Thai Tourism Industry Not Worried About Maya Bay Closure

Originally aired on Channel NewsAsia on June 1, 2018

Here's our second dispatch from Koh Phi Phi, this time looking on the economic impact of the Maya Bay closure - which won't be that big according to Thai tourism officials. We explain why.

TRANSCRIPT

It’s hard to imagine how thousands of visitors can cram themselves on a tiny beach that’s just 200 meters long.

But this happens every day on Maya Bay, on the island of Koh Phi Phi Leh in southern Thailand. In between the masses of people, the water and the boats, there’s not much space to move around.

Many visitors agree.

TOURIST COUPLE:
"Very populated, there’s hella lot of people."
"Yeah, probably too many boats parked around, like, our boats over there…"

TOURIST 1:
"I think the scenery is absolutely stunning and fantastic. The ocean’s clean and there’s plenty of fish to see. But I think this little beach is a little busy."

TOURIST 2:
"It’s a small area with a lot of people. I think if they kept smaller groups from coming here, it’d probably has less of an impact on the environment."

And that’s exactly why Thai authorities are closing it down for the next four months: to let the place rest and recover from the constant tourist invasion.

SAKSITH SAIYASOMBUT; KOH PHI PHI LEH, KRABI PROVINCE:
"I'm here on Krabi province and behind me is Koh Phi Phi Leh island, home to the very famous Maya Bay. Going by an official count, an average 4,000 tourists visit the bay every single day - but Thai tourism officials aren't worried about the economic impact of the shutdown. They say it will be minimal.

One reason is its timing. The shutdown will end before October, before the high tourist season kicks in. Once that happens, there will be no lack of tourists.

In 2017, a record 35 million visited the country; 6 million of them headed to Krabi.

And although Maya Bay is beautiful, officials say it's not the only beach in town.

APICHAI ARANYIG; Director Krabi Province, Tourism Authority of Thailand:
"The policy by the Tourism Authority of Thailand and the government is to spread the tourists around from the primary destinations to the secondary destinations. There are more beautiful beaches than on Koh Phi Phi that people might not know. So it’s our task to recommend these places to them, through the tour operators, through the media - tell them that there’s more than just Maya Bay."

But looking beyond the ban, Thailand also has to find a way to manage the rapidly growing number of visitors without hurting the environment.

It is a balance that needs to be found if it wants to preserve its natural treasures for the next generations.

SAKSITH SAIYASOMBUT, Channel NewsAsia, Krabi Province

Maya Bay Closing a Chance for Nature to Recover

Originally aired on Channel NewsAsia on May 31, 2018

Maya Bay on Koh Phi Phi Leh has been a tourist magnet for years. But it has become a little too popular. So much so that authorities are closing it for four months to give its fragile eco system a chance to recover.

TRANSCRIPT

In the South of Thailand, in the Andaman Sea, are the Phi Phi Islands, famous for the crystal clear water that surrounds them and their sandy white beaches.

It’s one of the reasons this boatman, who goes by the nickname "Chang" came here to work.

"CHANG"; Longtail Boat Captain:
"I’m here on my 7th year. I do everything here because I love the Phi Phi islands - to work somewhere that has such beautiful views and such."

The thousands of tourists that flock here day in, day out - feel the same.

Most people are drawn to this place in particular: Maya Bay, a small strip of beach on the smaller island of Koh Phi Phi Leh.

But over the years, it has become a little too popular.

SAKSITH SAIYASOMBUT; KOH PHI PHI LEH, KRABI PROVINCE:
"Maya Bay became very popular after the release of the Hollywood movie 'The Beach' in 2000, showing this place here as a very untouched place of paradise. Ironically, the film crew did some extensive reconstruction and environmentalists say it still hasn’t fully recovered. Nevertheless, countless numbers of visitors come here on a daily basis - so much so that authorities are saying this place needs a break."

The authorities mean business. Starting June, they're closing off Maya Bay - all the way to September - to give nature a chance to breathe and recover.

About 4,000 visitors come here every day. But experts say it’s not the crowds of tourists that are hurting the environment. It's the boats carrying them.

DR. THON THAMRONGNAWASAWAT; Marine Biologist, Kasetsart University:
"So, those speed boats and long-tail boats cross the shallow water reef. It makes the sediments - sand, sandy bottoms - go up and then drop down on the coral. Coral is an animal. They cannot breathe if you have any sand on top. So, if there’s a heavy sediment load in Maya Bay, it’s a main factor that kills a lot of corals for many, many years."

These fragile ecosystems used to serve as living spaces for more than 250 species of fish and thousands of other living organisms.

It's now just a tenth of what is used to be. The four-month closure is just one measure to help Maya Bay recover.

When it reopens in October - the beginning of the peak tourist season - there will be restrictions. The number of visitors will be halved and boats won't be allowed to dock inside the bay any longer.

In the meantime, officials will try to repopulate the coral reefs with samplings from nearby nurseries, but Mother Nature still has to do the heavy lifting.

This year's closure should give the bay a fighting chance... but authorities aren't ruling out the possibility of more closures in the future.

SAKSITH SAIYASOMBUT, Channel NewsAsia, Maya Bay on Koh Phi Phi Leh, Krabi Province

4 Years After the Thai Coup: Activists Protest Against the Military, But No Critical Mass Yet

Originally published on Channel NewsAsia on May 21, 2018

Tomorrow (Tuesday) is the 4th anniversary of the military coup and it has outlawed political protests ever since. But that hasn't stopped some groups from rallying against the military government.

TRANSCRIPT

It’s a Saturday afternoon on the campus of Thammasat University.

People are chatting, sitting on benches, enjoying their weekend.

But one look at the stage and it's clear they're not here for a concert but for a rare political rally against Thailand’s military government.

RANGSIMAN ROME; Activist "Democracy Restoration Group":
"I believe that after these 4 years we should think about the future. If you ask me if we have a future under the mask of General Prayuth Chan-ocha, I believe this country won’t have a future if we don’t fight together."

Rangsiman Rome is a young activist who wants a swift return to democratic elections.

He and his friends are members of the 'Democracy Restoration Group', founded soon after the military seized power in the 2014 coup.

But public displays of discontent with the military government are few and far between, owing to a ban on public gatherings of more than five people.

Thailand’s military government has solidified its rule, four years after it toppled the democratically elected government of former prime minister Yingluck Shinawatra.

It is the longest rule by the military since the 1970s - something many political observers did not anticipate.

SAKSITH SAIYASOMBUT, Bangkok, Thailand:
"In the past four years, the military government has often cited the absence of political protest as a sign of the peace and security it has given the Thai people. But analysts say that doesn’t mean that everybody is content with their rule... but that it just hasn’t translated to a widespread opposition, whether out of fear or indifference."

Analysts say current dissatisfaction is unlikely to build up into bigger protests - for now.

THITINAN PONGSUDHIRAK; Director Institute of Security and International Studies, Chulalongkorn University:

"This time [the] middle class Bangkok bought into the coup. So we’re seeing students, younger people, newer faces - they haven’t reached a critical mass, but I think the criticism, the opposition are mounting. And Thai people are also pretty tolerant compared to others, they’re waiting to have their say when the elections comes."

The delay by the military government to hold a general election has fuelled calls for a return to democratic rule.

RANGSIMAN ROME; Activist "Democracy Restoration Group":
"Our stance is that the people will win their freedom back. We may not be in charge today, but we are proposing a solution to solve the problems one step at a time. If we don’t begin with the freedom of the people today, we won’t be able to start anything. so let me start today by saying: elections are the answer."

Prime Minister Prayut Chan-ocha has assured the public the election will definitely be held in early 2019...

but he has also said that if pro-democracy protests continue, there is no guarantee that polls will be held peacefully.

Saksith Saiyasombut, Channel NewsAsia, Bangkok