Thursday, 1 January 2009
Resilient Thailand Keeps Smiling
Poster boy - New Year on Koh Chang.
Food and drunk at Sabay Bar.
Definitely a proud Thai monkey.
Breakfast on the roof of our hut.
Our place at Tiger bungalows on White Sands Beach.
A reluctant elephant about to start the tug of war.
A pachyderm as plaything and photo oppportunity.
This one was bored with the whole event but got extra sugar cane.
After our short trip to Koh Chang and doing a few things at home, a long New Year break beckoned so we got back in the car and headed back to the island. A party on the beach easily justified the sixteen hour round trip!
And Koh Chang was as lovely as always, despite my misgivings about the hectic pace of development on the island. With the holiday approaching White Sands Beach began to fill up and by New Year’s Eve, it was positively heaving.
A consortium of hotels was promoting a three day ‘count down and seafood festival’ and it certainly brought a buzz to the beach. Rows of Singha Beer gazebos appeared at the top of the beach selling a huge variety of food and drink and a massive stage was erected as a platform for sound systems and live music. As the tide narrows the beach at high tide but then leaves a wide strand of sand when it falls, this had to be constructed in the shallows. Fortunately the tide was low at night when the big party was on.
And big it was. With music pounding out from this platform and from the very talented Filipino band at Sabay Bar only fifty yards away, the beach was packed with revelers, Thais and not foreign visitors now being the huge majority.
As I walked out to the waters’ edge, in front of me were perhaps fifteen yachts, Royal Thai Navy patrol vessels and squid fishing boats with their powerful white lights glittering across the waves. Then looking back all along the several kilometers of beach the bars were all brightly lit with lanterns in the trees, a truly fabulous sight, all moderated by a gentle sea breeze and a perfect temperature.
Then came the countdown and the fireworks, a dazzling display that seemed to go on forever as the Filipinos belted out the music, excited and inexhaustible with the biggest and best audience of their careers. The place was alive with happy dancers and drinkers… nowhere could there be a better party than this. At this moment Thai tourism looked very resilient indeed, still with a huge smile on its face despite all the threats that it faces.
As always a party like this comes at a price though and as time went on the wide expanse of beach was littered with bottles and debris. It struck me that before morning the tide would come in fast, burying some of the glass and carrying the plastics out into the deep so I spent half an hour doing a one man clean up. The task was beyond me but I’d piled perhaps a hundred bottles at the top of the beach before I gave up and went back to our hut.
This time we’re staying at Tiger bungalows run by a family of tailors of Indian origin. It’s only a moment from the beach but it’s quiet and secluded and backs onto the jungle. Every day there’s a monkey show when fifteen or twenty monkeys come down from the trees and are fed bananas. On the roof of our hut, they seemed so human in their behaviour, pushing and competing noisily for food.
And that wasn’t the only animal show. As this is Koh Chang, ‘elephant island’, a tug of war had been arranged. An elephant was decorated for the event and brought down onto the beach for a tug of war. A hundred volunteers had been signed up but it turned out that they weren’t all needed. The elephant didn’t want to play and was beaten by the first team of twenty men, only beating the kids team which ended up sprawled in the sand.
It was all good clean fun, though I couldn’t help feeling that the animal was treated as a performing toy… it was made to stand on two legs and to lie down photos were taken. It was potentially dangerous too. Somebody could easily have been trodden on in the scrum and if the animal had become enraged it could wreak great havoc. As usual there was no apparent consideration for safety but then that could spoil the fun, make Thailand a little less amazing and narrow the smile.
If visitors still have money, Thailand’s tourism should bounce back reasonably quickly as all of this is so attractive… that having fun is paramount, abandoning ‘health and safety’ and sharing a hedonistic fatalism with the Thais themselves who can be the best hosts in the world.
Nobody does a party better than the Thais.
Andrew Hicks The ‘Thai Girl’ Blog January 2009.