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  1. I know this is a Singapore forum but as I live in Thailand I am wondering if it is appropriate to post about food in Thailand here. It could be Thai food, international food, my home cooking food in Thailand etc. I wish to also welcome anyone here to contribute your experience of Thai food in Singapore or anywhere. If anyone think its not appropriate do let me know. For a start here's one of my favourite Thai food khanom-jeen, had this last week near my office Khanom-Jeen is the white soft rice noodle in Thailand made from fermented rice so it has to be eaten fresh after its made if not will turn sour quickly and spoil. Khanom-jeen is usually take with Thai curry and most commonly with Thai green curry known as gaeng-keow-wan literally translated word by word curry-green-sweet or for our easy understanding sweet green curry, and in this case for chicken green curry we call it gaeng-keow-wan-gai, gai as in chicken. This is rural area so the simple and rural setup https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zOhpd-7LR2g&t=3s Besides making khanon-jeen-gaeng-keow-wan in very traditional taste the seller is also very sweet and cute so my favourite stall I can down 2 of her khanom-jeen any time Each is only 40 baht
  2. Kia's rapidly evolving lineup and inroads into the Thai market mark it as an inspiring beacon for all as we transition into an age of sustainable mobility. 80 years may seem like a long length of time for an outside observer, but it could also be just the right amount of time for a future-oriented firm like Kia to get warmed up. With the Korean brand embarking on ambitious changes to its lineup and making new inroads into nearby Thailand as it marks its 80th anniversary this 2024, Kia's illustrious history now looks set to become but a prelude to a dramatic new chapter as it readies for a new and brighter tomorrow. We look at just what new changes are underway at Kia as it makes its transition into a future sustainable mobility solutions provider. A new plan for an exciting future Kia is marking its 80th anniversary this 2024. This time has already seen the firm transforming from a bicycle manufacturer to the automotive leader that it currently is. But Kia is not content to rest on its laurels: Four years ago, the firm revealed its 'Plan S', a mid to long-term strategy that included a host of ambitious goals which has since been updated to include a targeted electric vehicle lineup that comprises a total of 15 models which is planned to take up a total of 37% of all of Kia's sales and targeted to reach 1.6 million units, all by 2030. The firm is additionally aiming to increase the proportion of recycled plastic used in its vehicles to 20%, and to reach carbon neutrality by 2045. New moves into a nearby country And it isn't all just about changing the way we travel or working towards decarbonisation at Kia. The firm has ambitious goals to expand its presence here in our region as well. Kia Sales has already made its official debut in Thailand in January 2024, and just like Kia on the global stage, Kia Sales Thailand is ambitious. The firm plans to secure a total of 5% of Thailand's passenger car market - with 50% of these sales to be accounted for by all-electric vehicles by 2028. The firm is additionally planning to rank in the top five in Thailand for brand awareness, and this goal is already being kickstarted with Kia Sales' first participation in the Bangkok International Motor Show this year. The motor show not only offered a chance for Kia to present its updated corporate identity, but also to launch the new Kia EV5 in the country, just months after the car made its international debut in October 2023. An enticing new product to entice a future-oriented family And on the topic of new models, Kia also has an enticing new lineup designed to win buyers over and to propel its ambitious goals. Take, for example, the Kia EV9 which was recently launched here in Singapore. The all-electric SUV which embraces the firm's new 'Opposites United' design philosophy, which is manifested on this SUV in its strong and boxy exterior and also houses the car's attractive new star-map head lights. While on the inside, the Kia EV9 offers family-ferrying ability, being able to ferry six. Passengers here will also be able to opt for either Kia's Relaxation Seats - which allow all to recline and relax while the vehicle is charging up - or the Swivel Seats, so those in the second and third row can engage in face-to-face conversations while on the way to their next destination. Your family will additionally be kept safe, thanks to the car's suite of advanced driver assistance systems which include Auto Evasive Steering Assist, Junction Crossing, and Junction Turning, amongst others. And underneath all this is Kia's E-GMP electric vehicle platform which allows the SUV to post a range of 512km courtesy of its sizeable 99.8kWh battery. And one to win the hearts of the masses as well But for those looking for something a little more compact, Kia also has a new EV5, which is based on the same platform that underpins the EV9 but measures in at just 4,615mm long, which makes it right-sized for any urban environment including the roads of Singapore and Bangkok. Designed to bring all-electric mobility to all, the Kia EV5 offers a claimed class-leading leg room and head room for those in the second row despite the compact exterior, and those constantly on the move are sure to also appreciate the fact that the car comes with a centre console which can double as either a heater or cooler for your drinks. And just like the EV9, the Kia EV5 will also be offered with the brand's latest Advanced Driver Assistance Systems and can be charged up from 30% to 80% capacity in just 27 minutes. Exciting times ahead With so many initiatives planned, exactly what a firm like Kia will look like 80 years from today is anybody's guess. But there is little doubt that the firm has already forged astonishing progress since its founding so many years ago. Both its EV9 and EV5 already place it in good stead to tackle the upcoming challenges of electrification and to meet the varied mobility needs of a future generation. And the firm has already seen sales of its electrified vehicles account for 37.9% of its total sales in Europe in 2023, a 9% increase over the previous year. Add the fact that the firm's lineup is set to be further bolstered by two additional models - the EV3 and EV4 - and Kia's place in the future automotive realm, within the foreseeable future, is only set to grow larger. Truly, moves that serve as an inspiration for all. Find out more about Kia's lineup here!
  3. https://asia.nikkei.com/Spotlight/Asia-Insight/Smoke-signals-Thailand-blazes-trail-for-cannabis-in-wary-Asia?utm_campaign=GL_asia_daily&utm_medium=email&utm_source=NA_newsletter&utm_content=article_link&del_type=1&pub_date=20220705190000&seq_num=2&si=44594 A breast cancer patient smokes a joint in Bangkok after marijuana was decriminalized last month. Across Asia, cannabis policies remain broadly restrictive, with some inconsistencies and loopholes. © Reuters Asia Insight Smoke signals: Thailand blazes trail for cannabis in wary Asia Recreational use still far-off prospect as taboos persist from ASEAN to Japan FRANCESCA REGALADO, Nikkei staff writerJuly 5, 2022 06:00 JST BANGKOK -- The monks of Wat Jantrawas, a Buddhist temple in Thailand's Phetchaburi Province, sat in a circle and passed around a small dark bottle. One by one they stirred a few drops of cannabis oil into their coffee cups, reminiscing about their youth when the plant, known in Thai as ganja, was commonplace. "In their free time, they used ganja when they talked with each other," said the temple's 71-year-old abbot. As a young man, he had used the plant much like MSG to enhance his cooking. Before Thailand strengthened its narcotics law in 1979, the monks say blue collar laborers regularly consumed cannabis after work. It was also used by artists and musicians to inspire creativity. The evidence can be seen on the walls of Wat Jantrawas and nearby temples. Murals dating back to the reign of King Rama V in the late 1800s depict monks, nobles, soldiers and ordinary people using cannabis to treat maladies, or smoking it with bamboo bongs. Until 1914, it was even an export, shipped in sacks bearing the garuda, the royal standard. "It wasn't illegal; it was just medicine," the abbot said. Cannabis could reclaim its place in Thai life, since the government last month removed it from the list of banned narcotics. But the factors that made Thailand first in Asia to decriminalize marijuana may not be easily replicated in its neighbors. The push began three years ago, when a populist party leader secured a cabinet position overseeing drug policy. "When we decided that the policy of cannabis would be put in the campaign program back in 2019, our purpose was only to make sure that the farmers would have another option of agricultural products," Health Minister Anutin Charnvirakul told Nikkei Asia. His Bhumjaithai Party holds 59 seats in parliament and is a coalition partner of Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha's Palang Pracharath Party. Its power base is in Thailand's underdeveloped northeast, where farmers have struggled with the low price of rice. "People always put a stigma on this product as a narcotic," Anutin said. "But we looked from a different angle and we found that it could be a plant that not only cures people's illness, but also open another opportunity for farmers." Under Anutin's influence, the Health Ministry excluded cannabis from a narcotics list adopted on June 9. On the same day, more than 3,000 prisoners with marijuana-related convictions were released. Monks at Wat Jantrawas, a Buddhist temple in Thailand's Phetchaburi Province, stir cannabis oil into their coffee. (Photo by Francesca Regalado) Anutin hopes the change will create a new $10 billion to $15 billion market for Thailand. Residents can now grow up to six plants at home and make their own medicinal products for personal use, domestic sale or export. To be registered with the authorities for sale, such products cannot contain more than 0.2% of tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC, the psychoactive ingredient that produces the marijuana high. Cannabidiol or CBD, the chemical that lends cannabis its medicinal properties, is less controlled. Studies have demonstrated its effectiveness in treating nausea in cancer patients, seizures from epilepsy and chronic pain as a substitute for opiates, according to the World Health Organization. "I use medical cannabis regularly," Anutin told Nikkei Asia, citing weed-infused lotions, soaps and patches that claim to help with sleep. "It depends on how people develop their products. When it looks very professional, I could not help but reach into my pocket and purchase for my own use." Opponents raise the risk of underage use, addiction, and lung and cognitive impairment. After the policy change, the government scrambled to warn against public smoking and sales to anyone under 20, pregnant women and breastfeeding mothers. But if cannabis begins to deliver on Anutin's economic promise, his Bhumjaithai Party could thrive in the next general election, which must be called by next year. "The feedback from the farmers is that my party has 50% more popularity in the northeastern part of Thailand," Anutin said. "If you ask why [opponents] are against this policy, they will say this is a deadly policy ... I have a certain amount of people who can make a better living." Whether in Thailand or in the 43 countries and 37 U.S. states that have eased restrictions, marijuana legalization is an incremental process. In Thailand it started with medical legalization in 2018, followed by decriminalization this June. Recreational use is still illegal in Thailand, and Anutin insisted that the kingdom will not be a "marijuana wonderland" for foreign tourists. Elsewhere, some of Asia's strictest cannabis bans can be found in countries affected by the colonial opium trade or other brushes with the West. Singapore's late founding Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew wanted to remove the scourge of opium and create a drug-free state, with zero tolerance even for marijuana. "There is well-founded and incontrovertible research that establishes several short-term and long-term adverse effects associated with cannabis use, including impairments to one's respiratory and cognitive functions," a disappointed Singaporean government stated in 2020, when the United Nations removed marijuana from its list of the most tightly controlled narcotics. Cannabis supporters in the city-state are relegated to a quiet minority. Singaporeans found to have consumed it, even abroad, face up to 10 years in prison or a fine of 20,000 Singapore dollars ($14,000). Trafficking can result in the death penalty. Even the opposition Workers' Party, which clashes with the ruling People's Action Party on many issues, shares the same firm stance against marijuana. Hong Kong, once a key hub for British opium, has tightened prohibitions as mainland China's influence grows. The territory's Security Bureau recently proposed banning products containing cannabidiol, the chemical that lends cannabis its medicinal properties. Shops selling CBD oil, food and drinks have mushroomed in the city, with cafes and restaurants marketing its purported wellness and stress-relief benefits. But the bureau claims that a third of CBD products sold in Hong Kong contain traces of THC, the banned ingredient. Tourists line up to buy cannabis from a truck in Bangkok on June 13. The government insists decriminalization will not make the country a "marijuana wonderland" and that recreational use is still banned. © Reuters "In recent years, there has been an uptake of consumption of cannabis. To prevent future long-term abuse, we will be taking a hard line against all dangerous drugs and cannabis," Commissioner for Narcotics Kesson Lee told lawmakers in June. The proposed ban would exempt medical prescriptions for CBD. Such selective permits are also technically available in the Philippines, which gained notoriety for former President Rodrigo Duterte's violent war on drugs. His drug enforcement czar in 2019 said that "in general, the law dictates that any variety and derivative from marijuana, including CBD, is prohibited," but conceded that CBD is not addictive. Two of Duterte's allies, former president and House speaker Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo and former deputy speaker Luis "LRay" Villafuerte, have admitted to using marijuana medically. Villafuerte authored a bill to fully legalize medical marijuana without requiring permits, which are rarely granted. "We have proof of patients applying, but only one has been granted since 1992," said Henrie Enaje, a lawyer with CannaLegalPH, a nonprofit that extends legal aid to Filipino cannabis users. Legalizing or decriminalizing cannabis, he said, would ensure a stable and fairly priced pharmaceutical-grade supply for patients and research institutions. "All of these are coming from the black market, so quality and supply are patchy," said Enaje. Thailand, he said, "is proof of concept." Rowena Pilapil was among a hundred people who gathered at Manila's heroes monument in late June to advocate for medical legalization. Pilapil has resorted to the black market to source cannabis oil for her 12-year-old son, saying it treats his epilepsy without the side effects of pharmaceutical drugs. She spends between 10,000 pesos and 15,000 pesos ($192 to $288) for 100 milliliters, but swears it is worth it. "The fact that he was able to recognize me and say, 'Mama, I love you,' was already a big thing for me," Pilapil said. Rowena Pilapil says she spends around $190 to $290 to buy 100 milliliters of cannabis oil on the Philippine black market, to ease the side effects of her son's epilepsy medication. (Photo by Cliff Venzon) The black market commands a steep price for a plant that grows wild in Southeast Asia's warm climes. Although trafficking is punishable by death, farms are rampant in Indonesia's Aceh Province, where marijuana is traditionally used for seasoning in local cuisines. An Acehnese member of parliament has called for legalization to make marijuana an export commodity for the province. Cambodia's Kiri Vong district, on the border with Vietnam, similarly cultivates cannabis on a large scale. Locals persist despite police warnings and periodic crackdowns because prices remain relatively high, with a kilogram of dried leaves fetching between $35 and $40. Tourists and expatriates have long been able to buy marijuana easily in Phnom Penh, as endemic corruption means lax and arbitrary enforcement. Tuk-tuk drivers hawk weed while bars sell joints and some restaurants advertise "happy pizzas." "It's always been pretty easy here to get what you need," said one long-term expat. "It's not particularly secret." The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime has found that most people who use marijuana do not go on to abuse "harder" drugs. In Japan, an expert committee recently convened to look into officially allowing marijuana-based medicines is also tasked with gauging whether it would fuel substance abuse. Medical legalization would bring Japan, where cannabis cultivation dates back to ancient times, in line with its fellow Group of Seven countries. But Japan appears to be pulling in opposite directions simultaneously. There is also talk of explicitly prohibiting cannabis use by law. The current Cannabis Control Law, a legacy of the postwar U.S. Occupation, bans the growing and possession of cannabis, although CBD can be sold as long as it contains no THC. A police helicopter hovers over a marijuana field in Indonesia's Aceh Province, during an operation to destroy the illegal plants in 2016. © Antara Foto via Reuters Decriminalization raises issues beyond whether cannabis is a "gateway drug." As Thailand brings previously underground farms into the light, it should enshrine labor protections, according to Kelly Beker, executive director of the Cannabis Education Guild, which aims to promote understanding of the drug. "Cambodian, Laotian and Burmese immigrants are at risk of exploitation. It is exactly like that in seafood, agriculture, manufacturing and construction in Thailand," Beker said. "There's a risk that those bad practices will be legitimized." After decriminalizing cannabis, the Thai government could further develop its marijuana laws with labor audits and fair trade stamps on cannabis products, she suggested. Much of Asia appears to be in no rush to go as far as Thailand, let alone allow recreational use. And for some advocates of change, the stakes are especially high. Back in the Philippines, where the war on drugs has also targeted cannabis users -- sometimes in entrapment operations known as tokhang -- proponents of medical use face a stigma and legal risks. Pilapil began speaking publicly about her son's cannabis treatment in 2018, despite the danger. "I realized that there are many people like me, so I decided to come out," she said. "It's our right to access alternative medicine, and we should not beg for that right." Additional reporting by Cliff Venzon in Manila, Dylan Loh in Singapore, Pak Yiu in Hong Kong, Erwida Maulia in Jakarta, Shaun Turton in Phnom Penh and Shoichiro Taguchi in Tokyo.
  4. I will be doing a road trip with my group of friends to Thailand. I have not done this before and will appreciate any suggestions from forumers here. BTW, there is 9 of us going in 2 cars , most probably an SUV and a Sedan. What to look out and prepare for in terms of the car conditions to minimise it having problems along the trip If I need essential stuffs for the car along the way, is it safe or avaliable to replenish them in malaysia My friends are ambitious and would like to drive all the way to Bangkok, How many days does that take (to and fro) What are some of the stops recommended for overnight stays Any other things that I should take note of Thanks guys
  5. Gunman in Thailand kills 34 people at day-care centre https://www.reuters.com/world/asia-pacific/least-20-people-killed-mass-shooting-thailand-police-2022-10-06/
  6. Will it see the daylight on our sunny island soon? I seriously doubt so given the unreasonably high cat A COE premium. The new Vios was launched on 9 August 2022 in Thailand as the Yaris Ativ. It is developed by Daihatsu through a joint Toyota-Daihatsu internal company known as Emerging Market Compact Car Company (EMCC) under the lead of executive chief engineer Hideyuki Kamino. It is based on the DNGA-B platform shared with the Raize and the W100 series Avanza. The model is introduced with a 70 mm longer wheelbase at 2,620 mm (103.1 in). Compared to its predecessor, the car features a fastback-like sloping rear roof section which stretched the window line further back. Following the foot steps of Mitsubishi Attrage, it will be equipped with the 3NR-VE 1.2-litre engine with Dual VVT-iE technology producing 93 horsepower / 110 Nm torque, and paired with a Toyota-made CVT gearbox marketed as Super CVT-i. No words if it will be followed by the regular 1.5L engine.
  7. https://www.channelnewsasia.com/news/asia/thailand-insect-farming-food-protein-source-11786032 I assure u. If it comes to this stage, i may be going vegetarian. Came across lots of these at Golden Mile Complex Supermarket on Level 2. Will usually detour. The large quantities of these can makes me nauseous. To actually eat them, i pass...out. Any bravehearts tried? On one hand i dun want to know, on the other hand i am curious. Haiz Safe ride Cheers
  8. now got Cathay Pacific Promotion Deals: Smartsaver Economy Class Fares $230 to bangkok, wu hua boh ??? Source: http://www.../cathay-pacific-promotion-deals-smartsaver-economy-class-fares/
  9. https://asia.nikkei.com/Politics/Thailand-scrambles-to-control-cannabis-sales-and-curb-abuse?utm_campaign=GL_asia_daily&utm_medium=email&utm_source=NA_newsletter&utm_content=article_link&del_type=1&pub_date=20230207123000&seq_num=9&si=44594 Thailand scrambles to control cannabis sales and curb abuse Buyers must show ID under new measures following decriminalization A customer holds a piece of cannabis at a dispensary in Bangkok following its legalization last year. © Reuters KOSUKE INOUE, Nikkei staff writerFebruary 7, 2023 05:54 JST BANGKOK -- Thailand is tightening the country's marijuana regulations, issuing new guidance and measures intended to curb a rapid rise in recreational use of the drug since its decriminalization last year. The topic is likely to be a major issue in general elections scheduled to happen by May. The government said last month that showing identification will be required when buying cannabis flower buds, which are rich in hallucinogenic compounds. Bangkok aims to incorporate buyer information into a national database to track and analyze cannabis sales and purchases. Businesses that fail to comply risk having their sales license revoked. Authorities also have intensified surveillance of dealers, arresting more than 30 people by January in places like Bangkok and the resort city of Pattaya for selling without a license, local media report. Efforts to prevent abuse by foreign tourists also have been strengthened. The Public Health Ministry last month released 10 guidelines for travelers on using marijuana in Thailand, including conditions for purchasing and growing. The guidelines also warn that people who smoke marijuana in a public place can be jailed for up to three months or fined 25,000 baht ($740). In June, Thailand struck medical marijuana from a list of narcotics banned for use or distribution and made cannabis legal for medical and culinary uses. Recreation is not included in the permitted uses, but the country's laws have been unable to handle the spread in its use. Weed dispensaries are not allowed to display signage advertising their wares, said Anutin Charnvirakul, the public health minister who pushed for the decriminalization. Despite that declaration, several shops continue to display signs featuring cannabis leaves. Some sellers in Bangkok give purchasers information on nearby smoking areas. The average monthly number of cases involving impaired consciousness and other issues due to marijuana use has quadrupled since the legalization, the health ministry said. The regulation of marijuana is stoking tensions within Thailand's ruling coalition. The Bhumjaithai Party advocated for decriminalization, but a bill to tighten control of the drug's use failed to pass in September after opposition from a coalition member, the Democrat Party, which said it had too many loopholes. Relations are fraying between the two parties with the elections on the horizon.
  10. Up to 600 Thai vendors when Bangkok's Chatuchak market comes to Bukit Timah If you’re a frequent visitor to Bangkok who can’t get enough of its famous markets, especially Chatuchak, you’ll be happy to know that we’ll be getting a version of it in Singapore next year – albeit for a limited period. Chatuchak Night Market Singapore will take place from Feb 4 to May 3, 2020, at The Grandstand on Turf Club Road in Bukit Timah. The market will open Tuesdays to Sundays from 4pm to 10.30pm. The 40,000 sq ft space can hold up to 272 stalls that will provide F&B; retail such as handicrafts, fashion, home décor and antiques; as well as services from a mix of Thai and local vendors. According to Imran Mohamad, who is part of the organising team, 30 to 50 Thai vendors will be brought in every week on rotation to make up the 600 from the country that will be selling their wares throughout the duration of the market. One such vendor is Rooftop Barbers Studio, a certified master barber who will be providing artisan gentlemen haircuts. There will also be several hundred seats for visitors who want to enjoy the street food and drinks on the premises. Visitors will enjoy free parking and free shuttle services from locations in Clementi, Toa Payoh and Sixth Avenue to the market. This is the first time that Chatuchak market’s brand will appear outside of Thailand. The local version is the brainchild of Keith Tay, founder and director Chatuchak SG, who used to run a boat noodle business in Singapore. Another famous Thai market export has already hit our shores; Artbox recently held its third iteration in Singapore in mid-November with over 300 regional and local curated entertainment acts, retailers and artworks by visual and expressive artists.
  11. https://www.thaipbsworld.com/thais-warned-against-becoming-foreigners-nominees-in-businesses-reserved-for-thai-nationals/ Thais warned against becoming foreigners’ nominees in businesses reserved for Thai nationals January 15, 2023 Thai people who allow their names to be used by foreigners as nominees to open businesses reserved for Thai nationals may face prison terms of three years and/or a fine of between 100,000 baht and a million baht, said Thosapone Dansuputra, director-general of Business Development Department, today. He said that foreigners are not allowed to open businesses selling food or drinks, as he responded to reports that Chinese businessmen had purchased a number of food shops in the Chinatown area. He explained that foreigners who want to open a food shop must get a permission from the Business Development Department, adding that Thai people who co-invest with foreign partners in such business must show their bank accounts, to prove that they have the financial resources to invest and are not just acting as a nominee. To take legal action against foreign businessmen who uses Thais as their nominees, he said that there must be clear evidence that their Thai partners deliberately allowed themselves to be used as nominees and concealed the fact to help the foreigners. Thosapone said that his department has cooperated with the Labour Ministry in checking businesses which have foreigners as partners or shareholders, to find out if the businesses were properly registered.
  12. https://www.straitstimes.com/asia/east-asia/south-korea-reports-first-death-from-brain-eating-amoeba SEOUL - South Korea reported its first case of infection from Naegleria fowleri, commonly referred to as “brain-eating amoeba”, health authorities said on Monday. The Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency (KDCA) confirmed that a Korean national in his 50s had died after returning from Thailand. The man came back to South Korea on Dec 10 after a four-month stint there. He was admitted to a hospital the next day and died Wednesday last week. The KDCA said it had conducted genetic tests on three types of pathogens causing Naegleria fowleri to confirm the cause of his death. The testing confirmed the gene in the man’s body was 99.6 per cent similar to that found in a meningitis patient reported abroad. This is the first known infection from the disease in South Korea. The first case was reported in Virginia in 1937. Naegleria fowleri is an amoeba, or a single-celled living organism, that lives in soil and warm freshwater, such as hot springs, lakes and rivers, across the globe. The amoeba enters the body by inhalation through the nose and travels to the brain. The initial symptoms might include headache, fever, nausea or vomiting, and later symptoms can lead to severe headaches, fever, vomiting and a stiff neck, according to the KDCA. The incubation period for Naegleria fowleri is usually from two to three days and up to 15 days at most. Although human-to-human transmission of Naegleria fowleri is impossible, the KDCA asked residents to refrain from swimming in regions and neighbourhoods where the disease broke out. It added that the risk of infection was not high, but most cases start through swimming. “To prevent the infection of Naegleria fowleri, we recommend avoiding swimming and leisure-related activities and using clean water when travelling to areas where cases have been reported,” said Dr Jee Young-mee, who heads the KDCA, via a press release. The KDCA said clean water refers to any type of water that has not been contaminated, but people cannot be infected with Naegleria fowleri by drinking contaminated water. It added that the highest risk is when the water temperature rises during the summer. A total of 381 cases of Naegleria fowleri have been reported around the globe as of 2018, including in India, Thailand, the United States, China and Japan. The US alone reported 154 infections from 1962 through 2021. According to the US Centres for Disease Control and Prevention, only four people survived, with a death rate of over 97 per cent. THE KOREA HERALD/ASIA NEWS NETWORK Naegleria fowleri is an amoeba that lives in soil and warm freshwater across the globe. PHOTO: SCREENGRAB FROM CENTERS FOR DISEASE CONTROL AND PREVENTION (CDC)/YOUTUBE
  13. https://www.channelnewsasia.com/asia/thai-king-eldest-daughter-princess-bajrakitiyabha-mahidol-heart-lungs-kidney-support-3154316 BANGKOK: The Thai king's eldest daughter remained in hospital on Monday (Dec 19) receiving support for her heart, lungs and kidney, according to a palace statement after she collapsed last week. Princess Bajrakitiyabha Mahidol initially fell ill Wednesday evening during a military dog training session at Nakhon Ratchasima, north of the capital Bangkok. Known in Thailand as "Princess Bha", the 44-year-old is the eldest daughter of King Maha Vajiralongkorn and the only child from his first marriage. The kingdom's succession rules favour male heirs; however, the palace has not formally announced an heir apparent. Following the princess' collapse, she was flown to Bangkok where she continues to receive intensive medical care under close observation. In a statement issued Monday morning, the palace said her condition was "stable at one level" without elaborating. "Her royal highness' heartbeat is controlled by medicine," the statement said, adding that the systole - part of the process by which the heart beats - "does not go well". "The medical team has offered her royal highness medicine and equipment to support the work of her royal highness's heart, lung and kidney," the statement added. The princess holds an important ceremonial role in Thai society - where the royal family sits at the apex, protected from criticism by harsh defamation laws which carry prison sentences of up to 15 years per charge. Around the capital and across the kingdom, books of well-wishing for her recovery were laid out for Thais. On Saturday the palace announced that King Vajiralongkorn and his wife Queen Suthida had tested positive for COVID-19, with both reporting mild symptoms.
  14. Ysc3

    cooking rice

    i have bought Thai, Vietnamese and Cambodian white rice … and verdict is only thai rice comes out non-sticky. anyone else tried Vietnamese or Cambodian white rice and results were as good as Thai white rice ? do you have any special practice for cooking Vietnamese or Cambodian white rice ?
  15. https://asia.nikkei.com/Spotlight/Asia-Insight/Cambodia-holds-back-Vietnam-and-Thailand-in-trafficking-prevention?utm_campaign=GL_asia_daily&utm_medium=email&utm_source=NA_newsletter&utm_content=article_link&del_type=1&pub_date=20220816190000&seq_num=2&si=44594 In its latest Trafficking in Persons report, the U.S. State Department downgraded Vietnam and Cambodia to its bottom tier and put Indonesia on a watchlist. © Illustration by Hiroko Oshima Cambodia holds back Vietnam and Thailand in trafficking prevention Porous borders, corruption preclude collective progress FRANCESCA REGALADO, LIEN HOANG and SHOICHIRO TAGUCHI, Nikkei staff writersAugust 16, 2022 06:00 JST BANGKOK/HO CHI MINH CITY/TOKYO -- Geography has helped Thailand and Vietnam compete for a large share of investment flowing out of China. But it has also thrown a wrench in their plans as trafficking persists along Southeast Asia's porous borders, especially in their shared neighbor Cambodia. In its latest Trafficking in Persons report, the U.S. State Department downgraded Vietnam and Cambodia to its bottom tier and put Indonesia on a watchlist. Governments fearful of losing U.S. investment and economic aid are typically motivated to aim for the first or second tiers. At risk of falling into the third tier, Thailand spent the past year improving agency coordination and prosecuting officials complicit in human trafficking. "Whenever the U.S. talks about this, there will be feedback to the Thai government and they want to work harder," said Jaruwat Jinmonca, vice president of Immanuel Foundation, an anti-trafficking NGO based in Chiang Mai. "If the ranking's too low, the government will speed up their work." The report came in the nick of time for Thai Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha. In the last hours of a parliamentary censure debate last month against his government, Prayuth was able to bring Thailand's rise in the rankings to his defense. But Thailand's upgrade provided no relief to Namtip, a 15-year-old girl who spent two months in Cambodian custody after being trafficked from Thailand -- or the more than 3,300 other victims counted in the report. "The law in each country is different," said Surachate Hakparn, assistant commissioner in charge of anti-trafficking for the Royal Thai Police. "We can help people who were trafficked into Thailand more easily than getting Thais back from overseas." Ging, 26, borrowed money to pay her way out of a trafficked labor camp in Poipet, Cambodia. (Photo by Francesca Regalado) As corporate interest in environmental, social and governance issues grows, developed countries have been monitoring human rights violations. In the U.S., a law that allows for import injunctions on products made with forced labor has been in effect since 2016. The European Union is expected to announce a similar ban this year. "Business and human rights issues are recognized as a common challenge among developed countries," said Susumu Tanaka, senior economist and leader of the business and human rights unit of the Japan External Trade Organization. As long as cases of human trafficking continue to exist, "those countries will have to consider the possibility of being left out of the global supply chain." In Thailand, trafficking of migrants from Laos, Vietnam and Cambodia is rampant in sectors such as agriculture, food processing, fishing, tourism and entertainment. A major step forward was enforcing rules against forced labor as anti-trafficking laws. Prosecutions and convictions slowed last year, which police attribute to the COVID-19 pandemic, but investigations increased from 133 in 2020 to 188 in 2021, and are expected to double this year. Surachate's division received a 73 million-baht ($2 million) budget this fiscal year to address migrant labor and human trafficking. This was part of the Royal Thai Police's 32.8 billion baht annual budget, and allocations for anti-trafficking efforts to other agencies. But for all its efforts and resources, Thailand cannot do anything about the lack of political will and resources of its southeastern neighbor, Cambodia. Open terrain, hills and rivers make up the 817-kilometer border, making it difficult to patrol and easy to cross. Cambodia has been demoted to Tier 3 this year as endemic corruption continues to hamper anti-trafficking efforts. The port city of Sihanoukville, in particular, has become a base for syndicates that traffic people to run online scams. In downgrading Vietnam in the TIP report, the U.S. said the country didn't do enough to identify and help victims, while convictions of traffickers declined for five straight years. The report said some officials allegedly facilitated forced labor in Saudi Arabia, while others allegedly harassed accusers in efforts to silence them. Vietnam said the report "contained certain inaccurate information that has not fully" reflected its increased efforts, including the enforcement of a law on guest workers, protecting children online and cooperating internationally on safe migration. "Vietnam has been following with keen attention the situation pertaining to domestic and cross-border human trafficking, so as to come up with suitable countermeasures," said Le Thi Thu Hang, a foreign ministry spokeswoman. Ging shows a job posting in a Facebook page run by traffickers. The page has more than 16,000 followers. (Photo by Francesca Regalado) While Thai authorities can often identify victims and track perpetrators through bank accounts, internet data and phone records, enforcement often falls to their poorly equipped Cambodian counterparts. Immigration authorities in Sihanoukville, where 15-year-old Namtip was detained, said her case was delayed because they could not verify her identity. Victims who spoke with Nikkei Asia said they witnessed patrols on both sides of the Thai-Cambodian border accepting bribes from traffickers for safe passage. Syndicate bosses would brag to victims about how much they paid the police for each head, the victims said. Corruption also helps explain the situation in Sihanoukville, which has a special economic zone, in which around 100 casinos and numerous property developments are financed and operated by Chinese businessmen. Victims could easily find where they were held on a map -- large compounds with high walls and barbed wire, containing dormitories and casinos. These are often in or near urban centers, as they require high-speed internet to conduct financial scams and traffic more people. "In the past, trafficking was done person to person. But online, you can trick a hundred people at the same time," said Surachate. Cambodia National Police spokesman Chhay Kim Khoeun told Nikkei in December that the force is committed to its crackdown on groups kidnapping workers. A trafficking survivor reunites with family in Vietnam, where the U.S. says limits on independent unions and free speech made it hard to discuss workers’ rights and labor trafficking. (Photo courtesy of Blue Dragon Children's Foundation) In Vietnam, the ads beckoning people to work overseas are as diverse as the destination countries, from Facebook posts and handwritten posters near the woods of Dalat touting Kuwait to printed banners for Japan on a narrow road outside Hanoi. Some chancers end up being tricked into slave labor. Nam Thuy says it was a steamed bun laced with sedatives that did him in. In May, facing an avalanche of medical bills, he decided on a last resort -- selling an organ. Thuy told Nikkei in Ho Chi Minh City that he jumped into a Hyundai vehicle with strangers thinking they'd broker the procedure. On the drive, the 30-year-old ate the bun, only to wake up hours later on the road to Cambodia, where he remained for months. He and dozens of other Vietnamese were forced to adopt fake online identities to con people, he said. With a target of about $4,000, he used chats to get people to invest in fraudulent get-rich-quick schemes. "If you didn't meet the target, they shocked you, beat you or let you starve," he said, tugging away his medical mask to reveal missing teeth. More people became vulnerable to exploitation during the pandemic and have been trafficked to a greater variety of places, but "the root cause is still poverty," said Nguyen Tra My, an anti-trafficking officer at Blue Dragon Children's Foundation, which rescues Vietnamese trapped in China. "The trafficking landscape changed," she said. Trafficking victims receive art therapy in Vietnam. By one count, the country conducted 36,000 inspections yet reported no sex trafficking victims, the U.S. said. (Photo courtesy of Blue Dragon Children's Foundation) Thai authorities and nonprofits say trafficking cannot be eradicated as long as economic opportunities at home are lacking. The promise of 30,000-baht monthly salaries is enough to persuade people to ignore red flags and take the risk of illegally crossing the border. Ging, a 26-year-old single mother who was trafficked to Poipet, made only 9,000 baht per month at a local company in Saraburi Province. "It sounded like the recruiter really wanted to help me make money," she told Nikkei six days after her return from Cambodia. "I was making money as they promised, but I just couldn't have my freedom," she said. To buy back her liberty, Ging had to raise three months' salary and borrow 30,000 baht from her hometown. Namtip, the 15-year-old, thought she was signing up for a summer job between school terms to help her grandmother with expenses. Sua, who was desperate for work after losing his job at a bank during the height of the pandemic, was trafficked to a casino in Sihanoukville. "The amount of money they were offering should have been a red flag," he said. "It was too much." Sua now works with the Pavena Foundation for Children and Women, a nonprofit group for trafficked and abused women and children. Part of his work is encouraging victims to provide testimony to the police as most fear being charged for illegal acts committed forcibly, or for crossing borders illegally. "If any country is weak on trafficking, we need to have some kind of sanction," said Pavena Hongsakul, a former Thai politician who runs her eponymous foundation.
  16. https://asia.nikkei.com/Business/Automobiles/Thai-used-car-market-heats-up-as-foreign-startups-jump-in?utm_campaign=GL_asia_daily&utm_medium=email&utm_source=NA_newsletter&utm_content=article_link&del_type=1&pub_date=20220317190000&seq_num=23&si=44594# Thai used-car market heats up as foreign startups jump in Online dealers hope to attract more consumers amid rising demand According to Deloitte, 21% of Thai consumers would like at least part of their next vehicle purchase to be done online. (Screenshot from CAR24, Carro, and Carsome webstite) APORNRATH PHOONPHONGPHIPHAT and DYLAN LOH, Nikkei staff writersMarch 17, 2022 12:20 JST BANGKOK/SINGAPORE -- Used-car sales in Thailand are set to grow again this year after a stellar 2021 due to a shortage of new cars, with online dealers such as India's Cars24 and Malaysia's Carsome entering the market to capitalize on fresh demand. On March 3, Carsome said it had partnered with PTT Oil and Retail Business -- a subsidiary of Thailand's energy conglomerate PTT -- in a move that analysts said would help the Malaysian company expand its used-car network and boost online vehicle purchases. "It is a 'blue ocean' market," said Pinyo Tanawatcharaporn, president of the Association of Used Cars, referring to an industry where there is little competition. The association is expecting Thailand's secondhand car market to grow 10-15% this year. The demand for cars has grown as commuters shy away from public transport to avoid crowds as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. However, the pandemic's hit to the economy has weakened spending power, which has made buyers look for cheaper secondhand alternatives. Furthermore, the global chip shortage has constrained automakers' ability to produce new vehicles. Thailand's used car sales grew 7.5% to around 140 billion baht ($4.2 billion) in 2021, with further growth expected this year, according to Kasikorn Research Center. Pinyo said 1.2 million used cars were sold last year. Internet-based dealers have clocked on to Thailand's large consumer base as a means to fuel growth in Asia outside of their home markets. India's Cars24, for instance, launched its Southeast Asian foothold in the kingdom last November after its rivals -- Singapore's Carro and Malaysia's Carsome -- had already set up a Thai presence. All three startups are interested in generating car sales from their Thai digital platforms. According to Deloitte's "2022 Global Automotive Consumer Study," 21% of consumers in Thailand will prefer fully or partially virtual transactions to buy their next vehicle, while only 12% in the Philippines and Indonesia chose to do so. The report mentioned that consumers in Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam show a greater willingness to transact online. Startups like Cars24 hope to shift buyers online, particularly given the acceleration of digital penetration in Southeast Asia due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Like its competitors Carro and Carsome, Cars24 is doing this with hefty funding from backers. Last September, Cars24, which bills itself as India's largest online portal for used vehicles with an inventory of over 10,000 cars, announced the closing of a $450 million Series F equity round, which included investors like SoftBank Vision Fund 2 and Chinese tech giant Tencent Holdings. Carro CEO Aaron Tan. The online car sales platform received investment from SoftBank Vision Fund 2 in June 2021. (Photo by Takashi Nakano) In June, Carro announced that SoftBank Group had led its $360 million Series C funding round, which included Indonesia-based fund EV Growth, among other backers. The same year, Carsome announced the closing of its $170 million Series D2 round, bringing the company's valuation to $1.3 billion and prompting the startup to claim that it was Malaysia's largest technology unicorn. "I have been in the market for many years, but I've never seen such big investments from online used car platforms in the Thai market," said Pinyo from the Association of Used Cars. "That has forced us to switch to both online and offline outlets in order to survive, as we have realized that consumers' behaviors have changed." He said some consumers were worried about the quality of used cars bought online. To assuage those fears, the association has formed a partnership with Japanese vehicle inspection specialist Goo to verify the cars. "That has made it easier for Thai used-car sellers to adjust their businesses by moving online, and some of our members have already built their own webpages to meet changing consumer demands," Pinyo said.
  17. As travel curbs ease, elderly foreigners resume retirement travel plans to Thailand PHUKET - With travel restrictions lifted in Thailand, foreigners who want to live out their golden years surrounded by tropical greenery and sunny beaches, or who need quality assisted living, are returning to the country. Provinces such as Chiang Mai and Phuket have long been the favourite destinations of expat retirees, but their move was disrupted due to the pandemic. With Thailand opening up, phones have been ringing off the hook and inquiries flooding the inboxes of several assisted living and aged care homes The Straits Times spoke to. ... Thailand frequently tops global rankings of retirement destinations around the world, based on indices such as cost of living, healthcare, activities and ease of visa applications. According to Nikkei Asia, the number of retirement visas issued jumped 30 per cent since 2014, with almost 80,000 issued in 2018. Foreign applicants must be aged 50 and above, and fulfil at least one of these requirements: have at least 800,000 baht in a Thai bank account, a monthly income of at least 65,000 baht, or an annual inflow or pension totalling at least 800,000 baht. Those on retirement visas cannot work and the passes must be renewed annually. The Thai government is hoping to attract wealthy foreigners, including retirees, through a new 10-year long-term resident visa programme approved by the Cabinet last month. https://www.straitstimes.com/asia/se-asia/as-travel-eases-elderly-foreigners-resume-retirement-travel-plans-to-thailand
  18. BANGKOK -- Mercedes-Benz Group will become the first major automaker to build electric vehicles in Thailand, starting production in Southeast Asia's largest auto manufacturing hub this year. The German auto group will build its flagship electric EQS sedan here, the company said Thursday. The car, which uses Mercedes's first dedicated electric platform, can travel more than 700 km on a single charge, according to the company. Production volume is expected to be small, but by moving early in a segment that is popular among wealthy drivers, Mercedes looks to grab a larger share of the country's luxury-vehicle market. The move also forms part of the group's plan to transition to an electric-only lineup by 2030. This marks the start of an era of electrification, Roland Folger, CEO Mercedes-Benz Thailand, told reporters. Mercedes-Benz Group, which changed its name from Daimler this week, had laid the groundwork for making electric cars in Thailand. It opened a battery factory here in 2019. Mercedes already assembles gasoline-fueled cars and plug-in hybrid vehicles in Thailand. Its sales of new vehicles in Thailand grew 13% last year. While the company has not released detailed results, it is believed to have shipped around 10,000 vehicles in the country, putting its market share in the 1% range. It ranks second in the luxury segment behind BMW. Thailand is Southeast Asia's largest auto producer, but so far only a handful of startups have ventured into making electric models here. Among larger players, Japan's Mitsubishi Motors and China's SAIC Motor and Great Wall Motor plan to begin doing so next year. Toyota Motor, which leads Thailand's auto market, is considering such a move but has no specific plans at this time. https://asia.nikkei.com/Business/Automobiles/Mercedes-Benz-to-build-EVs-in-Thailand-in-first-for-a-major-carmaker
  19. https://www.newsbreak.com/news/2431954341797/thai-king-returns-to-germany-with-250-strong-entourage-and-30-poodles Thai king returns to Germany with 250-strong entourage and 30 poodles By Shweta Sharma The Independent 2 hours ago Thailand ’s king Maha Vajiralongkorn returned to Germany for the first time in over a year with his entourage of more than 250 people and a beloved pack of 30 poodles. The 69-year-old monarch and his entourage were pictured at an airport hotel outside Munich after their flight in a luxurious private jet, German tabloid The Bild reported on Wednesday. Wearing a brown and orange tracksuit, the king was pictured on the way to the pool of the Hilton Airport hotel in Munich. The king, who is known for his love of dogs and famously promoted his pet poodle Fu-Fu to the rank of Air Chief Marshall, reached Munich on Monday and booked the entire fourth floor for 11 days. This was the king’s first official trip abroad since pro-democracy protests and unprecedented public criticism of the royals over laws that punish defaming the monarchy with up to 15 years in prison. More than 156 people have charged with the royal laws related to insulting monarchs, said the Thai Lawyers for Human Rights group. His first trip to Germany in more than a year came after the sovereign faced criticism for absence as coronavirus cases spiked in April and May. He was residing in a hotel in Germany’s Bavarian Alps that was closed to the public with his entourage of staff and dogs. “He’s back and is feeling at home with his poodles in his favourite kingdom of Bavaria,” Bild wrote. He returned to Thailand in October last year to mark the fourth anniversary of his father’s death amid pro-democracy protests. But the return was widely believed that it was in response to the criticism. The reason for the king’s frequent trips and his relationship with Germany are not known. He was titled Crown Prince of Thailand by his father King Bhumibol Adulyadej in a ceremony in 1973. In his early years, he was educated in a school in Bangkok and at the age of 13 he was sent to the UK for schooling. He completed his university education in Australia’s Royal Military College, Duntroon, for his arts degree as a corporal. After his advanced training in Thailand, the UK, US and Australia, he took the role of a officer in Thai armed forces and also became a fighter pilot. The king spends most time in his lakeside villa in the town of Tutzing — which is known as a playground for the rich. His trip also coincided with the verdict by Thailand’s constitutional court on Wednesday that protesters’ demands to call for reform of the monarchy were an “abuse of the rights and freedoms and harmed the state’s security.” Protests swept Thailand last over its harshest “lèse-majesté” laws, which makes it a punishable offence for anyone who “defames, insults or threatens the king, queen, heir apparent or regent.” People can face between three and 15 years in prison. The ruling was described as “a judicial coup” by human rights activists who said it can pave the way for more legal cases against the protesters.
  20. https://asia.nikkei.com/Spotlight/The-Big-Story/Thailand-s-billionaire-boom-the-rise-of-Sarath-Ratanavadi?del_type=1&pub_date=20211110190000&seq_num=2 Sarath Ratanavadi, Thailand's new energy king, built his fortune via his power company, Gulf Energy. A man of mystery, he is rarely photographed and keeps his affairs private. © Illustration by Hiroko Oshima Thailand's billionaire boom: the rise of Sarath Ratanavadi How the energy tycoon shot to fortune in Asia's most unequal country MARWAAN MACAN-MARKAR, Asia regional correspondentNovember 10, 2021 06:00 JST BANGKOK -- Thailand's richest billionaires and their wives filled an ornate hall in Bangkok's sprawling Dusit Palace complex. In the front row of the gaggle, 20 people: The men dressed in white, military-style uniforms used for royal audiences, their wives in Thai-style, powder-blue long-sleeved blouses and wraps of Thai silk that shimmered in the brightly lit gilded room. A hush came over the group as King Maha Vajiralongkorn and Queen Suthida entered. The group had gathered in honor of the king's birthday the previous month; it included the wealthiest patriarchs of the country's Sino-Thai clans who have been the country's unofficial oligarchy for years, each bearing two envelopes as gifts. The attendees were well known to each other; the same family names figure on the invite list year in and year out as old fortunes pass from generation to generation. Held last year in August, the gathering included one new face: Sarath Ratanavadi, who in a few short years had vaulted to prominence as Thailand's energy king. The then 55-year-old Sarath stood with his wife, Nalinee, on the far side of the group, the youngest face amid the aging tycoons and barons. Sarath was marked by his trim figure, medium height, thick eyebrows and penetrating eyes. Sarath's elevation to this ultimate circle of privilege came blindingly quick in a semifeudal society where wealth is mainly inherited and political connections count as much as business acumen. There was no public trace of Sarath's wealth before he mounted the Forbes list in 2018, a year after his company, Gulf Energy Development, the kingdom's largest private power producer by market value, made its initial public offering. This year he is the country's fifth-richest, worth $8.9 billion, according to the 2021 Forbes rich list. By February, he had been awarded his first royal decoration, the Knight Grand Cross (First class) of the Most Noble Order of the Crown of Thailand, further cementing his place among the country's uber-wealthy business elite. Thailand’s richest billionaires and their wives, including Sarath Ratanavadi and his wife Nalinee, pictured far right in front of the window, met with King Maha Vajiralongkorn and Queen Suthida in 2020. (Photo courtesy of Royal Household Bureau) "Wow! That's a bolt from the blue. Who is he?" blurted Kevin Hewison, a veteran Australian academic who specializes in Thai politics, when he spotted Sarath's name on the Forbes list for the first time in 2018. Hewison at the time had just completed a paper, titled, "Crazy Rich Thais: Thailand's Capitalist Class, 1980-2019." "I was also surprised to see someone move up so rapidly into the top five, which had remained pretty stable over the period 2006 to 2019," he said. Sarath is not just another run-of-the-mill billionaire, of which Thailand now has more than 50. His presence among the invitees to the palace "put [him] into a different layer, a different class by being in that exclusive group," Chris Baker, a respected scholar of Thai politics, history and wealth, told Nikkei Asia. "It has clearly made Sarath more public, and he has outed himself by the message it conveys." The billionaire's club Scaling the heights of wealth and privilege so quickly is remarkable in any society but especially so in one that is, by many measures, the world's most unequal. Thailand's political structure -- a succession of 13 military juntas since 1932 and an enduring monarchy -- makes social mobility especially tricky. Before Sarath joined the conclave at the king's birthday, no new family names had been featured since the monarch ascended the throne after his father, the late King Bhumibol Adulyadej, died in 2016. Southeast Asia's second-largest economy has straddled economic and social fault lines that pit the majority in the rural heartlands and urban pockets against a smaller, influential and well-heeled affluent class in Bangkok and other large cities. According to a study by the Bank of Thailand, the central bank, the average monthly household income went from 17,000 baht in 2014 to about 22,000 baht ($671) by 2020. At the other end of the spectrum, Thailand's 40 richest this year are worth $151.7 billion, or 28% of gross domestic product, according to Duangmanee Laovakul, an assistant professor at the Center for Research on Inequality and Social Policy at Thammasat University. Thailand's income gap in 2018 was the widest in the world, according to statistics published in the yearly Credit Suisse Global Wealth Databook. The top 1% controlled 66.9% of the country's wealth that year. Although the indicator in 2020 contracted to 40%, in line with most countries during the pandemic, Thailand was still the world's fifth-most unequal out of 40 nations rated by Credit Suisse. The top tier's rapid consolidation of their country's wealth has made Thailand the high net worth capital of Southeast Asia, with 52 billionaires (worth at least $1 billion) last year, according to the Hurun Global Rich List -- 10th in the world, while the economy counted in nominal GDP was the 22nd largest. Reaching the top might be hard, but once one arrives, the atmosphere is collegial, according to Baker. "The Thai oligarchs help one another," the political scholar said. "There is a camaraderie to help each other if one of them is in trouble. There have been times when there has been competition, yet they feel a greater need to stick together." Building an energy empire To be tagged as an insider in Thailand's power circles confirms the long distance Sarath has traveled since the early 1990s, when Thailand's economic growth was galloping along at 8.2% per year. Armed with two engineering degrees, one from Bangkok's prestigious Chulalongkorn University and the other from the University of Southern California, a young Sarath found opportunities as new energy policies were being rolled out. The government had decided to end state control of the power supply and open the market to private independent utilities. The shift, made to meet growing energy demand, resulted in a "gold rush," as some describe. "By going into energy [Sarath] did not join the rest of his generation," a longtime acquaintance recalled. Most of the newly minted graduates from Bangkok's elite universities were drawn to the booming world of finance. A power plant operated by GSRC, a Gulf Energy subsidiary, in Chonburi Province, Thailand. The plant has a power generation capacity of 2,650 MW. (Photo courtesy of Gulf Energy) In a country where generals hold sway, Sarath has benefited from his military pedigree. His father, Gen. Thaworn Ratanavadi, was considered close to Gen. Suchinda Kraprayoon, the strongman who in 1991 staged a coup to overthrow an elected government. His grandfather, Sode Ratanavadi, also a military officer, was involved in a political party that overthrew the monarch in 1932, ending then-Siam's absolute monarchy. His wife, Nalinee, hails from a wealthy Thai-Chinese political dynasty in Tak, a northwestern province along the Thai-Myanmar border. "[Sarath's] wife has been key, and his father-in-law owns a business empire in Tak, so Sarath had money and strong connections when he came back from the U.S.," said Suwat Sinsadok, managing director of FSS International Investment Advisory Securities, a Bangkok business consultancy. Sarath consults Suwat before making business decisions. "But he was very focused even then," Suwat added. "From 1994, Sarath saw power as the future." Sarath built his energy empire under the Gulf brand name. His first foray, in 1994, was with Gulf Electric, which won a bid to build a coal-fired power plant south of Bangkok. These were heady days; economic reforms invited private companies into the power production sector, ending a decadeslong state monopoly. But Sarath ran into stiff grassroots environmental protests, and his project stalled. A decade later, with Thailand being governed by a billionaire prime minister, Thaksin Shinawatra, Sarath again invested in power, this time in the central province of Saraburi and this time gas-fired plants rather than coal. By then, Sarath had the backing of J-Power, a Japanese utility that had a 49% stake in Gulf Electric. More money, more problems But Sarath's business model -- winning state concessions to produce power -- veered back into controversy in 2013, when Thaksin's sister, Yingluck, was serving as prime minister. A Gulf-affiliated company won bids to build gas turbines in Chonburi and Rayong provinces that could generate a total of 5,300 megawatts. But by scooping up the entire concession, the company raised eyebrows as four other companies who had vied for shares were left in the cold. Independent Power Development, the winning Gulf subsidiary, was 30% owned by Japan's Mitsui & Co. Its chairman at the time of the tender was Viset Choopiban, an energy minister under Thaksin and a former president of PTT, Thailand's state-owned oil and gas company. The concession was thrown into question a year later following the most recent coup in 2014, staged by Gen. Prayuth Chan-ocha, then the powerful chief of Thailand's army. The junta was determined to pry open any favorable deals that benefited Thaksin-aligned business leaders during his sister's time in office. "One of the reasons his competitors hated Sarath was because of him winning this deal 100%," a Thai energy industry insider said. "They cheered the coup, welcomed the inquiry and expected the military regime to strike down the Gulf deal." Police officers and soldiers stand guard during a protest against military rule at Victory Monument in central Bangkok on May 26, 2014, after a coup led by current Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha. © Reuters Preliminary inquiries by the energy ministry pushed for the deal to be renegotiated, citing irregularities, and in the early post-putsch days, Sarath was summoned by the military regime. But Thai media at the time paid little heed to the still unknown power broker, whose name was misspelled on the summons. Their coverage instead centered on Thailand's better-known billionaires, many from the real estate and construction sectors, who were among 400 prominent people taken to military bases and interrogated. However, following extended negotiations, the cloud hanging over the deal lifted. In December 2016, Prayuth issued an order that countermanded a previous order targeting the concession. The outcome also pleased Pichai Naripthaphan, who was energy minister when Yingluck was in power and the concession was granted. "Gulf won that bid fair and square," Pichai told Nikkei. "It offered the lowest price." (In Thailand, when companies bid for power-producing projects, the bidders offer to produce power at the lowest cost per unit to be sold to the state utility.) That turnaround paved the way for Gulf Energy's IPO in 2017, by which time the group had 13 gas-fired power stations in operation and installed generation capacity was over 4,771 MW. Like that, Sarath found himself as the CEO and largest shareholder of a company that made for Thailand's biggest corporate listing in over a decade, raising $733 million. But there was nothing sudden about it. "He prepared for that listing for more than 10 years," Suwat, the business analyst, said. "He waited for the right time." What stood out was Sarath's ability to win the blessings of the Prayuth regime. He managed this despite being close to the Shinawatras. "Given his closeness to the former government, no one who has migrated to the other side and managed to cultivate allies in the new regime has done as well as Sarath," said an investment banker who has followed the energy tycoon's rise. A power industry insider concurred: "He not only survived the post-coup purge but he springboarded, and he reportedly is still on good terms with Thaksin." Thaksin, whose government was ousted by a coup in 2006 while the prime minister was in New York for a United Nations General Assembly gathering, now lives in self-imposed exile in Dubai. Since the listing, Sarath has used legal threats to deal with critics of his extraordinarily lucrative deals. In February, Gulf Energy filed a lawsuit accusing Bencha Saenchantra, a female opposition parliamentarian, of libel after she alleged that some of the state's policies had favored Gulf and Sarath during a censure motion in parliament against Prayuth early this year. "That was the first time I spoke in public about Gulf," she told Nikkei. She queried the conditions under which Gulf won bids as part of a consortium for two power-related megaprojects. Under Thai law, lawmakers have legal protections for what they say in parliament, though they can be charged with libel if their comments are broadcast to a wider audience. The company had previously sued Sirichai Mai-Ngam, the former president of one of the country's largest trade unions, at the Electricity Generating Authority of Thailand, a state utility, after he raised questions in a Thai newspaper about the 5,300 MW concession won while Yingluck was in power. The case was settled out of court. That Sarath and Gulf remain sensitive about the 5,300 MW deal is reflected in the company's latest annual report, filed last December. Toward the end of the report is a summary under the subhead "litigation." It begins by noting that the deal came under scrutiny following the 2014 coup. It also notes efforts during the military regime to undo the deal, the move by the state for the Board of Investment to delay the bidding process, and Gulf's mixed results to win favorable rulings on issues it raised in the courts. The report says that the company in 2020 made no provision related to the litigation because "the Group's management believes that there will be no significant liability from the result of the above lawsuit cases." Friends in high places The legal campaign does little to change the perceptions that successful companies like Gulf face in Thailand, particularly when fortunes have flowed from government concessions. "Gulf's main revenues stem from long-term state concessions, usually 25-year contracts" linked to the state power utility, said Veerayooth Kanchoochat, a Thai political economist at the Tokyo-based National Graduate Institute for Policy Studies. In other words, the government is Gulf's main customer, and the customer has guaranteed sales for the next 25 years. Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha and former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra. Sarath has been able to strike energy deals under the governments of each, despite tensions between Thaksin and Prayuth. (Source photos by Reuters and Getty Images) Sarinee Achavanuntakul, head of Sal Forest, a Thai research company, considers Gulf Energy as one of 57 "political stocks" traded in Thailand. There are three such categories, she says. First, there are stocks of listed state-owned enterprises and government-owned companies. There are also stocks of companies whose main income is from government concessions. Finally, there are stocks whose owners have close family or friendly ties with powerful politicians. "Gulf fits squarely [within the second category]," she said, "and I think many Thai people would regard [it] to fit [into the third] category as well." Sarath's tale is not exactly rags to riches, more like rich to insanely rich. Arriving at the summit of Thai society, he immediately benefited from a new billionaire-centric economic model being pioneered by Prayuth's regime. It has acted to cement the fortunes of the oligarchy in a new social compact called Pracha Rath Rak Samakee (people of the state love harmony). This Orwellian-sounding 2016 initiative offered incentives, including generous tax breaks, to persuade big businesses to rub shoulders with the generals and support the junta's economic solution for rampant inequality. "In doing so, the Prayuth regime changed the relationship between the Thai state and big business in a way we had not witnessed before," said Prajak Kongkirati, a political scientist at Bangkok's Thammasat University and co-author of a paper, "The Prayuth Regime: Embedded Military and Hierarchical Capitalism in Thailand." Prajak added, "They matched the bureaucracy with the top 20 businesses, and the businesses ended up gaining more as they penetrated into the [small and medium sector] markets to strengthen their monopolies." Sarath's proximity to Prayuth, now the prime minister of a pro-military government that succeeded the junta after general elections in 2019, was laid bare after COVID-19 struck Thailand last year. In April, Prayuth sent a letter to the country's 20 richest people his government was close to, seeking their help to revive an economy that was sinking after the first wave of the pandemic began to bite. The Thai media listed the names of the likely recipients of Prayuth's missive. Sarath's name appeared high on the list. Dhanin Chearavanont was also on the list. The 82-year-old presides over the CP Group, an agribusiness conglomerate. He heads Thailand's richest clan and is said to be worth $30.2 billion, making him Thailand's richest billionaire. Charoen Sirivadhanabhakdi made the list as well. The 77-year-old heads Thai Beverage, the beer and liquor conglomerate, and is the country's third-richest tycoon. His wealth is estimated at $12.7 billion. Camera shy In the rarefied world of Thai high-rollers, Sarath stamped his new reputation by often traveling in his new, private (Gulfstream) plane, reportedly worth $70 million. Sarath is known as a good golfer with a single handicap, and a lover of fine wines. But to many associates, even close ones, he is a cipher, obsessed with privacy. Finding a photograph of him is difficult; the only one that is public is on Gulf Energy's annual report. Dhanin Chearavanont, left, Sarath Ratanavadi and Charoen Sirivadhanabhakdi are believed to be among the 20 richest people close to Prime Minister Prayuth. The Sarath photo, from Gulf Energy, is one of the few of Sarath available. (Source photos by Kosaku Mimura, Gulf Energy, and Getty Images) He rarely gives media interviews, and acquaintances affirm he is fiercely private. Gulf Energy declined to make Sarath or any other senior executive available to Nikkei for an interview. Sarath "is known as a private person," confided a former cabinet minister who has moved in the same social circles as Sarath. Consequently, there is an air of mystery about his wealth and the size, scale and speed of his company's growth -- the recipe for his success in Thailand. Bangkok-based diplomats say they consider Gulf as a company to watch. Hitherto, they paid most of their attention to the "Big 5." The shorthand refers to the five Sino-Thai conglomerates: the CP Group, Thai Bev, the duty-free monopoly King Power International Group, dominant high-end retail trader Central Group and Singha beer maker Boonrawd Brewery. "The same way we pay attention to the Big 5, we have begun to pay attention to Gulf as the next tier of influence," a diplomat from a Western embassy revealed to Nikkei. Another diplomat said Thailand is a country where "often the big families are very influential and have a lot of sway over politics, policies and positions." But while the other families have been more accessible and even attend occasional embassy events, Sarath, he noted, is an enigma who has remained quiet and below the news radar as his wealth has surged. Gulf Energy's JP UT power plant, in Thailand's Ayutthaya Province, has a generation capacity of 1,600 MW. The plant was backed by several Japanese banks, including Mitsui. (Photo courtesy of Gulf Energy) Only a trusted few appear to have penetrated this air of mystery hovering over Bangkok's newly minted billionaire. Suwat, the analyst, is one of them. In February, he met Sarath for lunch in the private room of an elegant Italian restaurant on the ground floor of a 43-story tower on Bangkok's embassy row. It was to discuss Sarath's groundbreaking multibillion-baht deal that was poised to shake up Thailand's telecoms sector. The lunch of salad and spaghetti lasted for three hours, Suwat recalled, as Sarath rolled out Gulf's bid to invest in InTouch Holdings, which controls Advanced Info Service, Thailand's largest mobile phone operator. "Other [Thai] power companies are different," Suwat said. "They grow as the market grows, more organic. Gulf is very different. [Its] empire is much bigger and more aggressive. ... You cannot find a company like this in Thailand." Additional reporting by Akane Okutsu in Tokyo.
  21. BANGKOK (BLOOMBERG) - Thailand, already facing its worst coronavirus outbreak since the start of the pandemic, is considering cutting its prison population by as much as 16 per cent to counter the rapid spread of infections among inmates and workers in overcrowded facilities. More than 10,000 new Covid-19 cases have been reported in about a dozen densely packed Thai prisons. These latest clusters have pushed the country's daily case count to record highs twice in the past week, including on Monday (May 17) when more than two-thirds of the 9,635 infections were reported in prisons, official data showed. The outbreak in the correctional system reflects conditions in many parts of metropolitan Bangkok, where infections have spread quickly in dense slums, crowded construction sites and even a government-housing complex. The slow rate of vaccinations has added to the challenge facing the authorities. "If we can't get enough vaccines or if we can't contain the spread quickly, we'll have to think about reducing the number of inmates in the system through early release," according to Justice Minister Somsak Thepsuthin. "They're already incarcerated. They shouldn't have to suffer more than that." With about 311,000 inmates, Thai prisons are running at 5 per cent above official capacity. More than 80 per cent of those incarcerated face charges for narcotics violations. The Justice Ministry is looking at a special early-release programme for about 50,000 inmates, that could include the use of electronic-monitoring systems and adjustment of criteria. However, Mr Somsak said that the ministry's current priority is to administer vaccines to inmates and correctional officers to cut infections. In the longer term, Thailand's drug laws will be changed to allow shorter jail sentences for minor offences and to focus more on rehabilitation, which will reduce overcrowding and costs, he said. if anyone recall the news a few years ago... thailands prison conditions damn atrocious 2019 jail conditions....................... if the 2021 jail condition is not any better then........................................ https://mothership.sg/2019/12/thailand-prison-video-leak/
  22. Very Godzilla-like. A monitor lizard, estimated to be about 1.8m to 2m in length, entered a 7-Eleven convenience store in Thailand and proceeded to cause a major inconvenience to customers and staff. Climbed up shelves This was after the monitor lizard casually crawled to the back of the shop and climbed up nine shelves to get up close to the ceiling. While it did so, it ended up knocking over multiple packets of milk onto the floor, an April 6 Facebook video of the incident showed. Screaming and laughing in video The peculiar reptilian antics left customers and staff bewildered, as they shrieked and laughed in both fear and excitement -- all at the same time. A woman could be heard screaming in the video: “Cute. Is he hungry? Does he want to eat?” Another person, believed to be an employee, screamed off-camera: “The shelves are ruined! Oh my god.” The video was shot by Jejene Narumpa, a woman in Thailand. Her Instagram story of the monitor lizard tagged Soi Ban Tang Sin as the location, which is in the west metro Bangkok’s Nakhon Pathom province. Monitor lizard trying to cool off? Some of the responses to the video by online commenters guessed that the monitor lizard was probably just trying to get closer to the air-conditioner to get some respite from the heat outside. Another video shot by another passer-by showed what appeared to be the same monitor lizard outside of the 7-Eleven store. The reptile could be seen trying make a forced entry into the store, but eventually gave up. One short scene even showed the monitor lizard being shooed away with a broom.
  23. BANGKOK — The resort hotel in Thailand got its public apology. The unhappy American guest who spent two nights in jail for criticising the hotel online got his criminal charges dropped. But it was Tripadvisor, the giant online travel review platform, that got the last word.Mr Wesley Barnes, the American traveller who was arrested after being charged with criminal defamation for posting critical reviews of the Sea View resort on the island of Koh Chang, quietly left Thailand this week. With Mr Barnes safely out of the country, Tripadvisor took punitive action Wednesday (Nov 11) against the resort, posting a one-of-a-kind notice on the Sea View’s page warning travellers that the hotel was behind the jailing of a guest for his harsh reviews. “This hotel or individuals associated with this hotel filed criminal charges against a Tripadvisor user in relation to the traveller writing and posting online reviews,” the warning reads. “The reviewer spent time in jail as a result.” The dispute between the resort and its guest began over a US$15 (S$20) corkage fee, but turned into a clash between American principles of free speech and Thailand’s far-reaching laws that limit expression and are used to stifle criticism of businesses, the Thai government and the monarchy. Tripadvisor’s business model is based on the idea that everyone has “the right to write,” said Mr Bradford Young, vice president and associate general counsel. “This is the first case we are aware of where a Tripadvisor member spent time in jail as a result of a review they posted to our website.” After the warning notice was posted, the hotel said it was “deeply disappointed” and asserted that “the warning message from Tripadvisor is extremely misleading and lacks complete information.” While Thailand is seen as one of the world’s most tourist-friendly places, its anti-speech arsenal includes laws against criminal defamation, improper online content, sedition, contempt of court and insulting the monarchy.That law, known as lèse-majesté, can bring a 15-year prison sentence. “Thailand’s use of criminal defamation is really off the charts,” said Mr Phil Robertson, the deputy Asia director for Human Rights Watch. “It seems like the Asian notion of ‘saving face’ has really been taken to heart by Thais who don’t hesitate to head to court over the smallest perceived slight or insult. If Thailand would simply decriminalise defamation, making it a purely civil law matter, this would create a major change in Thai society overnight.” In recent weeks, thousands of protesters have defied restrictions on free speech and street protests to stage huge demonstrations in Bangkok, Thailand’s capital, demanding the resignation of the Prime Minister, Mr Prayuth Chan-ocha, the dissolution of parliament and changes to the constitution. In a rare challenge to the monarchy, they have also called for Thailand's King Maha Vajiralongkorn to come under the constitution’s authority and return control of the crown assets, worth tens of billions of dollars.Many protest leaders have been arrested, several of them more than once. In the case of Mr Barnes, he began writing wide-ranging, critical reviews of the hotel in June after the corkage fee dispute. The Sea View, located in the Gulf of Thailand, an hour’s flight from Bangkok, said it tried unsuccessfully to persuade him to delete his posts and had no choice but to file a police complaint.Mr Barnes was arrested in September and spent two nights in jail as he tried to make bail. He faced two years in prison. Tripadvisor began paying his legal fees and helped bring the parties together to negotiate. Eventually, the Sea View agreed to drop its complaint if Mr Barnes made a “sincere apology” for his reviews, which they said included “xenophobic comments against hotel staff.” Mr Barnes accepted the offer, and in a statement that resembled a forced confession, he apologised and thanked the hotel for forgiving him.The fine print of the settlement also required Mr Barnes to obtain an agreement from Tripadvisor, and he asked the company for a commitment that it would not post a “red badge” warning — Tripadvisor’s most dreaded notice — on the hotel’s page. Tripadvisor posts various warnings to alert travellers to safety issues, and such notices can result in a significant drop in business. Agreeing to the hotel’s demand meant going against the company’s own practice of informing travellers.“That was problematic for us,” Mr Young said. “The settlement agreement basically required Mr Barnes to convince Tripadvisor to stop acting like Tripadvisor.” The company has been criticised in the past for not doing enough to warn travellers of specific dangers, especially cases of rape.In the end, Tripadvisor gave Mr Barnes a letter that he hand-delivered to the hotel, promising the company would not post a “red badge” on the hotel’s page. With that, the charges were dismissed last week and the police returned his passport and bail money. In the meantime, Tripadvisor began drafting a new type of warning that it posted Wednesday, after Mr Barnes had reached his destination outside Thailand. The warning comes with a penalty: a substantial drop in the hotel’s ranking on the website.In its statement, the Sea View accused Tripadvisor of reneging on its commitment by posting the new notice. “We fail to understand how Tripadvisor going back on their word, and not being impartial, is helpful to any of the parties involved in this case,” the hotel said. Tripadvisor countered that the company was not a party to the settlement and that its commitment was to Mr Barnes to keep him out of prison. “We have no agreement with the hotel,” Mr Young said. “We sent a letter to Mr Barnes taking steps to ensure his safety. We told the hotel the letter was accurate when they asked. We also have not violated any terms of the letter.” Mr Barnes did not respond to a request for comment. A Massachusetts-based company, Tripadvisor has operated for 20 years and has posted 878 million reviews from countries around the world. It usually has 50 to 100 lawsuits pending in various countries, most commonly about free speech, Mr Young said.“Every traveller,” he said, “has a fundamental right to share their experiences and opinions with other travellers.” That said, everyone should take reviews with a pinch of salt. I do read reviews before I book from Agoda, Tripadvisor but it is also good practice to manage expectations so you dont end up being overly disappointed. If youre paying extremely cheap for a hotel or resort then dont expect the best cleanliness or service or floor space. There will always be trade offs. If it turns out to be a good deal then good for you. Same for food reviews. Key is to manage expectations. disclaimer:I must also comment that I did not read what the american posted abt the hotel to result in a defamation case. If theres one thing that covid19 has exposed, it is that americans and their freedom of speech (and freedom to not wear mask) is whats causing their cases to notdrop
  24. https://asia.nikkei.com/Spotlight/The-Big-Story/Thai-protests-build-as-pandemic-fuels-unrest-across-Southeast-Asia?del_type=1&pub_date=20201021190000&seq_num=2 Thai protests build as pandemic fuels unrest across Southeast Asia How COVID aggravated inequality and triggered political reckoning across the region GWEN ROBINSON, Nikkei Asia editor-at-large, MARWAAN MACAN-MARKAR, Asia regional correspondent and SHAUN TURTON, contributing writerOctober 21, 2020 05:13 JST BANGKOK/PHNOM PENH -- Something changed in the tone of the protests sweeping Thailand when police on Friday turned water cannons on youthful activists in central Bangkok. The confrontation was at a rain-soaked intersection, only meters away from the spot where, a decade earlier, security forces had shot and killed scores of anti-government protesters. The crowd on this stormy Oct. 16 night represented a new generation of activists taking on the ultimate taboo subject: the immense power and wealth of the Thai monarchy. They are led by students, many of them of high-school age, and tonight they were determined to stand their ground. Ploy, a 19-year-old university student, and her two friends braced themselves as jets of blue-tinged liquid hit the crowd. "It stung. We knew then that they'd gone too far, that we cannot let them get away with this," she said. The protesters, unfazed, formed umbrella chains and flashed three-finger salutes, a symbol of defiance drawn from "The Hunger Games" film series. Some supporters on the overpass above dropped umbrellas to the crowd. The young activists had gathered despite a new emergency decree banning gatherings of five or more people, determined to press their demands for reform and to voice anger at the arrest of more than 20 protest leaders, mostly students, earlier that week. The demonstrations -- calling for the resignation of the prime minister, a new constitution and reform of the monarchy -- have steadily intensified, even as the country remains closed to international tourism amid concerns about COVID-19. The latest rallies have drawn tens of thousands of people to locations around the country, as a wave of sympathy grows for the young protesters along with anger at government tactics. Protests have intensified in Bangkok and elsewhere around the country. "The Thai government has created its own human rights crisis," said Human Rights Watch. © Getty Images Immediately after the water cannon attack, three of the top 10 hashtags trending worldwide on social media were about Thailand's turmoil, many prompted by protesters' complaints that the water fired from the cannons was laced with stinging chemicals. Swift denials by police failed to stem condemnation from domestic and international critics, including human rights groups and student bodies. "The Thai government has created its own human rights crisis," said Human Rights Watch. "Criminalizing peaceful protests and calls for political reform is a hallmark of authoritarian rule." An outpouring of international support and sympathy has further energized the young protesters. "Whatever happens next, we've already won. We've forced the government to take us seriously, we've broken the taboo of discussing the monarchy," said Ploy. "This can't go away, it can't go backwards." Fresh moves by the government to censor Thai media in recent days have also backfired, fueling further criticism and a growing backlash against the country's unpopular monarch, King Maha Vajiralongkorn, and Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha. Street graffiti has recently appeared proclaiming the "Republic of Thailand" -- unthinkable even six months ago. But today, the authorities seem powerless to counter the anti-monarchy tide. Thailand has emerged as a "COVID-19 star" in holding down case numbers -- but its tourism-reliant economy has also suffered among the worst. (Photo by Lauren DeCicca) Standing amid the roaring, densely packed protest crowds, it is hard to imagine that just half a year ago, Bangkok's major thoroughfares were silent and empty amid a deep lockdown, the population more fearful of the COVID-19 pandemic than political repression. COVID-19 and economic hardships have barely figured in the fiery speeches and social media posts of the Thai protest movement. The main issues are political change, democratization and burning anger at the actions of the politicians and military, and displays of royal wealth that now saturate an emboldened local media. Yet, the catalyst has undoubtedly been the long period of lockdown and antivirus measures, resulting in deepening economic gloom, soaring poverty and a growing sense of hopelessness among the 520,000 students who will graduate from Thai universities in coming weeks. A recent survey showed that as many as 80% of them have no clear idea of the jobs they might land after graduation. Ironically, the swelling street demonstrations are also the result of one of the government's signature successes: The young protesters are not afraid of COVID-19. They know that the government has earned international praise for its management of the pandemic. Thailand has been described as one of the world's "COVID-19 stars," with less than 60 deaths and barely 3,700 cases as of Oct. 20. But with its tourism-reliant economy collapsing and economic contraction of more than 10% forecast this year, it has also emerged as one of Asia's biggest economic losers. Thailand is a "victim of its own success" in warding off the coronavirus, said the U.S. ambassador to Thailand, Michael DeSombre. Summing up the government's dilemma, he said the country must find a balance between addressing urgent economic needs and virus prevention. The economic fallout has highlighted Thailand's ranking as one of the most unequal countries in the world. According to Credit Suisse's 2018 "Global Wealth Report," the richest 1% in Thailand controlled almost 67% of the country's wealth. Since 2017, the wealthiest person in Thailand has been the king, who transferred crown property assets into his name following the death of his father King Rama IX a year earlier. Estimates for the vast portfolio of property and shareholdings range from $40 billion to $70 billion. That fact has not been lost on the protesters who are defiantly breaking harsh laws against criticism of the royal family. As politics, economics and social dislocation converge in the escalating protests, Thailand stands as a cautionary tale for the region despite its outstanding public health record. Just as the country is struggling to restore investor confidence, reopen to tourism, rescue failing businesses and support its swelling population of the poor, doubts are being cast on its stability and security. Low cases, high cost Southeast Asian governments have become painfully aware of the trade-offs between fighting the pandemic and shoring up their flailing economies. Since the outbreak of COVID-19 they have experimented with mixed success in re-opening their economies in the absence of an effective vaccine. In Thailand, the closure of borders helped ward off the virus even as it now ravages neighboring Myanmar and prompts fresh lockdowns in the Philippines and Indonesia. But Thailand has paid a high price for its public health success. Within Southeast Asia, the World Bank's growth forecasts for individual countries contain some grim "low case" estimates. Thailand is the worst hit economy with an estimated 10.4% contraction, followed by the Philippines (-9.9%) and Malaysia (-6.1%). Unlike its main trading partners, China, the U.S. and the EU, Southeast Asia's reliance on external markets has made it more vulnerable to the "triple shock" of COVID-19: the pandemic itself, the economic impact of containment measures and reverberations from the global recession. Royal Thai Army soldiers move through Bangkok to sanitize the city in March, passing a portrait of the king. (Photo by Akira Kodaka) The good news for Southeast Asia is that the region has escaped the horrific scale of fatalities and contagion that have befallen the U.S. and parts of Europe, Latin America and South Asia. Within the 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations, COVID-19 has caused about 19,000 deaths among the 650 million population, although Indonesia, the Philippines and Myanmar are all experiencing spiraling "second wave" cases. The bad news is that the devastation to people's livelihoods is just beginning, while rising dissatisfaction at the lack of government relief support is evident throughout the region. The regional lockdowns fueled a surge in social media usage, particularly among the young, according to market research hub GlobalWebIndex. The growing activism of youth reflects the "Hong Kong effect," seen in the widespread admiration for the young activists leading the charge against China's tightening grip. Emulating tactics seen in the Hong Kong protests, Thai activists are practicing last-minute "flash mob" demonstrations, rapid dispersals and clever use of social media. Adding local flavor, they have resorted to creativity and satirical humor, such as staging Harry Potter-themed demonstrations and displays of protest art, fashion and music. Whether on the streets or via social media, dissent is growing over social and political fissures exacerbated by COVID-19. Among key issues, critics are targeting worker rights in Indonesia, government and monarchy in Thailand, along with human rights abuses in Cambodia and the Philippines. The issues are diverse but appear to have a common theme, characterized by Thomas Carrothers and Andrew O'Donohue, authors of a report from the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, as a new wave of pandemic-induced "democratic erosion" in South and Southeast Asia. They see social polarization, amplified by the pandemic, as "a serious political disease ... that can tear democracies apart." Equally stark is a warning by the International Monetary Fund of the potentially destabilizing effects of widening inequality. "Specific measures may trigger protests, but rising tensions quickly transform social unrest into a broader critique of government policies," it said in its April Fiscal Monitor report. "People take to the streets because of long-standing grievances and perceptions of mistreatment. High or rising levels of poverty and inequality, particularly in countries with weak social safety nets, can contribute to unrest." In Indonesia, public indignation over lockdown deprivations and lack of official assistance erupted in riots over the government's hamfisted efforts to ease labor regulations and natural resources laws in order to lure investors. With the highest COVID-19 death toll in Southeast Asia, at more than 358,000 cases and nearly 13,000 deaths, the country's 270 million people are facing their first recession since the 1997-98 Asian financial crisis, with the World Bank forecasting a contraction of 2%. Protesters accuse the government of President Joko Widodo of putting the economy ahead of public health concerns. Adding to fierce criticism by the country's largest trade unions of the proposed changes in labor law, one of the biggest Islamic organizations said the changes would benefit "only capitalists, investors and conglomerates," and "trample" on ordinary people. https://www.ft.com/__origami/service/image/v2/images/raw/https%3A%2F%2Fs3-ap-northeast-1.amazonaws.com%2Fpsh-ex-ftnikkei-3937bb4%2Fimages%2F_aliases%2Farticleimage%2F3%2F2%2F2%2F1%2F30081223-1-eng-GB%2FAP_20273127725480.jpg?source=nar-cms [/img] The Philippines is one of Southeast Asia's coronavirus hotspots -- and has also committed one of its least generous stimulus packages. © AP In the Philippines, also facing its first recession in decades due to COVID-19, criticism has focused on a sharp rise in poverty due to lockdowns and draconian measures, including "shoot to kill" orders issued by President Rodrigo Duterte to enforce quarantine measures. Efforts to quell growing unrest recently saw the violent dispersal of protesters in Manila who were demanding government relief support. A new emergency stimulus package of $3.4 billion ranks at the low end of government relief efforts in Asia, and has failed to stem complaints. According to polling organization Social Weather Stations, the incidence of involuntary hunger has doubled to 16.7% since December and unemployment is soaring. Despite harsh containment measures, the Philippines is just behind Indonesia in COVID-19 cases, with 345,000 as of mid-October, although its 106 million population is less than half the size. In Malaysia, government and opposition leaders have been fighting for power as public criticism has focused on lax public health management, particularly during recent state elections in Sabah. The government has also cracked down on the media, including arrests and raids on organizations for reporting on harsh treatment of migrant workers. "As the country navigates a political crisis and a pandemic-stricken economy, young people in Malaysia have become increasingly impatient and frustrated with the state of their country's leadership," noted commentator Crystal Teoh writing for The Diplomat. "Although Malaysia has yet to see a youth-led movement as large and widespread as ... in neighboring Thailand, it bears careful observation as Malaysia moves in the direction of a possible snap election" in the near future, she said. In Myanmar, critics among the country's 22 million social media users are protesting the impact of renewed lockdowns on the poor ahead of Nov. 8 elections. As campaigning has moved online, Facebook accounts have shown "an increase in hate speech and disinformation about parties and candidates," warned the U.S.-based Carter Center, which is monitoring the poll. The prospect of a deeply flawed election, according to author and historian Thant Myint-U, "won't help Myanmar address any of its big challenges: violent conflict, climate change, inequality and underdevelopment." A resident of a semi-locked down alley looks on in Mandalay, Myanmar. © AP In Cambodia, which has recorded barely 300 cases of COVID-19 and no deaths among its 16.25 million population, international human rights groups have accused the government of using the pandemic as a pretext to intensify repression of human rights and environmental activists. The government arrested more than 30 Cambodians from January to April for allegedly posting fake news and has jailed 19 activists and artists since July. Human rights groups said the moves were an attempt to curb dissent over the administration's handling of the pandemic and its economic impact. Sweeping new cybercrime laws have dampened but failed to silence growing complaints on social media. In much of Southeast Asia, the protests have been dominated by the middle class, whether young or old. The irony is that the region's most vulnerable people -- slum dwellers, migrant workers, the rural poor and sex workers -- remain voiceless. "You are not really seeing the extreme poor speaking out on social media or on podiums at protests," said a Southeast Asian diplomat. "With a few exceptions, much of the dissent is ideological. ... t's about freedoms, politics, censorship, you can see it on social media. In cases like Thailand, the people protesting are largely those who can afford to protest; but sooner or later economic hardships will become a key issue, on the podium and on the streets." Degrees of debt The deepest dilemma for many under-resourced governments in Asia lies in growing pressure for stimulus spending to shore up the economy and help the most vulnerable sectors. The average spend by Asian governments on pandemic-related welfare programs has barely reached about 1% of GDP -- against Europe's 16%-plus. In Southeast Asia, with its threadbare social safety nets, the biggest question is about raising debt levels and increasing budget deficits. In Thailand, where emergency stimulus spending equals nearly 15% of GDP, government debt has risen from 41% to 57% of GDP. Indonesia has also seen its government debt rise from 30% to 37% of GDP. The region's governments have taken a mixed approach to emergency relief. Some, such as Cambodia and Myanmar, have offered little, while Malaysia and Thailand have earned wide praise for their efforts. Overall, the East Asia region spends a tiny amount on social protection measures compared to many others, highlighting what the World Bank's chief economist for East Asia and the Pacific, Aaditya Mattoo, sees as a gaping shortfall, even post-pandemic. "We are reminded yet again that the rich can telecommute, the poor cannot; the rich can self-isolate, the poor live in slums; children of the rich can do online classes, the poor cannot; the rich have savings, the poor do not," he said. Even with increased relief spending, World Bank figures showed that by August, government assistance across the East Asia and Pacific region had reached less than one-quarter of households whose incomes fell and only 10% to 20% of companies that requested assistance since the pandemic began. In its latest economic report on East Asia and the Pacific region, issued in early October, the World Bank forecast that 38 million more people in the region will fall below the poverty line this year as a result of COVID-19 including 33 million who would otherwise have escaped poverty and 5 million who will fall back below the line. Some economists believe the figure could be more than double that. But even the lower estimate swells the ranks of those living on less than $5.50 per day to 517 million -- a reversal of the steady improvement in recent decades. The numerous victims also include those suffering from what the World Bank calls the "third shock" after the pandemic itself and the resulting global trade slowdown. At the frontline of that shock are the young, particularly women. In Southeast Asia, they are bearing the brunt of the harsh impact on Asia's job market, according to the International Labor Organization. Nearly 85% of youth employment in the Asia-Pacific is provided by the informal economy, the sector most exposed to the pandemic-related downturn, according to the ILO. As regional labor markets dry up, "the catalyst for change will likely begin with Southeast Asia's disenfranchised youth -- younger populations that are now unemployed and tired of the region's endemically ineffective governance," writes Daniel P. Grant, a Southeast Asia specialist, in The Diplomat. Regardless of age, there is also a new, barely visible category of vulnerable people, mainly in the lower middle-class. They belong to what could be termed the "new COVID poor," said Mattoo. "They are not part of the usual poverty registry, they are not captured," he said. They include small and midsize enterprise owners as well as midlevel managers, the self-employed and tens of millions of people who rely on the informal economy. "Essentially, across the spectrum, people are getting poorer. ... All the while, new inequalities are emerging as old ones are being sharpened as a result of COVID-19 and containment measures," he added. Across the region, decades of hard-earned economic development gains have been wiped out - in some cases turning the clock back to the days of the Asian financial crisis of 1997-98. Even in countries providing pandemic-related assistance, many of these "new poor" will not qualify for social welfare handouts or emergency schemes. While Southeast Asia's middle class was one of the signature success stories of the global economy in the 21st century, their lifestyle is now threatened by rising debts. Some may have to sell a house or car, close a company, pay off employees, move their children from private schools to state education or other measures. Their problems are reflected in the sharp drop in household incomes since the pandemic began, averaging 50% to 60% across the region, and surging household debt, which in Thailand alone is now approaching 90% of GDP, from 80% in March. Even in Vietnam, among the few Asian countries expected to grow this year, a wave of bankruptcies prompted the recent headline: "With new COVID-19 battle, Vietnam's middle-class dream deferred." In a stark example of the problems facing small businesses, a survey by a group of Thailand-based tourism and hospitality companies in May found that its 85-plus members had retained only 2% of staff on full salaries, with 67% on negotiated reduced salaries, 17% furloughed and 14% laid off. Many cited the urgent need for financial assistance, and said special soft loans from commercial banks were "difficult to impossible to access." More than two dozen interviews by Nikkei Asia with mid-level managers and small business owners across Southeast Asia found that those still employed had to accept forced pay cuts, with no reduction in working hours, while the self-employed and business owners feared potentially permanent closures. Ty Champa, a manager at a boutique hotel in the Cambodian tourist town of Siem Reap, said she had been suspended from work since April, leaving her with no means to support her extended family. "I've never experienced something like this in my career. Everything's going downhill. I don't know how long I can last with this situation, or how to repay my bank loan," she said. Saichon Siva-urai, who owns a traditional Thai massage shop in Bangkok's Sathorn district, said he suspended his entire staff after the government imposed a shutdown of massage parlors, and struggled to meet expenses such as monthly rent of 50,000 baht ($1,603). "I had no cash in hand, so when the business stopped my income dried up," he said. Although the ban has been lifted, he doubts his business will survive much longer. An emptied-out Soi Cowboy in Bangkok, a normally lively red-light district. (Photo by Lauren DeCicca) "You try and you try. We came out of severe lockdown, but business didn't recover -- I had to pay rent and staff. You reach a point where you just give up," said Somboon Chaiwath, who recently closed his Bangkok restaurant. "The trouble is in rebuilding -- I went back to my hometown, I don't have the resources or heart to go back to Bangkok and try again." From 40 million international visitors last year, tourist arrivals to Thailand have plunged to virtually zero this year. The forecast for next year, assuming that borders reopen, barely exceeds 6 million arrivals. Revenues from both domestic and international tourism have also collapsed, from about 2 trillion baht to barely 350 billion this year, as many hotels face closure, indicating that domestic tourists cannot make up the shortfall. In recent interviews, workers in the informal and formal economy in the region revealed the scope of the "invisible" crisis that has affected migrant workers -- many left stranded and jobless amid evaporating promises of compensation. Many said they were unable to access or qualify for social welfare schemes; most had returned to provincial home towns if they could. Governments are facing "difficult trade-offs," said the World Bank's Mattoo, warning that "significant expenditure on relief or a consumption-supporting stimulus may leave an indebted government less equipped to invest in infrastructure and hence growth." How governments distribute the burden of public debt across individuals and over time -- through indirect taxes, income and profit taxes, inflation or financial repression -- will matter for economic growth and distribution, and for future generations, Mattoo noted. More important, as regional leaders are keenly aware, how they deal with a restless population, emboldened by events in Thailand, Hong Kong and elsewhere, reeling from economic hardships and increasingly critical of their governments, will determine the future -- not just of economic recovery but of regional stability and social cohesion. In the absence of fresh ideas, unintentionally prescient advice for those leaders could well lie in the words of embattled Thai Prime Minister Prayuth, who said in an August address: "The future belongs to the young. Let the young lead the way ..." Additional reporting by Nikkei Asia staff writers Yuichi Nitta in Yangon and Erwida Maulia in Jakarta.
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