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Impressionable young buffalo on the lookout for invisible tourists

Buffalo Festival a First for Phuket Visitors

Thursday, July 17, 2008
TRENDS

GET SET for the buffalo stampede. Over three days from August 10 to August 12, Koh Yao Noi, off Phuket's east coast and officially part of Phang Nga, will be holding its first buffalo festival for tourists.

Locals will be racing and riding buffalo, so it should be quite a spectacle. Football is also going to be played . . . but not by the buffalo.

Green season tourists have never had it so good. For people who are looking for genuine cultural experiences on and around Phuket, this is a real innovation.

About 600 buffalo will display their skills in various events over the three days, beginning on the Sunday and leading up to the Queen's Birthday public holiday on August 12.

Although rice fields are no longer found on Phuket, Yao Noi still has 1600 rai of plantings. The buffalo are allowed to wander and not kept in pens.

But the islanders are careful to put rings through the noses of young animals once they are old enough to be domesticated at least some of the time.

We understand some buffalo are inclined to misbehave. Some of the big guys are not always happy to see their handlers.

The island's paddy fields will be planted with rice until August 9.

Then it becomes necessary to take the buffalo up the hillsides to make sure they don't eat the plants.

About 800 families, or about 5000 people, call Yao Noi home, and it's a largely Muslim island.

One family takes responsibility for training the buffalo to plant rice in a reasonably peaceful fashion.

Yao Noi is about 50 minutes by longtail from Bang Rong pier. The pier is towards the east, in the opposite direction to Surin and Laguna, from the Heroines Monument roundabout.

Trips to the island for the festival will cost 950 baht, with same-day return.

People who wish to stay with families on the island can do so at an extra cost of 1200 baht a person. Three meals come in that excellent deal.

Details and bookings can be made through Khun Promchote on 081 8697431.

Province of Invisible People

PEOPLE in other parts of the island still talk about ''going to town'' on Phuket, referring to Phuket Town.

In reality it has been Phuket City since 2004, when the number of registered citizens topped 70,000, entitling it to city status.

These days it has 75,298 registered citizens, 35,066 males and 40,232 females. We are not sure why the proportion of females is so high, but nobody seems to be complaining.

The real population is anybody's guess. Many people come to Phuket to work in the tourism industry but stay registered in their home provinces. Some people stay on Phuket for decades, but never change their registration.

As a result, Phuket is underfunded because the national government relies on the number of registered citizens to calculate the share of revenue that goes back to each province.

It has been estimated that Phuket provides the national government with as much income as 15 other provinces. Thailand has a total of 76 provinces, with the holiday island of Samui currently seeking to become province number 77.

Add the huge influx of tourists year-round, but especially between November and March, top that up with an estimated 100,000 Burmese who work mostly in construction either legally or illegally, and you have an island population that grows to more than a million in some months of the year.

Yet the income for building roads and infrasctructure of all kinds is based on the official total of 315,498.

Earlier this year, we went to see the Governor on the day he was told that the budget he requested had been slashed in half.

To put it diplomatically, it's fair to say that he was extremely frustrated. It's easy to understand why.

The case for Phuket to have a much higher income, based on the real returns it brings to Thailand and its need to deliver adequate services to a growing number of people, is obvious to everyone.

The registered population figures for the island's three districts are: Kathu, which includes Patong, 43,541, Thalang, 75,224 and Amphur Muang Phuket, which includes Phuket City, 196,733.

In the eyes of the Bangkok government, the money from visitors is extremely welcome but the tourists themselves do not exist. Go figure.

Officially, many of the people on the island do not count when it comes to the cash. They are simply invisible.

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