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Pak Meng Beach, Trang Province – Thailand

Sunday, February 14th, 2010

© Frank P. Schneidewind

 

 

Another Andaman Sea Beach Review: Pak Meng, Trang

South of the touristic destination of Krabi and North of Satun Province, Trang faces an existence in the attention shadow of the almighty TAT (Tourist Authority of Thailand). Once given a 3 1/2 star review by questionable biased judges there; Trang never qualified for much limelight or exposure. Good for us, because we give a damn about their judgements and do or own assessment and judging. Fact finding, we call that and we enjoy doing that over and over again. Arrival with public transport was a real problem here. Whilst Trang City is connected well by train and buses and they even have an airport (domestic), their beach jewels remain difficult to locate and reach.

We arrived by scheduled minivan from Satun late in the day, having to change transport in the community in Sikao, a small township closer to Pak Meng. A long travel day ended for us at dawn time in Pak Meng, and we were rewarded by a nice sunset, that kept us from checking for accommodation until it was completely dark. A dimly lit beach road had a few restaurants, some beach gadget stores and a few guesthouses. Restaurants all extended their tables and plastic chairs across the road onto the part where the beach meets the road level. A minor embankment lined this and trees were fighting for their sheer survival in this small stretch of urban beach.

What we witnessed, was one of those spectacular sunsets on the Andaman coastline. Just like the ones in untraveled Burma or in Malaysia or on Sumatra. The Thai Andman coast is equaling Koh Chang in the Gulf or Sihanoukville on Cambodia’s coast in photogenic quality. Just the number of tourists per 100 square meters differs a lot. Nothing tops the much promoted Cape Promthep in Phuket Province, where the hordes of tourists bused in must have exceeded all capabilities of the over-touristed place by now. The nicest 15 sunsets in Thailand, we think are to be seen:

1.) Koh Phayam (entire West coast) (our SIAMPEDIA-Avatar!)

2.) Koh Chang (Trat), White Sand Beach (our SiampediaVISION-Avatar!)

3.) Pak Meng Beach, Trang

4.) Ao Nang Beach, Krabi

5.) – 15.) Koh Lipe, Tarutao, Lanta, Kradan, Racha Yai, Chang (Ranong) , Tao,
Phangan, Samui,  Phuket (all West facing Beaches or segments thereof!)

The Beach quality was tested by TAT years ago at 3 1/2 stars, lower than some of the dirtied-up resort area beaches we’d encounter over the years – but it doesn’t appear justified. The “trash” found here was significantly less than e.g. Khao Lak, Baan Krud or elsewhere. A lot of driftwood, shells and a few plastic items on a 4 km stretch of bathing beach, all public! No private maintenance as with some of the “exclusive” resort stretches of coastal sand.

The beach road was filled up with the catch  of the day, nowhere on the Andaman coastline can seafood-lovers indulge freshest product at such low prices! Thanks to the low foreigner-density here, most beachside restaurants have regular Thai prices, do not expect a lot of “Western food” here!

An impressive TAT-run “Information Center” was a long walk away from the community. Almost in the boonies, like we have seen them often before. It was open to our surprise, and large. TAT-style incompetent staff was extremely friendly and replied to each and every question with a nice smile, but no verbal answer. Communication skills are not asked for at TAT’s human resource hiring department, the friendly girl with the model smile was absolutely useless for any information foreign tourists may seek! We were given some brochures free of charge,  local maps were a total void here

Maybe one day, TAT wakes up and jobs or positions have to be qualified for. As per yet, the poorly educated staff has to buy their jobs for large sums – as they are “high-image”, so substantial rumors say ! I know that they hate me for telling the truth on destinations, rip-off’s and overpricing schemes – but there will be more and more truth uncovered, not only by SIAMPEDIA!

Amazing Thailand once again!

The great backdrop here was provided by the likes of Koh Kradan, Koh Hai, Koh Muk and Koh Libong – we were thinking about exploring at least two of them. A further hike to Pak Meng pier was necessary to find out about possible transport options. The so-called high season was already in the past this time of the year.

All “dirt” seen seemed natural or organic and wasn’t an issue of concern by me or Melona, we were ready for some island here, the snorkeling gear in our backpacks needed to get wet!

The few kids enjoying themselves here, were the only ones bathing on this day. We had to hike to the pier first, in order to find out about schedules of ferries or boats to hire. We could not walk bare footed on the beach here, there were too many shells and broken, sharp edged shells on the beach. We needed to retain uncut skin for the projected snorkeling pleasures.

The hike to the pier was 3 to 4 km one way!

The driftwood and debris brought in by the waves showed the flood lines, but overall we did not encounter any trash heaps or larger accumulations here, someone tidies this up here at least!

Impressive shells here in large variety! Some had a crab inside, that “borrowed” a shell for housing.

Any size, shape and color was there, and endless resupply from the waves.

After an exhausting hike in midday heat, we reached the pier at last. Here we faced a sign, charging a foreigner “admission fees”, pier fees etc., but no vessel was scheduled or waiting for a fare to haul.

What disturbed us, was the fact that again foreigners had to pay a tenfold charge to visit these islands?

10 times the normal price is not a little mark up, it is a full blown rip-off!

A family with young children really gets nailed here, as the “admission” for foreign offspring was still 5 times the adult Thai fare! We are people, not cows – waiting to be milked or ATM’s on 2 legs for the Thai nation or any of their posessions – no other nation does this to their visitors!  We have traveled other nations around and their marine nationalparks, never did we face this unjustified greed!

Our action was predictable! 2 days getting ripped off here, we decided – and then we just switch to the southern neighbor Malaysia, where we knew what paradise to expect in the Perhentians or on Langkawi Another week or so of snorkeling would do us nice! We get a nice cottage by the Coral Beach there for less than the daily rip-off fee for both of us! And we feel sorry for less flexible tourists, that get victimized here!

 

So we booked a passage and a first night in a resort with a local travel office, located 50m away from the pier, the friendly woman there borrowed us her moped for the 3 to 4 km way back to pick up our backpacks and gear at the guesthouse. It was check-out time there anyhow, the boat was leaving in a short while.

And then the unforeseen happened! We just reached the guesthouse  and slowed down to enter the driveway in front of the GH. A pick-up truck, piloted by his drunken driver at a parking bay backed out of the opposite lane. He hit a Toyota car, driven by a local lady into the side and catapulted her into us. Melona flew on the pavement, barely missing a concrete electric pole! My knee got hit by the headlight and my right foot got entangled in the airfoil, kicking out a fog light and separated the fiberglass part from the metal body as I flew. The drunkard checked the damage on his pick-up, saw my bloody foot and me lying on the road, the totaled moped and the damage he had caused. In typical Thai style, he escaped with screetching tires from the scene of accident and took off, swerving across both lanes.

The flesh of my foot’s back side was torn with visible bones, the scar left after 3 month of repeated surgery, measures 20 cm around the heel from side to side .   Melona had skin abrasions, a badly twisted ankle and a lot of painful bruises

The foot needed medical attention extremely bad. The cause had fled the scene and we arranged to meet the ladies after my first surgery in Sikhao at the police station. Our ambulance was another pick-up truck bed, the scene was crowded and full of helpful people. One of them (eyewitness) had memorized the plate of the black pick-up, that caused the accident. Noon in Pak Meng, here we were in a horrible shape, hurting badly. The empty bottle of Mekhong on the stone table by the sea side will remain pictured in my memory for long. That was where the hit-and-run dude had his party.

We sure had to rearrange once again, Melona looked like she took a bath in iodine and I meet my new friends (2 wooden crutches) for the first time. The Police fined me 2.000 Baht for driving an uninsured moped, but arrested the drunkard that same night. He was told to pay all vehicle damage plus medical bills. His insurance (covered all!) still owes me about a few thousand for transport to and from surgeries and wound treatments.

We now had no options left, but to stay in Pak Meng until our scheduled departure from Hat Yai airport back to Bangkok. The room was nice, with A/C for 400 Baht per night, refrigerator and TV. Our beach fun was limited to a small radius and we had to commute daily to the health station in Sikhao for treatments. Melona was back on bikes within days! The local food tasted good.

Not every trip goes as planned, but we were rewarded with dreamlike sunsets daily here. Pak Meng will sure see us again one day!


Dragon (Swan) Boat Races – Bang Sai, Ayutthaya

Saturday, December 5th, 2009

© Frank P. Schneidewind

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The famous Dragon Boat paddlers are serious athletes in Southeastasia. This discipline requires countless hours of hard training by the paddlers, expert shipbuilders and carpenters and a lot of honor is at stake, as every country in Southeastasia wants to win the tournaments for their respective nations. Navy Cadets of the Royal Thai Navy are pictured here, they qualified in national tournaments throughout the country for a spot in the famous international competitions, such as this one. Dragon Boat Races are very Popular in Hong Kong and Malaysia, their history is supposedly 6.000 years old and is based on ancient Chinese naval warfare tactics.

Thailand as the host was allowed two entries, all other nations (2009 = 15) came with their qualified teams. The venue is held once yearly at at the Bang Sai Royal Folk Arts and Crafts Centre in Phra Nakhon Si Ayutthaya Province on the Chaopaya River. Several other Dragon Boat  style races dot the country, this event has nationwide TV coverage and six figure prizes! A heap of cash money is being shelled out to the winning teams, the event is scheduled for two days, the winning team takes 300.000 Baht home. Here, 15 teams did compete with 22 paddlers each, making this called a Swan Boat Race. No admission is being charges and subsidized prices for beer and free show entertainment does draw crowds! For show purposes they have a couple of so called Long Boats with up to 100 paddlers each.

That is little, if compared to the big races in Hong Kong, Malaysia or elsewhere. The sport is governed by the International Dragon Boat Federation (IDBF), the worldwide body for the dragon boat sport. Thailand’s flagship event was created as a Swan Boat Race, so the TAT can govern it all itself, I presume. TAT created this event in the years following 1986, the first international team showed up 10 years ago.

But let’s focus on the event itself, the boats are made from teakwood and other tropical hardwoods, the paddles or oars are pretty simple and not curved. Prayer before start is an obligation to Thais, flowers, flags and ribbons decorate the vessel. Paddlers sit in pairs, each one operating to one side, very small room is given.

The race itself takes place on the mighty river, where this section of it is dedicated for the paddlers. You need a good zoom lens on your cam and a tripod to shoot the race-action well.

Thai TV has such equipment, they cover this event yearly on Channel 11, an army owned broadcasting unit. Visitors aren’t  too many, they are scattered on the spacious grounds.

VIP’s are catered for in a special lounge on a balcony, overseeing the activities on the water. Politicians, eager for their pictures in the media will hand over the prizes later. Some military brass and police bosses appear occasionally.

   

As the sun sets, youngsters surface out of nowhere and confiscate the racing pier for their watergames full of fun. The vessels can be viewed and inspected close-up now. In the backdrop you can spot the empty rice barges, whose big steel hulls protect the venue from other commercial ships on the river.

The stern of each “Swan” boat has a carving, resembling a dragon much more than a swan, but if TAT tells me, this is a swan – I have no reason to doubt that! The colorful boat decorations can be seen up close here.

 

The paddles can be seen in detail here, the blades were dipped in blue paint and displayed a spay painted “Thailand” script each.

 

The Thai teams usually are booked for all big prizes, as real athletic Dragon Boat competition from Malaysia or China obviously is not a part of this. They have a beer happy gang from Freemantle in Australia instead and even other international competitors (Taiwan, Philippines, USA etc.) without a real chance for the dough.

 

The “international competitors” seemed more to come here for the fun only,.America’s oldest  and active participant was a septogenerian Greatgranddad, still rowing strong:

Sexy dancers perform meanwhile on a stage in the lawn of the grounds, the huge grounds appear empty, because nobody seems to be interested in this type of entertainment, a few dozen sit scattered on the lawn and relax. I feel sorry for the girls as the do a nice performance, but their trademark smiles fade quick, when they exit the stage. 3 or 4 photographers take notice of them, everyone seems to hang out for the so called superstars and the winners announcement and stage presentation.

The “super stars” are usually some soap opera or karaoke folks, which have a local significance maybe – but their stage shows seemed rather boring to me, I liked the sexy dancers during the phases “in between” much better!

 

Dance groups also included some historically dressed girls, photo opportunities by the score here!

Brassiers must have had their origin in ancient Thailand, although todays models seem to be more comfortable and not exactly made to be worn over shirts or garments.

The sponsors, as in many TAT activities, were providers of alcoholic beverages, such as beer. The super rich providers of alcoholic beverages aren’t allowed to funnel their budgets into the media anymore (according to Thai law), so they allocate budgets to the TAT now to sponsor all kinds of events and online contests, such as the ill-gotten UTE joke, with their rule bending and faking in so called public votes.

Beer is being sold here well below store prices, which draws a certain crowd of people. Families can have water in bottles, a sodapop or Coca-Cola is not available.

 

Flowers for all athletes and free coconut with their delicious juice, mountains of them were served.

Another rather senior paddler from overseas enjoyed the music and dances at this farewell show.

The Team from Freemantle came with their own Crocodile Dundee

The grounds at Bang Sai are well prepared for any type of venue, their park and signs light up after dark.

With hundreds of paddlers attending the farewell dinner on the lawn later, there is finally a crowd for the performers on stage. Every team is being called up stage to receive their farewell gift, a nice photo of their team to decorate the walls of their boat house meeting rooms. Dances are common and commenced into the wee hours.

Another TAT inspired event to showcase the superiority of Thai athletes in a nice packaging, but too transparent to have any impact. Artificial tie-ins to historical boat sports are fed to the media, some even believe this and broadcast it uncritically. It is however a fun filled event for the teams, doesn’t draw any crowds worth speaking of, but provides a nicely choreographed show, a lot of sexy dancers and sweaty paddlers plus a well prepared venue for many. Be one of the few and get your impressions yourself, it’s worth the short drive to Bang Sai. As long as TAT doesn’t rip the foreigners off with dual pricing here, I am happy to promote this scenario as a great photo opportunity for tourists, happening to be in Thailand during shows like this.