Category Archives: Thailand

Our Project from Thailand Needs Your Help!

Full Moon Kickstarter Photo for site

 

Our Project from Thailand Needs Your Help!

 

Last year while we were in Thailand, we began work on a documentary that examines the trash problem after the Full Moon Party in Koh Phangan and those who are attempting to solve the problem.    We have started a Kickstarter project in hopes that we can raise enough funds to complete the film.  Please take a few minutes to watch our video and if you feel inspired to help, we would be grateful as every dollar helps!  Thanks

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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.
Enjoy!

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Slash and Burned Out

At hour 16 of our 17 hour train ride heading north from Bangkok to Chiang Mai, we learned from a fellow traveler that Chiang Mai was apparently experiencing large amounts of smoke and haze in the air due to the slash and burn agricultural practices of the surrounding rural hills. The air quality has been so bad, he tells us, that two German travelers he’d met in Bangkok had ended their trip early with debilitating upper respiratory infections. The burns happen every year around February and continues throughout the dry season, so it should be nearly over, he says. Apparently this years’s smoke and pollution levels were supposed to be a doozy. Great! We’d had no idea. We’d planned and researched our travels but had failed to see any warnings on this annual burning in our Lonely Planets or anywhere. The best laid plans of mice and men… How bad could it really be though?

Slash and burn describes an agricultural practice which involves cutting and burning forests or farmland to create and prepare fields for the new season. The cutting usually occurs prior to the dry season, allowing the fields time to properly dry out for the burning during the dry months. The ash of the burn then fertilizes the soil, and a new crop is planted at the beginning of the next rainy season. According to the Encyclopedia of Earth, slash and burn techniques are used by between 200 and 500 million people worldwide.  There are several reasons why slash and burn is a destructive practice ecologically, one of which is that it depletes the soil of nutrients and thus threatens biodiversity. Other reasons are the more obvious increase in deforestation and erosion. But the most obvious ill effect to the layman’s eye is air pollution.

When we arrived in Chiang Mai, the sky looked like a smoggy day in LA (like I’ve never myself seen– perhaps a pre-Smog Check industrial LA sky of the 1950’s I’ve only heard about in stories). The sky had a yellow hue and about 2-3 hours before sunset the sun would turn bright red above the horizon; you could stare directly at it. Our first afternoon in the city we headed up to Wat Doi Suthep (see video) which, sitting high on a hill, boasts an expansive view of the city, but ours was of a cloudy beige below. On our next full day we took a very long motorbike ride around the hills and rice fields, and by day’s end our eyes were burning, our throats sore, and our sinuses congested. In the end it took us about 2 weeks until we were completely out of the smoke to feel totally well again.

As we moved on from Chiang Mai to Pai and found more of the same, if not worse, we realized with fear and abhorrence that this massive smoke cloud must be covering all of Northern Thailand. One would never suspect that in fact slash and burn activity is actually illegal in Thailand, but like many laws here- this one is obviously not enforced. We wondered and tried to find out if smoke was polluting Laos, out next destination, as well. How far south would we need to go to breathe clean air? Ben’s cough was not getting any better but we were still attached to the idea of spending time in Laos, and we decided to keep our flight into Luang Prabang as planned.

In our desperate search to understand more about this annual phenomenan, we came upon this blog by Thomas of ContemporaryNomad.com: “With a combined mega-cloud of thick acrid smoke hovering over Myanmar, Northern Thailand, Laos and Norther Vietnam, there’s no quick way out. Just think about the impact on the environment. While the developed world is taking steps to reduce carbon emissions, Asia is making up for it. Before you dismiss the “petty” air pollution and point your finger at the developed world, you need to know that none of the trash burning and field burn-off in India and Southeast Asia is being counted. According to one regional specialist we met, this kind of pollution simply doesn’t exist when it comes to calculating a country’s emissions. It’s ludicrous. Once you’ve seen the air in Asia, and I mean see, you’ll understand”. (You can read more at: http://www.lonelyplanet.com/travelblogs/1330/46224/Not+Just+Blowing+Smoke?destId=356917#ixzz1r4tn7JeL)

We discovered that this year’s slash and burn was particularly a bad one (lucky us!) but to realize that this happens all over this region every year (let’s not forget about  South America too!) was truly frightening. Thailand had made statements that tackling the haze was a “#1” priority but it was hard to see how that was true if regulations weren’t even being enforced. We did hear that in past years the Thai King had developed a method of sending of chem-trails by air to insert silver iodides into the smoke clouds and hopefully induce rain (which helps dissipate the smoke). This year the Thai Ministry of Public Health was distributing sanitary masks and accounts of hospitalizations from smoke-related illnesses were reportedly on the rise. We were all praying for rain.

Southeast Asia is a developing part of the world full of contradictions and clumsily trying to modernize in sometimes backwards fashions. It is obvious that this old practice is here to stay, farmers are burning their crops for their livelihood and ain’t no one gonna stop them. For the traveller, however, unless you yourself are a heavy smoker and unfazed by air pollution, you may choose monsoons over burns.

~Shana

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VIDEO: Reflections of Wat Doi Suthep-Chiang Mai Thailand

Ever since the first time I visited Wat Doi Suthep over ten years ago with my Mom, I have appreciated coming back and re-visiting the hill top temple.  Once visitors have climbed the 309 steps up, they are rewarded with views over Chiang Mai and the peaceful and contemplative setting of the temple, although this visit the view was obscurred by thick smoke from the slash and burn agriculture (more on that in our next post).

Shana and I raced up the hill on a motorbike as the sun was setting and by the time we had climbed the steps we were out of breath.  The last slice of sunlight illuminated the golden chedi and buddhas beautifully and we got to watch the monks doing their sunset chants and prayers. Most of the other tourists were long gone so we got to enjoy the temple in peace.

This short video shares some of the sights and sounds of the temple and I hope conveys some of the meditative aspects that I have come to enjoy.

-Ben

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Some Highlights of Thailand

A few favorites from Bangkok, Chiang Mai and Pai; see PHOTOS for more.

We head out of Laos today… stayed tuned for many more photos and videos to come!

From Wat Arun over the Chao Praya River

Opening Performance, International Muay Thai Festival

Evening prayers, Wat Doi Suthep, Chiang Mai

Chinese Village near China border, Pai

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Visit to the Bangkok Flower Market

One of my favorite things to do while in Bangkok is to check out the Flower Market at Delaat Pak Klong.  It is open 24 hours a day but the night time is the best time to visit as that is when the deliveries of lotuses, roses, orchids, chrysanthemums, and many bright varieties arrive freshly cut from the flower farms  outside the city.    It is surprisingly off the tourist map and every time I have been there, I have only seen a handful of other farang (foreigners) there.   For photographers it is a feast of colors and is very interesting watching the people bartering.  Most of the flowers are destined as offerings at the many Wats (Buddhist temples) in the city, and garlands for wrapping around the hands and heads of Buddhas are handmade by women in almost every stall.

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Bangkok Medicine for the Weary Traveler

20120316-141340.jpgOkay, so we’ve only been on the road for two weeks, but that doesn’t mean that the affordable comforts that Bangkok has to offer is not much needed and appreciated. The best meal I’d had up until arriving in Thailand was on our ANA flight, if that says something! It feels good to indulge a little on this Bangkok layover before we head north. Even with the currency rate lower than usual, we foreigners cannot complain about $1 streetside meals, budget aircon rooms on par with Western standards, and nightly Thai massages.

But back to the food. It is my belief that most Thai street food snacks were originated in a 5 year old’s imagination who knows that the best treats consist of coconut, sweetened condensed milk, nuts, merengue, custard, some mango perhaps. I have no idea how some of these creations were invented, but I am in agreement with them! We’ve basically been eating our way through the city. First lunch, second lunch, first dinner, etc. And usually tropical cut fresh fruit or fruit shakes in steady intervals throughout the day. I’m making up for my “Philippine Vegetarian Diet”, which basically meant I was hungry for the 10 days we were there!

Thailand is known and respected for it’s street food, and truly this is an eating culture. I imagine street food here became popularized as folks seem to be always on-the-go, and thus they eat on-the-go. And they are constantly eating! Day, night- in restaurants, malls, stores, streets, indoors, outdoors- Thai folks seem to fiercely enjoy their food.

And so do we.

-Shana

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