Thai Immigration Bureau increases staffing at Bangkok airports

Thai Immigration Bureau increases staffing at Bangkok airports

The Immigration Department of Thailand has draughted in 200 extra officers to help out at Bangkok’s two airports. A department spokesperson says the additional officers should help cut queuing times for passengers at Don Mueang Airport and Suvarnabhumi Airport.

Complaints about long lines of passengers queuing in Departures and Arrivals halls in both airports have been posted up on social media over the past couple of weeks. At Don Mueang the weekend before last, arriving passengers claimed they had to queue for over four hours before immigration officers stamped their passports.

Immigration Bureau commander Sitthichai Lokanpai inspected the newly manned checkpoint desks at Don Mueang on Saturday. According to media sources in Bangkok, he told the officers it was just as important to smile and be pleasant as it was to process passengers.

Don Mueang and Suvarnabhumi are the two busiest airports in Thailand. They jointly deal with an average of 80 million passengers annually. 12GO ASIA notes that long queues at the airports are expected to be a short-term issue as the Immigration Bureau has already announced a recruitment drive.


Rail ink opens and connects two Bangkok urban train lines

Rail ink opens and connects two Bangkok urban train lines

Thailand’s prime-minister presided over ceremonies to open a rail line in Bangkok which has been dubbed the missing link. Prayut Chan-o-cha looked on as the first official service connecting the city’s elevated Purple Line and the underground Blue Line departed from Taopoon Station.

The one-kilometre MRT Blue Line extension from Bang Sue to Taopoon rectifies a planning oversight which left commuters with the only option of shuttle buses when transferring between the two train services. The Blue Line originally opened in 2004 and the Purple Line last August.

When the inconvenience of not being able to seamlessly transfer between the two lines became obvious, prime-minister Prayut Chan-o-cha invoked special powers to get it built. Under the auspices of Section 44, the construction process got a kickstart and was completed in just five months.

12GO ASIA notes that travellers are now able to travel all the way from Bangkok’s intercity rail terminus, Hua Lamphong Station, to Nonthaburi Province with one change and in air-conditioned comfort. Purple Line trains terminate at Bang Yai Station and the total distance is 44kms.

The International Rail Journal supplied our image of the Blue Line extension opening day.


Pattaya Khao Kheow Zoo opens new Asian forest zone

Pattaya Khao Kheow Zoo opens new Asian forest zone

Pattaya’s Khao Kheow Open Zoo has just inaugurated a brand new attraction zone. The Forest of Asia brings the woodlands and creatures of Asia together into one exciting and educational precinct.

The forest is a fusion of rainforest, evergreen and deciduous trees and indigenous wildflowers. Creatures such as Siamese fireback pheasants, Malayan false gharial crocodiles, tapirs and black giant squirrels, also from Malaysia, can be spotted roaming through the new zone. 

Benchapol Nakprasert is the Thailand Zoological Park Organization’s director. Inaugurating Forest of Asia, he said the zone should help the general public realise the importance of conserving wildlife and the planet’s unique natural environment.

He added that the zoo was a shining example of a care facility dedicated to the wellbeing of its animals and showcasing them for visitors. 12GO ASIA says Khao Kheow Zoo is one of the premier attractions for people holidaying in Pattaya and Jomtien and a tour option offered by many travel operators in the resorts.


Thailand celebrates birthday of Queen Sirikit with public rites

Thailand celebrates birthday of Queen Sirikit with public rites

Tomorrow is the 85th birthday of Thailand’s Queen Sirikit. Several ceremonies have been scheduled to take place on the Royal Plaza outside Dusit Palace so that Thais are able to pay homage to the queen.

The first event of the day is scheduled to take place at 07:00.  A parade of 851 monks will arrive at the plaza to receive merit-making alms. After this ceremony, the queen herself will be honoured with royal presents. In the evening, Dusit Plaza is the venue for a candlelight rite. Various concerts and traditional cultural performances have been scheduled too.

The 12 August was designated as national Mother’s Day in the 1970s in honour of the queen. Mother’s Day is a public holiday and, as it falls on a Saturday this year, the substitute day is on Monday.

The main branches of banks and government offices will be closed on Monday. The day is not a religious holiday and so bars, clubs and other premises licensed to sell alcohol should be open as normal.

12GO ASIA says the public holiday on Monday effectively gives Thailand a long weekend. The team carried on by saying Bangkok’s bus stations, airports and Hua Lamphong rail station are already crowded with travellers heading to destinations around the country. Booking tickets in advance ensures guaranteed seats. 


Revamp of Bangkok city bus routes begins in two weeks

Revamp of Bangkok city bus routes begins in two weeks

Thailand’s Land Transport Department has announced trials on a long-term programme which will see Bangkok’s bus routes revamped and simplified. The month-long trial runs will begin on the 25 August and will see eight routes inaugurated.

Department director Sanit Promwong told reporters the new routes have been created from existing ones but have been adapted so they are fit for purpose. The plan for the next two years is to launch a total of 269 routes with buses serving each zone of the city colour coded and numbered for ease of recognition.

The four colours are blue, green, red and yellow. This colour code will be included in the route number. The letters B, G, R and Y in English script will designate the zone and precede the next three digits of the route number.

Mr Promwong explained that the new bus routes would run alongside old ones during the transition period. He noted that this would help commuters and tourists get used to the changes.  

12GO ASIA’s resident travel gurus in Bangkok say the city’s bus network is comprehensive and covers every imaginable location. Fares are also generally cheaper than for the Skytrain and the Metro for comparable distances. The image of the new bus was supplied by Thai PBS.


Don Mueang Airport blames long immigration queues on lack of staff

Don Mueang Airport blames long immigration queues on lack of staff

The manager of Bangkok’s Don Mueang Airport has blamed ever growing queues at immigration on a lack of staff. Responding to massive online criticism of the queues at the city’s second airport, Suthirawat Suwannawat said immigration could only handle a maximum of 1,000 arriving passengers an hour.

The manager said the fact passengers had to queue for more than four hours last Friday evening was down to the fact delayed flights had arrived at the same time as scheduled ones. He explained that immigration officers then had to process passengers from 25 flights.

For its part, the Immigration Bureau said unmanned booths at Don Mueang were because a recruitment campaign to hire more officers had failed. Airports of Thailand says it will expand international arrivals at Don Mueang Airport so it can handle 1,800 passengers an hour, but more officers will still be needed to man the desks.

12GO ASIA notes that departing from Don Mueang Airport is also taking a little longer at present. For this reason, passengers with reservations for flights departing from the airport should allow themselves a little extra time to clear immigration.


AirAsia Kuala Lumpur to Hua Hin flights inch nearer to reality

AirAsia Kuala Lumpur to Hua Hin flights inch nearer to reality

Media sources in Hua Hin say direct flights from Kula Lumpur are likely to launch before the end of 2017. Additional meetings between AirAsia and Hua Hin Airport representatives have taken place regarding an initial proposal to start up a once daily service in each direction.

AirAsia has previously stated the plan is to use Airbus A320s configured for 180 passengers to serve the route. The main sticking point to the launch of the route so far is believed to have been AirAsia’s stipulation that aircraft landing and service facility rental fees are waived for the initial period of operations. 

At present, although it is not on any airline’s current timetables, Hua Hin Airport has no immigration or customs checkpoints for international passengers. These would also have to be set up before any flights from Malaysia are able to land. 

12GO ASIA says that according to local media, AirAsia has long-term plans for Hua Hin Airport. The budget airline could use Hua Hin as a hub for flights to Krabi, Phuket and destinations farther afield.

12GO notes this would make sound business sense as the closest airports to Hua Hin are at least 200kms away. Bangkok’s Don Mueang Airport and Suvarnabhumi Airport are the nearest, but at least three hours by road, while Chumphon Airport is closer to the 300km mark.


Krabi national park rangers post red flags at Nopparat Thara beach

Krabi national park rangers post red flags at Nopparat Thara beach

Rangers in charge of Krabi’s Nopparat Thara Beach yesterday put up red flags warning beachgoers not to go swimming. The chief ranger at Nopparat Thara-Phi Phi National Park said he has instructed his team to allow swimming in specially delineated safe zones only.

Woraphit Lomlim carried on by saying that when the weather or sea turned rough he had given rangers carte blanche to ban swimming altogether. He explained that even when swimming in safe zones during calmer weather it was better to put on a life-jacket first.

Ranger Lomlim also noted that heavy seas expected to last until the weekend are dangerous for small boats. He warned tour operators to keep this in mind when operating excursions to Nopparat Thara, the islands of Koh Phi Phi or any other location in the vicinity.

12GO ASIA says the Andaman Regional Meteorological Centre has issued an alert saying waves topping the three-meter mark are expected to batter the coast over the next few days. The adverse sea conditions and weather are being driven by the southwest monsoon.


Ancient statue unearthed at Cambodia Angkor Wat temples

Ancient statue unearthed at Cambodia Angkor Wat temples

A team of archaeologists working at the Angkor Archaeological Park have found a beautifully preserved statue. Apsara Authority manages the park and released a bulletin last week saying the almost two-metre antique is believed to be up to 900 years old.

The press release stated that Apsara’s archaeologists in collaboration with the Southeast Asian Studies Institute from Singapore had dug up the statue at a site in the complex. They say the statue represents a guardian spirit for an ancient Khmer hospital and is the largest unearthed since a major find here six years ago.

The artefact was buried half-a-meter deep in the ground in the Angkor Thom zone of the park. When the statue has been cleaned up, Apsara says it will be added to the collections housed in the Angkor National Museum. The museum is a few kilometres south of Angkor Wat and on the outskirts of Siem Reap.

12GO ASIA explains that the Angkor temples date from the Angkor Empire of a millennium ago and are modern day Cambodia’s greatest historical attraction. 12GO ASIA sells bus and train tickets to Siem Reap from Phnom Penh, Sihanoukville, Singapore, Kuala Lumpur and Bangkok. Our image comes with courtesy of Apsara Authority.


Chiang Mai weighs up two options for new urban rail system

Chiang Mai weighs up two options for new urban rail system

The relevant agencies in Chiang Mai have staged a final public debate on the best choice for an urban rail system. Representatives from the national Office of Transport and Traffic Policy (OTP) presided over the meeting which weighed up the pros and cons of underground or overground lines.

The OTP says these are the two main options for a rail system which will link Chiang Mai Old City to its other inner districts. Overground is cheaper and will be up and running a lot quicker than underground.

Meeting attendees were told overground trains will have a maximum speed of 20kph and will be subject to the same traffic restrictions as other road vehicles. On the plus side, the estimated cost of launching this system is THB30,000 million and a launch date three years after it breaks ground.

12GO ASIA says underground is always going to be more expensive and take longer to build. In the case of Chiang Mai, underground comes with a price tag three times as high and an estimated completion time of six years from start to finish.

The benefit of underground is top speeds of 35kph and no traffic lights or traffic jams. Once the OTP committee has taken into account the different opinions expressed at the meeting it will submit a final proposal to the Thai government.


Website flightstats says no delays at Bangkok airports

Website flightstats says no delays at Bangkok airports

Global air travel website flightstats.com claims Bangkok’s two airports are among the top ten in the Asia Pacific region for punctual flights. Flightstats analysts based the findings on flight arrivals and departures in June for airports in the region.

Bangkok budget airline hub Don Mueang Airport came fourth in the table while Suvarnabhumi Airport, the principle international gateway to Thailand, was tenth. Flightstats noted that Don Mueang handled 10,000 flights and Suvarnabhumi 4,000 more. 

Commenting on the results of the data analysis, an Airports of Thailand representative said they were a testament to the high service standards at both airports. The statement added that the same standards would be applied to the six national airports under its control.  

12GO ASIA says Airports of Thailand is the national agency with jurisdiction over publicly owned international airports in the country. The other four airports the authority operates are Chiang Mai, Chiang Rai, Phuket and Hat Yai.


Revamp of Yangon commuter rail service to kick off in two months

Revamp of Yangon commuter rail service to kick off in two months

A senior official with Myanmar Railways has confirmed major upgrades are set to take place on the Yangon Circular Railway. Manager Zaw Lwin told media sources in the nation’s former capital city that the first phase will start in October.

The first phase is scheduled for completion in May next year and will see the eastern part of the loop route restored in two different stages. Upgrades on the western half will start in October 2019 and finish at an as yet unspecified date.

Upgrades right across the board include automation of signals, the installation of central control systems for road level crossings and access gates at four stations. These stations are Kemmendine, Insein, Danyingone and Mingladon. Apart from Yangon Central, these are the busier ones out of the 38 stations on the 45km circle line.

Ticket sales will also be computerised for convenience while 66 new and modern carriages for trains are on order.  Japan is chipping in MMK280 billion to help out with the refurbishment of the train service originally built during British colonial rule.

12GO ASIA’s travel gurus say riding the Yangon Circular Railway is a quintessential Myanmar experience. The journey takes in districts of the city not typically on the mainstream tourism trail.


Rain triggers floods on southern Thailand peninsula

Rain triggers floods on southern Thailand peninsula

Torrential rain has caused extensive flooding in a few areas of the southern peninsula region of Thailand. Provincial authorities in Suratthani, Phang Nga, Krabi and Satun all reported submerged roads and flooded residential areas over the weekend.

The river feeding Tarnboke Koranee Waterfall is almost a deluge. Tarnboke Koranee National Park officials have barred access to the falls for the time being. In the Takua Pa District of Khao Lak, flooding was exacerbated by the high tide and closed the main through road.

It was a similar story in Phang Nga and local authorities were forced to bring in heavy plant equipment to repair and reopen the mountain access road at Khao Sok. One of the through routes between Phang Nga and Suratthani collapsed and engineers were still debating yesterday whether to build a temporary bridge.

12GO ASIA notes that Thailand is in the middle of the annual monsoon season. Although it can rain for a few days at a time, any flooding usually drains off pretty quickly once it does stop raining.


Hanoi to Ho Chi Minh trip labelled one of premier Asian rail journeys

Hanoi to Ho Chi Minh trip labelled one of premier Asian rail journeys

The rail ride between Hanoi to Ho Chi Minh has been labelled one of the finest in Asia by a prestigious Hong Kong magazine. The South China Post Magazine says the journey between the two Vietnamese cities offers stunning mountain and sea views and comes with a whole host of interesting stops en route.

The 1,700km journey takes in imperial Hue, the wonderful beaches of Da Nang and Nha Trang, and Hoi An and its plethora of historic sights and monuments. The Post says taking the train also does away with the need of listening to hectoring airport officials saying you have too many liquids, take off your belt and shoes and put your laptop in the tray.

The article quoted TS Eliot and his immortal line that the journey is more important than the arrival. Another two Southeast Asian rail journeys featured in the Post’s top seven.

The first was the luxury Eastern & Oriental Express trip from Singapore to the Thai capital of Bangkok. The other is the ride between Pyin Oo Lwin and Hsipaw in Myanmar. Pyin Oo Lwin is 80kms from Mandalay.

12GO ASIA notes that although it doesn’t provide reservations services for the Eastern & Oriental Express train, there are plenty of other options for the same route. The Hanoi-Ho Chi Minh Reunification Train is one of the most popular online bookings.


Bagan Archaeological Zone builds new sunrise viewpoint

Bagan Archaeological Zone builds new sunrise viewpoint

Local administrators at Myanmar’s Bagan Archaeological Zone say a new view platform will be opened later in August. Spokesperson Soe Tint said Nyaung Lat Phat Kan viewpoint is on top of a hill and can accommodate up to 1,000 people at a time.

He continued by saying it would provide visitors with commanding views of sunrises and sunsets over the centuries old temples and pagodas. The new viewing location is on the east side of the park and fairly close to the landmark Sulamani Pagoda.

There are vehicle parking spaces near the hill and walkways lead up to the 120-metre long platform. Nyaung Lat Phat Kan is the third of five planned viewpoints for Bagan. The temples are being built to provide an alternative option to climbing the temples to see the sunrises and sunsets. 

Bagan Archaeological Zone is one of Myanmar’s top tourism draws. Since Myanmar emerged from years of isolation, increasing numbers of tourists have been making their way to Bagan. Catching a sunrise or sunset from the higher vantage point of one of the historic structures is almost a rite of passage.

The downside is the temples are getting damaged. The problem was exacerbated last August when an earthquake struck Bagan. Around 400 of the surviving 2,000 structures were damaged. 
 
Getting here is easy when you choose 12GO ASIA. We provide advance bookings for trains and buses from Mandalay and Yangon to Bagan as well as flights to Mandalay from the likes of Bangkok, Chiang Mai and Singapore.


Jetstar Asia to fly new Hat Yai to Singapore route

Jetstar Asia to fly new Hat Yai to Singapore route

In a just released news bulletin, Jetstar Asia says it will be launching a new route between Singapore and southern Thailand. The route will take off on 3 November 2017 and will link the low-cost carrier’s home base with the Thai city of Hat Yai

The flights will operate four times weekly in each direction. Bara Pasupathi is Jetstar Asia’s CEO and he says flight times are only 1 hour 40 minutes and will provide convenience for travellers. The airline will utilise Airbus A320s configured for 180 passengers to serve the route.  

Hat Yai is a traditional destination for holidaymakers from Malaysia, Singapore and northern Indonesia. It attracts with great shopping and dining and as a base for trips to beaches in the south.

Travel industry insiders say the Singapore-Hat Yai route will help counteract the tightening up of entry restrictions for Thailand. Foreign nationals who enter Thailand at land border checkpoints on visa waivers can now only do so twice a year.

12GO ASIA notes that there is no such restriction on entry to Thailand when entering by air. Under new regulations introduced late last year, overseas visitors can fly to Thailand and use visa exempt entry as many times as they like.


Myanmar Indawgyi Lake gains UNESCO biosphere status

Myanmar Indawgyi Lake gains UNESCO biosphere status

Myanmar’s Indawgyi Lake was recently added to the prestigious UNESCO listings of biosphere reserves. Confirming the new designation, a UNESCO statement said the Kachin State lake was almost unpolluted and home to a diverse species of marine life.

Wildlife specialists have logged more than 90 species of fish in the waters of Indawgyi and a number of these are unique to the lake. Indawgyi also supports several genres of turtle including ones on the list of endangered creatures.

The lake attracts diverse bird species, 160 at the last count, and is a stopover on migratory cycles for some species. Wildlife found on dry land in the lakeside areas includes gaurs, Asiatic black bears and gibbons.

Ethnic Kachin and Shan people live within the boundaries of the newly designated biosphere reserve. Most of them fish and grow rice for a living. The UNESCO statement noted that the rice farmers did not at present use any pesticides and this was a major factor as to why the water in Indawgyi Lake was still clean.

Shwe Myitzu Pagoda is the best known landmark at the lake and is actually built on a small island. 12GO ASIA’s travel gurus say Indawgyi is 400kms north of Mandalay and around 150kms from Myitkyina. 12GO ASIA offers ticketing services for Myanmar National Airlines flights between the two cities.


Floodwaters recede, Sakhon Nakhon Airport reopens

Floodwaters recede, Sakhon Nakhon Airport reopens

Local authorities in Sakhon Nakhon say floodwaters have receded in some districts and the provincial airport has reopened. Floods up to 40 centimetres deep closed the runway and taxiways at the Northeast Thailand Airport on Friday.

The head of the Department of Airports announced the reopening of the airport late on Monday and said the runways had passed inspections. The first flight to land at Sakhon Nakhon was a Thai AirAsia service from Bangkok Don Mueang Airport on Tuesday morning.

Floodwaters in five Sakhon Nakhon districts have receded but another ten are still flooded. Municipal workers have been trying to divert excess water into Nong Han Lake. Workers and officials have also been taking part in a cleanup campaign to clear roads covered in debris and sludge left by the retreating waters.
 
Even the Thai army has been lending a helping hand and has been utilising helicopters to assist residents in areas still under water. 12GO ASIA notes that Sakhon Nakhon and Nakhon Phanom airports are only 85kms apart and the latter is an alternate option for travellers heading over to this part of Thailand.


Inaugural river ferry service to launch in Ho Chi Minh City

Inaugural river ferry service to launch in Ho Chi Minh City

The operator of a new river ferry service in Ho Chi Minh City has confirmed it will make its maiden voyage later this month. The plans have been in the pipeline for eight years but will finally come to fruition when the debut ferry sails from Bach Dang Pier.

The initial route is almost 11kms long and will terminate at Linh Dong in the district of Thu Duc. The route will take passengers along the Saigon River as well as a short stretch of the Thanh Da Canal.

The river ferry is being launched to help alleviate rapidly worsening traffic conditions in Vietnam’s second city. Primarily aimed at commuters, the service will also offer tourists an alternate means of getting around. 

Thuong Nhat Company is behind the launch of the river ferries. Director Nguyen Kim Toan says the ferries will run to fixed timetables to attract passengers. He added that the ferries would stop at seven piers en route and the journey time from end station to end station would be 21 minutes.

Thuong Nhat has already agreed fares with Ho Chi Minh’s transport division. Single journeys for the first year of operation will be VND15,000. 12GO ASIA notes that this works out to only US$0.70 and is a cheap means of seeing some of the city’s sights.


Marine specialists mass release turtles from Koh Thalu Island

Marine specialists mass release turtles from Koh Thalu Island

Late last week, the Siam Marine Rehabilitation Foundation supervised the mass release of a bale of turtles into the Gulf of Thailand. The release took place at Koh Thalu Island and saw 65 hawksbill turtles dispatched into their natural environment.

The hawksbills were all about one year old and had been reared by Siam Marine biologists. Foundation deputy-director Pornchai Juthamas said the team had implanted microchips into the creatures so they could monitor their migratory cycles and when they came back to beaches in the locality to lay their eggs.  

According to the Nation, pupils and teachers from Bang Saphan schools actually released the turtles from the main beach at Koh Thalu. Marine researchers say hawksbill turtles are less common in the Gulf of Thailand than green turtles. On the opposite side of the southern Thai peninsula, the Andaman Sea has far greater numbers of hawksbills.

The 12GO ASIA travel team notes that Koh Thalu is one of the most popular tourism destinations for people holidaying in Bang Saphan, Prachuap Khiri Khan, Hua Hin and Cha Am. The sea around the island is clear and eminently suited to swimming, snorkelling and diving.