HEADLINES [click on headline to view story]: 

Pattaya puts best foot forward for APEC delegates

Wat Phra That Doi Suthep

CARAT Sailors give the gift of time

Pattaya puts best foot forward for APEC delegates

Forum seeks strategies for regional tourism and investment cooperation

by Staff Reporters

Hosted by the Thai government, TAT, provincial and local administrations, last week’s high profile Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) forum in Pattaya focused on the future of regional, national and local tourism. Government representatives from the 21 member nations met for the 22nd APEC Travel and Tourism Forum and the 3rd APEC Tourism Working Group to discuss important regional and global issues from June 9-14.

Delegates and performers at the opening ceremony of the 22nd APEC Tourism Working Group Meeting held at the Royal Cliff Beach Resort.

(L-R) Manit Boonchim, director of TAT region 3, Auggaphol Brickshawana, TAT Planning Department director, Krirk-krai Jirapaet, Deputy Minister of Tourism and Sports, Panga Vathanakul MD Royal Cliff Beach Resort, Mayor Pairat Suthithamrongsawat and Choosak Srivajanapong RM of the Royal Cliff Beach Resort.

The delicate art of fruit carving never ceases to amaze our visitors.

Dancers from Mini Siam perform the ‘Kinnaree’.

Krirkkrai Jirapaet, vice-minister of Tourism and Sports presided over the official opening at the Royal Cliff Beach Resort on June 10.

Officially opening the forum, Auggaphol Prueksawan, director of planning for the Tourism Authority of Thailand (TAT) said, “Postponed from April due to the outbreak of the SARS virus in Asia, this meeting now proves Thailand’s efforts to halt the spread of the disease and involves representatives from member nations responsible for the development of travel and tourism in the Asia Pacific region.”

Tight security prevented the media from joining the initial stages of the meeting but the press got a chance to meet with delegates at a special cocktail party at the Dusit Resort Pattaya on Tuesday evening where everyone was treated to a display of Thai food and culture.

The following day a dinner arranged by many of local business organizations and Pattaya City demonstrated appreciation and provided the very best in food, cultural shows and displays for APEC guests at the new South Pattaya Bali Hai Pier.

The Tourism Working Group (TWG) addressed main focal points for tourism in the Asia Pacific.

Discussions dealt with problems currently facing tourism and addressed issues of regional investment. It was acknowledged that strong support and promotion of tourism within the region is vital for the member countries and it was agreed that each nation must insure higher standards of products and services for travelers.

Co MC Peter Malhotra kept the party rolling at a lively pace.

Pattaya School No. 3 students perform the ancient Muay Thai pre-fight ritual.

This delegate couldn’t take his eyes off Miss Tiffany.

TWG agreed that security amid the current global alert to prevent terrorism and potential threats to travelers is a top priority and pointed out that integrated measures and standards are necessary tools required to develop the region’s vast potential for tourism and its vital revenue.

Discussions included the creation of the APEC International Center for Sustainable Tourism, to support the industry, particularly in the wake of SARS in the Asia Pacific Region and assess tourism risk management in the Asia Pacific Region. The TWG also announced its intention of implementing the best measures and practices in safety and security in order to combat fear of terrorism in the tourist industry.

Officials of the Tourism Working Group (TWG) discussed the impact of SARS on its member economies. In consultation with international experts and private-sector representatives from the World Travel and Tourism Council and the Pacific Asia Travel Association, officials noted that while the health scare had affected all areas of members’ economies, it hit the tourist industry hardest.

The delegates pose for a group picture after receiving beautiful souvenirs from Mayor Pairat Suthithamrongsawat.

Pattaya residents from the government and private sectors including members of many orgaisations lent a hand to give a warm welcome to our guests.

The beautiful colors of dusk lend an extraordinary backdrop to this delegate reading the Pattaya Mail.

Thursday June 12 opened the 3rd Tourism Forum which focused on ‘Sustainable Pathways to Quality and Value in Tourism in the APEC region’. This concept will create partnerships and alliances to develop markets and sustain growth in the industry.

Sir Frank Moore AO, chairman APEC International Center for Sustainable Tourism (AICST) summarized, “The first three decades of modern tourism were successful. New heights were achieved and opportunities were increased. Success also brought new problems which will require higher levels of skills and abilities. Currently we need to upgrade our knowledge in order to manage the situation. We also need to embrace a wider global vision rather than the individual or national destination approach of the past.

“Wider partnerships and collaboration are required. AICST can act as a vehicle for partner economies to collaborate in building a wider knowledge base to allow the industry’ potential to be realized,” concluded Sir Frank.

Malai Sakolviphak, international counsellor and president of the Skal National Committee of Thailand, plays host to delegates at the Dusit Resort.

Auggaphol Brickshawana, TAT Planning Department director leads the delegates to an evening of fine dining and culture held at the Bali Hai Pier in South Pattaya.

Sir Frank touched on the very essence of APEC and tourism. Cooperative partnership is vital between countries and businesses. Effective cooperation empowers participants to resolve issues through better understanding. Partnerships can ensure that future development is of high standard and working together makes problems easier to solve.

The APEC International Center for Sustainable Tourism, the Tourism Working Group has a project underway that helps governments and tourism operators better manage risks and quickly respond to crises, whether of human or natural origin.

This study and its recommendations, including a case study on SARS, will be available in the last quarter of 2003, after a presentation to APEC senior officials.

Meanwhile, TWG officials are aware that the media needs to be informed of the measures being taken to enhance travelers’ security in the APEC region. The TWG recognizes the important role that media and government advisory messages can play in gaining the confidence of travelers.

Wat Phra That Doi Suthep

by Kathryn Brimacombe

Although I have been to Chiang Mai several times, each time I go I visit Wat Phra That Doi Suthep. Despite it being number one on the tourist hit list for Chiang Mai, it stills beckons me as it stands proudly from the top of the mountain, overlooking the city below. Whenever the golden temple comes into my view as I’m walking along the streets, I’m filled with a sense of peace and contentment, as if it’s protecting me. It calls to me, and I go.

I walk around the chedi, the scent of burning incense following me,
my eyes never leaving
the beautiful pagoda whose golden glow darkens to a deep copper colour in the shadows.

Wat Phra That Doi Suthep was established more than six hundred years ago by King Keu Naone of Lanna, a kingdom in northern Thailand of which Chiang Mai was the capital. The legend says that during that time, a monk from Sukothai had a vision of a fire. When he followed the fire, he found a bone that had come from Lord Buddha. He brought the relic to his king, but the king soon lost interest when the bone failed to display any magical powers. But King Keu Naone, who had heard the story, asked the monk to bring the bone to Chiang Mai and constructed a new chedi (or pagoda) to house it. When the time came to enshrine the relic, however, it split in two.

The king decreed that half of the bone should be placed on a sacred white elephant, and the elephant should be followed. The elephant left Chiang Mai by its northern gate (known today as Chang Puak, or White Elephant Gate) and walked west into the mountains. The elephant climbed up the 1676 metre Doi Suthep, or Suthep Mountain, but when it neared the summit it trumpeted and died. On that spot in 1383 the King ordered the temple to be built.

For more than 500 years, devout worshippers had to make the arduous trek to the temple through the jungle to the top of the mountain. But then in 1934, Phra Krubra Srivichai, a local monk, thought the temple needed to be accessed more easily and organized several villages to build a road. He asked each village to construct 10 metres, and within six months the winding road was complete. Phra Krubra Srivichai was held in such high regard a statue devoted to him was created at the base of the mountain, where it still stands. It is believed to be good luck to pay homage to him before ascending Doi Suthep.

Leaning my elbows on the railing, I look over the tops of trees to Chiang Mai below. The sky is a clear blue with a few puffs of clouds in the distance, and with little haze I can see for miles and miles.

The songthaew drops me off safely at the foot of the stairs leading up to the temple, after spending many stomach-churning minutes winding along the 13-km steep road through beautiful jungle to reach the summit. I stare at the long staircase in front of me, which consists of more than 200 steps, take a deep breath and begin my ascent, thinking that this isn’t as bad as having to climb the entire mountain itself to reach the temple.

The staircase is flanked on both sides by the scaly snake-like bodies of the nagas, whose fierce multiple heads form the banisters’ bottoms. Thus, the nagas, who in Buddhist mythology protected Buddha before his enlightenment by shooting down lightning bolts aimed at him, guard the sacred temple.

After stopping halfway to catch my breath, sharing exclamations about the strenuous climb with other tourists, I finally reach the top and enter the temple grounds, first taking off my shoes. The temple is breathtaking in its gold and vermilion splendour, twinkling in the sun’s gaze against the deep blue sky.

Wiping my face with a handkerchief to catch the beads of sweat dripping down, I enter the inner courtyard and am greeted by the sight of the copper-plated chedi topped with a five-tiered golden umbrella, glinting like golden fire. All around it are throngs of tourists, and I must manoeuvre my way through to get a good view.

In front of the chedi people are praying, their eyes closed, their hands placed together in a wai, whilst a candle, flowers and joss sticks are pressed between their palms. After their prayers have been said, they light the candles and place them in a rack that is dripping in dried wax, then lay their flowers on a metal tray, and finally light their joss sticks and position them in a sand-filled pot.

I walk around the chedi, the scent of burning incense following me, my eyes never leaving the beautiful pagoda whose golden glow darkens to a deep copper colour in the shadows. Behind the chedi is another temple and I glance inside the dark room filled with Buddha effigies. As my eyes adjust to the darkness, I see an elderly monk sitting on the floor, murmuring and blessing an older woman seated in a lotus position in front of him. Not wishing to disturb such a sacred moment, I quietly retire and continue my walk.

Leaving the inner sanctuary and the chedi, I head outside of the main temple where I had been told I would see a fantastic view of Chiang Mai. Passing by a holy Bodhi tree, which people say had actually grown from a clipping of the very tree under which Buddha became enlightened, I come across two rows of large bells. A young man grabs the gong of the first bell and gently taps the side, creating a resonating sound. As he continues along the row, ringing each bell lightly, the sound follows me as my eyes draw me to the bright pink bougainvilleas that reach their limbs and paper-thin petals to the viewpoint.

Leaning my elbows on the railing, I look over the tops of trees to Chiang Mai below. The sky is a clear blue with a few puffs of clouds in the distance, and with little haze I can see for miles and miles. The runway of Chiang Mai International Airport stretches out to my right, and I watch as an incoming plane lands on the tarmac.

I gaze out to the horizon for several more minutes, feeling the benevolent presence of the temple extending outward to those around me and to the people of Chiang Mai below. Then the sweet scent of burning incense tickles my nose, and turning my eyes towards the temple, I follow the smoky trail back to the golden chedi.

CARAT Sailors give the gift of time

By Gunner’s Mate 1st Class Tim Gustafson
Commander, Task Force 712 public affairs

Damage Controlman 3rd Class Jason McPherson drives his pickaxe relentlessly into the red rocky soil. Beside him, a slender Thai man in his forties works a shovel into the clay. Perspiration is as common as the stones.

Storekeeper 2nd Class Alan Countz of USS Vincennes (CG 49) plays with new friends at the Ban Khao Bai Sri Elementary School. Sailors created concrete slabs to support playground equipment and painted the school’s open-air dining facility. U.S. Navy photo by Gunner’s Mate 1st Class Tim Gustafson.

The 20 members of the U.S. Navy who have come to Ban Khao Bai Sri School are visiting the country for the Thailand phase of Cooperation Afloat Readiness and Training (CARAT). But today is a cooperative exercise of a different kind.

Without all the gadgets and diversions so common in more affluent areas, schools in this region serve as community centers for children. At Ban Khao Bai Sri, playground equipment creatively constructed out of piping, barrels, and other odds and ends draws some 320 children from preschool through the elementary grades.

But the structures sit loosely on the ground. McPherson and the other volunteers are here to anchor the seven pieces of equipment in concrete.

Lt. j.g. Kathleen Hosie of USS Vincennes (CG 49) conducts an impromptu English lesson with children at the Ban Khao Bai Sri Elementary School. U.S. Navy photo by Gunner’s Mate 1st Class Tim Gustafson.

There’s plenty of other work to do too. The school’s modest buildings stretch unobtrusively across the back of the tree-lined acre-sized quadrangle. Vivid tropical flowers punctuate the perimeter. Netless soccer goals bracket each end. Seated passively on the tiled veranda, a Buddhist monk takes in the scene. He oversees the property and provides the food for the students.

A concrete structure in the far corner serves as a cafeteria. Weathered and mildewed paint flakes from the walls. Scaffolding, ladders and other supplies await the volunteer crew here from USS Safeguard (ARS 50), USS Vincennes (CG 49), forward deployed to Sasebo and Yokosuka, Japan respectively, and the staff of San Diego-based Destroyer Squadron (DESRON) One.

While McPherson and several of his buddies doggedly chop at the holes for the concrete, another group of sailors makes for the paint project. First they’ll need to scrape and sweep the walls inside and out. Aviation Warfare Systems Operator 2nd Class Dustin Phagan grabs a broom and dispatches a spider that impedes his progress. “I don’t know about the spiders here,” he grins.

Oozing curiosity, bolder schoolchildren blaze the trail for their more reluctant classmates. Approaching their American guests, they try what little English they know. “Hello. What is your name?” It’s more than enough to break the ice. In unison, a semicircle of kids counts to ten, giggling louder with each number.

The sailors have brought their own water, but they didn’t need to. Children faithfully dispense glasses of it, while a Thai teacher keeps a styrofoam cooler stocked with bottled water. Schoolgirls bring fresh fruit at regular intervals.

As the alluring aroma of authentic Thai cuisine begins to pervade the quad, long-forgotten American tunes from the seventies emanate from the school’s antiquated speaker system. Employees of the school are preparing Thai noodles for the volunteers.

By late afternoon, the work is nearly done. Amazingly, several of the sailors still have energy to keep up with the kids.

DESRON Chaplain (Lt.) Robert Mercado, who helped pull the community service effort together, is moved at what has been accomplished in just one day. Accompanied by the interpreter, he walks over from a conversation with school principal Detsara Pouaknand. His voice softens as he relays what the principal has just told him.

“The principal is so grateful,” he says, shaking his head. “She would have waited more than five years for the funds to get [the equipment] stabilized.”

“We can pump money into this and it’s still not enough,” he says wistfully. “It’s still not enough.”

But today, for the students at Ban Khao Bai Sri School, it isn’t about the money. It’s about a group of sailors who cared enough to give some time.

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