January, 2010

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Phuket – Commercial exploitation of rare Sea Eagles

Sunday, January 31st, 2010

© 2010 Frank P. Schneidewind

 

Kata Viewpoint is a prime photo spot and lookout on Phuket Island in Thailand. It is a frequent stop for the hordes of bus tourists from Singapore and China, the platform gets really busy at times, when they flock in. They’re usually gone after their 5 minute stop, there are a few dozen more click-happy photo stops for these folks.

Many foreigners rent Jeeps, mopeds or scooters – a lot of them have a break here, after their hill climb on the narrow and dangerous coastal road. The view is fantastic, Kata beach can be seen, Karon and Patong in the far.

Opportunity lingers here, with plenty of holidaygoers coming by, there is a refreshment stand, a souvenir stand with overpriced gimmicks and T-Shirts and the Eagle-man, famous since the January 2010 knife stabbing of a German expat near Chalong. One of Eagle-man’s sons was arrested here on-site by local police and now faces trial in court.

UPDATE: Here´s a link to a Phuket Gazette article with the newest infos to the murder case

UPDATE 2011: The Phuket Sea Eagle Man has been sentenced to 13 Years in Prison – for more info see the article in Phuket Wan

Pictured here is a son of the Eagleman in 2008, he may or may not be the accused knife murderer. I am familiar with the Eagle-man since right after the Millennium, these photos date from a variety of trips. Phuket before the chronical Taxi- and Tuktuk-mafia’s scamming was a destination several times per year on my agendas!

The man in the right of this photo below, is the Eagle-man himself, doing his questionable businesss and exploits the rare birds for a hefty fee per click!

The birds aren’t  really tame, their ability to strike is not hampered – which countless tourists found out painfully!

They are tied to their post most of the time. I questioned the Eagle-man myself over the years and his story about eagle babies, raised as orphans, still rings in my ears. He claims that locals from Phang Nga and Phuket brought him those animals when they, were unable to fend for themselves.

Phuket media kicked up the exploit for a short while, but crime-ridden Phuket has a constant flow of stories to tell. Deadly tourist drownings, boat accidents and numerous unexplored deaths by foreigners, barfights scramble for attention as front-page issues. Traffis accidents, gun wielding Jet-ski scamsters and busted foreigners (for a medication they carried), are always in combat with ladyboy-stories and openings of yet the next money-magnet to the foreigner-crowds.

The Eagle-man and his public exploit of protected animals on public grounds prevailed!



Polaroid photos for 200 Baht were hefty in 2003, 50 Baht before the dawn of digital cameras in cellular phones and click-happy busloads of discount-airline tourists netted Eagle-man nice profits daily. He long has upgraded his tricycle to a decked-out black pickup-truck to transport his feathered prisoners to and from home nearby (towards Chalong). The charges for Polaroids remained stable for years, but the “permit” to take a picture with own equipment was already doubled by 2007.

Cool idea, to have a business without the need to pay rent or tax – but to exploit endangered species for that?

Surely, Phukets local law enforcement and government would have to answer questions elsewhere But where money is being generated, TAT and all officials may close their eyes over years of cash-flow for Eagle-man.

WWF would have a ball, but where are they? Where are Animal’s Right’s Activists?

Elephants, apebabies, snakes and reptiles are exploited nationwide in Thailand, the smaller ones are being carried into Beerbars and eateries, touted to the walking ATM’s on two legs from overseas. This here was entirely different, one Eagle-man, one location, many years. Are there investigative journalists on Phuket worth their money? Are they producing so frequently, that a few birds don’t count?

In the picture below, one son ties the birs up for transport on a pickup-truck around the middle of the decade, probably just a year prior to the big tsunami in the Indian Ocean, which left so many dead on Phuket, Khao Lak and other places.

Tied to a wooden bar, the transport itself won”t allow an opportunity to fly. Speeds driven during the transport downhill from Kata viewpoint were mindboggling. I risked it a bit and tried to hang on with a small scooter, but to no avail!

The sharp claws of these birds of prey were in part covered with silicone rubber, which reduced skin damage for the tourists maybe, but it surely also made it difficult to hang on to the pickup truck for them!

The eagles and hawks situation here leaves many unanswered questions. I didn’t study biology or ornithology, so I can’t really tell what these birds need. I feel sorry for them, being a freedom-loving person myself. Melona and I spend countless hours in Ream Nat’l Park, over in Cambodia or on Pulau Langkawi in Malaysia. There I didn’t witness any exploitation of them, but we loved to watch the majestic birds from our canoe in the mangroves. Here they can be seen close-up for sheer profits of the Eagle-man.

 

 

Nong Khai – Thanaleng (Laos) , Thailand´s only International Train in the North

Sunday, January 31st, 2010

© 2010 Frank P. Schneidewind


The travel into Laos has been made easier for all and the victimizing by local transport thugs has been reduced to one spot only. The Friendship bridge connected Nong Khai’s Mekong shore since the 90’s with Laotian territory, but they have added a train service recently.

Thailand’s SRT and Lao Railways operate this together. Length of track between stations in use does not exceed 6.000 meters and covers the stream and that bridge crossing, twice daily in each direction!

 

Thanaleng station has been built for this purpose, the Tuktuk lobby in Laos must have prohibited railroad tracks well into Laos! 

So the rip off starts automatically at the station here, where Tuktuk pilots ferry the foreigners for a stash of Baht, Dollars or Kip to their final destination. A mafia-like organisation controls the access of vehicles strictly and charges 500 Baht “approach fee” to the drivers per vehicle. This is then passed on to the passengers, which have no alternative option from this station in the prairie by the Mekong river! Thanaleng is 30 KM away from Vientiane, public buses are nowhere in sight. The official negotiated fare is 40 or 50 Baht per person, depending on the drop-off in Vientiane. It’s 40 Baht to “Talad Sao Terminal”, the central transportation and bus plaza in the capital.

Expect to pay 100 Baht per Person, the Minibuses (12 seaters) or larger Tuktuks, need to pay off the mafia here as well! This is, believe it or not, a big step forward. Before You paid 40 Baht per person just to get from Nong Khai to the Thai side of the bridge, then 10 or 20 Baht for the transport over it (or hiked with your luggage), then you fell automatically victim to the mafia at the Laotian bridge end, where transport pays “approach fees” as well. The 5.000 Kip (5 Baht) public bus does operate, but they try everything to make you tale a shared taxi or Tuktuk!;)

The trains are fairly new and very clean , which surprised us after the dirty experience on SRT trains to Nong Khai or from there to Bangkok. Windshield wipers, head- and taillights – this train had it all! :)

Louvered blinds can be pulled out of the upper window frame, the windows themselves lower almost completely on demand. Good for us filming bunch.

Timetable:

Nong Khai – Thanaleng 09:30 AM, Thanaleng – Nong Khai 10:30 AM
Nong Khai – Thanaleng 04:00 PM, Thanaleng – Nong Khai 05:00 AM

The timetable and the South-to-North tracks, tell wise travelers to sit on the left, once inside the train both ways – in order to avoid over exposure to the strong sun, the right side of the train faces a merciless sun all the way!

Photo enthusiasts may want to face the sun for the possible reflections on the river during the passage over the bridge.


The station in Laos has one small refreshment kiosk, no food available – only drinks are sold lukewarm! It appears very well kept and is the pivotal point for major smuggling rings. Watch contraband in big sacks being offloaded on the opposite side of the train and disappear out of sight into the prairie on small mopeds with no license plates, within minutes after the trains arrivals from Nong Khai. All customs dudes are busy eyeballing arriving foreigners, filling out their Immigration forms for the needed Visa and stamp in their passports. Nice tables are provided, chairs as well.

Departure times given are loose time frames only, do not travel by train, if you have tight connections to catch in Nong Khai or at Udon Thani Airport. Our train was delayed 30 minutes both ways!

Arrival times in Nong Khai allow well for same-day connections to Bangkok by train on both trains in the evening!