Thailand Weekly Vol. 22

Thailand news and stories delivered free every Sunday 🇹🇭

Good morning or good evening depending on where in the world you may be. An interesting week here in the world of Thailand news. Some confusing movements in the weed space, some exciting news in the transportation world, and an ‘Only in Thailand’ story that caught me by surprise. I also share a really fun day trip recommendation here in the big city of Bangkok. More on each of these below!

The Messy World Of Cannabis Decriminalization

Thailand’s public Health Minister, Anutin Charnvirakul is holding firm on the decision made last month to decriminalize cannabis despite mounting pressure for the move the be retracted. More than 850 doctors around the country want to see this decision reversed unless clear measures are put in place to prevent youth from abusing the substance. Decriminalization has proven to be a bit of a roller coaster thus far with it first being legal with no restrictions, then being banned for government and military officials, followed by a statement saying that the decriminalization was never meant to encourage recreational use, and now, recent calls to ban marijuana cigarettes, otherwise known as joints. If it wasn’t already confusing enough, the Ministry of Public Health recently submitted a proposal to the Royal Thai Police asking them to take legal action against those that fail to obtain the proper permits relating to the use of cannabis. This request was then retracted as it was rife with inconsistencies and left the police chiefs around the country confused as to how they should or shouldn’t be enforcing this new decriminalization act.

Mr. Anutin’s latest statement on the matter is that “we cannot step back and make cannabis an illegal drug again. The plant is useful as a form of medical treatment and will benefit the economy. We have come too far to turn back now.”

Much of the backlash against the decriminalization comes from reports of both younger and older Thais checking themselves into the hospital after using the substance.

Our Take

You know, one of the more interesting sides to living in Thailand (and I’d imagine in many parts of Asia as a whole) is the fact that it feels like the ‘ground moves beneath your feet’. By this, I’m referring to overall pace of change compared to many countries in the western world. When high-level decisions are made, the end results seem to come fast. In many ways, it feels like this part of the world is able to take quantum leaps because of a lack of pre-existing infrastructure. A perfect example is something as basic as peer-to-peer payments. In Canada and the US, it went from paying people with cash, to swiping your credit card, to tapping your credit card, to paying with your phone’s digital wallet. In Thailand, it quickly went from most locals paying with cash, all the way to most locals using their phones to scan QR codes and pay that way. A bit of a quantum leap if that makes sense. They skipped the incremental improvements and went straight to the forefront.

The reason I’m bringing this up is because it feels like that’s where we’re at in the cannabis space. It went from being fully illegal on June 8th, to hundreds of dispensaries legally selling it on June 9th. Taking big steps like this has all sorts of positives, but one of the negatives is that there’s clearly an initial period of uncertainty, confusion, doubt, etc. before it really gets sorted out and becomes a concrete institution. My hope is that Thailand doesn’t go back to a world where marijuana is fully illegal. I don’t think they will. I do however think that there will be some back and forth in the foreseeable future as this specific law change gets ironed out. I wouldn’t be surprised if the government went fully down the medical path (with the right rules in place to actually enforce this), but let’s see how it pans out.

New Luxury Rail Car In The Works

Engineers at a Bangkok Technology Institute are working on a luxury 25-seat rail car prototype that should be in service with the State Railway of Thailand by the end of 2023. The project is backed by 32 million baht (USD $880K) in funding, and is part of the Transport Ministry’s mission to include homegrown hardware into Thailand’s transit network.

The railway car will have eight ‘super luxury’ seats that are equivalent to what you would experience flying first class, and 17 ‘luxury’ seats which are similar to flying business class. The carriage will also be tricked out with all of the bells and whistles that you’d expect from a high-end flying experience. Almost half of the materials used in the prototype are locally sourced, which makes it 30% cheaper than an imported one.

Our Take

This seems pretty cool to me. I’m a big fan of travelling by rail in Europe, and although Thailand is FAR from that, it’s definitely the direction that the country is headed. For more info on that, check out Volume 15 of the Thailand Weekly where we highlighted the Sino-Thai high-speed rail project that is currently being built. Between these ambitions and this new prototype car, I think rail travel over here has the potential to be greatly improved over the next 5 to 10 years. As things currently stand, I probably wouldn’t consider taking the train from Bangkok to Hua Hin from for example. Especially if I’m travelling with friends, etc. It’s just easier and more comfortable renting a car. Having said that, if this luxurious prototype carriage ends up in service, then I’d probably lean towards that instead. Especially for trips in the 4-6 hour range. What a fun way that would be to travel. You could take the beauty of the countryside in total comfort and not have to worry about car rentals, traffic, etc. It’s almost like the journey to and from your final destination becomes part of the fun in that world as opposed to something that you’re only doing for transportation sake.

Thailand Travel Tip

This week’s Thailand Travel Tip isn’t a specific service, restaurant, etc. we’re recommending, but instead a super fun day-trip you should consider next time you’re in Bangkok. This past weekend, I spent a half-day exploring the city’s ‘Green Lung’, which is officially named Bang Krachao. Just a 15-minute taxi ride south of Sukhumvit Road in Central Bangkok, followed by 10 baht longtail boat trip that takes no longer than 3-minutes, it’s a super cool nature area that makes you feel like you’re on an Island forgotten by time. With rustic wooden houses, jungle areas, thousands of coconut trees, temples, and all sorts of funky little restaurants and cafés, it’s hard to believe that you’re still in a city of more than 10 million people. It feels more like rural Thailand. Most people think Lumphini Park or Benjakitti Park are the best green spaces, but this place is on a totally different level given that it’s 6KM from top to bottom of pure nature. Just get a cab to Wat Khlong Toei Tok Pier, pay 10 baht (USD $0.28) for the short longtail ride, and then rent a bicycle on arrival (80 baht per day) from the local Thai business that’s stationed themselves directly at the arrival pier. I think they’re called M-BIKE? Anyways, it’s such a fun area to cycle around and explore for an afternoon. I highly recommend it next time you’re in town.

130 Tonnes Of Imported Garbage Headed Back To Australia

Many foreigners living or travelling through Thailand are sad, frustrated and shocked when they see locals dumping garbage on the side of the road, but this past week there was a far larger culprit when it came to illegal dumping. The Department of Customs and the Department of Pollution Control caught an Australian firm that shipped 130 tonnes of illegal waste to the Kingdom from Australia. Authorities stopped and searched through five shipping containers that were supposed to be filled with paper waste for re-processing, but were instead met with raw waste material, a third of which was household garbage (food packaging, used masks, medicine packaging, etc.).

The Department of Pollution Control Chief says that “we will ask the company to send the shipment back to Australia and the Department of Customs will take legal action against the company. The department will also work with the Department of Foreign Trade to issue a warning letter to the company, making it clear the country has no policy to accept any household waste.”

Our Take

This is one of those frustrating stories that I don’t like to see. For the longest time, wealthier countries have shipped much of their garbage to developing countries to be processed. Many places in Southeast Asia have now started to push back against this and send contaminated trash back to the richer counterparts they came from. Tired of acting as the world’s dumping grounds, the pushback comes as containers of garbage accumulate on the shores of nations like Malaysia, Thailand and the Philippines, which are worried that the environmental costs are greater than the income they bring in from importing and processing the waste. There was actually a big dispute between Canada and The Philippines about this that lasted over 6 years, and this isn’t an isolated situation. In 2021, Malaysia sent back over 300 containers of plastic waste to the US, UK, France, and Canada. Vietnam sent back over 500 containers in 2019. Point is, this is one of the most beautiful, diverse areas in the world. To see companies try to skirt around stricter laws in place is pretty disappointing. I’m happy Thailand is sending these 130 tonnes back and will follow up with legal action.

Only In Thailand 🇹🇭

Elderly influencers? Thai grandmothers posting on Tik Tok? In what sounds like a silly idea at the start, a government agency has started a program to help Thailand’s older citizens use the internet to turn their passions into profit. The scheme is specifically aimed at older people that have unique skills worth sharing with a younger demographic. For example, farmers may have knowledge about how to grow food, but if that information isn’t on social media, it’s pretty much inaccessible to anyone under 30. The program has opened up to 50 people to start, and teaches technical skills like shooting, editing, and publishing videos. This is one of those things that I thought was silly when reading the headline, but after reading further, I actually think is a unique concept. One man from Central Thailand is an early success story. He was one of the first people to enrol in the program and is now sharing videos about tree planting on Facebook. The videos have over 8000 views a few months in. I hope they succeed with it! Only in Thailand 🇹🇭

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