Monthly Archives: May 2012

SLIDESHOW: The Dark Side of the Full Moon: Haad Rin at Dawn

Koh Phangan Thailand: home of rainforests, waterfalls, enviable coastlines, Buddhist temples, and the infamous Full Moon Party. The Full Moon Party is a monthly event held on Haad Rin beach on the south tip of the island. It began over 25 years ago as an impromptu gathering of travelers on the beach, and it has grown a life of its own, attracting upwards of 10,000-25,000 people each month. The party has gained a somewhat notorious reputation worldwide for its drug and alcohol-related injuries, sexual assualts, and even deaths. However, we went to the party in April to witness a concern of our own which we could find little to no exposure on in the media or online.

Over the years we’d heard myths from friends back home in California that there was a very serious problem with the impact of trash from the party which was not being properly dealt with. For this reason we’d never wanted to personally attend the party ourselves. We’d heard that the beach was covered in bottles, straws, plastic, and cigarettes by dawn- all making its way to the ocean by incoming tides. One friend told us a story so wild we thought it couldn’t be real–his account of watching Thai women rake the trash into the ocean after the sun rose, and as the shore pushed the litter back to land, she’d shovel back out to sea.
We’d been to Thailand before, enjoyed and admired its culture, cities, and islands. Was this beach really being trashed by tourists on a monthly basis? Who was responsible for keeping it clean before this becomes an ocean conservation issue? We decided to attend the event and document the scene for ourselves. Our intention is to turn our footage and various interviews into a short documentary. Here’s a small glimpse of what we captured in snapshots.

VIDEO: Swimming with Giants: Whale Sharks in Thailand

While staying on Koh Phan Ngan in Southern Thailand, we ventured to the north east of the island and heard rumors that a friendly Whale Shark, the holy grail for a lot of divers, had been seen the previous days. The whale shark is a harmless “shark” and more akin to a whale, being the largest of the fish species. Dark grey with white spots it can grow to be up to 42 feet long and weigh 47,000 pounds!! We booked a spot with a local dive operator to the dive sight Sail Rock, a large rock jutting out of the ocean halfway between Koh Tao and Koh Phan Ngan. The two dives were some of the most magical dives we had ever done with thousands of fish in schools, encircling us as well as turtles, barracudas, and lion fish encounters. On the second dive we were rewarded with multiple visits from a very friendly Whale Shark. It swam by us several times throughout the dive and even came up to the surface to say hello to the snorkelers. We were exhilarated and at the end of the dive came to the surface whooping and slapping high fives with each other. An experience not to be forgotten and we are grateful to have captured it on film.

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Aftermath…America’s Secret War in Laos

Photo:Phil Borges

It’s hard to believe when you are in the mountains of Laos or cruising on the Mekong and Nam Ou rivers that this beautiful country was anything other than peaceful and is the most heavily bombed country in the world. If one digs a little deeper, or spends some time in the countryside, it’s recent tragic past will start to uncover. You will start to notice flower containers, water pots, benches, and household items made from old bomb casings. Take a close up look and you will see “United States” and a year (usually 1968 or 1969) engraved on the rusting metal casing. The most obvious question is “weren’t we at war with Vietnam?”.

Recycled Bomb Casings

Due to Laos’s unfortunate location next to Vietnam it got pulled into the debacle of the Vietnam war, even though it was a neutral country. Communist leaders in both Vietnam and Laos infiltrated the countryside and built a huge road linking China with Vietnam called the Ho Chi Minh trail. The trail went right through Laos and enabled the Viet Cong and Northern Vietnamese army to transport soldiers, food, ammunitions, and basically anything it wanted to its troops. In a climate of eroding public confidence with the Vietnam war, the United States government feared that if the American public found out it was bombing a peaceful country like Laos, it would be the last straw, and public opinion would shift heavily against the war. It was decided that bombing would remain essentially a secret until it was uncovered in 1970.

Unexploded bomblet used as a candle holder

Between 1964 and 1973 the United States flew 580,000 bombing missions over Laos, thats one for every 8 minutes, 24 hours a day for 9 straight years! 30% of those bombs failed to detonate and over 50,000 people have been killed or permanently injured as a result of Unexploded Ordinances (UXO). 40% have been children.

25% of the villages in Laos are still contaminated by UXO and hiking on anything other than well marked paths can be deadly. Villagers injure or kill themselves while farming, hiking, searching for scrap metal to sell, while children often find UXO and play with it unaware of its dangers. People are injured and killed every year by bombs that failed to explode over 40 years ago.

Recycled UXO Jewelry

It’s not all doom and gloom though, and we met some people that are doing great work, educating villagers on the dangers of UXO and clearing the countryside. The non-profits Mines Advisory Group and Legacies of War are doing wonderful work and we checked out a progressive museum called the COPE Museum in Vientiane, had some really well presented exhibits. COPE’s efforts is to provide prosthetic limbs to victims of the UXOs and teach them how to live, work, and function in a new way. They also educate villagers on how to avoid contact with UXOs. While in Vientianne we were able to buy bracelets made from UXOs by an organization that trains villagers how to safely recycle the scrap metal from bombs and cast it into jewelry and silverware….metamorphosis.

“122 Pounds-Loading Date 11-68”

America is the largest funder of the non-profits who work in Laos and rightfully so. The US Congress approved $9 million to be spent in 2012 for clearing UXO in Laos. In January a Japanese made $1 million bomb clearing vehicle arrived in Laos ready to work. It is all so frustratingly backwards though, and it is obvious there was no forethought by the Generals who ordered these missions of the repercussions it would have on future generations. No matter how many millions of dollars the United States throws at the problem, they will never be able to undo the suffering caused.

Ben and Peter Kim

We met 19 year old Peter Kim at the COPE museum in Vientianne, who had lost both hands and his eyes and now works to educate local people on the dangers of UXOs and to raise awareness globally of this important issue. Since his injury he has taken up breakdancing and showed us a video of his performance at a benefit put on by COPE. He was friendly and charming even telling Shana how beautiful she was even though he is blind (-: We talked about our vastly different lives but still felt a bond between us. It brought up a lot of confused feelings for me. Here was an innocent person who happened to stumble upon something that our parent’s generation had dropped on his “neutral” country decades ago. Even though Shana or I didn’t have anything to do with the Vietnam War and its consequences, because it was done in our name, for our supposed “freedom”, it was hard not to feel guilty for the sins of our country. Peter however, showed no hint of animosity towards us Americans and we vowed to keep in touch. As I left the museum I was overwhelmed by feelings of anger and sadness at the sheer wrongness of it all…

Nothing could be done to make things better but at least there were a few good people like Peter Kim and the non-profits who were trying to right the wrongs made by previous generations and making sure they didn’t happen again.

Click Here for Photo Album
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VIDEO-Shiva, Shakti, and Buddha too! Buddha Park, Laos

North of the capital city of Vientiane, on the river banks that seperate Laos and Thailand sits Buddha Park. One of the most interesting religious monuments I have ever been to, it was the project of a a Shaman Luang Pu (Venerable Grandfather) Bunleua Sulilat. He mixed Buddhism with Hinduism and the concrete sculptures that adorn the park feature deities from both religions. He designed all 200 of the sculptures and had his followers who had no experience building statues make them. At the entrance lies a giant pumpkin with a Tikki like head that you enter through the mouth. The pumpkins has three levels that go from scenes from hell on the bottom to nirvana on top with a great lookout from atop the pumpkin of the entire park. We loved it there and was definitely one of the most bizarre places we have ever been. Enjoy the video above and the photos below (-: CLICK THIS OR PHOTO TO VIEW PHOTO ALBUM

Buddha Park, Vientianne, Laos
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