AIR AND WATER POLLUTION AND ENVIRONMENTAL ISSUES IN THAILAND

ENVIRONMENTAL ISSUES IN THAILAND

Environmental problems faced by Thailand include: 1) land subsidence in Bangkok area resulting from the depletion of the water table; 2) droughts and water shortages; 3) air pollution from vehicle emissions; 4) water pollution from organic and factory wastes; 5) deforestation; 6) soil erosion; and 7) wildlife populations threatened by illegal hunting. Between 1975 and 1988, the release of toxic chemicals increased 1,200 percent. DDT was still being used in the early 2000s in part because it is effective in controlling mosquitos that carry the malaria parasite. [Source: CIA World Factbook *]

International environmental agreements signed by Thailand: Biodiversity, Climate Change, Climate Change-Kyoto Protocol, Desertification, Endangered Species, Hazardous Wastes, Marine Life Conservation, Ozone Layer Protection, Tropical Timber 83, Tropical Timber 94, Wetlands. Signed, but not ratified: Law of the Sea. *

Thailand is a country with abundant natural resources, including a wide variety of flora and fauna, and distinct ecological zones. There are over 100 Thailand national parks, including more than 20 marine parks. Ecological zones include the temperate forests of the northern mountains, the plains of central Thailand, the savannahs of the northeast and the mangrove forests of the southern coasts. Animals in Thailand include not only elephants and monkeys but also bears and whale sharks. [Source: Tourist Authority of Thailand]

Bangkok is particularly vulnerable to sea level rises associated with global warming. The city hosted a major international meeting on global warning in April 2007. In May of the same year parts of Bangkok had all their lights turned off for 15 minutes in a symbolic gesture to express concern over global warming. The city held a United Nations climate conference in October 2009. Thailand’s carbon dioxide emissions from consumption of energy: 278.5 million Mt (2010 est.), country comparison to the world: 23

Bangkok suffers from a number of environmental problems. It is sinking into sewage-filled canals that often overflow and flood the city in the rainy season. The city needs more sewage treatment facilities and more people cleaning out the garbage from the canals. In the early 2000s Bangkok’s sanitation budget was only $5.5 million. The city has started a campaign to get people to recycle more. It has received international aid to build two modern incinerators for waste disposal. Mass transit and other efforts to reduce traffic have also reduced air pollution somewhat.

According to a survey of expatriates living in Asia, India, China, Vietnam, the Philippines and Indonesia (plus Hong Kong) are regarded as the dirtiest countries in Asia, while Singapore, Japan and Malaysia were regarded as the cleanest. Thailand, South Korea and Taiwan were in the middle.

Some e-watse such old computers, old batteries and discarded electronics—some of which dangerous toxins such as mercury and dioxin—have been dumped in Thailand.

The 1997 economic crisis resulted in a reduction of pollution as people drove less and factories produced less pollutants. After the crisis car sales plummeted, factories reduced their output or were closed, construction ceased and developed projects were scrapped. Poverty caused by the crisis led to increased in legal logging, wildlife poaching, overfishing, cyanide fishing and slash and burn agriculture. Spending on the environment fell from $5 per person to $3.

King Bhumibol and the Environment

An active environmentalist, King Bhumibol has done his own cost-benefit analysis on the impact of power-generating dams versus coal-fired energy plants. He has also looked carefully into the effects of carbon monoxide pollution in Bangkok and on the Greenhouse Effect on his country as a whole and proposed suggestion on how to improve Bangkok’s traffic situation and air quality.

King Bhumibol has been deeply involved in water management. The Royal Rainmaking Project is credited with bringing water to drought-hit areas. Other projects include building dikes to store water and prevent flooding; introducing methods to prevent saltwater intrusion; using various kinds of plants to reduce water pollution in Bangkok’s canals; and treating wastewater through the use of aerators.

To clean up the highly polluted Makasan swamp, the King developed an inexpensive natural filter relying on water hyacinths, which have a great capacity to absorb wastes. After absorbing pollutants the saturated plants are detoxified and used as fuel, compost and material for making baskets and place mats for poor people who live around the swamp. He also introduced paddle-wheel-like devices that aerate the water in the stagnant pools of Bangkok's Bavornnives Temple. Fish have returned to Makasan swamp and turtles once again occupy the pools of Bavornnives Temple.

Black Rice and Cadmium Poisoning in Northern Thailand

Reporting from Mae Sot, near the Myanmar border in Thailand, Norimasa Tahara wrote in the Yomiuri Shimbun, “Farmers in a cadmium-polluted village in northern Thailand have been complaining of symptoms similar to Japan's "itai itai" disease, a type of cadmium poisoning and one of the four major pollution-related diseases in Japan. In mid-January, a group of 1,128 Thai farmers filed a damages suit against a local zinc mining operator and a mine development firm, demanding 3.7 billion baht (105 million dollars) in compensation. But the farmers are in a quandary, as the legal battle is expected to be lengthy before any settlement and they say the government has failed to sufficiently aid them. [Source: Norimasa Tahara, Yomiuri Shimbun, February 15, 2009 +]

“In the Mae Ku district in the suburbs of Mae Sot, northern Thailand, former rice paddies stretching over a gently sloping hilly area are now covered with weeds, exposing cracks on the dry surface. "Only black rice grows here," said Yen Chaino, 68, as she stood and looked at the tainted paddies. Having devoted herself to rice cultivation for the past four decades, Yen was proud of her rice crop, which once won an award at an agricultural fair. However, the rice in her paddies began turning dark around 2000. +

“The nonprofit International Water Management Institute (IWMI) concluded in 2004 that pollution of accumulated cadmium had changed the color of the rice in the area. Upon the discovery, the Thai government banned farmers in the polluted area from cultivating rice. So, Yen began growing corn for fuel use and other vegetables in place of rice, but in vain. "They didn't grow well, so I couldn't make enough money," she said. That calamity was followed by Yen's own health problems. "Recently, I've been troubled with persistent pain, as if the bones in my arm are squeaking," she said, adding that calcium prescribed by her doctor was not helping. Her husband, Ta, 70, has been bedridden for two years. She heard a rumor that 40 people had died in connection with the tainted "black rice." "I was told my symptoms are similar to those of Japan's itai itai disease sufferers, whose bones turned fragile. I don't want to die," she said, as tears welled in her eyes. +

“The IWMI survey showed that about 2,000 hectares in the Mae Ku area and its vicinity had been polluted with cadmium. The amount of cadmium detected in the tainted rice was more than five times the internationally permissible level of 0.4 milligrams per kilogram. Though the Thai government purchased polluted rice between 2004 and 2007, it failed to take any measures to compensate for the farmers' financial losses. Moreover, the source of the contamination has yet to be determined. A separate survey by Mae Sot General Hospital and other groups found that about 7,000 residents in the Mae Ku region and its vicinity have complained of pains in their bones and of kidney disorders--symptoms believed to be caused by cadmium intake.

Farmers suspect the zinc mining firm had released cadmium-contaminated waste water into the river during the refining process. However, resolving the dispute likely will take some time, as the company is set to contest its responsibility for the cadmium contamination. "We believe the company has met required environmental standards," said a company official in charge of general affairs.

Air Pollution in Thailand

The sulphur oxide, nitrous oxide and acetic acid emitted from petrochemical plants, oil refineries and plastics and chemical factories in the eastern seaside town of Mab Ta Phut is so bad that people where gas masks to work and suffer from headaches, vomiting, soar throats and other health problems

The large number of vehicles and other forms of pollution have left Bangkok in a perpetual cloud of rust-colored smog. Black smoke billows out of the back of old buses and tuk tuks. Construction dusts fills the air. On some clear days you can hardly see the blue sky. In the sky there is a gray film where blue should be. Thick hazy smogs are produced when pollutants combine with fog.

Vehicle emissions are the “greatest source of air pollutants in Bangkok,” according to the United Nations. Adam Janofsky of The Pulitzer Center wrote: “A clear marker” of how bad the air pollution is “is the prevalence of asthma in Bangkok, which has reached 15 to 20 percent in the past two decades—up from 5 percent in the 1980s. Critically high levels of chemicals like benzene from car exhaust also pose a risk for heart disease and cancer. Pedestrians and motorcyclists on every street can be seen wearing breathing masks to reduce the risks of auto pollution. [Source: Adam Janofsky, The Pulitzer Center, August 14, 2012]

Bangkok policeman wear strips of cloth protecting their nose from pollution and carry oxygen bottles. In 1995, a policeman reportedly collapsed and died from breathing in noxious fumes. According to a World Bank study, pollution costs Bangkok $2 billion a year. Another study has shown that more than one million people in Bangkok suffer from allergies and upper respiratory illnesses, many caused by high level of dust in the air, much of it generated by construction projects.

Cities with the worst air pollution in the 1990s: 1) Mexico City; 2) Jakarta; 3) Los Angeles; 4) São Paulo; 5) Cairo; 6) Moscow; 7) Bangkok; 8) Buenos Aires; 9) Karachi; 10) Manila; 11) Rio de Janeiro. Levels of particles of smoke in Asian cities (micrograms per cubic meter from 1987 to 1990): Calcutta (400); Beijing (380); Jakarta (280); Hong Kong (120); Bangkok (100); Manila (95); Tokyo (50). New York (60).

In an article on the gridlock traffic in Bangkok, Time correspondent Hannah Beach wrote: “The one thing that has gotten better is air quality. Even a decade ago, working as a Bangkok traffic cop was considered hazardous because of the constant inhalation of exhaust fumes. Since then, the city has cleaned up. The amount of harmful small particulates in the air has decreased nearly 50 percent, in part because of a campaign to switch cars and buses from diesel to natural gas. That doesn't mean that the streets are pristine: only seven of the 60 so-called green roads in Bangkok were found to have safe air, according to a survey last year by the Bangkok Metropolitan Administration..[Source: Hannah Beach, Time, February 8, 2008]

Water Pollution

Many of Bangkok’s klongs (canals) are foul and dirty. Some are filled with black oily water. Others are stagnant pools covered by smelly green scum and filled with garbage. Millions of liters of industrial waste is released into Thai waterways every year. By one estimate over 1.26 million tons of toxic waste is dumped into Thailand's waterways each year, most it untreated. A large number of arsenic-tainted water wells have been discovered in Thailand.

Hundreds of Karen villagers in Klity Lang, a village in northwest Thailand, have been sickened by drinking water contaminated with waste water discharged by lead mining company located in a Thung Yai Naresuan Wildlife Sanctuary. The mine and the cleaning plant used to process ore were closed in 1998 but villagers are still affected. Environmental groups are trying to get money to pay compensation to victims of the pollution that has included children born mentally retarded, two girls born with abnormally large heads and no vaginas and people that died of kidney failure linked to lead poisoning.

In some coastal areas biodiversity and marine life numbers have been greatly diminished by overfishing and pollutants released from shrimp farms and in agricultural run off. Sewage released by hotels and developed tourism areas was a particular problem in Pattaya until it was fairly recently cleaned up. Problems posed by tourism to the marine environment include illegally harvesting seasheell,s dumping of rubbish into the sea ad anchoring tour boats on coral reefs. Discarded plastic bottles are a common sight on Thailand’s beaches. There is a lot of damage on coral reefs in Southeast Asia.

Greenpeace has issued a warning on the consumption of seafood from the Gulf of Thailand, saying rain water and sediment there contains high levels of seven “very toxic” chemicals. A study by the environmental group found that fish and seafood harvested 25 kilometers offshore south of Bangkok was “heavily contaminated with toxic chemicals released by industrial estates and factories.”

For a while there were worries about outbreaks of water-borne diseases in Pattaya as a result of large amounts of raw sewage dumped into the sea water but that problem was largely fixed with a $60 million clean water project and the fining of hotels and other businesses that dumped sewage.

See Shrimp Farming.

Thai Oil Spill Blackens Koh Samet Beach

Reporting from Koh Samet, Thailand, Andrew Stevens of CNN wrote: :A picture postcard beach on one of Thailand's most popular tourist islands is now the focus of frantic efforts to staunch a tide of oil sweeping ashore. Where pleasure seekers would normally relax on pristine white sand, sandwiched between two lush green headlands, now white-coated cleanup crew smeared with crude suck oil from the shallow waters. Gobbets of oil lie along the beach, a thin sheen covers much of the wet sand and oil-drenched booms lie like giant black snakes along the shoreline. The sea is a rust red color and the odor of fuel hangs heavy in the air. Not even a brisk onshore wind can keep the smell away. [Source: Andrew Stevens, CNN, August 1, 2013]

For the past four days crude has been washing up here and cleanup crews have been dealing with it the best way they can -- pumping it into holding tanks, containing it with booms, even mopping it up with absorbent pads. Ao Prao beach on the island of Koh Samet is the main impact zone of the 50,000 liters of oil (around 13,200 gallons) spilled during a faulty transfer operation between a tanker and a seabed pipeline. About 600 soldiers, volunteers and workers from PTT Global Chemical, the partially state-owned oil giant that has claimed responsibility for the spill, are involved in the cleanup.

A PTT spokesman says that 70 percent of the oil has been dealt with. The remaining crude will be "90 percent clear” with a couple days. In some ways Thailand has been lucky. There are more than 200 oil installations in the Gulf of Thailand, which co-exist uneasily in an area known as the marine bread basket of the country. This spill appears to have been contained to one -- more remote -- beach on the island. The more popular resort areas a few kilometers further south say there is little evidence of the spill.

That's not stopping the tourists leaving though. Resort operators say many have left, fearing their holiday will be ruined. But this is low season here with occupancy around 30 percent. The economic damage would have been far worse a few months from now when most tourists visit, many from the capital Bangkok, 230 kilometers to the northwest. Local fisherman say they've caught fewer fish over the last few days, but it's too early to estimate the damage to fish stocks. There are no signs of affected marine or bird life at Ao Prao.

A PTT spokesman told CNN that the leak on Saturday happened as a tanker was transferring crude to an undersea pipe. A giant flexible rubber hose used to transport the oil began to leak. The hose is replaced every two years. This one had been in operation for just one year. PTT is also defending accusations that it has underplayed the amount of oil that leaked. According to academics at two universities, satellite pictures of the spill, and the amount of dispersants used suggests it could have been twice as big -- 100,000 liters or about 26,000 gallons.

Mekong River

Sea Places

Sinking Bangkok, Increased Flooding and Water Shortages in Thailand

Bangkok is sinking, in some places up to 10 centimeters a year. This is caused by groundwater being drained by wells, the oceans ever so slightly rising and the earth underneath buildings being compacted by the sheer weight of all the development. During the five month rainy season when as much as a meter of rain falls on Bangkok streets sometimes become rivers and shop keepers have to build dams to protect their merchandise. If global warming does in fact cause the oceans to rise significantly, Bangkok will be one of the first places to go under.

Bangkok was built at the center of Thailand’s central flood plains between its mountain ranges and the sea. The area in and around the city receives up to four fifths of the region’s rain overspill during the monsoon season. In the old days the canals provided storage for flood waters. But since many of these have been paved over the water has nowhere to go but into the streets and into houses when the Chao Phraya river floods.

AFP reported: “Thailand's monsoon rains can sweep across Bangkok with a moment's notice, blacking out the sky and sparking floods that fill the street and then disappear just as quickly as they arrived. Some 4,000 millimetres (157.48 inches) pour down on Thailand in a year, most of it between June and December, but shoddy management of the nation's water supply is causing shortages as agriculture, households and industry increase their demands, experts warn. [Source: AFP, June 12, 2005 ><]

“Demand for water could nearly double within 20 years, from 190 million cubic metres (6.7 billion cubic feet) a year to 340 million cubic metres (9.6 billion cubic feet), one study at respected Mahidol University indicates. Because rain doesn't fall evenly throughout the year, Thailand is also highly prone to drought. The just-ended dry season brought a drought that scorched 60 of the kingdom's 76 provinces. ><

Bangkok residents currently only pay for the cost of using raw water. Nationally, Thais use an average 200 litres (42.8 gallons) of water per person a day, and 416 litres (109.9 gallons) per person in the Bangkok metropolitan area, Mahidol University's Kampanad says. The figure for the city of more than seven million people and its surrounding districts includes water used domestically and by industry, Kampanad says. ><

Proposals to Improve the Water Shortage Problem in Thailand

AFP reported: ““To ease the problem, Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra said the military would drill 4,000 new drinking wells, and the government may ask its neighbours about diverting water from the Mekong river to help Thai farmers, a move which would require an agreement with China, Myanmar, Laos, Cambodia and Vietnam, which have also faced problems with drought But such responses fail to address more pressing needs to change attitudes about water conservation, says environmental expert Kampanad Bhaktikul from Mahidol University. What he describes as "a severe water shortage" has crept into Thailand over the last decade, with the public largely unaware, he tells AFP. Drilling more wells is "the same as constructing a dam in the time of flood", he says, urging better water conservation. "What we should do is long-term policy planning, a master plan of water resources development and management," Kampanad says. People should be allowed more control over water resources in their home area, he says. [Source: AFP, June 12, 2005 ><]

But letting local residents take charge of water in their neighbourhood is not so simple, argues Witoon Permpongsacharoen, who heads the lobby group Foundation for Ecological Recovery. More than 100 rivers and basins criss-cross the country, but for the past century the Chao Praya river basin around Bangkok has dominated irrigation policy, Witoon said. "This ignores each individual areas' characteristics," he says. "The solution of water management should be based on local conditions." ><

“The royal irrigation department has drafted a new four-year national water management plan aimed at a fairer distribution to farmers, households and industry, the agency's chief Samart Chokkanapitark says. The 200 billion baht (4.9 billion dollar) plan, which needs cabinet approval, covers 25 river basins and could be implemented from 2006. The water supply problem is "serious", Samart says, because Thailand has enough water but not enough reservoirs and dams to collect it. ><

“The department supplies an average 49,500 million cubic metres (1.7 billion cubic feet) of water annually, but some 67,230 million cubic metresbillion cubic feet) is demanded, Samart says. To reduce the difference, the new plan calls for building dams and replacing leaky pipes, and urging farmers in some areas to replace rice crops with more water-efficient ones including corn or soya beans. “The scheme would also give locals a greater role in managing their water, and would increase Thais' water bills by adding on the cost of treating water. ><

King Bhumibol’s “Super Sandwich” Rainmaking Technology

The European Patent Office has issued a patent for royal rainmaking technology to His Majesty King Bhumibol Adulyadej. The patent was presented to His Majesty on the occasion of the 60th anniversary of his accession to the throne. The king’s Royal Rainmaking Textbook — which explains the steps of the rainmaking process—and the royal rainmaking project and won a Gold Medal with Mention at Brussels Eureka 2001. Officials from Indonesia, Bangladesh, China, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore, and Sri Lanka have all traveled to Thailand to receive training in the science of rainmaking to benefit farmers in their own countries.

In the early 1960s, His Majesty the King became interested in attempting to make rain to alleviate drought in various parts of Thailand. He said at the time: “Weather modification is a very useful tool to combat weather change.” After the initial research stage, the first practical experiment took place over a mountain barrier at Khao Yai National Park in Nakhon Ratchasima Province in July 1969. His Majesty learned that a key factor in rainmaking was to “target” a site, much like naval artillery does. Using His Majesty’s technique to bracket clouds from aircraft flying above and below the cloud to target both warm and cool air simultaneously proved to be the most assured method of creating rain. He named the technique the “Super Sandwich” and got a patent for it.

On the 50th anniversary of His Majesty’s accession to the throne, the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) presented King Bhumibol an award in recognition of his strong support for meteorological and operational hydrology. The WMO was impressed to learn that His Majesty follows the weather events very closely and imparts his knowledge, wisdom, and understanding of weather phenomena to the nation. He realizes that high-quality weather and flood forecasts and warnings will help protect the environment and lessen impacts of natural disasters. In 2002 the Thai Cabinet officially named the king as the Father of Royal Rainmaking and designated November 14 as “Father of Royal Rainmaking Day.” November 14 was chosen because His Majesty started the royal rainmaking project on 14 November 1955.

Thai Tech Pioneer Converts Waste into Wealth

Daniel Rook of AFP wrote: “Paijit Sangchai drops a small piece of laminated paper into a jar of cloudy liquid which he hopes will transform his start-up into a multi-million dollar company and help revolutionise recycling. "Now this is the fun part," he says a few minutes later, holding it under the tap to wash away soggy paper pulp and reveal a clear plastic film. His Thai firm, Flexoresearch, has developed a series of blended enzymes that can recover pulp or fibre from laminated paper such as cigarette packets, stickers or milk cartons that were previously hard or impossible to recycle. [Source: Daniel Rook, AFP, December 3, 2010~~]

“First one enzyme attacks the water resistant chemical coating the surface, then others take over and tackle the paper and adhesive layers. The resulting pulp, he says, can be used to produce new paper products -- thus saving trees -- or turned into building materials that can be used as an alternative to asbestos, which is potentially hazardous to human health. The technique, believed to be the first of its kind, also produces clean plastic that can be recycled and used to produce new products. ~~

“The firm was recently named one of 31 "Technology Pioneers" by the World Economic Forum, which said its products were "poised to reduce the use of asbestos in the developing world, positively impacting people's health." Time Magazine described Flexoresearch as one of "10 start-ups that will change your life". It is a rare honour to be bestowed on an entrepreneur in a country hardly renowned for its technological prowess. In developing countries such as Thailand, laminated paper is usually thrown away, Paijit says. "Most people burn it illegally and that causes toxic fumes which harm people's health," he tells AFP at his small laboratory in a science park on the northern outskirts of Bangkok. "For people in developing countries who suffer from the fumes and don't know why they are sick ... it can help improve their lives," he adds. ~~

“And while developed countries like the United States are able to incinerate laminated paper such as fast food wrappers safely, they do not have any commercially viable way to recycle it either, he says. "Every country uses laminated paper, in stickers and wrappers of food like McDonald's and Kentucky Fried Chicken. That's all laminated and people throw it away," he says. "I think this a global market." Since winning the Technology Pioneer award -- previous recipients of which include Google and Twitter -- Paijit has been flooded with thousands of emails, mostly from venture capitalists interested in investing in his start-up. ~~

“But the affable company founder and CEO is not interested in borrowing more money or selling stakes to investors. He is looking for people overseas who want to licence the technology, which is already attracting interest in countries including Malaysia, Japan, China, South Korea and India. "I want to work with people around the world to heal the environment," says Paijit. It is a far cry from the days he spent experimenting with enzymes produced from mushrooms in a home laboratory after quitting a more than decade-long, well-paid career with a leading Thai industrial giant four years ago. He invested his savings, then borrowed heavily from the bank, putting up his house as collateral to keep the project going and build a paper mill in eastern Bangkok. At one point the firm was in debt to the tune of about 1.5 million dollars, but it has since repaid all the money and now employs 17 people.And Paijit is already eyeing ways to turn other problems into profits, including a technique to turn used liquid coolant drained from refrigeration systems into oil that can be used in the construction industry. "I make a profit from a problem. I convert waste into wealth," he says. ~~

Environmental Movement in Thailand

There are some tough environmental laws on the books in Thailand but in many cases the government has failed to enforce them and also failed to introduce cleaner technologies. Looking toward the future, the government has to improve the economic conditions without further damaging the environment and address problems such as illegal logging, overfishing and dumping of toxic chemicals.

Grassroots environmental participation includes local volunteer groups that protect forests and have held demonstrations to protest dam projects and the sale of undeveloped land to developers. In 1983 the Wildlife Fund Thailand was created under the patronage of Queen Sirkut. In 1986 protest squashed a plan to build a dam across the Khwae Ya River that would have flooded large swaths of monsoon forest in Thung Yai Narasuan National Park.

Environmental groups sprung up and become more activist after the reforms constitution in 1997. They have opposed government projects and called for public hearings on controversial proposals. A group in southern Thailand has been active opposing the construction of a coal-fired electricity-generating plant slated to be built at Baan Hin Krut Bay on the Gulf of Thailand. If built the $1 billion plant would damage coral reefs and hurt the local fishing industry. Protestors have staged protests in Bangkok and blocked highways leading to the plant sites.

Buddhism and the Environmental Movement in Thailand

Villagers threatened with the loss of land and livelihood organized to protest the natural resource policy. Under the leadership of Pra Prajak Kuta, a local Buddhist monk, the villagers successfully staged a number of standoffs with local authorities and eucalyptus corporations. Pra Prajak was arrested on several occasions, but local resistance prompted the government to reconsider its reforestation programs. [Source: TED Case Studies, Thai Logging Bam]

Pra Prajak has stated that forests are viewed in Buddhism as an essential element of the world and of Thai spiritual life. "We don't try to protest all development," he said, "but everything needs to be developed in a good way -- development growth with morality. They can balance each other. You only destroy yourself when you destroy the mountains, the forests, and the streams. Do you understand?". The Thai government has been under pressure by the activism of Buddhist monks on the issue. Buddhism, the almost universal religion in Thailand, is sacred and monks have a certain amount of freedom from persecution. Pra Prajak has been arrested but the courts have consistently ruled in his favor.

Pra Prajak exemplifies this new breed of religious leaders who actively challenge the RTG's development strategy. Together with other monks, he has been instrumental in organizing resistance among poor villagers. He has also staged symbolic acts of resistance by ordaining the souls of trees. To cut the tree would be equivalent to the greatest sin in Buddhism -- killing a monk. As Pra Prajak explained, "I became a monk so I could study the dama, Buddha's teachings, teachings about nature. Our well-being depends on the four elements -- earth, water, wind, and fire. Neither humans nor animals can survive without these resources. That's why it's my duty to protect the forests." The politically charged battle has resulted in angry villagers cutting down eucalyptus trees and other acts of defiance.

National Parks

Thailand has over 100 national parks and sanctuaries, including more than 20 marine parks. Together they cover about 14 percent of Thailand’s land area, one of the highest proportions of protected areas in the world. There are also several dozen non-huntig areas and forest reserves, The first national park was created in 1962. Foreigners make up only around 5 percent of the visitors in Thailand’s national parks. About a third of Thailand’s national parks receive no funding.

A few of Thailand’s more popular national parks are: 1) Khao Yai National Park is perhaps the most popular Thai park as it is just 200 kilometers from Bangkok and the bucolic surrounding area features a variety of accommodation options, a variety of activities, and diverse wildlife that includes wild tigers, elephants, bears, and exotic birds, such as the giant hornbill. 2) Doi Inthanon National Park in Northern Thailand features Thailand’s highest peak and contains waterfalls and forests containing numerous species of orchid. The area is also inhabited by indigenous hill tribe villagers. 3) Sam Roi Yot National Park is a favorite for bird watchers as the coastal region of the park features marshes that are home to a variety of waterfowl and other marine life. 4) Erawan National Park, located in Kanchanaburi Province in western Thailand, features a renowned seven tiered waterfall and a tropical forest that contains numerous wildlife species.

Marine parks include Koh Samet (conveniently located near Bangkok), Ang Thong Marine National Park (a favorite kayaking and snorkeling day-trip from Koh Samui), Tarutao Marine Park (the most remote and unspoiled of Thailand’s southern islands), and Ao Phang Nga National Park (a popular day-trip from Phuket that features unique limestone islands such as “James Bond Island” from the film The Man with the Golden Gun).

Book: National Parks of Thailand by Denis Gray, Colin Iperll ad Mark Graham.

Image Sources:

Text Sources: New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Times of London, Lonely Planet Guides, Library of Congress, Tourist Authority of Thailand, Thailand Foreign Office, The Government Public Relations Department, CIA World Factbook, Compton’s Encyclopedia, The Guardian, National Geographic, Smithsonian magazine, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, AFP, Wall Street Journal, The Atlantic Monthly, The Economist, Global Viewpoint (Christian Science Monitor), Foreign Policy, Wikipedia, BBC, CNN, NBC News, Fox News and various books and other publications.

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© 2008 Jeffrey Hays

Last updated May 2014

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