai, as we walk a few hundred metres to Show Neua, not far from the Capital Theatre on George Street. The restaurant is the result of a collaboration between an architect, professional chef and two other youngbloods, each with over 10 years’ experience in the restaurant industry.

This tiny restaurant is beautifully designed, with an atmosphere that instantly transports you to northern Thailand and a team of friendly smiling Thai staff ushering us to our seats to enjoy a colourful and aromatic selection of tasting plates, served on a ‘khantoke’, a pedestal tray traditionally used by the Lanna people of northern Thailand.

Our tasting plates include two different styles of curry: Khao Soi Chicken and Kanom Jeen Nam Ngeow. Khao Soi Chicken is a northern Thai version of laksa; a coconut turmeric curry served over flat egg noodles and garnished with pickled vegetables and crunchy deep-fried noodles. Kanom Jeen Nam Ngeow is based on a dish eaten by the Tai Yai people from Burma and China’s Yunnan province. It has a slightly sourer taste and is served over rice noodles.

Alongside these mains, pork crackling, tasting portions of a couple of varieties of northern style larb and Sai Ua, the tastiest pork sausage in the world, flavoured with garlic, kaffir lime, lemongrass, chilli and coriander.

Address: Shop 2A/710 George St, Haymarket NSW 2000. Open 7 days 11am–12am. http://fb.me/showneuathai

@Bangkok Thai Restaurant

Having enjoyed the spicy southern dishes of Phuket and the delights of Chiang Mai’s walking streets, we now journey to Bangkok to explore the street food and vibrant nightlife of Yaowarat and Khao San Road, or rather, @Bangkok Thai Restaurant in Capitol Square, George Street.

@Bangkok is open to the wee small hours of the morning, seven days a week (5am on weekends), serving authentic Bangkok street food, with bucket cocktails and live music.

Our four courses include a mix of breakfast dishes, noodles, trendy dinner and their ‘Never Sleep Set’, served with Bucket Boost. Breakfast is Moo Ping, BBQ pork on a skewer, served with sticky rice and Tom Loerd Moo (Pork Blood Soup). What I suppose is lunch, is the most popular noodle dish in Bangkok: Thai Boat Noodle and our ‘Trendy Dinner’ is corn salad, grilled pork neck, Crying Tiger and Sai Ua.

The Bangkok Never Sleep Set includes a deliciously fragrant and tasty Yum Pla Foo, a hot and sour crispy fish salad with julienned apple and coriander, deep fried chicken wings and Tom Sap (spicy pork spare rib soup), all washed down with a Bucket Boost cocktail mix of Midori and Vodka.

Address: Capitol Square Building, 730-742 George St, NSW 2000. Monday to Thursday 11am–1am, Friday & Saturday 11am–4am, Sunday 11am–2am. https://www.facebook.com/atbangkok.syd

Cooking Class with master chef Sujet Saenkham at Spice I Am.

So now we have explored Thailand with our tastebuds from South to North, our Thai Town tour ends with a masterchef finale: a cooking class with Sujet Saenkham, co-owner and executive chef of Spice I Am.

It’s no surprise that Sujet is a shining star amongst the Thai Select community, with his award-winning restaurant Spice I Am being named “the best Thai restaurant outside Thailand’ by numerous food critics, and a queue of patrons outside the restaurant waiting to be served every day of the week.

“I cook every dish from the heart. The reward that I get is the smile on their faces. It’s the thing that makes me smile.”

As we’re briefed on the dishes we’ll learn how to cook today, we’re served delicious southern style betel leaf fritters before getting stuck into northern style Khao Soi Chicken served with egg noodles, followed by southern style fish curry with a hot and sour broth served with riceberry rice. As we cook, Sujet shares stories, explains the origin of each Thai dish we are attempting and tries his best to empower us to add enough salt and palm sugar to create the perfect umami taste.

Before we roll out the door, we’re treated to a slice of Riceberry Rice Coconut Pudding, with a sweet red bean topping. Delicious.

Address: 90 Wentworth Ave, Surry Hills NSW 2010. Tuesday to Sunday (Closed on Monday). Lunch: 11:30am to 15:00pm, Dinner: 17:30pm to 22:00pm https://www.spiceiam.com/

10 Reasons to visit Sukhothai, Thailand’s ancient capital

Sukhothai_Historical_Park_Wat_Mahathat_01Thailand’s ancient capital, established in the early 13th century, Sukhothai is located 427km north of Bangkok, and literally means “Dawn of Happiness.” For 120 years Sukhothai was ruled by many kings, the most famous being King Ramkhamhaeng the Great, who created the Thai alphabet and laid the foundation for politics, monarchy and religion.

Here are 10 reasons to visit and 10 things to do in Sukhothai. Continue reading “10 Reasons to visit Sukhothai, Thailand’s ancient capital”

Chiang Rai’s White Temple, a treasure trove of artistic delights and oddities.

Northern Thailand’s Chiang Rai is well-known as a centre for the arts, with several incredible cultural attractions and colourful characters from Thailand’s art world. The White Temple is one of these attractions, a place that really earns the description: unique.

Chiang Rai White Temple_4790

While it looks like a traditional Thai temple, Wat Rong Khun, or the White Temple as it is known to foreigners, is anything but. The creation of millionaire Thai artist Ajarn Chalermchai Kositpipat, it’s both an homage to traditional Thai artistry and popular culture.

Chiang Rai White Temple forest of hands_4795

As you approach the White Temple itself, past a pool of reflection surrounded by ornate sculptures and incredibly decorative walls and turrets, a forest of disembodied arms reach up to you as you pass over a bridge to the entrance.

Chiang Rai White Temple forest of hands_4800

Surrounding the temple grounds, the heads of demons hang from trees – traditional Thai demons alongside the Incredible Hulk, Terminator, even Gollum.

Chiang Rai White Temple heads_4785

Ancient Buddhist legends, the struggle between Lord Buddha and the Mara (demon) are told in traditional style, a mural on the walls of the temple interior, but the characters depicted are 20th century heroes and villains, like Spiderman, Ultraman and Neo, facing off Darth Vader and the Terminator.

Chiang Rai White Temple terminator head_4819

There’s a message here to the world, that we have lost a moral compass to guide us, in Chalermchai’s words; “look at each other with kindness, not with hate that can lead to war”. The eyes of a huge demon each have portraits of George Bush and Osama Bin Laden inside them, looking to each other, as below them, the Twin Towers burn. The artist’s message by including these characters is that in reality, while we need real-life heroes – no movie screen heroes could save the Twin Towers.

Chiang Rai White Temple walkway_4821

As you move through the temple, a path of enlightenment takes you towards a statue of the Lord Buddha with artwork transforming from demons to angels as you pass through, out the other end to a heavenly garden’, down a passage decorated with silver leaves and beyond to another golden temple surrounded by a pool.

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The White Temple, and its surrounding garden and buildings, is an ongoing project, worked on by Chalermchai and some 300 apprentices.

Chiang Rai White Temple golden temple_4831

In a studio the size of a hanger, we were able to observe the artists at work on their latest project, a giant mural and statue commemorating the heroes of the nearby rescue of schoolboy soccer team, the ‘Wild Boars’ from their ordeal in the flooded Tham Luang cave.

Chiang Rai White Temple Tham Luang mural_4852

The centrepiece of this memorial artwork, which will eventually be located near the entrance to Tham Luang cave, is a larger than life statue of the former Thai Navy Seal, Saman Kunan.

Chiang Rai White Temple Tham Luang statue_4849

Back towards the entrance of this enormous compound, there is an art gallery which houses a great collection of the artist’s more traditional pieces, painted in traditional Thai style, illustrations depicting Buddhist legends, as well as pieces of memorabilia from Chalermchai’s private collection, old vinyl LPs, comics and various other toys and kitsch oddities.

Chiang Rai White Temple Tham Luang statue_4850

The complex is something you won’t find anywhere else. With each turn you take you stumble across another beautiful construction or oddity of sorts, like this toilet block fit for a king, for example, more like a palace than a bathroom.

Chiang Rai White Temple golden toilets_4816