Exkursion nach Thailand, März 2017

After a long and detailed preparation for this year’s master excursion, all plans would nearly have been messed up due to strikes at Berlin Tegel airport. Luckily, the extended walkout ended just in time on Wednesday, March 15, early in the morning so that we could depart from the German capital heading - via Zurich - to Thailand’s capital Bangkok on schedule. We, a group of 22 TDS students, accompanied by Prof. Dr. Gronau and Ms. Wallenburger, later additionally joined by a former LTM student with regional knowledge, arrived at our hotel after long hours Thursday noon.

Discovering the many facets of Bangkok

While the first company visit was planned for the afternoon of the same day, this appointment got cancelled and we all got the chance to counter our jetlag by relaxing and a short exploration tour in the afternoon.

Still being dark and cold night in Germany, this Friday in Bangkok became known as probably the hardest day of the whole excursion. Fighting jetlag, Thai food from last night and especially with the hot and humid climate, we got on our business outfits and travelled from our hotel to our first official appointment, a meeting with the German Embassy Bangkok, where Mr. Adam, Third Secretary Economic and Commercial Section, and Ms. Gebauer, Political Counsellor, gave us an interesting general presentation about the political situation in Thailand, German foreign policy and especially the tasks and duties of the German embassy, before patiently answering all our questions. After this, we directly headed to a newly constructed mall both for lunch and discovering the ambitious idea of theming each level according to another metropole. In the afternoon, Mr. Sudi Narasimhan, Corporate Director of Marketing and Business Development, 
welcomed us at the Bumrungrad International Hospital, one of the world’s largest international hospitals according to clients respectively patients from abroad. It was also interesting to learn about our representatives background as Sudi used to work as an aerial engineer before he decided to go into marketing. He introduced us to the general topic of health tourism as a major form of tourism in Thailand, the hospital’s idea and its facilities that looked far more like a luxury hotel than a typical hospital. In the late afternoon the program drastically changed the topic towards sexual exploitation of children and possibilities of companies to face this issue. These serious topics were discussed during an appointment with representatives from the NGO ECPAT and the project The Code.

 

The next day was dedicated to local food and community based development, as it was introduced to us by the award-winning founders of Bangkok Food Tours. Their idea is to get very local and traditional restaurants and curious tourists together by offering them guided tours and taste very different styles of food. With another of their projects, the Smiling tuktuk, they aim on offering tourists tours through vibrant cities the authentic and traditional way by getting around in a tuktuk, without being scammed. Afterwards, we got to try the food tour ourselves and get a first-hand experience of the product.

From overnight trains, Thailand’s wild nature, and different perspectives

After a Sunday off allowing everybody to get their individual cultural experiences, we left our comfortable accommodation and took a night train heading south to Surat Thani, where we got picked up by our local tour guide, Tui, from Andaman Discoveries, the operator responsible for the second half of our field trip. After having breakfast together, we were brought to Khao Sok lake, a huge artificial lake. From the pier, two long tail boats took us to the accommodation of the coming night, some very basic bamboo raft houses. From there, we were taken on a guided jungle trek followed by an evening safari in order to experience authentic wild-life a jungle experience – if only a few less tourist groups were spotted. Nonetheless, it was an amazing and fun experience which continued early the next morning with a morning mist safari. The free hours could be used for swimming in the warm lake water on kayaking, and seeing the sunrise in this natural surrounding – these were memorable moments.

Back from the jungle, we headed to a special kind of (former) orphanage, the Yaowawit-School-Lodge. Instead of just basic caretaking, orphans and children from very difficult backgrounds were raised there, given the chance to get trained in different forms of tourism and hospitality. Aside from their schooling, the kids receive training in topics such as serving, cooking and other hospitality and agriculture related issues. While this school receives a lot of external support, they welcome a lot of interested people and volunteers to participate and support them. By staying in provided facilities, they are accommodated while the kids at the same time can apply their knowledge under real-life conditions. After that, we had a meeting with the team of Andaman Discoveries who are a small but creative team whose main aim is the regional development and involvement into sustainable tourism based on community and self-governance. They presented us their history and motivation as well as their (main) reasons for going for awards – free advertising and networking possibilities.

We spent the upcoming night in a homestay in Ban Talae Nok, where three to five group members were designated to one accommodation. This stay included a dinner at the beach as well as receiving information about the story of the town during a meeting with a community speaker. The Muslim community got hit hard by the devastating tsunami in 2004 and lost members and many of their facilities. For this meeting, we got the chance to experience traditional Muslim clothing as we were dressed by our host families.

Our next stop was the Koh Surin National Park, or more precisely, one of its islands. While we enjoyed the paradise-like beach and snorkeling spots, our focus was not only set on leisure, but also on cultural insights. Therefore, we visited a Moken village, where we met some former sea nomads that were (not fully voluntary) settled on one of the neighboring islands and got some insights about their story and culture. To get a wider perspective, we also had a meeting with a representative from the national park authority who introduced their point of view. With him, we further discussed the conflicts arising when nature protection and preservation collides with tourism.

Back to the crowded areas of mass tourism

Having stayed a night in a tent on the beach, the next overnight-stay finally was a hotel with air-con and flowing water again. Nonetheless, after a breakfast at the local market, we headed towards our last destination, the (among tourists) well-known city Phuket, where we had an appointment with the Tourism Department of the Prince of Songkla University, Dr. Promsivapallop, Deputy Dean for Academic and International Affairs, as well as Mr. Gallagher. After an introduction to their university which is one of the best-ranked in Asia, we also got in insight into their different facilities. Not only do they provide a show kitchen and a restaurant, where tastings take place, but also a partly rebuild plane for on and off board training. Further, an interesting discussion about their points of view of the effects of (mass) tourism in the area provided us as well as tourism students from Prince of Songkla University with a lot of information.

In order to cope with all the input, both study related as well as cultural, the last day of the trip was a day off in Phuket, offering the students the possibility to discover the beauty of Thailand’s nature by visiting one of the many beaches or the well-known James Bond Island, by overserving the visible impacts of tourism around Patong and Karon Beach.

While some of us traveled back home the next morning, others have taken the opportunity to expand their stay in Thailand.

Maximilian Felkel

TDS master’s student