HEADLINES [click on headline to view story]:

A new campsite for nature lovers

Thailand to spend 60 million baht on disputed temple

Phuket turns to ‘health tourism’

Bangkok’s new airport opening almost certain to be delayed

A new campsite for nature lovers

Bring warm clothes!

Metinee Chaikuna

Jongklai Worapongsathorn, the chief of the Mae Fang National Park is developing a camping spot 1,900 meters above sea level that is going to be completed in March. Many tourists come to the Pha Hom Pok Mountain, Mae Ai, Chiang Mai but currently the Mae Fang National Park only has room for 200 tents.

Pha Hom Pok Mountain is cold all year long, with the lowest temperature in the winter being around 2บ Celsius and in the summer getting up to only 14บ Celsius. Doi Pha Hom Pok Mountain is the second highest mountain in the country (the highest is Doi Inthanon), with its peak 2,285 meters above sea level. The route to the mountain top is so steep that it’s considered as a “Mon Wad Jai” (a mountain that challenges those who think they can reach the top).

The topography is virgin forest; with trees covered by moss, fern, and lichen, which gives the area the appearance of being covered by a blanket and spawned its name; Pha Hom Pok, which simply means the blanket covered mountain. There are rare orchid plants on the mountain and over 200 types of birds, plus the goat antelope and rare butterflies like the imperial species.

Travelers who have a love of nature and wish to visit the Doi Pha Hom Pok, should ask for permission first at the Mae Fang National Park, Pong Num Ron, Fang, Chiang Mai, tel. 053-451441 ext. 302.

Thailand to spend 60 million baht on disputed temple

Thailand is spending 60 million baht on the renovation of the Sdok Kok Thom Temple despite the fact that Cambodia claims the site belongs to them. The eastern province of Sa Kaew is a well-known stopover for people on their way to the Cambodian border. It is also home to a temple that both Thailand and Cambodia claim.

The ruins of the sandstone Sdok Kok Thom Hindu Temple may finally attract tourists. According to Khomchan Thongthongthip, a Fine Arts Department archeologist in charge of the renovation project that began in 1995, the temple is not easy to find. It’s hidden in the forest about 20 minutes off Highway 384 between the towns of Aranyaprathet and Ta Phraya.

Like many Khmer ruins Sdok Kok Thom was built in the 10th century, about 200 years before the Sukhothai Kingdom was founded. When the Fine Arts Department started the renovation, army officers and landmine disposal teams led the archaeologists into the area.

The temple was surrounded by ruined bricks. Sdok Kok Thom Temple is a 30-minute walk from the Cambodian border. From 1975 to 1979, when the Khmer Rouge ruled Cambodia, refugees fled into Thailand through this route and some settled not far from the temple. The archeological team had to be very careful in unearthing the ruins in case a landmine was buried under the surface.

According to the archaeologist, more than 60 million baht will be required to restore the temple in a manner which will attract tourists. Like an old jigsaw puzzle, many of the pieces will remain missing and the temple will never regain its former glory.

However, the team has done a pretty good job and tourists are now able to visit Sdok Kok Thom Temple and get some idea of ancient Khmer civilization.

The temple Sdok Kok Thom is small when compared to the other ancient Khmer structures in northeast Thailand. Its true value lies in the fact that it is regarded as the missing link of the Ancient Khmer Civilization study and draws archeologists from around the world.

Phuket turns to ‘health tourism’

Tourists could soon be flocking to Thailand’s most popular island in search of white sand, turquoise seas – and a few night at a local hospital.

Under plans recently unveiled by the government Phuket intends to become Asia’s medical and health tourism hub, offering medical services ranging from spa treatment and massage to complicated hospital surgery, dentistry and cosmetic surgery.

While Phuket is already one of Thailand’s top tourism destinations, the government is worried that tourists are increasingly traveling abroad for reasons other than simple tourism. Large numbers of international visitors now come for meetings and medical treatment, and that without such services on offer Phuket could fall behind its competitors abroad.

After a joint public-private sector meeting on Phuket’s future as a health tourism hub, Dr Narongsak Angkhasuwaphra, director of the Department for the Promotion of Health Services, said that Phuket is already home to high quality health services, particularly those offered by the private sector, and that its transformation into a health tourism hub for Asia would be a smooth one.

The island is now renowned throughout the world for its various spas and boasts a number of international-standard private hospitals.

Bangkok Phuket Hospital, one of the foremost on the island, already provides interpreters in 15 languages, a department to deal with tourists, and a ward built especially for international patients who number around 20,000 each year.

The hospital’s director Dr Suraphong Luukhanumanchao admitted that attempts so far to turn Phuket into a health tourism tub had lacked publicity and predicted that a concerted public relations campaign could see international admissions to his hospital double. (TNA)

Bangkok’s new airport opening almost certain to be delayed

Fears that Bangkok’s new international airport at Suvarnabhumi will not be ready and operational by the scheduled 2005 date triggered a critical meeting which recently brought international airlines to meet with the Bangkok International Airport authorities, the contractors, the consultants and the designers, as well as government officials.

Executives of several leading airlines agreed there were several outstanding issues and that it would be better to postpone the opening date than start with an airport unprepared and ill-equipped.

One airline representative said that this would be “an opportunity to get things right and to build a modern airport that will last and will meet the needs of growing numbers of travelers to Thailand.”

Warren Gerig, United Airlines’ chief in Thailand, who is also the spokesman for the board of airline representatives comprising all the 68 international carriers which fly to Bangkok said that thanks to the personal intervention of Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, “There is a new era of cooperation. Under the new Transport Minister Suriya, doors are being opened to the airlines to allow them to make comments and suggestions.”

The new airport was designed to handle 40 million passengers a year, but by the time it opens Thailand may have as many as 45 million visitors a year. Security screening of baggage at the new airport will not meet the international standards that apply from 2006. The second runway will probably not be ready in time for the scheduled opening and not enough has yet been done to ensure the smooth running of an international airport, such as catering, cargo handling, maintenance and cleaning.

Hong Kong and Kuala Lumpur’s new airports opened before they were fully operational and airline executives say they would rather postpone the opening than operate under chaotic conditions. (TNA)