Mobi-Babble – 11th January, 2015

Mobi-Babble

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We drove back from Nong Khai last Tuesday, leaving the guest house at 6 am. with the rear of our Triton pick-up jam-packed with Issan  goodies of one kind or another. No doubt they will all be used in Lek’s home cooking over the next few weeks.

It was a trouble free, 9 hour run, and we arrived back safe and sound at 3 pm on the dot, which was pretty good going considering we had any number of stops for toilet,  fuel and – of course – food along the way.

What’s more, we even stayed within the speed limit throughout the journey, so no kick-backs for Thailand’s impecunious constabulory, many of whom tend to lurk along the road to and from Korat

I’m slightly ashamed to admit that I sit back and let Lek do all the driving these days. (That’s why we never break the speed limit). She is such a competent and safe driver, and quite frankly my driving skills are not quite what they once were on the roads of Thailand – signs of ageing I guess.

Our house near the lake was looking spick and span; Lek’s niece and boyfriend had been house-sitting and dog-sitting. As ever,the dogs, went ballistic the moment we arrived back home.

The major event of the trip as far as I am concerned was our trip out to Phu Phrabat Historical Park in the nearby province of Udon Thani. It is a fascinating place which, for some reason, reminded me of a mini Stonehenge, even though all the rock formations at Phu Phrabat are the result of natural erosion, whereas the formations at Stonehenge were effectively man-made.

Anyway, what made Phu Phrabat all the more interesting was the fact that I have never come across anything quite like it in all the years I have been exploring Thailand, and it was certainly a refreshing change from all the thousands of Thai Temples and shrines – however beautiful some of them may be.

I have posted more pics of this national park at the foot of today’s Mobi Babble.

Incidentally, I just love the Wikipedia summary of facts about Stonehenge – it is somehow so English:

Construction started: 2600 BC

Opened: 2000 BC

Owner: Edward Seymour, 1st Duke of Somerset

Architectural style: Prehistoric Britain

Don’t you just love it? It’s surprising they don’t quote the name of the architect…

*

Meanwhile back in Thailand, I noted with interest the other day that the new government is continuing to demonstrate that they are not so very different from all the governments that have preceded it.

The only difference is that the present government is unelected, whereas most recent governments came to power as the result of rigged elections.

I was quite amused  to read a news item the other day in which we were told that one the senior ministers was concerned about Thailand’s cheap domestic airfares. It may not seem to be much of a news item, but actually, it is quite significant.

The headline read:

Thai government wants to raise fares of ‘low-cost’ airlines.’

This caught my attention, as in most countries, low airfares would be a matter for celebration, not concern.

It seems that representations have been made to the government by the billionaire owner of several major bus companies. She has claimed that their business has been affected by the domestic airlines who are offering cheaper prices than bus tickets.

Even I -Mobi – had to blink twice at this, and to make sure that it wasn’t some pre April Fool’s joke.

But there it was, in black and white, Thailand’s Minister of Transport, Air Chief Marshal Prajin Janthong, said that cheap fares for domestic flights offered by low-cost airlines were hampering the business of public bus companies in Thailand.

You would think that the unacceptable level of deaths on Thailand’s roads, many of them on overnight buses journeys,to and from the provinces, would alone be a good reason for the government to support these low airfares, as flying is a much safer form of transport.

I haven’t done the calculations but as far as I am aware, there are at the most, two daily flights to provincial capitals, (often only one), whereas there are buses leaving continually, often every hour – day and night – to the same destinations. So how on earth can a few air flights materially affect the number of passengers travelling by road?

Anyway, the last I heard, Thailand was a capitalist country that believed in free trade…

Yes, I know, it’s a joke.

The point about doing business in Thailand is that if you are a billionaire and you have secured a major market, be it Thai beer or bus companies, you don’t want ANY competition, no matter how small and insignificant it may be. You simply don’t want to fight for your market share by normal business practices, as you might have to do in the west.

All you need  to do in Thailand is to get your mates in government to give you a helping hand.

*

Way back in the late 90’s, the consumption of wine was becoming very popular amongst the Bangkok elite. Wine sales were even spreading to the middle classes who were starting to enjoy the odd glass of vino when dining out, as a change from their usual beer or Thai whisky.

This was in those halcyon days when wine was sold at reasonable prices, and a fledgling domestic Thai wine industry – that produced very palatable wine- was just starting to make inroads with the Bangkok middle classes.

The beer and Thai whisky conglomerates panicked.

A minuscule fraction of their massive, nation-wide business was being threatened, or more accurately – was given a very tiny slap. But instead of taking legitimate business measures to fight back, (If indeed they needed to, which is debatable, considering that their  upcountry business was completely unaffected), what did they do? – they took a sledge hammer to crack a nut.

They went to their mates in the government and persuaded them to put a whopping 400% (yes- FOUR HUNDRED PERCENT) special alcohol tax on wine.

Now, if this was a move to protect the home grown wine trade, it just might have some justification, but no – this 400% tax was levied on ALL wine, both imported and home produced, which effectively stalled the local wine industry in its tracks.

These days, a bottle of the worst Spanish plonk will put you back over 15 quid, and if you look hard enough, you can still find Thai wine – but at over 1,000 Baht (£20) per bottle it is hardly worth the search, even though some of it is very good and has even won several prestigious international awards.

The Thai wine industry now exports more wine than it sells domestically. If that doesn’t tell  you something, I don’t know what does.

Until the Thai government get it into their heads that ‘FREE TRADE’ means what it says, be it low air fares or removing punitive, unfair taxes on selective products, they will struggle ever harder to crank up the Thai economy and compete in world markets.

On top of everything else, it has been – and will continue to be – another ‘nail in the head’ of the flailing Thai tourist industry.

*

Here’s a few pics from our recent road trip to NongKhai and in particular, down the road to the Phu Phrabat National Park in Udon Thani.

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Night Market in Nong Khai, alongside the Mekong
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Dancing on the banks of the Mekong

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MAB mini pic

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