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Tight Virus Controls Urged in Thailand for Christmas & New Year Celebrations

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It’s holiday season in Thailand, when international tourists who pay top prices join local residents for countdowns, fireworks and a blur of partying.

Central World, a mall in downtown Bangkok famous for its annual mega countdown, displays the tallest Christmas tree in Southeast Asia and gigantic gift boxes. Icon Siam, a rival luxury mall on the Chao Praya River, plans to light up Bangkok’s sky with a ribbon of fireworks just shy of a mile long.

But the weekend surge of hundreds of COVID-19 cases among migrant workers from Myanmar — Thailand’s worst outbreak — is prompting authorities to rethink how to welcome 2021.

Samut Sakhon province, site of the current surge, is about 50 kilometers from Bangkok’s sprawl and already locked down. Some large gatherings and New Year’s events in Samut Sakhon and Bangkok were canceled in response. Those officially approved to proceed must impose stringent hygiene measures and prioritize social distancing.

A migrant worker receives belongings over barbed wire in front of a closed shrimp market, amid the coronavirus disease (COVID…
A migrant worker receives belongings over barbed wire in front of a closed shrimp market, amid the coronavirus disease outbreak, in Samut Sakhon province, in Thailand, Dec. 20, 2020.

“I’ll spend the next seven days to assess the situation and then we will decide about public New Year celebrations,” Thai prime minister Prayuth Chan-ocha told reporters Monday. “I urge you all not to panic. I hope the situation will get better in seven days.”

The latest outbreak erupted just as the Thai tourism industry was seeing glimmers of relief after months without the foreign tourists who pump millions of dollars into the Thai economy.

While Thailand has largely contained the coronavirus — hovering near 5,300 infections and 60 deaths since January, according to Thailand’s disease control department — the country’s strict measures have battered its economy, especially the tourism sector.

“We miss (foreign tourists) greatly,” said Ian Pirodon, general manager of The Continent Hotel in central Bangkok, where 95% of its pre-pandemic bookings were from foreign travelers.

‘A very painful process’

Thailand was ranked the world’s ninth most-visited country last year, according to the United Nations, welcoming 39.8 million foreign visitors. The capital, Bangkok, was named the world’s most visited city for four consecutive years from 2016 to 2019 by Mastercard.

Tourism accounts for nearly 15% of Thailand’s $543.55 billion gross domestic product, according to the World Bank. But by introducing tight entry restrictions and two-week quarantines to keep the pandemic at bay, the country saw a 79.46% drop in foreign visitors between January and October from 32.6 million to 6.7 million, while tourism spending plunged 71% from $40.3 billion to $11.05 billion, according to the Ministry of Tourism and Sports.

A tourist wearing a protective mask sits on a social distancing seat as she waits for her flight at Bangkok's Suvarnabhumi…
FILE – A tourist wearing a protective mask sits on a social distancing seat as she waits for her flight at Bangkok’s Suvarnabhumi International airport amid the spread of the coronavirus disease, in Thailand, June 3, 2020.

By the end of this year, Thailand’s tourism authority estimates only 8 million visitors will have visited, a fifth of the 41.8 million expected before the coronavirus outbreak. That number would have included Michael Agard, who has celebrated New Year’s with his American and Swedish relatives in southern Thailand for the past 15 years.

“I’d certainly like to get a vaccine before I go anywhere,” said Agard, 42, an IT specialist from New York City, who got stuck in Fukuoka, Japan — his regular stopover on the haul back to New York — in February and has been working from there since. “I’m worried a bit about taking a risk of flying in a long-haul flight.”

Many hotels have been closed for months. Those that are reopening are struggling to fill rooms by attracting Thais, who in a typical year account for a third of the total market.

“It’s a huge challenge for the company,” said Marion Walsh-Hédouin, the vice president of public relations and communications at Minor Hotels, an international hospitality group based in Bangkok. “We went through a very painful process of closing the hotels, of sadly losing many, many good team members across corporate offices and hotels. And we went through quite stringent right-sizing of the company.”

Minor Hotels operates more than 530 hotels in 55 countries. In the first nine months of this year, the company reported a 63% decline in revenue from Thailand’s hotels and spas compared to the same period last year. Its profit has swung to a loss of 1.9 billion baht, or $63.8 million.

Slow border reopening

In October, the Thai government eased its border restrictions to allow entry to foreigners from low-risk countries. Authorities began issuing a special tourist visa that required long-term stays, in part to accommodate the required quarantine period.

The program is falling short of expectations, with only 825 people and six luxury yachts from 29 countries taking advantage of the special visa, prompting the government this month to open the long-term stay option to all tourists regardless of their countries’ COVID-19 situation. It also introduced a new measure that allows citizens from 56 countries, including the United States, to enter without a visa if they are willing to undergo a mandatory 14-day quarantine.

Closed tourist service counter is seen at the arrivals hall of Suvarnabhumi Airport during the coronavirus disease (COVID-19)…
FILE – A closed tourist service counter is seen at the arrivals hall of Suvarnabhumi Airport during the coronavirus pandemic, in Bangkok, Thailand, Oct. 12, 2020.

The quarantine is discouraging Colin Anderson, a 52-year-old Briton who for the last 25 years has traveled to Thailand in December from his home in Rotterdam, The Netherlands, to visit his brothers who lives in Bangkok.

“I was pretty much prepared to pay money and do the 14-day quarantine, but eventually I realized it’s 14 days in a room, eating takeaway food,” said Anderson, who works in IT for an insurance company. ”In the end, I decided it’s just too much. I think if I was going for three to four months, I would definitely do it, but not for five or six weeks of vacation.”

The quarantine also deterred Anderson’s friend, Krijn Tol, who teaches English at a Rotterdam high school in The Netherlands.

“You have to stay in quarantine in a hotel, and it’s a lot of money. It can add up to about $2,000, and that doesn’t sound very inviting,” said Tol, 65, who has an annual three-week winter break.

“I think most people don’t want to go through that process of coming here. It’s quite stringent,” Walsh-Hedouin told VOA.

Hotel operators and associations have been pleading with the government to shorten the quarantine, relax border controls, and explore alternatives for safe entry, such as having “travel bubbles” with select countries that would permit entry without quarantine.

Thai officials said they are taking those suggestions seriously. This month, the government added a  golf quarantine program, where golfers from overseas can stay in a resort and play rounds in a controlled quarantine environment, but it has yet to take other steps.

“We understand and feel the pain of the tourism operators, but we also have to listen to general populations who may have a different take on this issue,” deputy government spokesperson Rachada Dhnadirek told VOA.

“It’s our job to communicate and build understanding with all parties, but rest assured that we are constantly reviewing options that will help us contain the virus and support the economy,” she said.

Officials said the quarantine period gives the public confidence. Cutting it short may be scientifically sufficient but psychologically fraught. Until recently, most cases in Thailand arrived with overseas visitors. In July, two foreigners infected with COVID-19 sparked nationwide fury by flouting COVID-19 containment protocols.

A member of a visiting Egyptian military team who tested positive for COVID-19 went to shopping malls with colleagues in Rayong province, 180 kilometers east of Bangkok, during a brief stay. The other person, the daughter of a Sudanese diplomat, tested negative upon arriving, then, after testing positive stayed in a Bangkok condominium rather than an official state quarantine site.

Pushing domestic tourism

To bolster the hospitality sector, the Thai government launched massive campaigns to stimulate domestic travels, by subsidizing 40% of hotel room rates and air tickets for Thai nationals and adding extra public holidays in November and December.

These campaigns and rising domestic consumption have enabled hospitality operators and hoteliers to reopen.

Local tourists visit the Grand Palace as it reopens after months of being closed, as the Thai government eases isolation…
FILE – Local tourists visit the Grand Palace as it reopens after months of being closed, as the Thai government eases isolation measures amid the spread of the coronavirus disease in Bangkok, Thailand, June 7, 2020.lva

The Continent, a 154-room boutique hotel, reopened in October after six months.

Although hotels are getting a boost from the government’s campaigns, a room with the discounted price of just more than 2,000 baht ($70) a night is a hard sell. The average Thai family earns $866 a month and spends $690, or 80%, on household expenditures, according to Thailand’s National Statistical Office.

“Some 40 to 70 rooms a day and up to 80 to 90 rooms on a weekend are supported by Thai residents at 30 to 40% of what the rates used to be,” Pirodon, the hotel’s general manager, told VOA.

The Continent Hotel charges between 4,200 baht ($140) and 7,000 baht ($233) a night for its rooms. In 2019, the average room rates for Bangkok’s five-star hotels and four-star hotels were about 9,000 baht ($300) and 4,500 baht ($150) a night respectively, according to a market survey by Edmund Tie, a Singapore-based real estate consulting firm.

“You’re having to offer a rate, whether you are a four-star or a five-star hotel, in a 1,000 baht to 2,000 baht range ($33 to $66)” because that’s what the domestic market can pay, according to Pirodon.

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Thailand Charges Opposition Figure Thanathorn Jungroongruangkit with Defaming King

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BANGKOK – Billionaire Thai pro-democracy champion Thanathorn Jungroongruangkit on Wednesday evening defended his questioning of a vaccine company owned by the king after he was hit Wednesday with a wave of charges for royal defamation.

Earlier Wednesday, the government had filed multiple charges alleging that Thanathorn had breached the kingdom’s draconian royal defamation law by criticizing the country’s vaccine strategy in a Facebook Live video.

The charges came as Thailand’s establishment tries to extinguish rampant criticism of the monarchy and the lèse-majesté law shielding it.

The move is the latest in dozens of cases brought in recent weeks by the royalist establishment struggling to quash an anti-government movement that has roused unprecedented public criticism of the monarchy’s wealth and political influence with calls for the palace to be put under the constitution.

Thanathorn’s latest legal troubles came after a court Tuesday jailed Anchan Preelert, a former civil servant, for more than 43 years for sharing audio clips seen as defamatory to the monarchy. The sentence is the longest recorded under the lèse-majesté law, which is aimed at shielding the monarchy from criticism, and is widely seen as a warning to the mainly young protesters who massed on Thailand’s streets for much of last year to end their brazen attacks on the monarchy.

Thanathorn was banned from politics by Thai courts and his Future Foward party disbanded, less than a year after the party came from nowhere to garner 6 million votes — mainly among millennials — in a 2019 election.

Under Wednesday’s 10 charges, which carry up to 15 years per conviction of “defaming, threatening or insulting” key royals, including King Maha Vajiralongkorn, Thanathorn could face more than a century in jail.

In a rare move the charges were filed with police — the first step toward a formal charge — directly by the government after Thanathorn held a Facebook Live seminar on the potential for a conflict of interest in the award of a contract to develop a homegrown vaccine to Siam Bioscience, in which the immensely wealthy Vajiralongkorn is the only shareholder.

In his Facebook Live session Monday, Thanathorn asked whether a royalist government headed by ex-army chief Prayuth Chan-ocha could be counted on to hold the company accountable in the event of problems with “unfair distribution, side effects, or other unexpected outcomes,” given who its shareholder is.

The questioning of the monarchy in the potentially lucrative vaccine market brought a swift response from the government.

“Thanathorn distorted facts and caused misunderstanding among people,” Suporn Atthawong, a minister in the prime minister’s office, told reporters on Wednesday after filing Section 112 charges with police.

“He violated the monarchy, which upset Thai people who love and protect the monarchy,” he added.

A day earlier Prayuth, an ex-army chief who led a 2014 coup endorsed by the palace, had warned legal charges were coming.

“Everything he [Thanatorn] said was misinformation, no facts at all. I will have anyone who disseminates misinformation prosecuted,” he said.

Thanathorn hit back late Wednesday.

“The more you try to discredit me or harass me with charges, the more it make you look suspicious. Why does the state have to go these lengths to defend a private company?” he said in a Facebook post.

In his latest Facebook post, Wednesday night, he said, “I was just being curious about how the government is handling the vaccine, but I got charged for it.”

Warning for protesters seen

Experts say the courts are getting tough on sentences for 112 — as the law is more commonly known — as a warning to the youth protesters, to seed fear and stub out flashmobs attacking the 112 law as well as the palace it protects.

Authorities “are using lèse-majesté prosecutions as their last resort … in response to the youth-led democracy uprising that seeks to curb the king’s powers and keep him within the bounds of constitutional rule,” said Sunai Phasuk of Human Rights Watch’s Asia division.

The legal noose is tightening around critics of the monarchy, by some estimates the world’s richest, as Thailand’s top institution reasserts its power after months of being put off balance by the protesters’ angry, satirical attacks — which include speeches, banners and online memes.

Their rallies, which at their peak drew tens of thousands, were drifting toward violent confrontation with royalists before they were suspended while Thailand battles a resurgence of the COVID-19 virus.

But protesters have turned to guerrilla tactics during the lull, hanging banners from exclusive shopping malls and daubing their discontent with the 112 law which is being pointed at them on walls.

Attapon Buapat, a key protest leader, told VOA that the latest show of legal force by the state will not “deter” the movement.

He also said it would not deter him personally, although he faces multiple Section 112 charges, adding, “We should not fear to fight for what we believe.”

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Alternative State Quarantine Hotels in Thailand

Limited Time ASQ – Alternative State Quarantine Offers from Mercure Bangkok Sukhumvit 11

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19 th January 2020: Mercure Bangkok Sukhumvit 11 is among the finest 4-star hotels in the city with a strong focus on comfort, convenience and local experiences. Becoming an ASQ – Alternative State Quarantine hotel in November, Mercure Bangkok Sukhumvit 11 has re-enforced its commitment to safety and hygiene and partnered with BNH Hospital.

The hotel has introduced thoughtful touches and curated experiences to make every guests’ stay memorable and delightful. The hotel’s spacious rooms are comfortable for single travelers and families with high speed internet and in-room Netflix streaming, activity guide (including Spoken Thai lessons for expats), extensive menus options for them to choose for their breakfast, lunch and dinner with a special attention to kids and vegans as well.

The hotel is now offering special deals for bookings until 31 st March 2021. Explore Mercure Bangkok Sukhumvit 11’s limited time offers for couples, families and single travelers. Stay, relax and rejuvenate before you head to re-discover Thailand.

Single Travelers

*DELUXE ROOM – SINGLE ROOM*
Regular Price: THB 52,000 NET
Flash Sale price for foreigners: THB 45,000 NET. (SAVE: THB 7,000)
Flash Sale price for Thai residents: THB 42,500 NET. (SAVE: THB 9,500)

*CONNECTING ROOM PACKAGE*
For 2 adults: THB 119,000 NET. ONLY
For family (2 adults & 1 child OR 1 adult & 2 children): THB 139,000 NET. ONLY
*Special 5% discount on top for Thai nationality only*

Couple’s Package
*DELUXE ROOM *
Regular Price: THB 104,000
Special Price: 75,000 (SAVE: THB 29,000)
*Special 5% discount on top for Thai nationality only*

Family Package
* FAMILY ROOM *
Special Price: THB 93,000 NET for a family of 2 adults and 1 child OR 1 adult and 2 children
*Special 5% discount on top for Thai nationality only*

PACKAGE INCLUSIONS:
• Three meals per day with Thai, Western and Japanese options to choose from
• Limousine transfers from the airport to hotel
• Room equipped with coffee tea making facilities & drinking water
• Welcome snacks and soft drink at the time of arrival
• Safety Kit including face mask, hand sanitizer and thermometer
• Complimentary high-speed internet access
• 43” Smart TV with 55 channels for personal entertainment
• Netflix streaming service available
• Room cleaning service on day 7th 10th and 13th once test results show negative
• Dedicated area for you to relax outside the room while attendant is cleaning
• Hotel will provide two pairs of shoes for indoor and outdoor areas
• 15% discount on laundry service
• ALL-Accor Live Limitless Members are eligible to earn elite nights and reward points on your stay

BNH HOSPITAL SERVICE & BENEFITS
• Covid – 19 test twice at the hotel on Day 5 and Day 12 of your stay
• 24-hour access to nursing services and consultation on request
• 24-hour emergency ambulance service including transfer from hotel to hospital
• Daily Telemedicine service available (Additional charge 500 THB per time)
• Complimentary basic health checkup from BNH hospital valued THB 4,000

For more information and booking please call: +66-2-120 8888 or email: HA247-RE@accor.com
Add us on Line: https://lin.ee/4LX0OuF
Website: https://bit.ly/2LLypV5

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Central Thailand

Hua Hin Cha-am Expatriate Guide with Covid-19 Travel Report

Wolfgang Holzem

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Hua Hin Travel Guide

Hua Hin is a district in the Prachuap Khiri Khan Province of Thailand, 295 kilometers from Bangkok and 90 km from the provincial capital. It is the oldest and most traditional of Thailand’s beach resorts combining the attractions of a modern holiday destination with the charm and fascination of a still active fishing port. Beaches are located in the east of the province, including a 5km stretch of white sand and clear water. Although it has developed to cater for tourists from all over the world, the resort which began its development over 70 years ago, remains popular with Thais too, a good sign for those looking for an authentic experience.

The resort was originally founded in 1830s, when farmers, moving south to escape the results of a severe drought in the agricultural area of Phetchaburi, found a small village beside white sands and rows of rock, and settled in. The tranquil fishing village was turned into a ‘Royal resort’ becoming popular among Siam’s nobility and smart-set.

Accessibility was greatly enhanced by the construction of the railway from Bangkok, which brought visitors from wider social groups, and kick-started the industry which would bring tourists from other countries. The first hotel – The Railway Hotel – was built in 1921 and it still stands today continuing to serve tourists as the Sofitel Central.

Hua Hin was made famous in the early 1920s by King Rama VII, who decided it was an ideal getaway from the steamy metropolis of Bangkok. He built a summer palace and this was echoed when King Rama VII ordered the construction of the Palace of Klaikangwon (“far from worries”). The latter is still much used by the Thai Royal Family today.

The resort continued to develop slowly, protected to some extent by its Royal reputation. Its fishing port grew alongside golf courses and all the big hotel chains are now represented. Many of Bangkok’s rich and famous and a growing number of expats have built their own summer homes along the bay, making the resort more cosmopolitan every year.

Development has taken over much of the prime government land, so the coast road suffers from obstructed views of the sea these days, but Hua Hin is trying hard to retain its beach-side atmosphere. Compared to Pattaya, the resort remains relatively serene and attracts families and older travelers. The beach has a gradual slope, into clear warm water which so far has escaped pollution of any kind.

Further afield, the Prachuap Khiri Khan Province is a charming region, where limestone cliffs and islands, bays and beaches, are home to a national park, and several temples, and travelling through this area will be a welcome experience for those hoping to avoid the tourist traps found further South. Driving from Bangkok through Prachuap Khiri Khan takes around three hours, a journey punctuated by summer palaces, huge temples, beautifully kept gardens and salt flats.

Visitors head to Hua Hin all year round. The area has one of the lowest rainfalls in the country, and there’s usually a gentle sea breeze to punctuate the heat, particularly welcome in the summer season between March and September.

Stay with our Hotel Partners in Hua Hin

The following hotels and resorts have special safety measures in place due to the global Coronavirus Pandemic.

Flights to Hua Hin

Things to see and do in Hua Hin

Dive In
As you would expect with a resort boasting a 5km clean white beach, sunbathing, swimming and snorkelling are popular pastimes. Swimming is safe, and with one of the driest climates across Thailand, there’s plenty of opportunity to dry off in the sun afterwards.

Tee Off
Possibly due to its noble history and elegant clientele, Hua Hin has the highest density of world class golf courses anywhere in Thailand, although it has yet to be discovered by the international golf tournament circuit. Green-fees and other costs are surprisingly low, given that course maintenance and services are superb. The Royal Hua Hin course is one of many, but considered to be the best.

Shop till you drop

Chatchai Market is colourful and inexpensive and is one of Hua Hin’s major attractions. Vendors gather nightly in the centre of town, where they cook fresh gulf seafood for hordes of hungry Thais and provide a spectacle for visitors. As well as plentiful food shops, it offers much that will appeal to souvenir hunters too.

Royal Palace

Klai Kangwon (which means ‘Far From Worries’ ) is the Royal Palace built by King Rama VII in 1928. It was designed by Prince Iddhidehsarn Kridakara, an architect and the Director of the Fine Arts Department at the time, and officially opened in 1929. Further structures have been added over time, including a mansion ordered by King Bhumibol (Rama IX) for Princess Maha Chakri Sirindhorn, and accommodation for the royal entourage, built in the style of the original buildings so as to preserve the harmony of the palace. Although Klai Kangwon is still in regular use by the Royal family, it is also open to the public.

Hop on a train
Or more importantly, visit the railway station. Built in the reign of Rama IV, the brightly painted wooden buildings somehow combine traditional Thai ideas with a Victorian feel, and in 2009 Hua Hin made it onto NewsWeek’s Best Stations list, in great company such as New York’s Grand Central, and London’s St Pancras.

Take off
Although one of the joys of Hua Hin is its serenity and calm, if you’re keen to take in more, its fairly easy to find trips which will take you to many of the other southern beach destinations such as Koh Nangyaun, Koh Toa, Koh Samui, Phuket, Krabi  and Koa Sok. You may find however that some of these legendary destinations have suffered more at the hands of the global tourist industry than Hua Hin has.

Monkey about
Khao Takiab is referred as Monkey Mountain, but as well as the mischievous residents, it also boasts a hilltop temple with sensational views of Hua Hin, a pagoda-style shrine and a giant golden Buddha which faces the sunrise.

Walk in the Park
The region boasts several parks, and natural attractions, such as the Kangajan National Park, and the Koa Sam Roi Yod Marine Park. You’ll find miles of good walking, amongst lakes, caves and waterfalls, and you’ll be in the company of as elephants, tigers, wild dogs and leopards.

Eat, drink and sleep in Hua Hin

As more affluent ex-pats from all over the world gather to weather the winter, or snap up beachfront properties in Hua Hin, the restaurant scene becomes more cosmopolitan. French, Italian, German and Scandinavian restaurants are all here, in case anyone feels homesick. However, there are also rustic seafood restaurants, especially on the pier, and at several of these you can choose your own fish from the fish market right outside and waiters will bring you the finished result.
There are plenty of simpler local restaurants both inside and out on the streets where you can sample authentic Thai food too.

If you want to try to cook your own Thai food in Hua Hin, the very best place to buy your ingredients, not because it’s the cheapest, but because it is a fabulous experience, is the night market. Right in the centre of town, it opens at 18:00. It’s also a terrific place to buy handicrafts, souvenirs and clothing.

The Chatchai market is a great day market and the place to go for the best street food, as vendors grill, fry, boil and dress the fabulous local fish and shellfish, but don’t forget to leave room for a real local speciality. Roti Hua Hin is a delicious dough-based snack filled with strawberries, custard or raisins.

In a side street just off the market is the Hua Hin Thai Show, a pagoda-style restaurant which combines great food with a nightly musical performance, where you can sample folk with your fish or classical over your clams.

Unlike many Thai resorts, here you will also find more elegant dining, including Thai and Vietnamese food with a more upmarket touch for a real treat. Monsoon is the most romantic and expensive, but it’s worth it for the wine list and the elegant atmosphere. If your budget doesn’t run to dinner, you can enjoy afternoon tea on its teak-decked terrace.

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