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Bangkok Travelbug May 09 National Labour Day in Thailand
April 30, 2009
National Labour Day in Thailand
1 May is National Labour Day in Thailand and we remember the contributions and sacrifices of Thai labour. This May is also the 16th anniversary of the Kader Toy Factory fire in Nakhon Pathom just outside Bangkok on 10 May 1993, the world’s worst industrial fire to date.
188 workers mostly women lost their lives and over 500 were injured, some permanently.
What aggravated the tragedy was that many of the fire exits were locked to prevent workers from sneaking out, the fire alarm wasn’t working and there were no fire extinguishers or sprinklers. The highly inflammable polyester fabric used for the stuffed animals and dolls turned the buildings into an inferno.
The un-insulated steel structures melted in the intense heat causing the buildings to collapse on those who were trapped inside.
Many had to jump for their lives from the second, third and fourth floors. I saw a TV program on the 15th anniversary of this tragedy last May during which ex-workers were invited. Most of them were in their late thirties and wheel chair bound, a result of permanent injuries suffered when they leapt from the buildings.
When interviewed they all expressed hopes that workplace safety will be improved so that their sacrifice would not be in vain.
The last quarter of the 20th century has seen a huge shift in the rural population to work in the Bangkok and the surrounding provinces. This was a result of foreign investors setting up factories in Thailand for electronics, electrical goods, plastics and garments as part of their global production chain.
In some cases, worker protection and rights have been solely neglected and policies also tended to favour the employer.
At the time of the fire, the factory was producing dolls of the Simpson cartoon series, the prevailing craze of the day. The burnt Simpson doll became the symbol of the sufferings of these workers.
The other recurrent problem facing the workers is that of the minimum daily wage. As at December 2008, the minimum daily wage in Bangkok is 203 baht or approximately US$6.15. This is the highest in the country; the amounts in other provinces are even lesser. The minimum wage has been creeping up by a few baht each year with pressure from the labour unions.
With the current economic downturn many have already lost their jobs since the start of 2009. It will be difficult to expect an increase this year as many will be lucky just to keep their jobs.
The Thai Labour Museum has moved
I went back to the Thai Labour Museum on 22 April 2009 and discovered that it’s gone. Back in November 2005, the State Railway of Thailand, the landlord, served notice to repossess the land on which the museum is located.
There was a long delay because as recent as June 2008; the museum was still there, although locked. Well this time it was finally demolished. All that’s left is a heap of wooden debris. The museum has to make way for the new rail link from Suvarnabhumi Airport to the city.
I’m trying to find out the new location of the museum, if they have got one. Let’s hope that the new home will be better and more permanent because this museum preserves the 300 year history of Thai labour.
Royal Ploughing Ceremony
The Royal Ploughing Ceremony is an ancient Brahmin tradition practised since the Sukhothai days. It marks that start of the planting season in agricultural Thailand.
The ceremony held in Sanam Luang in May each year consists of the two royal oxen pulling a golden plough as rice seeds are scattered. The highlight of the ceremony is when the royal oxen are offered food in different bowls. Based on what the oxen choose, predictions for the year are then made.
At the end of the ceremony spectators scramble onto the field to pick up the royal grain used in the ploughing ceremony. The lucky ones can sell these for a neat profit.
For more details of this ceremony, please see Royal Ploughing Ceremony.
Exhibition – Songs of Memory Traditional Music of the Golden Triangle
On the evening of 23 April 2009, I had the pleasure of attending the opening ceremony of this very interesting exhibition on the traditional musical instruments of the tribal people in northern Thailand and neighbouring Myanmar and Laos.
The exhibition is based on the book of the same name by Victoria Vorreiter who has done intensive research on the lives, ceremonial clothing and musical instruments of the Akha, Hmong, Karen, Lahu, Lisu and Mien people.
The rare exhibits of musical instruments and clothing of these tribes are on display at the Jim Thompson Art Center in the Jim Thompson House Bangkok from 24 April – 23 July 2009.
This is a rare opportunity for a glimpse into a rich culture which we rarely have access to. If you’re in Bangkok, don’t miss it. Admission is free. To get there, please see map to the Jim Thompson House.
I’ll be bringing you more on this exhibition in next month’s issue.
Thai Airways moves out of Don Mueang
The future of Don Mueang hangs in the balance yet again. In late March 2009, Thai Airways, one of the three airlines operating from Don Mueang, pulled out their domestic flights from Don Mueang to Suvarnabhumi. This leaves Nok Air and One-To-Go in Don Mueang, insufficient to sustain a critical mass.
The Thai government is divided on whether to stick to a one airport policy or to have two. The last time Don Mueang was left in a similar lurch was in September 2006 when Suvarnabhumi opened.
Back then, the Don Mueang hotels changed tack and promoted their facilities as venues for meetings, conventions and seminars. The partial move back to Don Mueang gave the hotels some new hope which is dashed again. Two new hotels have opened since. Given the current situation, the hotels in Don Mueang will have to rethink their marketing strategy.
Please see history of Don Mueang for a brief history of this 95 year old airport which used to be called Nong Ee Yiew or Swamp of Hawks.
Bangkok hotels – an update
Despite the economic downturn, unfavourable political news and its impact on tourism, new hotels are still sprouting up. Some visitors have understandingly cancelled their bookings. Others have stayed the course and some have even booked after the street protests during Songkran. Thank you for your faith and confidence.
The number of hotels in Suvarnanbhumi which are near the airport or in eastern Bangkok has increased steadily. Most of the new ones are in Lat Krabang, the area just north of the airport. Many of these hotels are in the budget category.
Grand Pinnacle Grand Residence Hotel
Great Residence Suvarnabhumi
Paragon Inn Regent Suvarnabhumi
Royal Suite Suvarnabhumi
Chaleena Princess Hotel
Park 9 Hotel
Sukhumvit - Udom Suk
Residence Airport Spa Hotel
Though Suvarnabhumi has opened for only two and a half years, the airport from inception to completion took 33 years! Read about the history of Suvarnabhumi Airport which was built in a swamp called Nong Ngu Hao or Cobra Swamp.
Following close behind Suvarnabhumi are the hotels in Sukhumvit. Here they are grouped by their proximity to the nearest skytrain station.
Dynasty Grande Hotel
Baan Sukhumvit Soi 18 Hotel Best Comfort Hotel
Column Residence Gardengrove Suites Sam’s Lodge
Check Inn Sukhumvit Hotel
On the bright side, hotel rates are now considerably lower than what they were a year ago. Check out these hotels at hotels in Sukhumvit.
Don’t forget, for booking hotels worldwide, use our hotel finder.
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