Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Honda forecasts it will sell 1.18 million motorcycles this year

Honda halts bike production on safety concernsHonda temporarily suspended its motorcycle production for the safety of its staff due to political violence in Bangkok.

However, car production in Ayutthaya continued as usual and it will add an extra shift today to keep up with back orders for certain models, said a spokesman for Honda Automobile Thailand.

A senior executive of Thai Honda Manufacturing, manufacturer of Honda motorcycles and power products at Lat Kra Bang in Bangkok, decided to stop production two days _ Thursday and yesterday _ for the safety of its workers after violence in the capital escalated.

The curfew also made it hard for employees travel to and from work. The facilities, which usually close on the weekend, will resume production on Monday.

The executive said the production suspension would not affect the supply of motorcycles and power products. He said Honda could add shifts later to make up any backlog.

Honda forecasts it will sell 1.18 million motorcycles this year.

Honda's automobile production capacity is 2.4 million units per year. In the first four months, it produced 29,739 vehicles, an 18.8% increase year-on-year for 13.3% market share, ranking third.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

On The Road to Mandalay

Theo Underwood searches out the mysteries of the Orient on a luxury cruise on Burma’s Ayeyarwady River

Published: 22/05/2010

The spectacular Ananda Pahto temple, Bagan

IT’S more than 100 years since Rudyard Kipling painted a famous portrait of the East in his poem, Mandalay – and when you sail down the Ayeyarwady River in Burma on a luxury cruiser, you feel that little has changed since then.

It is hardly, of course, a coincidence that the boat we are travelling on carries the same name as Oley Speaks’ later song adaptation of the poem.

The 300ft Road To Mandalay carries 82 passengers in old colonial grandeur and five-star cabins. To catch the boat, you fly to Singapore and on to Yangon before catching the rackety plane which hovers above dense green jungles with Burmese military men taking all the front seats.

After that, the creature comforts of The Road To Mandalay are a soothing surprise.

A £4million refurbishment has created an elegant restaurant with teak wall carvings from Amanpura. Also, 34 new state and deluxe cabins have en-suite bathrooms with Burmese jade wall tiles and walk-in showers.

Now we can sit on deck as Kipling’s vivid vision of dawn breaking like thunder and temples shimmering in the sunlight comes to life before our eyes.

Children splash in the shallows, playing tag among themselves while their mothers wash the family’s longyis – traditional Burmese robes – in the river’s thick, khaki-green water.

Fishermen, armed only with bamboo sticks for rods and the bottoms of plastic bottles for goggles, hunt their daily catch from long-tail boats.

On the river’s eastern bank, small villages of rickety bamboo huts have sprung up to house workers dredging for sand, which will be turned into cement. Their cargo is pumped on to half-sunk barges sitting below the waterline, their engines gurgling under the weight of their load.

Beyond the river’s banks, hundreds of pagodas – some made of red sandstone, others gilded with gold leaf – are scattered across the rice fields.

Burma, for much of the time, seems to have missed out on the 20th century – or perhaps it is a trick of the strange, ethereal quality of the light.

Before setting sail from Mandalay, I took a rowing boat out on Taung Tha Man lake. The light at dusk broke through the teak struts of U Bein’s bridge – a 1,300m long skeletal structure rising from the water.

Ghostly forms appear beneath the surface of the water, creating an eerie calm which is punctured only by the sound of creaking oars and the light chatter of villagers crossing the 200-year-old man-made causeway.

However, one of the most exhilarating experiences which Burma can offer awaited us 120 miles downstream.

A hot-air balloon whisked us 2,000ft above the ancient city of Bagan for a breathtaking view of its 4,000 temples, stupas and pagodas.

The city itself no longer exists, but its shrines to Buddha, built over hundreds of years on a stretch of delta the size of Manhattan Island, appear one by one at sunrise to form an intricate, crimson patchwork on an ochre landscape.

Our bumpy landing eased by champagne, we joined a bicycle tour for a close-up view of Bagan’s temples.

Many are adorned with frescos telling the story of Buddha and, although most have decayed into ruin or are awaiting restoration following the devastating 1975 earthquake, there are a few murals worth seeing – thanks to the intervention of Unesco.

Ananda Pahto, on the north plain, stands out from the others. Besides its brilliantly colourful frescos, it also has four 31ft gold Buddhas – which sit facing outwards from the temple’s inner sanctum and date back to the 11th century. The most recent icon was, however, built just 60 years ago.

Bagan has few visitors, so it was easy to find solitude on one of the pagoda’s west-facing terraces. The spot offered a perfect vantage point to watch the sunset – giving Bagan’s temples a chameleon-style quality of constantly changing colour.

It is easy to be overawed by spectacular monuments to Buddhism in Bagan. While a temple, stupa or pagoda can be found at every turn, Burmese people deeply respect the religion and the monks – even if they are not committed Buddhists.

In Yangon, many monasteries teach English and visitors can be accosted by football fans in orange or crimson tunics keen to discuss the English Premier League. Many monks can be seen studying the football results in one of six weekly newspapers dedicated to the game in Europe.

Their accommodation is sparse. As many as six monks share one room in which they study, sleep and eat without electricity or running water.

During your river voyage – the company’s billing of river “cruise” hardly does it justice – you can try on your own longyi and have your face painted with Thanakha – a traditional yellow-paste made by grinding the Thanakha tree against sandstone.

It is still widely worn by women and children and, as well as protecting their skin from the sun, it supposedly bestows a youthful complexion on those who wear it.

The Governor’s Residence, in Burma’s capital, Yangon, where you stay on the first and last night of your trip, is a match for both the boat and the best hotels.

The old colonial mansion – made entirely from teak – comes into its element at dusk as you sit by the pool with a G&T to watch bats skimming the water’s surface.

Chef Olivier Guilman finds the best local ingredients for menus, combining western classics with variations on Burmese favourites.

Anything with seafood is worth trying, especially after an afternoon’s sightseeing around the magnificent Shwedagon Pagoda and the reclining Buddha – the latter close to where monks held peaceful demonstrations against the military government in summer 2007.

Given the tense political situation, many travellers avoid Burma. However, Orient-Express argues that its involvement preserves jobs – about 150 on the boat and 110 at The Governor’s Residence.

Square your own conscience before you depart. Repression may enable Burma to preserve the mystery of the Orient lost beneath tourist hordes in other parts of south-east Asia.


Theo Underwood was a guest of Orient Express, which offers the five-night journey in Burma from £1,960, including return flights Bangkok-Yangon-Bangkok; two nights’ B&B at The Governor’s Residence in Yangon and three nights’ full board in a superior cabin on The Road To Mandalay; a half-day sightseeing tour in Yangon, and all internal flights and transfers.

Orient Express reservations: 0845 077 2222 and www.orient-express.com

International flights costs extra, from about £745 return.

Read more: http://www.pressandjournal.co.uk/Article.aspx/1712527/?UserKey=#ixzz0ojnfnoY5

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Thai boss to take over at Siemens Thailand soon

Once Ralph Hasselbacher leaves Siemens in Thailand for a new, challenging assignment in Germany, Katrat Upayokin will become the first local to be promoted to a high-ranking position, effective on June 1.

Hasselbacher, 46, who is the senior vice president and general manager of Transportation Systems Group in Thailanld, seems to have had success in building up local people to the managerial level with "succession planning".

"My main achievement during my time [three years and three months] is strengthening the organisation in Thailand," he said.

As also head of Mobility, covering the transportation and mobility business in Asean, he has been able to share resources and knowledge among Siemens' people working at its units in countries such as Thailand, Singapore and Malaysia.

Apart from the subway and airport link projects in Bangkok, Siemens, the world's largest rail system supplier, won a contract in February to install a highly efficient traction power supply for the "downtown line", Singapore's new driverless metro line. It also won a contract last month for a double-track, main line project in Malaysia.

"We built up local experience in Thailand. Meanwhile skilled people in Thailand were sent to work at our unit in Singapore," he said.

Foreigners on the first day he started working at Siemens in Thailand amounted to more than 70 per cent of the workforce, as some expatriates were sent here. Now, the proportion of foreign workers is less than 50 per cent.

"We have tried to put local people at the manager level like Katrat to oversee rolling stock in Thailand - succession planning to be continued," he said.

Katrat, 39, now head of sales for Industry Mobility, who will be the new head of Industry Mobility, has been working for 17 years.

Before starting with Siemens, in 1998 he was responsible for the maintenance of rolling stock and the workshop for the Skytrain - Bangkok's first mass transit line - for four years and six months.

He then took a three-year break from mass transit to join the Siam Paragon shopping mall as the project director, eventually becoming its general manager.

Since July 2006, Katrat has worked for Siemens and is now in charge of sales, marketing and strategy for Thailand, Cambodia and Burma as well as functions within the Asean cluster.

He is also looking after rolling stock, turnkey and all business units related to sales activities for his own business in the cluster and supports headquarter-driven business in the cluster. "My ultimate goal was to maintain Siemens' position as the No 1 supplier for mass transit in Thailand," he said.

His first priorities are to win the next mass transit project in Thailand and keep a good and close relationship with his customers.

Hasselbacher said Thailand had a very good plan for rail system development. Bangkok could also rise to the status of a world-class capital in the 21st century in 40 years, compared with Shanghai, Hong Kong, Singapore and Jakarta, which are grouped among emerging countries.

Thailand had the best railway 150 years ago with 100 kilometres of track. But, no more major lines had been developed since then, he said.

"Meanwhile, the railway operators [KTM] in Malaysia are not only talking, but they are doing," he said.

Vietnam was slower in starting to develop its railway system than Thailand, but it now has more modern locomotives than Thailand has, he said.

"Although there have been no lines [under the government's plan to build 10 lines in greater Bangkok] as yet, we haven't lost it. We just keep on waiting," he said, referring to the mass transit electric train projects.

He suggested commuter lines were needed to convey people from inner Bangkok to the city's outskirts.

"However, Siemens' Thai unit is now stronger than before and we are confident we have very good chances for upcoming projects," he said.

Siemens Ltd Thailand was established in October 1995 to position itself as a serious player in its own right, offering an entire range of products, systems, solutions and services. It now has a workforce of 1,800 employees.

Friday, May 14, 2010

Special Report: Royal Ploughing Ceremony

Phra Ratchaphiti Phuetchamongkhon Charot Phra Nangkhan Raek Na Khwan or the Cultivating and Ploughing Ceremony, consists of two ceremonies which are Phra Ratchaphiti Phuetchamongkhon or the Cultivating Ceremony and Phra Ratchaphiti Chaarot Phra Nangkhan Raek Na Khwan or the Ploughing Ceremony. The ceremony is rooted in Brahmin belief, and is held to ensure a good harvest.

The Ploughing Ceremony can be traced back to the Sukhothai period, over 700 years ago. The two royal ceremonies are related to each other which aim at bringing propitiousness to the nation’s crop, boosting farmers’ morale as well as announcing the start of the rice growing season.

These annual events had been observed until 1936, but were temporarily suspended after that. The Cultivating Ceremony and the Ploughing Ceremony were again retrieved in 1947 and 1960, respectively, and have been held together since then with His Majesty the King regularly performs the function every year.

Nowadays, the Permanent Secretary of the Ministry of Agriculture and Cooperatives serves as Phraya Raek Na or the Lord of Ploughing. The four Celestial Maidens or consecrated women who carry silver and golden baskets containing rice seeds for scattering during the Ploughing Ceremony are deliberately chosen from the single females of the Ministry of Agriculture and Cooperatives. They all have performed the functions overseen by their Majesties the King and Queen.

This year, the Cultivating Ceremony is held during the afternoon of 12 May at the Temple of the Emerald Buddha, inside the Grand Palace. The ceremony is presided over by His Majesty the King or his representative. He performs religious rituals and prays for the nation’s crops. Then, the Chief Brahmin reads the proclamation on the Cultivating Ceremony, which seeks to bring propitiousness to the crops.

The Ploughing Ceremony is held in the morning of 13 May at Sanam Luang, in front of the Grand Palace. At the beginning of the ceremony, Phraya Raek Na performs a rite to predict the amount of rainfall during the coming season by selecting one of the three pieces of cloth in different lengths. Phraya Raek Na together with his entourages then leave the ceremonial pavilion in order to start the Ploughing Ceremony.

Two chosen oxen pull the wood plough and they plough a furrow in the ceremonial ground, while rice seed is sown by Phraya Raek Na. After the ploughing, the oxen are offered plates of food, including rice, corn, green bean, sesame, fresh-cut grass, water, and rice whiskey. Depending on what the oxen eat, the Brahmin makes a prediction on whether the coming growing season will be bountiful or not.

-- NNT 2010-05-13

Friday, May 7, 2010

Four Thai police wounded in blasts near Bangkok business area

BANGKOK, May 8 (Reuters) - Four policemen were wounded after three explosions near a Bangkok business district early on Saturday, police and hospital sources said.


Police officials told Reuters they suspected the loud blasts, near Bangkok's heavily guarded Silom road area and close to an encampment of anti-government protesters, may have caused by grenades. Police were unable to give further details and said an investigation was underway.

Just over an hour earlier, one policeman was killed another wounded along with two civilians in a drive-by shooting in the Silom area, about 50 metres from the front lines of an encampment occupied for four weeks by "red shirt" demonstrators. (Reporting by Ambika Ahuja; Editing by Martin Petty)



Thailand’s tourism industry is severely hit by weeks-long protests. The losses are estimated at $1 billion.

After the images of deadly protests flashing around the world the Federation of Thai Industries fears that the political conflict could cost the Thai tourism industry more than $1 billion.

Thailand is one of the developing world's most popular tourist destinations, alluring to both jet-setters and backpackers. Rising tensions between anti-government protesters and the troops in Bangkok – which are described as Thailand‘s bloodiest political violence in nearly 20 years – now might lead to Thailand missing its target of hosting 15.5 million visitors this year.

In recent years Thailand‘s economy has held up remarkably well despite its many problems including the tsunami in 2004 and a multi-day shutdown of its international airport in 2008. But Thailand‘s current political situation may cause a lasting damage to its economy and international reputation.

According to the Bangkok Post Online, the government earlier expected the country's economy for 2010 to expand 3.5 to 4.5 per cent while international agencies even predicted a 6.2 per cent growth. Finance minister Korn Chatikavanij now predicted that tourist arrivals will be “decimated,” and warned that the country could lose 2 % off its projected 5% GDP growth for the year if order is not restored promptly.

The tourism industry, which accounts for roughly 7% of Thailand's economy, is perhaps the most vulnerable industry. The protests could cost Thailand THB20.8 billion in lost tourism income this year, according to the Fiscal Policy Office.

The tourism sector was heavily hit after more than 40 countries have issued travel warnings for Bangkok. Hong Kong, China and Taiwan accounted for some of the largest groups of international tourists traveling to Thailand in 2009 and belonged to the countries which issued travel warnings for Thailand. Alone in the Thai New Year holiday week all 100 charter flights due from China have been cancelled, said the Bangkok Post.

The protesters – largely supporting the former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra – are occupying Bangkok‘s main shopping and business district resulting in hundreds of popular shops being forced to close over the past weeks. Several hotels in Bangkok are running at roughly 30% occupancy, which is about half their normal rate, while luxury hotels like the Grand Hyatt Erawan Hotel or the Four Seasons are running at zero occupancy.

While Bangkok is a heavily frequented city destination suffering from the protests Phuket and other holiday hotspots away from Bangkok have been largely unaffected by the political situation in the capital. Particularly tourist destinations like Chiang Mai, Chiang Rai, Phuket and Koh Samui were not affected by the anti-government protests so far.

By Wiebke Wohlfahrt

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Thai Internet users turn to e-commerce

Thailand's growing number of Internet users are, at last, beginning to feel comfortable with e-commerce.

Major online traders are forecasting annual growth in e-commerce ranging from more than 20 per cent to as high as 40 per cent, despite the country's recent political turmoil.

Tarad.com's managing director Pawoot Pongvitayapanu said that Thai Internet users had changed their behaviour to accept online trading and make purchases over the Internet. This is because companies doing business online have made Internet transactions safe and created an atmosphere of comfort for users.

He said consumers were changing their lifestyles and spending much more time online. Traditional businesses are also changing to online operations in order to expand their customer bases. Having adopted information technology, companies are also using enterprise-resource planning to support their operations and are becoming more involved in business-to-business (B2B) trading.

Moreover, a major factor driving e-commerce in Thailand is a trend of empowerment among Internet users, both in cities and rural areas, to make purchases over the Internet, he said. Businesses are able to provide pre-orders to Internet customers and to provide online catalogues.

Pawoot said e-auctions, laws relating to e-commerce transactions, logistics, network infrastructure and the behaviour of Internet users were all playing an important role in driving e-commerce, which should grow by about 30 per cent this year.

According to the National Statistical Office, total e-commerce transactions in 2008 were valued at Bt527.9 billion. Of this, business-to-government (B2G) transactions were worth Bt290.8 billion, or 55.1 per cent; business-to-business (B2B) transactions were valued at Bt190.8 billion, or 36.2 per cent; and business-to-customers (B2C) were worth Bt45.9 billion, or 8.7 per cent of the total.

Fashion and computer and electronic devices are popular categories in which individual customers spend money online.

Pawoot said Tarad.com now provided an online premium mall and a market place, and had a customer base of 1.5 million Internet users.

There are 170,000 online business entrepreneurs with 26 product categories running their businesses via Tarad.com. The firm provides a new e-commerce business model for start-ups that runs both offline and online e-commerce transactions. It also provides an augmented-reality product search, making it easier for customers to find products.

The company now has six channels for online transactions or online payments, including bank transactions, credit cards and mPay - which allows users the convenience of shopping and doing business via the e-commerce business model. All of this creates confidence among customers, Pawoot said.

Talad.com is also planning to provide cross-border e-commerce, with links to Japan, Taiwan and China in the near future.

"E-commerce offers an opportunity to encourage Thai business - which is now in a transition period - to adapt to online business and compete on international markets," Pawoot said.

OfficeMate's managing director Worawoot Ounjai said e-commerce business in Thailand was continuing to grow by at least 30 per cent per year because local Internet users had changed their behaviour and lifestyle and were now buying products over the Internet.

"I think that e-commerce business will continue to grow for more than five years at around 30 to 40 per cent per year, since e-commerce in Thailand is just starting up. New infrastructure such as 3G will enable companies to launch online businesses at lower cost and will give customers much more convenience and comfort in shopping online," he said.

Worawoot said his company expected its e-commerce operations to grow by more than 40 per cent this year because the political turmoil was driving Internet users to access products and services online. During March, when the red-shirt protests began in Bangkok, his company achieved revenue growth of about 15 per cent, year on year.

However, he said the quality of some products and online businesses were an obstacle to growth in the e-commerce market.

"He suggested that small- and medium-sized businesses that planned to offer products and services over the Internet should first register with the Department of Business Development and receive a "trust mark" certificate identifying their online business. There are now more than 100,000 online businesses in Thailand and only about 7,000 of them are registered and certified by the department."

Worawoot said his company provided an online business platform for about 80,000 businesses and organisations around the country at www.officemate.co.th. They offered about 20,000 products.

The company also provides an e-commerce platform for home users and individuals at www.trendyday.com.

"I try to do new business that is related to existing business, so that these businesses run smoothly without spending a lot on resources. They save the costs of investment. As a result, these businesses are able to run with high efficiency," Worawoot said.

The company is developing an e-procurement customisation system to support paperless procurement for its customers. It is expected to be able to support 80,000 customers in the near future. It is also developing an intelligent selling process that will enable companies to increase sales revenue per transaction.

Worawoot said OfficeMate expected to reach revenue of about Bt1 billion this year, representing year-on-year growth of about 20 per cent from last year, when revenue reached Bt914 million.

It also plans to expand it business into Indochina next year. Vietnam will be its first foreign market, where it intends to run its business with local partners.

"I think we have an opportunity to expand into Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos, and then expand to other Asian countries over the next several years," Worawoot said.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Phuket Gains Daring US Navy Visitors

USS Shiloh launched six cruise missiles in Operation Desert Strike

By Phuketwan Reporter

Monday, May 3, 2010
TWO US Navy ships are due to anchor off Phuket on Friday, latest in the continuing friendly invasion of warships and their relaxation-seeking crews.

It seems that the Thailand-wide travel alerts, imposed by the US and many other countries in response to the red rallies in Bangkok, do not apply to military personnel.

Crews visiting Phuket are usually advised not to use tuk-tuks or hire jet-skis, cars or motorbikes, but local taxi drivers have been accused of demanding extortionate fares from navy visitors and cruise line passengers.

Both ships have interesting histories. The USNS Earhart is named after aviatrix Amelia Earhart, who vanished over the Pacific Ocean in 1937.

The ship named in her honor is purpose-built to deliver ammunition, food, fuel and other dry cargo to US and allied warships at sea. It is crewed by 124 civil service mariners and, at times, will include an additional compliment of military personnel and carry two helicopters.

The other ship, guided missile cruiser USS Shiloh, has a record of hot engagement in the Middle East and is capable of facing and defeating threats in the air, on the sea, or underneath the sea. She also carries two Seahawk multi-purpose helicopters, mainly for anti-submarine warfare.

The Phuket Navy League has organised a couple of welcomes. The first is a wardroom welcome party consisting of buffet and drinks at the BBQ Hut on Rat-U-Thit Road in Patong for officers and selected crew of the two ships. Entrance fee is 200 baht for Navy League members, 400 baht for visitors, no cost to ship's crew and media, from 6pm.

An all ships' crew BBQ buffet with 100 baht beers will also be held at Community Affiliate member Malibu Bar in Soi Eric, on Soi Bangla in Patong, from 6pm, with free bbq and a cash bar. Live music.

Phuket Navy League members are also invited to sign up for a special tour of the USNS Earhart, probably on May 8.