A bit of a belated update partly because it is the start of
Low Rainy Green Season, and so there’s not a lot happening here and partly because I decided to do a quick trip to Cambodia as the last time I visited Siem Reap was about 15 years ago and apparently it had changed a little in the meantime. More on that later.
Important things first, not one, not two, but three Tesco Express mini-marts should be up and running on Koh Chang in the coming months. Bad news for the locals that run the pricey supermarkets where items are marked up 20% or so above mainland prices. Although I don’t expect the Tesco here to be as cheap as the one on the mainland. Even the 7-elevens here have special ‘island prices’ for many items.
In other news, three people drowned off Koh Chang’s beaches in the first week of May. Stories about drownings never make it into papers unless the deceased happened to be western, young, female and, prior to becoming a bloated, blue corpse, looked good in a bikini. But two people died on White Sand beach and one on Lonely Beach, both in broad daylight on sunny afternoons, both due to the rip tides that are pretty common from now until October. There are warning signs up but the waves aren’t so big and so I guess visitors assume that it’s safe to play in the sea at this time of the year. In reality, there’s not a lot the local authorities can do about it. Some resorts put red flags out, but again when people are on holiday they tend to ignore such things. There is a part of the human brain that rationalises that the further away from your own country you travel, the less likely the risk of dying in an activity that you would not normally undertake at home given the same conditions. For example, you know a couple of dozen people have died in the past year – but you still decide that jumping into a shallow, rock filled river in Laos is a good idea. Or you have never ridden a scooter before in a country where people obey traffic laws, so you choose to learn to ride one in a third world nation. Or, if you went to your local beach and saw warning flags, warning signs and lifeguards, you might think to yourself “Hmm, perhaps taking my young family for a swim today isn’t the best idea in the world. We shall stick to the hotel pool instead.” But half way around the world people don’t do this.
Red flags contrast beautifully with the white sand and blue skies; any signage is read for the entertainment of spotting dodgy grammar and the guys on lifeguard towers are probably just fishermen on their day off. Visitors to Koh Chang doesn’t have the benefit these, just a few signs, but even if there were proper safety measures in place people would still ignore them. Not for nothing is Karon Beach on Phuket referred to in local papers as ‘The Beach of Death’ – people drown there all year round despite all attempts to warn them of the dangers – flags, lifeguards and signs everywhere. So warning people isn’t the answer. Fortunately, there is a simple way to keep people out of the water as the brain, whilst ignoring or playing down obvious, real dangers, likes to counter this by over-reacting to dumb, irrational ones. So my solution, a few signs with ‘Danger Shark Attack’ plastered across them. Anything more is superfluous. The local authorities will be welcome to deny that there is any danger . . . because they would say that, wouldn’t they? ( I forgot to mention that paranoia accompanies irrational fear.)
14 May – Epilogue. If you do get into trouble in the sea it’s worth bearing in mind that the very expensive International Clinic on White Sand beach won’t be able to offer assistance as the staff there don’t know what to do in emergency cases. Despite having lots of fancy equipment, numerous people posing as doctors, nurses and paramedics. From The Nation newspaper today ‘Hospitals Reportedly Turned Away Patients‘:
‘In the other case, a private hospital on Chang Island off the Trat coast declined to treat a person rescued from drowning and transferred the patient to Koh Chang Hospital 20 kilometres away, citing a lack of qualified staff.’
Wonder if the real reason for turning the patient away was that they were poor & Thai? Surely not, as by law no hospital in Thailand can turn away an emergency case. But to be on the safe side, best to carry your credit card if you do decide to swim in a rip.
Following neatly on . . . jellyfish attacks on Koh Mak. Actually a real danger as anyone who has been stung by a Box jellyfish (and had the good fortune to survive) will attest. There have been no deaths so far on Koh Mak but in recent years two children have come very close to death, that’s ‘close’ as in needing CPR on the beach. Fortunately, a handful of people are trying to do something about this, unfortunately, with a couple of notable exceptions, resort owners on the island don’t seem too interested in spending what is a very small amount of money on safety equipment that could save someone’s life. Last High Season, only three resorts use nets to ensure that their guests can swim safely in the sea. These are Big Easy Resort, Lazy Day Resort and Ao Kao Resort. Fair enough, some owners might thing that nets are a bit extreme, expensive or may deter visitors who don’t really care about their family’s safety. But you’d have though that coughing up a few hundred Baht for a ‘Vinegar Station’ wouldn’t be beyond their means. The idea for a Vinegar Station is basically just an obvious, well marked container that is placed along beaches in case anyone gets stung by a jellyfish and is in need of immediate treatment. Household vinegar is all you need – simple, cheap and effective. These devices are used abroad and the idea was put forward by one of Thailand’s leading jellyfish boffins who visited Koh Mak a few days ago to give a presentation on how the problem of Box jellyfish can be handled. An early indicator that resort owners may not care too much about the safety of their guests was that only eight people showed up for the meeting. A few emails were sent, some people responded and offered money and Ball, from Kohmak.com, who is organising this project now has enough money to set up 15-20 stations on the island’s beaches. Ironically, most of the money raised is from people who have a connection with the island but don’t live their year round and aren’t Thai. Another initiative will be to tackle the garbage that gets washed up on the islands beaches. All it requires are a couple of full time beach cleaners,and resorts will be asked to donate between 500 – 1,000 baht/month for this service that will undoubtedly improve the holiday experience for all their guests. The big question is will they. If you do visit Koh Mak why not ask the owner of your resort what they are doing about the garbage or jellyfish problems on the island?
16 May Update – The Vinegar Stations have been installed. Several resorts did contribute. List of donors: Me – for Koh-Mak.com, Walter & Christa, Kraig,Yodchai – Ao Kao White Sand Beach Resort, Risto, Garry – for KohMmak.co.uk, Michal – Ao Pong Resort, Little Moon Villa, Ari & Alexi – for KohMak.fi, Suchanaree Bungalows, Cococape Resort, Baan Koh Mak, Rayang Phurin Resort & Koh Mak Buri Hut.
Resorts that didn’t contribute as either they can’t afford a few hundred Baht or don’t really care if you suffer from a jellyfish sting include Goodtime Resort, Holiday, Kua Ton Hom,Makathanee Resort,Baan Tom, Koh Mak Cottage, Monkey Island, Island Hut, Palm Beach, Lazy Day, Pano, Sea Breeze, Ao Prao, Baan Ing Kao, Green View, Cinnamon, Plub Pla Resort, Bene and Koh Mak Resort
My opinion – give your business to resorts in the upper list as they seem to care more about your welfare.
Pointless Quick Quiz. Below are two LPG gas stations. Using your skill and judgement decide which one is in Thailand and which one my taxi in Cambodia stopped at to refuel.
Out of interest I was looking through a few of the websites for large resorts on Koh Chang and seeing which had Facebook & Twitter and had embraced this social media malarkey. Turns out that quite a few of them do. And no doubt someone is being paid to upload photos of rooms and the latest deals. But as the whole point of doing this is to interact with potential customers and to encourage guests to post their photos, positive reviews on Fb etc, it seems a bit surprising that many of these same resorts still charge guests for wifi access. Seems to me to be a rather large ‘FAIL’ when you try to encourage interaction and then charge your guests for the privilege of them doing this.
More Cambo stuff . . For visitors to this part of the world on a two week holiday a few days exploring the temples around Siem Reap coupled with a few days on the beach on Koh Chang and maybe a couple in Bangkok for some shopping makes for a ideal trip. Last time I was in Siem Reap was 1997, there were no visitors. Hun Sen and some other politician had just finished a bit of fighting and thanks to them frightening off sensible tourists, me and a few Japanese guys had Angkor Wat pretty much to ourselves for a couple of days. All the photos I have show no other people – unfortunately I didn’t have a digital camera back then, so the photos are probably in a box somewhere in an attic in the UK. The town was mostly dirt roads and there were just a couple of nice hotels. It has changed a bit since them. I only had a short time as the main reason for going was just to see what it was like getting there and back so I could make some recommendations for people reading this site. Also I had to squeeze the trip in between people staying at our guesthouse But I also had a full day I didn’t want to waste and so decided to do something a bit different and cycle out to Beng Mealea temple about 70Km from Siem Reap. A few pics below and more in this photo gallery. I’m pretty sure I will be back in SR later in the rainy season for good night out and a bit more cycling round temples.
Finally, if you want some inspiration for your travels, here’s an excellent personal travel blog from Ellen, one of our recent guests. She’s a middle aged, solo traveller who has been on some amazing adventures during the past 7 months. Well worth a look if you need some inspiration for your travels.