Thailand’s Maya Bay, the Philippines’ Boracay Island, and Myanmar’s Mergui Archipelago have seen multiple disturbances in recent years. Without a doubt they need all the help they can get to accelerate the restoration of marine ecosystems. Let’s see what measures have been taken to save them.
Thailand // The Philippines // Myanmar
In Thailand, the Department of National Parks, Wildlife and Plants Conservation closed the popular tourist destination Maya Bay for four months effective June 1. Because recovery was progressing more slowly than had been anticipated earlier, the authorities announced on October 2 that Maya Bay would remain closed indefinitely. The ban was deemed necessary to let nature take its course with respect to the health and sustainability of the organisms that exist there.
Maya Bay was made famous by the 2000 drama thriller “The Beach,” starring Leonardo Di Caprio. It lies as part of the Phi Phi Islands marine park in the Andaman Sea. The day-tripper paradise gets an average 2 million visitors a year, thanks to its proximity to Phuket and Thailand’s western shore.
In the Philippines, the popular tourist attraction Boracay Island, dubbed the “Best Island in the World” in 2012 by Travel+Leisure Magazine, was shuttered for six months effective April 26, 2018. The closure was part of a wider effort at assisting the recovery of an ecosystem that has been damaged by humans. The tropical paradise is scheduled to reopen on October 26.
In Myanmar, from time to time the curtain falls on the islets of Mergui Archipelago in the far south of the country. The much sought-after destinations in the Andaman Sea are easily accessible from Thailand’s Ranong Province. For environmental reason, Nyaung Oo Phee Island was closed to visitors on occasions. The same applied to Cock’s Comb Island, also called Emerald Heart for its blue green water color, and Cockburn Island (Kawthoung). Check it out before you visit them.
There are other beautiful islets in Myanmar’s Mergui Archipelago that have remained largely unspoiled. They include Lampi, which is part of the Lampi Marine National Park, and nearby We Ale Island.
Of course you have heard of the oldest and most famous places in world history. But, do you know that one of Google’s main ambitions is to inspire you to see them in a fun and simple way?
/// Photo: Google ///
With Google VR and drone footage, the multinational technology company lets you experience virtual reality of 25 historic sites in 18 countries across the globe — from Bagan, an ancient city in central Myanmar, to Thailand’s former capital Ayutthaya, to the ruins of Pompeii in southern Italy, and Al Azem Palace in Syria, which dates back to the days of the Ottoman Empire.
Also enjoyed by many is Google Arts and Culture, an online platform through which people can access images of artworks and exhibits hosted by participating museums. For the education of future generations, Google is partnering with CyArk, a non-profit organization dedicated to making historical and cultural heritage sites accessible to the public. CyArk uses laser light technology to crate 3D representations of sites of outstanding universal value.
For now, join us on incredible adventures to some of the most famous heritage sites in the ASEAN. Appreciate peace and tranquility in Bagan, an ancient city in Myanmar, and experience virtual reality of Wat Phra Sri Sanpet in Ayuttyaya, Thailand. The temple ruins were used as backdrop for scenes in one of many Hollywood movies filmed in Thailand. (https://artsandculture.google.com/project/cyark)
Going somewhere this Valentine’s Day? For inspiration, here are five heart-shaped lakes and islands around the ASEAN. Imagine waking up on the beach with crystal clear water, soaking up golden sun on the rice field, or escaping to the forest of luxuriant foliage found only in the tropics. Check out these places.
– Rih Lake / Myanmar –
Dubbed a hidden paradise, Rih Lake is off the beaten track. It’s located in Chin State bordering India and more than 480 km from Mandalay, the second largest city at the center of mainland Myanmar. The isolated, heart-shaped lake is surrounded by paddy fields and forested areas. The area is home to the Mizo people, who inhabit both sides of the Myanmar-India border. The lake, which is accessible from Rihkhawdar, a nearby tourist destination, is considered a pilgrimage site for Mizo people and the passage to their eternal home after death. Because it’s not easy to get to from within Myanmar, most visitors come here from the Indian side.
– Siit Lake / The Philippines –
Siit Lake is in Sulu, a province in the southern part of the Philippines. The heart-shaped body of water is 800 meters wide and 1.6 kilometers from one end to the other. The Sulu archipelago is part of the Autonomous Region of Muslim Mindana0 (ARMM). The provincial capital, Jolo, is located on the island of the same name. The Sulu archipelago is accessible from Mindanao Island. Due to its remoteness, the lake is not easy to get to.
– Cocks Comb Island / Myanmar –
Located in the Andaman Sea, Cocks Comb is a small limestone atoll with a stunning heart-shaped lagoon in it. On a clam day, you can swim through a natural tunnel into the beautiful lagoon, also known as the Emerald Heart. The seawater is perfect for snorkeling and coral reef diving. Cocks Comb Island is accessible from Myanmar’s southernmost city of Kawthaung and Thailand’s Ranong Province. Many tour operators offer guided service from Ranong.
– Dao Island / The Philippines –
Dao is a beautiful private island located in Busuanga Bay, Palawan Province. The 47.9-hectare (about half a square kilometer) island boasts crystal clear waters and pristine tropical forest. The crescent shoreline of the paradise island can be seen from the east side.
– Thung Thalay Luang / Thailand –
Thung Thalay Luang is an artificial lake designed to store rainwater in the Yom River Basin. Located in the north central province of Sukhothai, the large body of water features a small heart-shaped island with a beautiful Mandapa on it. The pillared pavilion for public rituals contains soil from villages across the province as the symbolism of love and social harmony. Accessible via a well-marked entry road, the island is a sight to behold from the air.
Do you fancy a walk with Komodo dragons, or cave exploring, or taking selfies on a stunning rice terrace? Do you feel like making a trip to see snow-capped mountains? Here are ten UNESCO World Heritage Sites around the ASEAN that might interest you.
In all the Region is home to 38 sites on UNESCO World Heritage List. They are selected for providing, among other things, significant natural habitats, exceptional beauty of the landscape, outstanding example of human settlement, unique cultural tradition, flora and fauna, evidence of earth’s history, and the conservation of terrestrial and marine ecosystems.
The sites range from Komodo National Park, where Indonesia’s rare megafauna roams freely in the wild, to spectacular rice paddy terraces in Bali and the Philippines, to examples of outstanding land-use and sea-use in Vietnam. Living ASEAN presents ten sites that you might want to put on your next itinerary.
– Komodo National Park / Indonesia –
Komodo National Park is located within the Lesser Sunda Islands at the center of the Indonesian archipelago. The site was established in 1980 for the purpose of conserving the world’s largest lizards and their habitats. Proceed with caution. Although Komodo attacks are rare, the animal can be aggressive towards humans at feeding time. The giant lizard eats almost any kind of meat. They scavenge on carcasses of animals especially deer. The volcanic islands have been named one of the New 7 Wonders of Nature.
– Kinabalu Park / Malaysia –
A beautiful place to go climbing in Southeast Asia, Kinabalu is among Malaysia’s first national parks. The 4,095-meter-high Mount Kinabalu is the centerpiece of the park. It was designated UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2000 for its outstanding universal values and biological diversity. Located in Sabah State in the northern part of Malaysian Borneo, Kinabalu National Park attracts thousands of mountaineers each year.
– Phong Nha – Ke Bang National Park / Vietnam –
Phong Nha – Ke Bang National Park in north-central Vietnam is known for its pristine mountain landscape, tropical forests, rich wildlife habitats, limestone karsts, and a vast network of caves. Son Dong, the biggest cave, was discovered by a local named Ho Khanh in 1991. A joint Vietnamese-British team explored the caves in 2009. The national park was open to the public for the first time in 2013.
– Jatiluwih Rice Terrace, Bali / Indonesia –
The Jatiluwih rice terrace in Bali showcases one of the most complex methods of agriculture and water management systems that have existed since the ninth century. Cut into the mountainside, the beautiful paddy fields get its water supplies from a system of canals and weirs, known as Subak. It’s the living embodiment of a traditional philosophy known as Tri Hita Karana, or the three reasons of prosperity; namely, harmony among people, harmony with nature, and harmony with God. It’s a truly amazing place to visit if you are nature lovers.
– Lorentz National Park / Indonesia –
Lorentz National Park in Papua, Indonesia, was named after the Dutch explorer who visited the island in the early 1900s. The largest protected area in Southeast Asia, Lorentzt was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1999 for a wealth of graphic evidence of earth’s history. It’s one of the most ecologically diverse parks in the world encompassing a full array of ecosystems from marine sanctuaries and mangroves to tidal and freshwater swamp forests, as well as rainforests, tundra, and equatorial glaciers.
The vast forest complex that covers six provinces is home to four national parks and a wildlife sanctuary. The site stretches from the Cambodian border in the east, to Khao Yai National Park in the west. Khao Yai itself lies largely in Nakhon Ratchasima and includes parts of nearby provinces such as Saraburi, Prachinburi, and Nakhon Nayok. The complex ecosystems provide natural habitats for 2,500 species of flora and 800 species of fauna. Recently a streak of 18 tigers were discovered and photographed by hidden cameras. Parts of Khao Yai National Park have been set aside for tourism and has facility for wildlife watching at night.
– Tubbataha Reefs Natural Park / the Philippines –
Tubbataha Reefs is a marine park at the center of the Sulu Sea. Its two reefs are said to have existed for 15 million years. The North Reef spans 15 kilometers that serves as nesting sites for sea birds and marine turtles. The South Reef is 6 by 3 kilometers. The pristine coral islands boast extensive lagoons that serve as habitats for marine species, such as whale sharks, sting rays, spiny lobsters, leopard sharks, giant jacks, barracudas, parrot fish, hammerhead sharks, guitar sharks, snappers, lion fish, tortoise, clownfish, grey reef sharks, and manta, a devil ray that’s sometimes seen leaping high out of the water.
Bali’s Mount Agung has begun erupting the past few days, spitting plumes of volcanic debris and ash out of the crater filled with red hot lava. Excitement mixed with fear as the current eruptions raised concern for safety of the people on the Indonesian island known for beautiful beaches, coral reefs and forested mountains.
/// INDONESIA ///
Here are some breathtaking pictures of the latest eruptions posted on Instagram by the people who witnessed them. Click here to see more.
Since 2013, the ASEAN as a whole has attracted upwards of 100 million visitors from across the globe. Slogans appear to have a significant role in motivating the potential tourists and travelers to make a visit. While we have grown familiar with our amazing memorable phrase, other countries have theirs. Let’s see what works across the Region.
/// ASEAN ///
According to the 2016 World Economic Forum report, the ASEAN Region “continues to be one of the most exciting parts of the global economy, having grown by around 5% a year in nearly two decades.”
The WEF report said that about 104 million foreign travelers visited the Region in 2015, while ASEANstats.org, a division under the AEC Department of the ASEAN Secretariat, put the number in excess of 108 million. Of this, nearly 46 million or 42.2 percent were travelers from within the ASEAN membership. Meantime, the Region welcomed about 18 million travelers from China. A forecast indicated the number could top 20 million in 2017.
Slogans appear to have significant impact on the tourism industry. Many countries have seen great success for they provide a glimpse into pretty much everything a destination has to offer, from natural and cultural attractions to food to history and the people. All the good attributes are encapsulated in a single striking phrase.
Since 1998, “Amazing Thailand” has been the short and sweet slogan that worked best for the Kingdom. It contributed to propelling Thailand to the ninth place among the World’s Top 10 International Tourism Destinations in 2016, during which it drew up to 32.6 million foreign visitors.
Besides their tremendous importance for the environment, big trees have great societal value as study sites, tourist attractions, or centers of communities. Come along as Living ASEAN and the BIG TreesProject travels around Thailand to see ten magnificent trees.
/// THAILAND ///
Story: BIG Trees Project /// Photography: Charnpichit Pongtongsumran with BIG Trees Project, Sitthisak Namkham, Pipop Boosarakumwadi, Arisara Jaktreemongkol
– Giant Tree in Uthai Thani –
Circumference: 97 meters (including buttress roots*) Age: 400 years
This giant tualang is on private land in the middle of a forest, but the landlord is happy to let everyone come visit. One side of the tree has the claw marks of a bear trying to knock down a honeybee nest. The Lao villagers here are descendants of settlers brought here two hundred years ago as an outpost in the conflicts with Burma.
*”Buttress roots” reach from branches to the ground to support the tree.
Tualang tree (Koompassia Excelsa Taub)
– Sai Song Nam Kingdom, Klong Sung Nae, or “Little Amazon,” Phang Nga, Thailand –
At Klong Sung Nae fresh water runs into the sea, creating a combined “two waters” (song nam) ecosystem. Rowing along the stream you pass beneath disorderly hanging roots of 200-year-old banyans while traversing a rich natural environment: a grove of 6 remarkable ficus trees, black hornbills, snakes hunting for food . . . if you’re lucky, you’ll see some playful otters jumping and swimming around.
– Giant Monkeypod, Kanchanaburi –
Now a tourist destination in Kanchanaburi Province, this is considered the largest Thai monkeypod (rain tree) on record, taking 10 people to reach all the way around it. The branches extend out to cover a remarkable area of 2,416 square meters. Monkeypods, native to South America, came to Thailand more than 100 years ago, perhaps by Catholic priests bringing them from Saigon. Some, though, say it was an Englishman, first head of the Thai Royal Forest Department, who imported them from Burma, while yet others maintain King Rama the 5th (Chulalongkorn) brought them back from Java, and gave them their Thai name of “kampu.”
– “The Giant,” Chiang Mai –
This arboreal colossus is now a Chiang Mai tourist destination with a coffee shop where you can relax and enjoy the view of the lush green forest. To see The Giant, Chiang Mai you have to drive up a scary, steep, narrow road, but it’s still high on the list of must-see attractions in Chiang Mai’s Mae Kampong District.
– Tree in a Rice Mill Smokestack in the Middle of Bangkok –
Truly unusual and startling! Growing out of a smokestack to spread its branches above an abandoned rice mill, this banyan tree appears to have a rectangular trunk. The smokestack is 2.75 meters wide and the banyan rises 26 meters above the ground. Located in the Rat Burana District, the tree is listed in “Unseen Bangkok.”
– Heart-shaped Bodhi tree, Silpakorn University –
At the front entrance of Silpakorn University’s central library, its door next to the Royal Palace on Bangkok’s Rattanakosin island, stands this gorgeous bodhi tree. Its charming heart-shaped foliage lifts the hearts of all visitors. Silpakorn University, the first Thai university of the arts, was founded by an Italian.
– Giant Tree, Sakon Nakhon –
This tree is within a “don pu ta,” where the spirits of ancestors are said to reside. Local villagers have strong beliefs about this, so trees in that area are not cut down. This giant tree has become the residence of bees, bats, ants, birds, and insects living condominium-like on different levels. But it makes a first-class children’s playground during community merit-making festivals based in this ancestral spirit forest.
These small islands in Southeast Asia may not be world-famous, but they are beautiful paradise each in a special way. Check them out.
/// ASEAN ///
– Koh Kham (Thailand) –
Koh Kham lies just off the coast of Chonburi Province, which is about an hour’s drive east from Bangkok. The small island is an eco-tourism park protected by the Royal Thai Navy. So, everything is well organized while the price is reasonable. Staying overnight is not permitted, but you can enjoy plenty of activities during daylight hours from snorkeling to kayaking to hiking. Views from the vista point perched high atop the hillock are fantastic. For those who love the beach, it’s a good destination for one-day trips not too far from Thailand’s capital.
– Siargao (The Philippines) –
Siargao is well known for the big waves that have attracted many surfers from across the globe. The legendary “Cloud 9,” a jargon for gigantic tubular waves, usually occurs just off the coast from here. The best time of year to enjoy the surfing scene at Siargao is September when the Siargao Cup, an international surfing competition, is held. If surfing is not your cup of tea, beautiful sceneries are aplenty waiting for you to explore.
– Pangkor Laut (Malaysia) –
While visiting the island in 1994, Italian operatic tenor Luciano Pavarotti called it the most beautiful place that he’s ever seen. Nowadays Pangkor Laut is home to five-star resorts and spas frequented by celebrities. Aside from sipping cocktails at the infinity pool and rewarding yourself with a good massage, you can go on sightseeing tours and witness the exotic flora and fauna unique to the island Tropical forest.
– Binh Ba (Vietnam) –
Despite becoming more popular nowadays, Binh Ba remains the same old cozy island known for friendly people and beautiful beaches. The best way to explore Binh Ba is by motorbike. Feel the wind in your hair as you ride to pristine white sand beaches and take a dip in crystal clear water. Binh Ba is also dubbed the “Lobster Island.” So, you can experience authentic Viet seafood cuisine whilst here.
– Bunaken (Indonesia) –
Divers will love Bunaken, a small island that is part of the Bunaken National Marine Park at the northern tip of Sulawesi. It’s one of the most sought-after diving spots in Indonesia that are known for a great diversity of marine life. You can find over 70 different corals and rare fishes that only exist in the Pacific Ocean. Sharks, sea turtles and dugongs, even saltwater crocodiles are occasionally spotted here at Bunaken. Still not satisfied? Dolphin and whale watching trips are available, too.
Planning the journey of a lifetime with your special one? You need look no further than Southeast Asia. Here are the Region’s top nine romantic places to ponder your next move.
/// ASEAN ///
– Pulau Lengkuas, Belitung, Indonesia –
A small islet off the northeastern coast of Belitung Island, Pulau Lengkaus is home to white sand beaches and crystal clear waters. Apart from swimming, exploring pristine coral reefs, and climbing rocks worn smooth by erosion, there isn’t much else to do. That’s what makes the idyllic landscape great fun for couples wanting to spend their time alone, away from crowded beaches and tourists.
Its only landmark is a 12-story-tall lighthouse. Built in 1882, it still performs the function for which it was intended. You can climb to the top holding hands and enjoy fascinating views together.
– Gardens by the Bay, Singapore –
This man-made forest park looks futuristic, but it has got tons of beautiful plants and flowers too, which makes it ideal for taking selfies with your beloved. Gardens by the Bay afford captivating views of the scenery and Singapore skyline, especially from the Skywalk that gets even more romantic by night.
– Sapa Lake, Sapa, Vietnam –
Fascinating attractions abound in the northwestern town of Sapa, but its pride and the most romantic place is the iconic lake and namesake. Here you can chill out while gazing at reflections of the whole town on water. The view is even more picturesque as light fog lingers longingly over the blurred top of the lake.
– Bokeo Nature Reserve, Bokeo, Laos –
If you and your better half are wildlife lovers, Bokeo Nature Reserve is your next romantic destination. The protected forest of deciduous trees and mountainous terrains are home to the black-cheeked gibbon once thought to be extinct. The endangered ape species can only be found at high elevations in Laos, Vietnam, and China.
An ecotourism program known as Gibbon Experience is provided at Bokeo Nature Reserve. Ready for fun? You can stay in one of treetop huts that are interconnected via zip lines, or trek across the terrains to observe the gibbons from under the canopy. All monies paid to the program go towards keeping the nature reserve in good shape as nature intended.
– Banteay Srei, Siem Reap, Cambodia –
Located in the area of Angkor in Cambodia, Banteay Srei is considered one of the most beautiful temples dedicated to Hindu god Shiva. Even the name is prepossessing: Banteay Srei means the “citadel of beauty.” Built in the tenth century, the temple was crafted of sandstones in shades of pink and showcased some of the finest stone carvings. Renowned for beautiful sculptures and intricate design in sweet pinkish hues, Banteay Srei is a must-visit place if you and your sweetheart love the works of art from the ancient past.