Tag Archives: Thailand

Stunning Floating Markets in Asia

A floating market is a market where goods are sold from boats. Originating in times and places where water transport played an important role in daily life, most floating markets operating today mainly serve as tourist attractions, and are chiefly found in Thailand, Indonesia and Vietnam. The sellers often gather at 3:00 and come back at 11:00.

The following are stunning analogue photos of daily life in floating markets in Asia.

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Gold Smuggling Increases 7x In India And Surpasses Illegal Drug Trade

Seized gold bars are kept on displayed by custom officers at the international airport in Kolkata November 19, 2013. REUTERS/Stringer/Files

(Reuters) – Indian gold smugglers are adopting the methods of drug couriers to sidestep a government crackdown on imports of the precious metal, stashing gold in imported vehicles and even using mules who swallow nuggets to try to get them past airport security.

Stung by rules imposed this year to cut a high trade deficit and a record duty on imports, dealers and individual customers are fanning out across Asia to buy gold and sneak it back into the country.

Sri Lanka, Thailand and Singapore are the latest hotspots as authorities crack down on travellers from Dubai, the traditional source of smuggled gold.

In a sign of the times, whistleblowers who help bust illegal gold shipments can get a bigger reward in India than those who help catch cocaine and heroin smugglers.

“Gold and narcotics operate as two different syndicates but gold smuggling has become more profitable and fashionable,” said Kiran Kumar Karlapu, an official at Mumbai’s Air Intelligence Unit.

“There has been a several-fold increase in gold smuggling this year after restrictions from the government, which has left narcotics behind.”

From travellers laden head-to-toe in jewellery to passengers who conceal carbon-wrapped gold pieces in their bodies – in the mistaken belief that metal detectors will not be set off – Indians are smuggling in more bullion than ever, government officials say, driven by the country’s insatiable demand for the metal.

That suggests official data showing a sharp fall in gold buying, which has helped narrow India’s current account gap, may significantly underestimate the real level of gold flows.

The World Gold Council estimates that 150 to 200 tonnes of smuggled gold will enter India in 2013, on top of the 900 tonnes of official demand.

Between April to September alone, India’s customs officials seized nearly double the amount of smuggled gold it nabbed in all of 2012.

“Though the quantum of seizures has increased, in our opinion it reflects only 1 to 2 percent of total smuggling,” said a revenue intelligence officer in Mumbai who declined to be named. “Dubai is still the number one place from where gold gets in and Singapore is slowly emerging. Sri Lanka has become a staging point.”

Grappling with a high trade deficit and weak currency, India imposed measures this year to crimp demand for gold, the second most expensive item on its import bill after oil. It imposed a 10-percent duty on bullion and a 15-percent tariff on jewellery. Imports plunged to 24 tonnes in October from a record 162 tonnes in May.

SUPPLY CRUNCH

Gold is an integral part of Indian culture, offered at weddings and festivals. India was the world’s biggest gold consumer until last year but will be overtaken by China in 2013.

India has now stepped up cooperation with nearby countries to stem the smuggling.

Last week, Sri Lanka limited the amount of jewellery its residents can take out of the country and it will try to monitor whether they bring it back. Pakistan banned all gold imports in August for a month as it believed much was being smuggled on into India.

Indian gold premiums have soared to $130 an ounce over London prices due to the supply crunch, compared with about $2 an ounce in Hong Kong, Singapore and Thailand.

Banks and other official trading agencies in Singapore and Thailand that had supplied gold to their Indian counterparts have stopped due to India’s new rules.

But smaller dealers and retailers say they have been selling more to Indian customers than ever before, in jewellery and other forms.

Brian Lan, managing director of Singapore-based dealer GoldSilver Central Pte Ltd, said he has sold about 10 kg (22 lbs) of gold to a single Indian customer and gets multiple similarly big orders on some days.

“We have Indian dealers buying from us directly on a regular basis,” said a second Singapore dealer. “They say they have their own means of taking it in without getting caught.”

15 Gorgeous Vacation Spots Proving Heaven Is a Place on Earth

1. Villajoyosa, Alicante, Spain

Xarcosbeach

2. Cimon della Pala, Dolomites, Italy

Dolomites

3. Trolltunga, Odda, Norway

Trolltunga

4. Bermuda

Bermuda

5. Khao Phing Kan, Thailand

Jamesbond_0

6. Kauapea Beach, Kauai, Hawaii

Kauai

7. Grand Teton National Park, Wyoming

Tenton

8. Nugget Point Lighthouse, New Zealand

Nugget

9. Derweze, Turkmenistan

Darvaza

10. Whitehaven Beach, Whitsunday Island, Australia

Whitehaven

11. Chapada Diamantina National Park, Brazil

Chapadadiamantina

12. Bora Bora, French Polynesia

Bora

13. Fairy Pools, Drynoch, Scotland

Fairy

14. Havasupai Falls, Grand Canyon National Park

Havasupaifalls

15. The Sand Dunes of Namibia

Namibia

Beyond Angkor: How lasers revealed a lost city

Angkor Wat temple

Deep in the Cambodian jungle lie the remains of a vast medieval city, which was hidden for centuries. New archaeological techniques are now revealing its secrets – including an elaborate network of temples and boulevards, and sophisticated engineering.

In April 1858 a young French explorer, Henri Mouhot, sailed from London to south-east Asia. For the next three years he travelled widely, discovering exotic jungle insects that still bear his name.

Today he would be all but forgotten were it not for his journal, published in 1863, two years after he died of fever in Laos, aged just 35.

Mouhot’s account captured the public imagination, but not because of the beetles and spiders he found.

Readers were gripped by his vivid descriptions of vast temples consumed by the jungle: Mouhot introduced the world to the lost medieval city of Angkor in Cambodia and its romantic, awe-inspiring splendour.

“One of these temples, a rival to that of Solomon, and erected by some ancient Michelangelo, might take an honourable place beside our most beautiful buildings. It is grander than anything left to us by Greece or Rome,” he wrote.

His descriptions firmly established in popular culture the beguiling fantasy of swashbuckling explorers finding forgotten temples.

Today Cambodia is famous for these buildings. The largest, Angkor Wat, constructed around 1150, remains the biggest religious complex on Earth, covering an area four times larger than Vatican City.

It attracts two million tourists a year and takes pride of place on Cambodia’s flag.

But back in the 1860s Angkor Wat was virtually unheard of beyond local monks and villagers. The notion that this great temple was once surrounded by a city of nearly a million people was entirely unknown.

It took over a century of gruelling archaeological fieldwork to fill in the map. The lost city of Angkor slowly began to reappear, street by street. But even then significant blanks remained.

Then, last year, archaeologists announced a series of new discoveries – about Angkor, and an even older city hidden deep in the jungle beyond.

An international team, led by the University of Sydney’s Dr Damian Evans, had mapped 370 sq km around Angkor in unprecedented detail – no mean feat given the density of the jungle and the prevalence of landmines from Cambodia’s civil war.

Yet the entire survey took less than two weeks.

Their secret?

Lidar – a sophisticated remote sensing technology that is revolutionising archaeology, especially in the tropics.

Mounted on a helicopter criss-crossing the countryside, the team’s lidar device fired a million laser beams every four seconds through the jungle canopy, recording minute variations in ground surface topography.

The findings were staggering.

Image showing what is beneath the ground at AngkorLidar technology has revealed the original city of Angkor – red lines indicate modern features including roads and canals

The archaeologists found undocumented cityscapes etched on to the forest floor, with temples, highways and elaborate waterways spreading across the landscape.

“You have this kind of sudden eureka moment where you bring the data up on screen the first time and there it is – this ancient city very clearly in front of you,” says Dr Evans.

These new discoveries have profoundly transformed our understanding of Angkor, the greatest medieval city on Earth.

Phra Sav Ling Povn, palace of the leprous king, near the great temple of Angkor Wat, circa 1930Phra Sav Ling Povn, palace of the leprous king, near Angkor Wat, circa 1930

At its peak, in the late 12th Century, Angkor was a bustling metropolis covering 1,000 sq km. (It would be another 700 years before London reached a similar size.)

Angkor was the former capital of the mighty Khmer empire which, ruled by warrior kings, dominated the region for centuries – covering all of present-day Cambodia and much of Vietnam, Laos, Thailand and Myanmar. But its origins and birthplace have long been shrouded in mystery.

A few meagre inscriptions suggested the empire was founded in the early 9th Century by a great king, Jayavarman II, and that his original capital, Mahendraparvata, was somewhere in the Kulen hills, a forested plateau north-east of the site on which Angkor would later be built.

But no-one knew for sure – until the lidar team arrived.

The lidar survey of the hills revealed ghostly outlines on the forest floor of unknown temples and an elaborate and utterly unexpected grid of ceremonial boulevards, dykes and man-made ponds – a lost city, found.

Relief map of Mahendraparvata

Most striking of all was evidence of large-scale hydraulic engineering, the defining signature of the Khmer empire.

By the time the royal capital moved south to Angkor around the end of the 9th Century, Khmer engineers were storing and distributing vast quantities of precious seasonal monsoon water using a complex network of huge canals and reservoirs.

Harnessing the monsoon provided food security – and made the ruling elite fantastically rich. For the next three centuries they channelled their wealth into the greatest concentration of temples on Earth.

One temple, Preah Khan, constructed in 1191, contained 60t of gold. Its value today would be about £2bn ($3.3bn).

But despite the city’s immense wealth, trouble was brewing.

At the same time that Angkor’s temple-building programme peaked, its vital hydraulic network was falling into disrepair – at the worst possible moment.

The end of the medieval period saw dramatic shifts in climate across south-east Asia.

Tree ring samples record sudden fluctuations between extreme dry and wet conditions – and the lidar map reveals catastrophic flood damage to the city’s vital water network.

With this lifeline in tatters, Angkor entered a spiral of decline from which it never recovered.

In the 15th Century, the Khmer kings abandoned their city and moved to the coast. They built a new city, Phnom Penh, the present-day capital of Cambodia.

Life in Angkor slowly ebbed away.

Angkor Wat

When Mouhot arrived he found only the great stone temples, many of them in a perilous state of disrepair.

Nearly everything else – from common houses to royal palaces, all of which were constructed of wood – had rotted away.

The vast metropolis that once surrounded the temples had been all but devoured by the jungle.

Hugh Tovar, CIA Operative at the Center of Cold War Intrigues, Dies at 92

06_29_Tovar_01
Indonesian soldiers take members of the youth wing of the country’s Communist Party to prison in Jakarta on October 30, 1965. They were rounded up by the army following a crackdown on Communists after an abortive coup against President Sukarno’s government earlier in the month. CIA officer Hugh Tovar was a high-ranking official stationed in Jakarta at the time. AP 

Hugh Tovar, who was at the center of two of the CIA’s most controversial covert action operations during the Cold War, died of natural causes just after midnight June 27. He was 92.

Tovar was the CIA station chief in Malaysia and Indonesia in the 1960s and then Laos and Thailand in the 1970s, while the U.S. and Soviet Union were locked in proxy wars around the world, most directly in Southeast Asia. For a time he was also chief of the CIA’s covert action and counterintelligence sections at its headquarters in Langley, Virginia.

Hog_and_COS_at_Bouam_Long

Tovar’s assignments put him on the cutting edge of CIA operations at the time, much like the today’s counterterrorism specialists, said Colin Thompson, a former CIA officer who served under Tovar in Thailand and later in the CIA’s counterintelligence branch.

“Hugh was one of a small group of senior East Asia officers…who were to the CIA in the ’60s and ’70s what the [agency’s] leaders in Middle East operations are today,” said Thompson, who also worked in Laos, where Tovar was station chief from 1970 to 1973, at the height of the CIA’s so-called “secret war” there.

The assignment to Vientiane, the capital of Laos, was a homecoming of sorts for Tovar, who had previously been sent there by the CIA’s World War II predecessor, the Office of Strategic Services, after his ROTC class at Harvard was called to duty by the U.S. Army in 1943.

Born in Colombia as Bernardo Hugh Tovar—he rarely used his first name—he was raised in Chicago but attended Portsmouth Priory (now Portsmouth Abbey), a private school in Rhode Island run by Benedictine monks.

The CIA’s later covert campaign in Laos was the biggest and longest paramilitary operation in the agency’s history. It lasted from 1961 to 1975 and employed hundreds of CIA operatives and pilots and thousands of local Hmong tribesmen in a failed effort to block Communist North Vietnam from using Laos as a supply route and staging ground for attacks in South Vietnam.

But it was Tovar’s tenure in Indonesia in 1965 that has drawn the most scrutiny. At the time, the country’s president, Sukarno, was leading a global “anti-imperialist” movement with the support of the Soviet Union and Communist China.

Tovar, who had earlier worked against Communist guerrillas in the Philippines, was the CIA’s Jakarta station chief. In September 1965, a coup attempt by the Indonesian Communist Party, or PKI, failed, and the military unleashed a genocidal campaign against the PKI’s mostly ethnic Chinese followers.

With the rebellion crushed and the military-backed Suharto regime now fully in power, the U.S. and other Western powers hailed the outcome as “the West’s best news for years in Asia,” as Time magazine put it.

Me_and_Father_B

“Hugh made his mark in Indonesia in the mid-’60s where he was COS [chief of station] during the very bloody anti-Chinese riots that led to the overthrow of Sukarno and the rise of Suharto,” Thompson told Newsweek. “I understand he and the station performed very well.”

Too well, according to a sensational 1990 account by States News Service journalist Kathy Kadane. She reported that the U.S. Embassy in Jakarta provided the Indonesian military with the names of suspected Communists, who were then hunted down and murdered.

“Over the next months, tens of thousands died—estimates range from the Suharto government report of 78,002 to an Amnesty International estimate of more than 1 million deaths,” intelligence historian John Prados wrote in his 2003 biography of William Colby, a colleague of Tovar’s who later became CIA director. An internal CIA report on the events in Indonesia, Prados wrote, called it “one of the worst episodes of mass murder of the 20th century.”

Responding to Kadane’s charges in The New York Times, Tovar denied he was involved in providing “any classified information” to an embassy political officer who in turn gave it to the Indonesians.

In a 2001 interview with the Indonesian magazine Tempo, he also denied CIA complicity in the resulting carnage. “The U.S. did not in any way help the Army suppress the Communists,” he said.

Tovar retired in 1978 but followed his second wife, Pamela Kay Balow, “on her assignments with the CIA to Rome, Singapore and Australia,” according to theannouncement of his death by the Galone-Caruso Funeral Home in Mount Pleasant, Pennsylvania. He died “peacefully” at St. Anne Home, an assisted-living center in Greensburg, Pennsylvania, the announcement said.

In his retirement, Tovar became a measured critic of U.S. efforts to overthrow foreign governments. In a 1982 book of essays on covert action, he was quoted as saying the CIA’s ill-fated 1961 invasion of Cuba was based on the mistaken notion that Fidel Castro’s support was “so shallowly rooted…that he could be shaken by psychological pressures, as [President Jacobo] Arbenz had been in Guatemala [in 1954], and then ousted by a comparative handful of troops.”

“Was it an intelligence failure?” Tovar said. “Undoubtedly, and in the grandest sense of the term.”

Likewise, in Vietnam in 1963, a U.S.-backed coup backfired by weakening the Saigon government, Tovar wrote in another essay. “The overthrow of President [Ngo Dinh] Diem constituted the opening of the floodgates of American involvement in Indochina,” he wrote.

“By intruding as it did—crassly and blind to the consequences—the burden of responsibility for winning or losing was removed once and for all from South Vietnamese shoulders, and placed upon America’s own.”

Tovar also cautioned CIA leaders about discussing covert action options with their underlings, “whose instincts and training guarantee an immediate can-do response.”

“Momentum develops rapidly,” he said in the collection of essays, titled Intelligence Requirements for the 1980s: Covert Action. “Conceptualizing is superseded by planning. Policy emerges in high secrecy and, before anyone realizes it, the project is a living, pulsating, snorting entity with a dynamic all its own.”

Newsweek national security correspondent Jeff Stein served as a military intelligence case officer in South Vietnam during 1968-69.

Sleeping Under The Stars: Tree House Hotels Around The World

As a child, you wanted a tree house. You’d spend hot summer nights at your lucky friend’s house, climbing makeshift ladders to play in a wonderland under the stars. That dream doesn’t have to die. As an adult, you can release your inner child at tree house hotels around the world. Some are located on luxurious animal preserves. Others are nestled in lush forests with nary a city light in sight. Here are five of the best on five continents.

Bonbibi treehouse

Treehouse Point, Washington

On the banks of the Raging River, 30 miles from Seattle, lies Treehouse Point. The brainchild of Peter and Judy Nelson, Treehouse Point offers six unique tree houses for guests looking for romance and tranquility (no children under 13 allowed). Each house boasts hardwood floors, hand-hewn beds and views of the forest and stars. Guests share bathrooms at the ground level. The Nelsons will help facilitate hiking trips and other tours.

Bangkok Treehouse

Bangkok Treehouse, Bangkok, Thailand

Inspired by Walden Pond, Bangkok Treehouse is an eco-friendly oasis in this teeming metropolis. Guests have a choice of three tree-top accommodations, all unique and some rustic. “The View with the Room” boasts bamboo floors, mangrove trees and is situated 23 feet in the air. The night sky is your canopy. Guests have access to private outdoor showers as well as a freshwater pool. Don’t be surprised to spy a lizard in your room. Mosquito netting keeps the pesky pests away at night.

Treehouse hotel

Lion Sands Game Reserve, Sabi Sand Game Reserve, South Africa

If you’re headed on safari but want a unique lodging experience, Lion Sands Game Reserve at Sabi Sand Game Reserve offers the Chalkley Treehouse. Named after the founder of the Reserve, the Chalkley is situated in a Leadwood tree and is outfitted with a double-bed, mosquito netting, lanterns and a water basin. It’s a rustic as you can get without truly being on your own. Hyenas and other wild animals may keep you company but the velvet African sky will bring you peace of mind.

Ariau Towers

Ariau Towers, Manaus, Brazil

Brazil was one of the first countries to get in on the tree house hotel act and Ariau Towers in Manaus remains one of the top hotels in the country. Inspired by Jacques Cousteau, the expansive property was built in 1987 on the banks of the Rio Negro. The eco-friendly hotel has a large number of tree houses to choose from. Elevated nearly 40 above the ground, the houses feature private balconies, hardwood floors, queen beds and full bathrooms. Myriad activities are nearby, from the Adolpho Ducke Botanical Gardens to the Lago Januari Ecological Park.

Tree Hotel

Treehotel, Harads, Sweden

The funkiest of all tree house hotels is the Treehotel in Harads, Sweden. The Swedes know design and Britta and Kent Lindvall had a clean aesthetic in mind when they built their hotel on the Lule River in Northern Sweden. Each of the six houses are unique and modern in design, with bespoke furniture, lighting and linens. The Cabin feels as if you’re in a high-tech train cabin. The Mirrorcube reflects the landscape at all angles. The UFO is just that, a mecca for sci-fi nerds everywhere. Guests have access to a tree house sauna as well. Head here in the depths of winter, when the spectacular northern lights are on display.

Thailand to remain under martial law even after junta chief becomes prime minister

Martial law will remain in effect after junta leader Prayuth Chan-ocha becomes prime minister, according to a spokesperson for the ruling National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO). — PHOTO: REUTERS

BANGKOK (THE NATION/ASIA NEWS NETWORK) – Martial law will remain in effect after junta leader Prayuth Chan-ocha becomes prime minister, according to a spokesperson for the ruling National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO).

NCPO spokesman Sirichan Ngathong said yesterday it was hoped that martial law would help the country remain peaceful and having it imposed was unlikely to obstruct the new government in running the country.

“Martial law has not affected people’s everyday life. And more tourists have come to Thailand. The NCPO will retain martial law for public peace and order,” she said.

But General Prayuth, the NCPO chief, said efforts were still being made by “old powers and influential groups” to “bring us back to the dysfunctional state we were in”.

He said they were “trying to come back in and change things back to the way they were by using social movements, especially those linked to the poor or those with low income. “If we let things go on as they did in the old way, it is likely that Thailand will have much to suffer in the future. Accordingly, this will also slow down the country’s development,” he said.

Thailand's junta-picked national assembly chose coup leader General Prayut Chan-O-Cha as prime minister in a one-horse race that entrenched the military's hold on power. AFP Photo

Gen Prayuth made these remarks last night during a national broadcast of his weekly TV programme Returning Happiness To The People.

He said changes for the better had been made after the NCPO seized power. “People were unable to travel because of the protests and the use of weapons and conflict was present everywhere. Now the country is peaceful and order has been restored. Citizens respect the law,” he said.

In a related development, former premier Thaksin Shinawatra has told politicians in the Phea Thai Party to support and offer assistance to the new government, instead of criticising it, according to a source who is close to him.

Thaksin has retained influence in Phea Thai, despite the overthrow of his sister’s government in the coup.

Meanwhile, activist Srisuwan Janya yesterday launched a legal challenge, claiming the National Legislative Assembly’s nomination of the junta chief to be the next premier is unconstitutional.

Mr Srisuwan wants the Constitutional Court to rule on whether nomination of Gen Prayuth contravenes the interim charter.

The activist called on Gen Prayuth to resign as chief of the ruling NCPO to avoid a conflict of interest. He said Gen Prayuth should not hold the two positions at the same time.

Members of the National Legislative Assembly (NLA) voted unanimously on Thursday to nominate Gen Prayuth, also the Army commander-in-chief, as the country’s 29th prime minister. The appointment is now awaiting royal endorsement.

Mr Srisuwan is secretary-general of the Association of Constitution Protecting Organisations. He was previously known for lawsuits that called for environmental impact assessments on industrial projects at Map Ta Phut, when he was head of the Stop Global Warming Association.

Mr Srisuwan lodged a petition yesterday with Ombudsman’s Office secretary-general Chalermsak Chantaratim, seeking a case to be filed with the Constitutional Court. He argued that it was conflict of interest for the NLA, which was appointed by the NCPO, to elect the junta chief as prime minister.

He said the provisional charter in effect after the coup on May 22 set up a mechanism of checks and balances between the NCPO and the interim government by empowering the NCPO to remove the interim prime minister.

“So if the NCPO chief and the prime minister are the same person, would he suggest he should remove himself from the PM’s seat,” Mr Srisuwan asked.

The activist said he would only withdraw his petition only if Gen Prayuth resigned as NCPO chief. He added that other members should resign from the NCPO once they are appointed to the interim Cabinet.

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