Andaman Discoveries Blog

Friday, January 29, 2010


Andaman Island Adventure

The islands were beautiful...

On Saturday we took a longtail boat out to a series of islands west of the Andaman Coast. This wee island you see above was the first we passed. Little did I know that it would be the beacon of our fate that night...

We reached a small deserted beach in the afternoon and spent the day relaxing. Shell hunting, swimming, and swimming some more. This was a view to the island to the east of us. I cannot explain how beautiful it all was.

At dusk, we headed to the other side of the island to catch the most beautiful sunset over the neighboring island. You could see across this channel to an island that was hard-hit by the tsunami, knocking out an entire portion of mountain as the wall of water washed through the Andaman Sea in 2004.

After the sun went down, we started a bonfire and watched the stars slowly appear. We took a nap until the tide came in, and then headed back to the mainland around midnight. This is the crew to the left: Bodhi, Bow, and Erik.

+me. Very happy.

Unfortunately, we were about half-way home and the rutter broker. Even more unfortunately, all of Bow's friends and family were out fishing for the night, so there were no rescue possibilities. We got stuck next to what I think is Phayam Island, swaying with the swells all night. Fortunately, there was no moon and the most amazing view of the milky way. I tried to lie down in the boat and catch some sleep, but the thought that I would miss the most amazing stars kept me half-awake. At first light, we saw a friendly boat who towed us into the dock.

To finish off our adventure, I slipped on the ladder getting out of the boat, landing square on my wrist. By chance, Bow's mom had the most amazing concocktion to fix my wrist. Her "local herbs" made my bruise disappear before my eyes. As you can see, I'm very surprised!

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Wednesday, January 27, 2010


Stories from the Field

Ladda Aharn, Ban Talae Nok Ecotourism Group

Ladda Aharn, or Pink, as her friends call her, smiles as she welcomes the group of tour operators to her village on the Andaman Coast. Unlike the majority of visitors over the past few years, this group of visitors is not here to see the destruction wrought by the tsunami of 2004. Instead, they are here as tourists to enjoy the cultural and natural splendor of Ban Talae Nok, a village of 67 homes situated in between the coral reefs and dense rainforests of Southern Thailand.

Life has not always been so easy for Pink -- the majority of her village was destroyed in the tsunami, and, due to declining fish stocks and mangrove destruction, she was unable to return to her traditional fishing lifestyle. With the development of community tourism, however, her luck is turning around.

“We are beginning to understand how to connect tourism with our way of life, and share with people the natural environment that we depend on for our culture and livelihood,” Pink explains.

Since rebuilding their lives after the tsunami, some villagers in rural Thailand are using tourism as a tool for sustainable development. Community members such as Cha now offer homestays, eco-tours, and other activities -- allowing visitors to participate in the traditional way of life that so often eludes the casual tourist. Their work has been assisted by the North Andaman Community Tourism Network. Under the sponsorship of IUCN, the network is serving as a bridge between local villages and the private sector.

In the last two years, community tourism has generated over $20,000 USD income for villagers, while also generating funds to a children’s center, mangrove conservation, and other community development projects.

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Monday, January 25, 2010


Community Network - Profiles from the Field

Roliyah Chanchu, Muang Kluang Muslim Homestay

Roliyah Chanchu, or Ja Ya as her friends call her, is a member of the Muslim Homestay group in Muang Kluang village. In the past, visitors to nearby Laem Son National Park would drive through Muang Kluang but did not have an opportunity to learn about the local communities or interact with them in any way. Concerned that an influx of park visitors may threaten or affect their local way of life, locals decided to offer homestay accommodation as a way to reach out to park visitors and generate mutual understanding. Members of the Homestay Club take pride in sharing their way of life with guests, including the natural world on which it depends.

“Doing homestay gives me a chance to make new friends, and it is fun” said Ja Ya.
Ja Ya notes that a focus on local style made it affordable to join the Club, as she already had a clean home with a guest room.

“There was no need to invest anything but my time and energy” she pointed out.

Ja Ya’s whole family gets involved in the homestay process. Her daughters help cook food, including fresh fish caught by her husband, while her son plays with guests after school.

Asked about other benefits of community tourism, Ja Ya observes that even though the income she receives from homestays is not significant, she has learned a great deal from study trips with the N-ACT network. Having visited a number of communities that exemplified sustainable development, Ja Ya has separations bin for wet and dry garbage and recycling. She is also exploring how to make her own bio-fertilizer.

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Friday, January 22, 2010


Koh Ra Ecolodge

Last weekend I went to Koh Ra Ecolodge, which I've determined is a fantastic way to live. I would be a happy person living and looking after an ecolodge, it's very mellow. Kim, the very nice gentleman who runs Koh Ra, was a formidable host. His staff prepared the most scrum-trellescent meals. He showed me around the grounds, which includes a composting system, nature trails, and the most amazing bungalows. To the right you see Kim holding up a star fish used to fertilizer the nearby orchards.

We went for a short nature hike on Saturday. Our goal was to find as many species of orchids that we could. They were beautiful! We counted 12 species of flowering orchid overall. But the surprising part of our hunt were the strange bugs we ended up finding.

This little cricket was the brightest color pink I have ever seen in nature...apart from this flower to the left.

I left the hike a bit early to go lay in a hammock on the beach for a few
minutes. The island dogs were out in full force, digging for crabs and frolicking around. This little guy is named "The Dude" because of his chill personality and general love of milk products ;-)

On Sunday morning we began our hike at around 7am. It turned into a 7-hour journey that took us through jungle, beach, mangrove, and clear-cut forest. We saw several horn bills within the first few minutes, walking through the savanna. We visited a Moken village, the Thai sea gypsies. They talked with us while we sat on their porch in the hot sun.

In the picture to the right, you can see the mangroves to the right of me, with the mainland in the background. We sate at a little fishing house here for a few minutes and sucked the juice from some ripe cashew fruits. You can't eat the nuts because their oil will burn your skin, but the fruits are extremely delicious and taste like strawberries!

We then journeyed on towards a jungle stream. There were vines extending from the canopy down to the water. The feelers that spread out in the water looked exactly like the feather-like appendages in Avatar! It was amazingly cool and calm in the jungle. Huge freshwater shrimp peeked out from behind rocks, and schools of tiny fish filled the water. We took a dip in the fresh water and then started our journey home.

We walked along the beach, stepping on the elbow roots of the mangroves.

The jelly fish to the right followed us for a bit. We waided through the incoming tide, away from the Moken village, and back toward Koh Ra Ecolodge.

Kim, Awe, and the dogs were at the pier waiting to send us back to
Kuraburi. This was the leader of the pack, looking into the sunset and contemplating life.

To the left is the group: Erik, Awe, Kim, me, and Bodhi.

Smoke from the Moken village billowed towards the ocean and the
sun set as we boarded our longtail boat for the mainland.

I came home sleepy and ready for the work week, with a true taste of sustainable ecotourism.

*special thanks to Bodhi for the photos!

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Monday, January 18, 2010


2010 Welcome Message

Dear Friends,

December 26th marked the five-year anniversary of the tsunami, the catastrophic event that brought the Andaman Discoveries global family together on this mission of compassion. We’re constantly amazed by the degree to which the villagers of the North Andaman have recovered since that life-altering event. A recent example was Children’s Day in Ban Talae Nok...

On December 27th we celebrated an afternoon filled with innocent laughter and fun with the villagers. Adults gathered to watch as children played games, sang songs, participated in an eco-quiz, and received gifts courtesy of Andaman Discoveries.

Despite 47 fatalities -- eight of whom were children -- and the physical loss of half their village to the wave, the people of Ban Talae Nok have worked diligently to create a better future for their children. Today, the village is an award-winning model of sustainable development with a highly engaged youth group and a successful responsible tourism program.

The inspiration we draw from such encouraging stories drives our passion to continue this challenging work. Standing together on the threshold of 2010, we can reflect our successes while looking to the challenges ahead. Your continued support and generosity not only motivates us, but makes Andaman Discoveries’ work possible. We look forward to your encouragement and assistance as we face the challenges and accomplishments of a new year. Thank you for being a part of the story.

- The Andaman Discoveries Team

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Easy Being Green

Andaman Discoveries Wins TAT Award

Andaman Discoveries has been chosen as Best Green Tour Operator for 2009 by the The Tourism Authority of Thailand (TAT). “The Green Awards are a symbol of TAT’s recognition of outstanding quality and reliable tourism products offered by hoteliers and tour operators,” said Joanna Cooke, Marketing Manager for TAT UK.

“It is a great honor to receive the award from TAT,” said Andaman Discoveries director Thamrong "Tui" Chomphusri. “Our work is acknowledged in Thailand, and it strengthens our partnerships and also makes the villagers proud for their hard work.”

The TAT Green Awards are intended to highlight and further promote Thailand’s dedication to the conservation of its natural and cultural resources, and to support sustainable tourism development. The winners were chosen in partnership with, based on previous entrants into the Responsible Tourism Awards between the years. Andaman Discoveries thanks the judges for this prestigious honor.

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Appeal from Phratong Island

Conservation Partners Need your Help

MAP, in partnership with Naucrates, have established a Coastal Community Resource Center (CCRC) in Ban Lion Village on Phra Thong Island. Take a moment to read their special appeal, and if you can, please consider donating or helping to spread the word.

The effectiveness of Andaman Discoveries requires cooperation from many partners at the grassroots level, including the communities, NGOs, and sustainable enterprises. Two organizations that have been essential to conservation successes in this remarkable area of Thailand are the Mangrove Action Project (MAP) and Naucrates Sea Turtle Conservation.

These organizations need your support to help preserve the extraordinary biodiversity found within coastal ecosystems of the North Andaman region of Thailand. This area is increasingly threatened by unsustainable natural resource exploitation and development, the impacts of which not only affect the unique natural flora and fauna of the area, but the local fishing communities as well. A very real need exists for increased environmental awareness and education at the local level to create and secure sustainable livelihoods.

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Community Network - Profiles from the Field

Alee Salee, Niyom Prai Group, Ton Kloy Village

Born in a nearby village, Alee moved to Ton Kloy as a young man, and, for many years, supported his family by hunting wild animals. The forests surrounding Ton Kloy are renowned for rare plants, a great diversity of butterflies, and abundant wildlife. Over time, Alee began to understand that it was important “to protect the forest and keep wildlife in this area for people to see in the future.”

While keeping a clear eye on the future, Alee is also addressing the pressing conservation problems of today. Along with other former hunters from Ton Kloy, Alee visits surrounding villages, and asks hunters to refrain from shooting the deer, gaur, serow, and other wildlife that come to Ton Kloy’s fruit orchards for food and water. Alee reports that his efforts have been successful in reducing illegal wildlife hunting; there are no longer any hunters in his village and five hunters from nearby villages have stopped poaching.

When his village formed the “Niyom Prai” conservation group in 2007, Alee was among the first to join. From the onset, the group has worked to develop the area’s ecotourism potential with a focus on jungle hikes, including a spectacular waterfall and an historical tin mine. The Tourism Club also engages in community service activities including trail maintenance, road side clearance, and rubbish removal.

“By successfully preventing hunting and forest encroachment in our village, we can then expand to other villages when they have seen the result,” Alee concludes, “going to hunt a deer we can feed only five or six persons, but if we keep a deer everyone can come and see it for a long time.”

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Bright Futures

Scholarships Keep Dreams Alive

Wilasinee “Clang” Klatalae dreams of completing her university degree in tourism management. “It’s my goal to communicate with foreigners from different cultures. I love nature, meeting people, and to travel and share experiences,” she said during her recent long-term scholarship interview.

Clang is from Bak Jok village, which was totally destroyed in the tsunami five years ago; her father now earns about 8,000 Baht ($240) per month making model boats. Clang could not attend school without her scholarship “because we have to pay a lot of money for tuition, fees, boarding, and daily expenses. Without the scholarship, my father would have to work twice as much, and I would have to find a day job to support myself and my family.”

Andaman Discoveries needs your help to ensure Clang and the 130 students like her can continue receiving scholarships. Please consider helping us fund this valuable program. Donors can sponsor a student for about 15,000 Thai Baht (about $450) per year to cover educational expenses, and will receive updates regarding their sponsored youth’s academic performance as well as a personal letter.

The scholarship program provides financial support for students in primary school through university for a total of seven years, ensuring these students will have access to an education and the funds to cover textbooks and materials. “My life is getting better -- I’m very delighted to receive this scholarship because this make my dream come true,” said Clang.

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Seeing is Believing

Visit us in 2010!

As a follower of our work, you are aware of the remarkable recovery of the villages of the North Andaman region in the years since the tsunami. We continue to extend the personal invitation to come and see for yourself the fruits of the work you're supporting. On an Andaman Discoveries Village Tour, you will relax on a pristine golden beach where the rainforest meets the sea, and experience the traditional livelihoods of these small rural communities firsthand. The villagers in these idyllic communities invite you to participate in a genuine cultural exchange that directly supports their long-term strategy to reduce pressure on their natural resources and allow fish populations to recover.

As an incentive, we're offering special cultural homestay tours each month from now through April. These small group tours provide an affordable way for individuals, budget travelers, and families to experience the magic of a cultural tour in this fascinating and beautiful area of Southern Thailand. You'll participate in activities such as fishing on the beach, exploring mangrove forests by long-tail boat, making your very own batik painting, and preparing a home-cooked Thai meal. Group sizes are kept deliberately small to enhance the experience for both guests and villagers alike.

For more information, please contact us.

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Amazing Views

Crooked Trails Volunteer Experience

Environmental activist Edward Abbey famously said: “May your trails be crooked, winding, lonesome, dangerous, leading to the most amazing view.” Crooked Trails, the non-profit, community-based travel organization whose name was inspired by this quote, joined Andaman Discoveries for a service tour in November seeking their own amazing view of the North Andaman region. They found it at the Burmese Learning Center and in Tung Dap village.

“I have fallen madly in love with some Burmese children. They follow you with their eyes until contact is made and then they might smile at you. Once these two things have happened, you realize your heart is no longer your own,” said participant Noelle, who helped the group paint classrooms at the school. Todd, who led the group of ten, added, "the school project was wonderful and meaningful. The group felt their presence was appreciated.”

You can read Noelle’s complete Blog entry on our website.

The group also spent two days in the village of Tung Dap, where they enjoyed a homestay and helped with mangrove conservation. Of their homestay in Tung Dap, Noelle said “I am listening to conversations in languages I do not understand. The wind talking to the trees. The clucks of chickens and roosters beneath the beams of the house I am sitting in. The scent of onion, sizzling as our hosts prepare dinner. Children's brief calls. The silence of cats and dogs sleeping. The rumble of man and machine. The dash of geckos on the roof. I may not understand them, but knowing them, in this moment, gives me peace.”

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BBC World Challenge

Thank You for Voting

Andaman Discoveries was one of twelve finalists (out of a record 900 nominations) for the fifth annual BBC World Challenge awards. We appealed to you to help support our nomination by voting for us online, and are extremely grateful for the tremendous outpouring of support we received. The time and energy you consistently show us is a source of hope and inspiration – to say nothing of our very existence – and we offer our gratitude.

The experience garnered tremendous positive exposure for us, helping to spread our message to a much wider audience. We were humbled by this honor, especially considering the formidable talent competing for this award. Please join Andaman Discoveries in congratulating this year’s winner, the Safe Bottle Lamp Foundation of Sri Lanka.

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Viva La Revolution!

Youth in Action Final Seminar

It was the belief of Thomas Jefferson that every generation needs a new revolution, and for the past year Youth in Action for Next Generations (YNG) strived to make sustainability a key issue for the next one. This global project, organized by Pistes-Solidaires, actively united young people from both developed and developing countries in sustainable development projects. In Thailand, Andaman Discoveries collaborated with Mangrove Action Project (MAP) and the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) to create a network of ten youth groups in the North Andaman region.

Andaman Discoveries hosted the final meeting in November 2009, which summarized the various outcomes and was attended by NGOs from the eight participating countries. “The project helped strengthen and broaden networking and participation amongst the youth along the North Andaman Coast,” said Jaruwan “Ning” Kaewmahanin of MAP. The group reflected on their environmental and natural resource management experiences and community development project implementation.

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Sowing SEEDs

Fellow Award Winner visits BTN

Jagriti is a community-based organization empowering poor, disadvantaged hill women in India through the sale of locally-produced herbal and organic goods. Mimi Chueng of Andaman Discoveries met force behind the venture (and fellow 2008 SEED Award winner), Mamta Chandarat, at the United Nations Commission for Sustainable Development (UNCSD) in New York last June.

“We strive to improve livelihoods by increasing social, environmental, and economic sustainability,” said Mamta of her project. Seeing the obvious parallels between her work and that of the Ban Talae Nok women’s soap group, she visited Andaman Discoveries in November to see the operation firsthand and share her advice.

“Mamta is an expert in handicrafts, and gave us many ideas to improve our process,” said Ladda "Pink" Aharn of Ban Talae Nok. Mamta also participated in a village homestay, where she fell in love with the people, natural surroundings, and especially the food. The Ban Talae Nok soap cooperative is making substantial progress in domestic marketing, garnering increasing interest from hotels and crafts shops in Bangkok, Khao Lak, and Phuket. “Now we can be more efficient, and this will benefit the village,” added Pink.

Andaman Discoveries gratefully acknowledges SEED for sponsoring Mamta’s visit.

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Accounts Balanced

Nan Joins Andaman Discoveries

Andaman Discoveries recently welcomed Nadanong “Nan” Chanpaibool as our new accountant and translator. Nan comes from Bangkok, where she completed a degree in accounting and finance before working as an accountant for Callaway Golf accessories. Anxious to expand her skills in a more pastoral setting, Nan was excited by the opportunity to join the Andaman Discoveries team. “It’s exciting to work with people from so many different cultures, from the international staff at Andaman Discoveries to the guests who come here from all over the world,” said Nan. We’re equally pleased to have Nan’s expertise and effervescent personality on the team roster!

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Monday, January 11, 2010


Children's Day

by Jenny Lovell

I arrived in Kuraburi on Thursday morning to begin my 6-month internship. After a couple of days of orientation, we had an office field trip.

On Saturday morning we took a ferry to the island of Kho Phra Thong for Children's Day at one of the villages we work in. Getting on to the boat you had to watch your step because the pier was slippery and you could easily fall into the muscles that clung to the steps. Sharp as razors, those sneaky muscles!

We were in the long boat for about a half hour when we arrived at the pier and jumped out onto a pristine beach. Then we took a janky tractor to the village...I kid you not, the fan belt popped off half-way there and we had to wait for the driver to put it back on. I should have know this would foreshadow our ride home...

We got to the village where they had (once again) extremely yummy food! We all lined up and had our fill, then came the dancing and cute kids everywhere!

I took a walk down to the beach where you could see the devastation of the tsunami, even now, after 6 years. The coastal swamps and mangroves were beautiful, until I walked into a Jenny-sized spider web. I freaked out. Good thing I was alone and nobody heard me scream like that. I decided I would wait for another day to see my first Thailand beach.

Once again...cute kids, great trees.

On our way back to the dock, we crammed about 18 people onto our tiny tractor. About 10 minutes into the ride, the axle just couldn't take any more. The wheel popped off and we all had to jump. Luckily, nobody was hurt, but the owner of the tractor was in a bad spot. He was very gracious about the accident, but I can imagine having his tractor out of commission will be a big problem.

When we got back to Kuraburi, we rented motorbikes and went for an offroad adventure. We went up the a waterfall and had a swim just before it got dark.

It was a great first weekend in Kuraburi for me!


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