Vol. XI No. 19
Friday 9 May -15 May 2003

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Updated every Friday
by Parisa Santithi


HEADLINES [click on headline to view story]: 

Garndah apes a mahout as he gallops away

Tourism Authority of Thailand introduces TAT Call Center 1672

Pattaya Bids for the Skål Eco Tourism Award

Emirates’ Skywards sweeps “Freddie” awards

Phuket hotel occupancy plummets as SARS keeps tourists away

Austrian Airlines Group “Magic Price” offers cut prices on spring and summer fares

The Raging Storm

Thailand Golf Holiday

Garndah apes a mahout as he gallops away

Animal talent shows at Nong Nooch Garden part of “Unseen in Thailand” campaign

Patcharapol Parnrak

"Why stick to the same old ways of traveling and see the stuff that you have seen a lot of times before," was one of comments made by the Tourism Authority of Thailand (TAT) which intimated the office had been working on something special that is now ready for the public.

Garndah - perhaps the world’s first chimp mahout.

Nong Nooch Garden recently responded to the eagerness of the TAT to boost Thailand’s tourism sector by organizing some pretty unusual animal talent shows. For example, one of the shows features an ape riding on the back of an elephant. The chimpanzee named Garndah has spent a lot of time with her friend Troodjean, the 2-year-old female elephant, the daughter of Bird and Vassana. Troodjean was born in February 2001, on Chinese New Year day, or ‘Troodjean’ in Thai.

Thongchai Sodorn, marketing manager of Nong Nooch Garden said, "Thailand was hit hard by the decline in number of tourists due to the Gulf war and the SARS health scare. Nong Nooch Garden and other tourist attractions had to do something to survive the situation."

Thongchai explained that Nong Nooch Garden’s monkey and elephant trainers combined their efforts and skills to train these wild animals to become tame and follow their instructions. "It was a great challenge for our trainers to get Garndah to hop up on Troodjean and ride her as well as a human mahout," he said.

The scene strikingly shows the great relationship the ape and the elephant have formed and it creates a memorable and stunning moment for tourists when they watch them. The Nong Nooch Garden marketing manager confirmed that nothing like this has ever happened anywhere before and it is something animal lovers should not miss!

Tourism Authority of Thailand introduces TAT Call Center 1672

Uamporn Jirakarnvisan, director of Tourism Authority of Thailand Northeast Region 1 announced that Tourism Authority of Thailand (TAT) has set up the 24 hour TAT Call Center 1672 for tourists to acquire travel information by calling the hotline number 1672.

Tourism Authority of Thailand provides 20 lines for inquires concerning tourism in Thailand between 8.00 a.m. to 8.00 p.m. and other 48 lines with automatic answering around the clock. Tourists can receive the information through telephone and FAX. They can also surf the website www.tourismthailand.org and ask for specific information via e-mail: [email protected]

For further information about the Call Center contact the Tourism Service Department, Tourism Authority of Thailand 1600 New Petchburi Road Makkasan, Ratchthewee, Bangkok, or call 02-250-5500 extension 2130.

The address of the Tourism Authority of Thailand office for Northeast Region 1 is building no. 2102-2104, Mitraphap Road, Muang district, Nakhornrachasrima or telephone 044-213666, 044-213030 and fax 044-213667 between 8.30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.

Pattaya Bids for the Skål Eco Tourism Award

At the conclusion of the monthly luncheon last month at Yorkies, Andrew Wood, Skål club secretary mentioned the upcoming Skål Eco-tourism Awards. Initiated by the Skål Club of Pattaya and East Thailand, a committee has been appointed by the governor of Chonburi, Sawarng Srisarkun comprising of top governmental representatives as well as leaders in the tourism sector in Pattaya.

Andrew Wood, secretary of Skål International, Pattaya and East Thailand said, "The rehabilitation of Pattaya has been an ongoing project which dates back to as early as 1997.

This project follows a plan prepared for the Skål International Ecotourism Awards created and adopted worldwide.

Skål International is linked with caring for the environment, and is a powerful influence and instigator of change for improvement in the travel trade industry. It serves to contribute towards Skål projecting the image of an international travel association that is a powerful force in the travel and tourism industry, capable of acting in unison to initiate change, encourage the conservation of the environment in order to promote tourism and travel, and confer awards to encourage the leaders/professionals of the tourism industry to contribute to conservation around the world. It will also serve the purpose of acquainting the world with this new concept which puts emphasis on the importance of the interaction of the physical, cultural and social environment in the act of tourism taking place, the traveller’s responsibility and the need for active community participation for Ecotourism.

Andrew Wood, secretary of Skål International, Pattaya and East Thailand, gave a brief summary of Pattaya’s objectives, "The rehabilitation of Pattaya has been an ongoing project which dates back to as early as 1997. As Thailand’s oldest international resort destination, Pattaya has come a long way since its early days as a fishing village on the East Coast of Thailand. As a direct result of the influx of foreign visitors, at first primarily United States navy personnel on assignment in Vietnam followed by a much broader and diverse mix of tourists, the city of Pattaya experienced a decline in environmental standards which reached it’s lowest point towards the mid-1990s.

"Witnessing the significant decline in the environment and natural habitat of Pattaya, particularly the seawater quality, a rehabilitation campaign was instituted and financed by the private as well as public sector. The campaign has thus far resulted in the development and subsequent operations of a large-scale wastewater treatment plant, the beautification of Pattaya’s roadways and commercial areas, the creation of nature parks, the erection of boat piers and the all-important regulation and enforcement of environmental standards.

"This degeneration of the environment shares a direct correlation to the decline in visitor numbers to Pattaya in the early- to mid-1990s. The effects of the rehabilitation campaign, however, have served to stem the decline and have over the past few years resulted in a growing number of visitors to Pattaya. Currently, Pattaya attracts in excess of 3 million visitors annually. Forecasts expect this upward trend to continue, particularly now that the seawater around Pattaya Bay has been declared safe for swimming."

The Skål Ecotourism Awards will be announced at the Skål World Congress on 22nd October 2003 in Chennai India.

Emirates’ Skywards sweeps “Freddie” awards

Skywards, the frequent flyer program of Emirates, the Dubai-based global passenger and cargo air carrier, and Sri Lankan Airlines continues to outpace the industry. At InsideFlyer magazine’s 15th Annual Freddie Awards dinner at the Wyndham Hotel in Colorado Springs, Skywards finished first in six categories, including the coveted international "Program of the Year" award.

Only three years old and competing with the leading frequent flyer programs of the world, Skywards pulled a stunning finish, unseating six-time "Program of the Year" winner, SAS EuroBonus.

"It is a great honor to be recognized so impressively by InsideFlyer and the traveling public. These awards reflect how international travelers respond to our commitment to provide the very best customer service in the world," said Brian LaBelle, Skywards ‘ general manager.

The airline also collected first place awards for Best Elite Level, Best Customer Service, Best Award Redemption, Best Web Site and Emirates’ first-ever win in the category of Best Affinity Card for the co-branded Emirates - Citibank Credit Card. It placed second in the Best Newsletter category.

Phuket hotel occupancy plummets as SARS keeps tourists away

Hotels in Phuket are rushing to reduce room rates and encouraging staff to take unpaid leave after the impact of Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) has left them with occupancy rates of a mere 10-30 percent.

President of the provincial tourism business association, Phattanaphong Ekwanich said, "The impact of SARS is forcing hotels to cut overhead costs by reducing staff salaries. Slashing room rates is a desperate bid to attract more visitors during the low season."

The Phuket Association of Tourism Businesses has prepared a letter to the government, urging it to offer tax concessions to ensure the survival of the island’s tourism industry, saying that if hotel and tourism companies were badly affected the province’s whole economic system could be damaged.

Jirasak Thanakittitham, manager of the Kata-Karon Beach Hotel Association, highlighted the urgency of the situation, saying that occupancy rates of 10-30 percent represented a 10-year low, and had put hotels in the area in a critical position.

"As far as hotels in the Kata-Karon area are concerned, there have been discussions between owners and their staff to find ways in which all can work together to survive. We have to accept that the tourism situation at the present time is extremely bad. The staff must accept this," he said, adding that hotel personnel were being asked to take up to five days unpaid leave a month. (TNA)

Austrian Airlines Group “Magic Price” offers cut prices on spring and summer fares

With its new "Magic Price" special fare promotions, the Austrian Airlines Group is offering a range of attractive flight offers. Fares have been slashed by up to 50 % for passengers wishing to travel from Austria and Western Europe to destinations around the world.

The new offers are available with immediate effect, and flights can be taken throughout the summer holiday season until 31 August 2003.

Chief Commercial Officer of the Austrian Airlines Group, Dr. Josef E. Burger said, "Flying with the Austrian Airlines Group has never been as cheap as it will be this spring and summer."

Just a few examples of "Magic Price" are Highlights for City Trips departing from Austria starting at 149 euros to Rome, Milan, Venice, London, Dublin, Amsterdam, Brussels or Istanbul.

Starting from 249 euros flights are available to Central and Eastern Europe, to Moscow, Warsaw, Bucharest, Sofia, Vilnius, St. Petersburg, Krakow, Tirana, Minsk or Kiev. Alternatively, flights are on sale from as little as 99 euros from Vienna to Budapest or Prague.

From Austria to popular Holiday Destinations knockdown rates from 199 euros are offered on flights to Nice, Barcelona, Palma de Mallorca, Malta, Athens, Thessaloniki, Bologna and Florence. To Lisbon, Porto and Faro in Portugal fares start at 249 euros.

Holidays in Scandinavia and Finland come true at 249 euros, traveling to Copenhagen, Stockholm, Gothenburg, Oslo and Helsinki. New "Magic Price", flights to Egypt are available for only 299 euros.

Flights overseas to New York, Washington, Toronto or Montreal start at 399 euros. From Austria to Germany the same low fares continue to apply with prices starting at just 110 euros while on flights departing from Germany, there are fares to Tokyo and Osaka starting at 549 euros.

The global Magic Price offers are on sale from 26 April to 31 May 2003.

The offers can be booked around the clock in the Austrian Airlines Group offices in Vienna, Graz and Bregenz, at the sales counters of all Austrian airports, at a travel agency of your choice or online at www.aua.com, www.austrianairlines.com

The Raging Storm

by Kathryn Brimacombe

During a storm several nights ago, I became frightened of wind. I had never been scared by wind before and I was shocked to have found this fear. I love watching storms, especially storms in Thailand. A little thrill flickers in my body as I see the sky darken to a deep purple over the horizon, and in the distance I hear a small grumble of thunder. I wait in anticipation for the storm to arrive and unleash its power and strength - I scan the clouds for flashes, I sniff the air for ozone, and oftentimes when the rains come I dance in the street.

"Lightening flashed, illuminating the night sky with purple and yellow light as if it were day, thunder cracked as if had split the earth"

But before the storm sinks its teeth into the sky overhead, it sends a forerunner, a messenger to let everyone know it is on its way - the wind.

Lately in Nong Khai, storms have been coming from the north, from Laos. The days are hazy, humid, and hot, but if the sun sets in a fireball into clouds building up on the horizon, chances are an hour or so later the wind will pick up and a storm will erupt and rage over the Mekong River and the town of Nong Khai before heading south.

But on that day we had no such warning.

"Trees were bent so that their limbs touched the wet ground, limbs snapped off and disappeared into the clouds..."

The sun had glared incessantly all day until it fell into the Mekong, and the air was so humid my clothes and skin were damp. The heat was ruthless, and I had no energy to complete the simplest tasks; my lifeblood was cool water connected to my lips by a straw. Leaves on the trees and trousers and shirts drying on clotheslines were still like stone - there wasn’t the slightest breath of air to move them.

The sun sunk lower in the river, the sky darkened into dusk, and bats flew through the sultry air, clicking and swooping, diving for insects. My friend and I were sitting and chatting on the outdoor patio of my partner’s restaurant, which looks out to a tree-lined road that connects to the bank of the Mekong River. As we wiped our faces and necks with handkerchiefs, we said we couldn’t believe how hot it was, and shook our heads - there wasn’t a chance of rain to cool the night.

Yet in the shadows of the black sky we didn’t see the clouds whipping up over Laos, obliterating the stars, the moon. We didn’t see any flashes. We couldn’t smell any ozone. Just the hairs on my arms began to rise slightly, lifted with a puff of breeze, and I sighed and smiled as the cool air caressed my skin. Maybe we would be lucky with a little wind tonight, I thought, so I could sleep without feeling prickly heat.

But suddenly the temperature dropped; the hairs on the back of my neck lifted and I shivered. We heard a curious sound like rain as hundreds of dead leaves scuttled down the street, whipped up by the wind, scratching the pavement.

Then we heard a howl, and a blast of wind roared down the street taking with it leaves, tree branches, and sheets of newspaper. As we ducked the flying debris and frantically tried to roll up the awning that was flapping wildly, while the metal poles were swinging into the electrical lines, I heard the wind whistle for the first time. I didn’t know what was overhead, or what was coming, and I was scared.

The awning finally rolled up, torn in places into shreds by the gusts of air, we grabbed the tables to bring inside just as lightening flashed, illuminating the night sky with purple and yellow light as if it were day, thunder cracked as if had split the earth, and the rain crashed in almost horizontal sheets. The sound was deafening.

We closed the sliding metal gate to just a crack, and looked at each other with wide, fearful eyes. As the lights flickered off and on, she sat immobile in a chair while I watched the destruction outside, my eye peering through the opening of the gate, which vibrated with each explosion of thunder. Trees were bent so that their limbs touched the wet ground, limbs snapped off and disappeared into the clouds, potted plants blew over and rolled down the street, wooden signs were shredded like paper, the pieces scattering into the sky, and all the while bright yellow flowers filled the air as the storm raged overhead.

For more than two hours the storm focused its fury over the town and surrounding villages, gradually heading south. When we finally crept outside, the damage was incredible. Trees were shattered, stripped of leaves, roofs were blown off homes and shops, shelters collapsed, and debris and rubble was strewn all over the ground. Townspeople and villagers alike said that was the worst storm they could ever remember.

Although the wreckage has been removed and repairs slowly made, the torn trees and my newly-found fear serves as a reminder of that night. Especially the tingling sensation I get across the back of my neck whenever I hear a slight rustle of wind in the trees.


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