“Amazing Thai Travel 2008”

About sums it up really - Amazing Thailand! “Amazing Thai Travel 2008” is the name of a pre-Christmas fair aimed at stimulating domestic tourism, as if that could even begin to make up for the dearth of foreign tourists Thailand is likely to experience over at least the next few months. Organized by the Tourism Authority of Thailand (TAT) and six regional tourism associations, the authorities are attempting to undo some of the damage done by the recent political upheavals, and the airport occupations in particular. Tourism represents about 7% of Thailand's GDP, and an estimated further 5% is generated by business completely dependent on tourism, so they've a lot of work to do...

The hotels - where occupancy has dropped to under 10% in some cases - are also joining forces with TAT in some major promotions to try to tempt back the tourists. There's a "Buy One, Get One Free" hotel and travel offer, promising 50% discounts on flights, amusement parks, and accommodation.

Despite these promotional efforts TAT Marketing representative Santichai Euachongprasit suggested this week that the number of foreign tourists is likely to drop by up to 50%, some 2.3 million people, between December 2008 and April 2009. Another TAT spokeperson said he expected this trend to continue throughout the year.

(Somewhat ironically) 2009 is 'Visit Thailand' year, TAT director Wiwatchai Boonyapak pointed out. He doesn't seem to be on the same wavelength as his marketing colleagues, trying to suggest that everything would soon be back to normal - "Even SARS and bird flu didn't slow things down for long".

Typical head in sand attitude from some officials - as if the social unrest, airport closures, combined with the world economic problems and the continuing strength of the Thai baht - not to mention renewed bird flu outbreaks in Isaan - won't dissuade a considerable number of people from travelling to Thailand.

By way of example, the £ sterling would buy you 67.3 baht as recently as July 10th. Just five months later, December 10th, the £ is worth 53 baht. The euro isn't much better. The less said about the Aussie dollar the better. Not so long ago there was a nouveau riche Russian invasion of Pattaya. Now the rouble is in free fall, with nearly a 20% devaluation against the USD since August, and some predicting that a further 20% devaluation is on the cards if oil prices don't pick up.

I picked one of Chiang Mai's most popular hang-outs, the Chiang Mai Saloon in Loi Kroh for a beer tonight. At this time of year, 8pm on a Friday night, it is usually packed out. Over an hour or so a total of four customers dropped by, including me (the guy in red is the American owner)...

Bored bar staff. The boss pointed out that it was the same story, worse even, around town. Most of the bars and restaurants are empty. I suggested that PAD had gone too far this time, that they had made a big mistake in occupying the airports. "Thailand never stops making mistakes", came the quickfire answer. Not a happy farang...

The bulk of the tourists stuck in of Thailand are now on their way home, the planes arriving are virtually empty. Perhaps this is the bottom of the trough, but all those who have cancelled are unlikely to return in a hurry.

Expat residents are still around of course, but with the drop in value of most Western currencies, they are spending less and less in bars and restaurants. I'm no different - prices are still relatively cheap compared to Europe, especially in the Thai establishments, but while inflation has caused prices to rise a good 10% over the last six months, my £ sterling income has plummeted in value. It's beginning to hurt!

So no meal out for me tonight - apparently some friends had dropped by with something 'special'...

All pretty standard stuff, or so it appeared. Fried fish with a sweet and spicy dip that is absolutely delicious, one of my favourites. Not so keen on the mixed vegetables in semtex-strength chili pepper sauce, bottom left. But our visitors wanted me to taste the final dish, top right, and guess at the contents...

It was a bit like a chewy version of chicken, with a slightly gamy flavour. To start with I guessed at some kind of bird - not even close. King Cobra was the speciality of the evening. I of course expressed my delight and thanks, and chewed my way through much of my plateful. Pretty tasty too to be fair, although the skin, prepared in this way, was thick, elastic and.. well.. rather disgusting actually. Might have been ok fried, but in a spicy sauce, not my thing.

Still, just a few days left before departure date for France, amazing Thailand politics and demos willing, so a few memories to take back with me to keep me going until I come back in four months' time. Salade nicoise and steak au poivre await. Could be a lot worse!

3 comments:

Hoo Don said...

The American owner looks to be nervously pacing about looking for customers, dwarfs hidden under tables and a coach party of "a large lao khao with just a hint of lemonade" drinkers. Maybe he should try a Mr Lee look-a-like contest with bucking bronco and barn dance music, chuck in a hours interlude with a live TV link to the Spotlight girls gym workout and he'll be on a winner.
I think on your dinner plate is probably the best place to meet a King Cobra.

The FrogBlogger said...

Seconded, although it's the fast little critters that worry me. One of these days I'll be looking for a place just outside of Chiang Mai and I've heard all sorts of stories of poisonous spiders and the like. Still back in the south of France I always had to take a quick look inside my shoes first thing for scorpions, so nothing changes.

JJ said...

Eeewugh to the king cobra, but yes, I take Hoo Don's point.