photo from Koh Tao Guide Online
Nine years ago on my first visit to Siam I discovered a place called Koh Tao. It is an island in the Gulf of Thailand. I will never forget the two weeks I spent there. I learnt to scuba dive and was awed by the natural beauty of the place -- both above and below the water. I also loved the friendly atmosphere of the place. There weren't that many people on the island and everybody knew each other.
When I returned again I knew to expect a lot of changes, so I wasn't too shocked or surprised. Nine years ago Sairee beach had just a few small collections of bungalows spread out along its length. Now it has resorts and restaurants from end to end. There is even a 7-Eleven! Before there were hardly any sealed roads. Now motorbikes and pick-ups speed around everywhere.
To some extent you need to accept that change is inevitable. It could be worse of course. At least there are no high-rise buildings and the international fast food chains are yet to extend their reach there. Those with businesses on the island obviously have an interest in maintaining its natural beauty, which is its greatest asset. However, in the race to be the first or the biggest a lot of planning issues fall by the wayside. Or perhaps there is simply a lack of effective governance to do any planning.
The problems on the island are many. Firstly, there is the lack of a coordinated garbage disposal system. Limited fresh water supplies, management of waste water and a high demand for electricity, all of which comes from diesel generators on the island, are other problems. Last, but not least, is the building boom which converts natural beauty into concrete ugliness.
The problem is not confined to Koh Tao. Similar things are happening (or have already happened) at other popular tourist spots in Thailand. All this is not to say Koh Tao is no longer beautiful or nobody should go there. It is just that I wonder how much longer it will be before it becomes paradise lost.
Friday, April 29, 2005
Monday, April 11, 2005
Chaiya is a small town between Surat Thani and Chumphon. It is worth a short detour if you are travelling past it. The town has several sites that date back to the Srivijaya era in the 9th and 10th century C.E. Also nearby is Wat Suan Mokkh, the forest monastery founded by Ajarn Buddhadasa Bhikkhu.
Places of interest
Wat Kaeo contains the remains of a stupa that was originally built in the 9th to 10th century C.E. It has been partially reconstructed. A little further north is Wat Long which is the reconstructed base of a stupa from the same period. In the grounds of Wat Wiang is the Chaiya Folk Museum but it was closed when I was there.
Chaiya's piece de resistance is Wat Phra Boromathat. In the centre of the temple is a fully restored Srivijayan style stupa. While it is not huge it is quite beautiful and provides an excellent example of what the other stupas in the town might have looked like when they were built. In the grounds of the temple there is the Chaiya National Museum. It is quite small but has an interesting collection nonetheless. Entry is B30 and the museum is closed on Monday, Tuesday and national holidays.
Chaiya can be reached by train. Most buses don't go to the town but will drop you off on the highway three kilometres west of the town. You can then take a motorcycle taxi or songthaew into the town. The town is centred around the railway station. The sites mentioned above are all to the west of the town (i.e. between the railway line and the highway).
You could visit the sites in a walking tour. First take a motorcycle taxi to Wat Kaeo. From there walk north past Wat Long. When you get to the T-intersection Wat Wiang and the town centre are to the right and Wat Phra Boromathat is to the left.
Saturday, April 02, 2005
Motorbikes are the ubiquitous form of transport in Thailand (along with pick-up trucks). I purchased my own set of wheels yesterday. I was lucky to find what I think was a good buy. I bought a Suzuki Smash 110. The bike was only three months old with less than 2,000 km on the clock. It looks like new but cost me a lot less than a new bike. It is still under warranty as well.