Great review of our Phuket Travelfish Guide

Jamie Monk at Jamie’s Phuket has just posted a terrific review of our Travelfish Guide to Phuket. He has lived there for ages and reckons it’s well worth a read, saying:

“So, I am happy to say that for under 5 US dollars you can buy a well researched, up to date, easy to use, recommended-by-Jamie guidebook for Phuket. Well, “book” is the wrong word. Actually you can buy a 37 page pdf file by making payment online and the “guidebook” can then be downloaded. And it’s good. It knows things I don’t know, it has reviews of guesthouses and hotels, it says this about Patong: “a seething mass of tourism, squalor and unrestricted development, a mess of hotels, bars, restaurants, travel agents, massage parlours, tailor shops and touts. Patong is everything that tourism in Thailand should not have become.” Amen.”

You can read the full review here: http://jamie-monk.blogspot.com/2009/03/travelfish-guide-to-phuket.html

So if you’re thinking of going to Phuket do two things — first go check out Jamie’s blog which is a veritable fountain of knowledge when it comes to Phuket, and then, once you’re done there, please consider picking up a copy of our guide!

Apologies Thailand competition

2008 has already bestowed upon us the splendid “Visit Indonesia 2008. Celebrating 100 Years of Nation’s Awakening” courtesy of Indonesia’s Ministry of Culture and Tourism. Who would have thought we could expect an even bigger clanger in the same year?

The Tourist Authority of Thailand (TAT) isn’t one to be outdone, and according to media reports they’re on the brink of launching “Apologies Thailand“.

Catchy? We don’t think so either.

Aside from the fact that it is grammatically incorrect and really doesn’t make any sense at all, if they wanted to apologise for the slight inconvenience of having two of the country’s international airports overrun by a mob for seven days in peak tourist season, then perhaps something like “Thailand: Take the bus” may have been more appropriate.

Anyhoo, we know what a smart lot you Travelfishers are, so we’re running a competition: can you come up with a better slogan than “Apologies Thailand”?

The winner gets a complimentary copy of every single one of our Travelfish Guides — worth around US$80 in total — and a Travelfish T-shirt printed with the winning slogan. Entries close December 31, 2008.

Have fun, and remember: Grammar doesn’t matter!

You can enter the competition over on the Travelfish forum.

Phuket Travelfish Guide goes live

Researched through the middle of 2008, packing 37 pages, over 50,000 words of travel intelligence, 50% more maps than Lonely Planet, more up-to-date than any traditional guidebook, over 200 recommendations for beds, bars and beaches… yes, that’s right, the new Travelfish Guide for Phuket is available NOW! It’s big and packed with info, and, for the independent traveller, easily the best source of information out there …

All this for US$4.95 — less than the price of a decent beach massage… Read all about the best PDF guide to Phuket here.

A blogger looking for a review copy? Get in touch with Stuart at stuartmcdonald@travelfish.org or Samantha at sambrown@travelfish.org

On Preah Vihear

Start with one ancient temple crouched on a disputed border, wrap in a questionable French map, sprinkle with dodgy politicians, stir in a pending Khmer election, lather the whole mix up with some Thai political opportunism, then complete with a few hundred armed soldiers, ASEAN and a World Heritage listing. There you have it: one well-done Preah Vihear.

For the last few weeks the Thai press and politicians have been obsessing over the grand Khmer ruins that sit atop the escarpment of the Dangrek Mountains on the Khmer/Thai border. Tensions have escalated in the last few days — with Thai troops entering Cambodian territory and Cambodian soldiers asking them (so far, very politely) to please go home. The situation has been greatly exacerbated by nationalism on both sides: Cambodia has an election this weekend while Thailand is in the throes of a long-running political crisis.

So what’s it all about?

Construction of Preah Vihear commenced in the 9th century, but most of what you see today was built between the 10th and 12th centuries. The temple is dedicated to the Hindu god Shiva. Back in those days, the temple was within territory controlled by the Khmer Empire (which, on a much-reduced scale, forms the basis for modern-day Cambodia).

Much later, in 1904, Thailand (then Siam) and Cambodia (then ruled by the French) worked to demarcate their border. At the time, officials decided that the border would follow the watershed line of the Dangrek Mountains. What’s a watershed? It’s a ridge of high land that divides two areas drained by different river systems — some may know it as a water parting. The watershed embroiled in this case runs along the highpoints of the Dangrek Mountains — water can’t flow uphill after all. And this decision firmly put Preah Vihear within Thailand’s territory.

However, in 1907, after the survey work was completed, French officials drew up a map that was supposed to precisely delineate the frontier. This map, which was sent to the Siamese, clearly marked Preah Vihear as being in Cambodia. One would have expected the Siamese to get in touch with the French and let them know that the map didn’t conform to their agreement on demarcation following the watershed.

But, for whatever reason, the Siamese didn’t. These two errors — first by the French in drawing the dodgy map, and then by the Thais in agreeing with it — are the root of the debacle now spilling out, 101 years after the fact.

Following the completion of the 1907 map, little more was said of Preah Vihear for the next almost half century. But in 1954, Thai military forces occupied the site after the withdrawal of French troops from the country. Cambodia protested the occupation to the international community and in 1959 asked the International Court of Justice (ICJ) to rule on where the temple lay.

On June 15, 1962, the ICJ ruled 9 to 3 that Preah Vihear indeed belonged to Cambodia. In the ruling, the court noted that over the preceding five decades Thailand had made no effort to object to the map. That the Thais had not understood the map was wrong, nor that they possessed the only practical access to the temple — both points the Thais argued — were insufficient grounds to refute the map. You can read the ICJ ruling here. Thailand wasn’t happy.

So here we are 40 years later and Preah Vihear is once again in the news.

In 2007, Cambodia submitted an application to UNESCO to have Preah Vihear listed as a World Heritage site. As a part of the application, the request included the immediate surrounding land, which Thailand believes it has jurisdiction over. The Thais protested and the Cambodians withdrew the application.

In 2008, the Cambodians again submitted the application, but on this occasion the application sought designation for the temple only — not the surrounds. The Thai government failed to protest — an odd move, as to this day the Thais still assert that the temple is rightly theirs — and signed off on the map Cambodia presented in support of its application. Thailand’s support was seen as crucial for the application to succeed.

The Thai opposition then alleged that a backroom deal had been done, pointing the finger at deposed ex-Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, who has substantial business interests in Cambodia. The opposition claimed that his former personal lawyer, Noppadon Pattama, who just happened to be the Thai Foreign Minister and who signed off on Cambodia’s application, manoevred the deal. Noppadon has since been forced to resign.

Despite the Thai political posturing, the Cambodians lodged the application, and on July 7 Preah Vihear was inscribed on the list of World Heritage sites.

Since then political posturing has flared further in both Thailand and Cambodia, with the Cambodians describing the current stand-off between hundreds of soldiers on either side of the border as “an imminent state of war”. Cambodia has asked both the UN Security Council and ASEAN, who are currently meeting in Singapore, to intervene on their behalf.

Where to from here?

It’s difficult to see either side backing down. If blame needs to be assigned, most rests with Thailand. From 1907 to today their approach to the temple has been erratic and error-prone. They never protested the original map and also missed a decade-long deadline to argue the ICJ judgement. While the allegations of Thaksin’s involvement certainly don’t defy belief, no hard proof has emerged to support the claims made by the Thai opposition, who have proved themselves repeatedly to be political opportunists.

Perhaps following the Cambodian election the rhetoric will subside, but in Thailand, the opposition People’s Alliance for Democracy (PAD) show no signs of cooling off. One would hope that sooner rather than later the PAD will come to grips with the facts — but until then, the magnificent Khmer temple remains off-limits.

Further reading:
Border areas in question
Detailed analysis by Bangkok Pundit
Historical perspective in the Bangkok Post
ICJ ruling
Summary of events in the Christian Science Monitor
UNESCO listing for Preah Vihear

Ban Huay Kon / Muang Ngoen border open

We’ve heard, second hand, of a confirmed independent crossing at the Thailand/Laos border crossing at Ban Huay Kon / Muang Ngoen.

The border had been open for ages to Thais doing 4WD “adventure tours” up to Luang Prabang but we’d been told by the TAT that “there were no plans whatsoever for the crossing to be opened to foreigners at any time in the forseeable future“.

So we assume somebody changed their mind!

What this means is that after spending time exploring Nan, you can cross at Ban Huay Kon, head northeast to the village of Hong Sa and jump aboard a slow boat heading either south to Luang Prabang or north to Pak Beng and Huay Xai — what a terrific new way to enter Laos!

As I mentioned, we got this news second hand (a couple of European backpackers related their trip to a friend of ours while on the slow boat in early May, 2008), so it comes with no guarantees whatsoever and our agent on the boat forgot to ask then if visa-on-arrival was available… just can’t get good help these days!

How do I get from Ko Chang to Phu Quoc Island?

With the 2007 opening of the Prek Chak / Xa Xia border crossing between Cambodia and Vietnam it’s now possible to travel from Ko Chang in Thailand all the way along the Cambodian coastline and into Vietnam. For beach and boat lovers, this is a great trip as from Ko Chang you’re able to visit Ko S’dach, Sihanoukville, Ko Russei, Kampot, Kep, Ko Tonsay, Ha Tien and Rach Gia, before finishing off on the glorious Phu Quoc Island. Here’s a step by step guide taking you through the entire trip, commencing in Trat and finishing on Phu Quoc.