Memos from Asia

The Post COVID World: How the Virus is Affecting Life in Thailand

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Bangkok, Thailand – Mar 2020: Crowd of business people wearing a surgical mask to prevent coronavirus Outbreak in rush hour working day on March 18, 2020, at Bangkok transportation

In April 2020, Thailand closed its borders for foreign tourism. It brought a series of upheavals and changes, from wildlife returning to some areas due to the lack of human disturbances to thousands of stranded tourists looking to be repatriated. This is how Covid-19 has affected the Kingdom.

Since businesses have closed, human activities have reduced, including less motor and sea traffic.

Several marine animals such as dolphins, sharks, and turtles have taken advantage of this “tourist slump” and returned to areas previously inhabited by them, to search for food. Rare sea turtles and other creatures have been spotted frolicking and enjoying quiet beaches, without noise or boats disturbing them.

On Phi Phi Island’s Maya Beach, made famous by the Leonardo DiCaprio movie “The Beach,” environmental rangers sighted a shiver of blacktip sharks in its shallow waters. Marine biologists have regretfully confessed that this is only temporary until tourism picks up again, and the area becomes inundated with motorboats and people. (Skift, https://skift.com/2020/04/25/threatened-wildlife-makes-a-comeback-to-thailands-waters-amid-tourist-drought/)

Bangkok, Thailand-February 29, 2020: Crowd gathering at Thailand’s student flash mob on politics. University students, high school students, and people join the pro-democracy protest at Kasetsart University in Bangkok. They sit and stand in front of the university’s main auditorium.

Environmental hazard

On the downside, the quarantine imposed to protect the local population may lead to more plastic ending up in the ocean and harming these graceful creatures further. In addition to this, possible budget cuts could see fewer resources spent on the protection of the environment, which in turn could be disastrous for many species of marine life.

The endangered dugong, which is similar to a manatee, has also made a welcome return to Thai shores. The species is currently on the endangered list, and the population around Thai waters is said to be around 250 only. Environmentalists hope that with less boat traffic, these endangered creatures can be left to play peacefully and perhaps the threatened population can expand. (Afar, https://www.afar.com/magazine/threatened-dugongs-return-to-thailands-tourist-free-waters)

Dugong (sea cow) eating sea grass at the bottom.

Planet of the Apes

Street monkeys in the city of Lopburi in Thailand

Although an expanding animal population is not always a good thing, an ancient monument in the district of Lopburi in central Thailand, is currently being overrun by macaque monkeys (The Independent, https://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/thailand-monkeys-macaques-lopburi-a9659931.html).

Held in reverence by the Buddhist community and attracting hoards of tourists who delight in seeing them among the ancient ruins. In recent years the population of monkeys has grown exponentially with local residents feeding the troops coconut yogurt, strawberry soda, and other treats. With the population being mostly Buddhists, who endorse the acts of feeding the monkeys, more and more of the marsupials are inclined to invade the town.

lopburi temple

Due to the travel ban, what was once a tourist hotspot resplendent with temples and architecture from another era is now a ghost town overrun with the monkey population that inhabited one of the temples. These curious creatures are now looking for food sources, once so easily available from passing tourists.

Shop owners in the town have cursed the monkeys for their aggressive behavior towards the local people and menacing antics as they harass locals and other small animals that live in the town. The population has gotten out of control however, it goes against Buddhist beliefs to harm any living creature; therefore culling the over-populated monkey inhabitants is not an option. There is no easy solution to this problem, but it can only be hoped that when the tourists return to the city, the aggressive macaques will be appeased.

Stranded in Paradise

Angthong national marine park, Koh Samui, Suratthani, Thailand. Asia.

Meanwhile, over 10000 foreign tourists were left stranded after the country closed its borders to international travel in April (Bangkok Post, https://www.bangkokpost.com/thailand/general/1905335/10-000-tourists-from-abroad-stranded-in-paradise).

On the tropical paradise that is Koh Samui, a favorite among holidaymakers, 5700 tourists were looking for flights to leave the island. Although there could be worse places to be stuck, mounting accommodation bills weigh heavily on the minds of travelers who budgeted for only a week and have been left in some areas for over a month.

In one instance, a volunteer from the United Kingdom was trapped on a remote island for two months with scarce food parcels, supplies, and limited resources (The Independent, https://www.independent.co.uk/life-style/coronavirus-myanmar-island-stranded-natalie-poole-lockdown-a9517956.html). Although government agencies have been working to repatriate the stranded travelers or at least arrange accommodation until such time as they could be repatriated, the situation is less than ideal for those desperate to return home.

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