Bloom­ing beauty

The Star Malaysia - Star2 - - Travel -

FOR the first time in a decade a Thai lake has given up its daz­zling se­cret – the pink blooms of tens of thou­sands of lo­tuses. The sea of colour in Khao Sam Roi Yot na­tional park, three hours south of Bangkok, is a show-stop­ping feat of na­ture that has lo­cals hop­ing for a tourist bo­nanza.

But it has also sparked warn­ings over the fragility of the en­vi­ron­ment with park rangers plead­ing with peo­ple not to visit un­til the lake is healthy enough to deal with an in­flux of tourists.

The flow­ers, con­sid­ered sa­cred in Thai culture, are good news for lo­cals who have been fer­ry­ing cam­era-tot­ing vis­i­tors through the lo­tuses which lie in knots on the lake's vast wa­ters.

But “cur­rently they should not come,” said head ranger Run­groj Aswakul­tarin.

“The na­tional park is in the process of restor­ing the lo­tuses. When it comes to the right time the park will open them up to the public,” he said.

Run­groj's cau­tion is un­der­stand­able. For the last decade the park -- a stun­ning jum­ble of lakes, trib­u­taries and tow­er­ing lime­stone karsts three hours south of Bangkok – saw no wide­spread lo­tus bloom.

No-one has been able to pin­point ex­actly why. But of­fi­cials blame a mix­ture of drought and pol­lu­tion from fer­tilis­ers and nearby seafood farms.

In re­cent years rangers have tried to clean up the park and this year were re­warded with a sea of pink flow­ers.

Thai­land strug­gles to bal­ance its lu­cra­tive tourism in­dus­try with pre­serv­ing the en­vi­ron­ment. Few coun­tries have ex­pe­ri­enced the kind of strato­spheric growth in tourism.

In the last decade the num­ber of for­eign ar­rivals has more than dou­bled from 13.8 mil­lion in 2006 to a record 32.5 mil­lion last year, growth partly pow­ered by Chi­nese ar­rivals.

Those ex­pect­ing to find the kind of pris­tine, un­touched beaches in tourist brochures are often left dis­ap­pointed among hordes of vis­i­tors.

Thai­land's tourism min­is­ter has called for the in­dus­try to chase fewer hol­i­day­mak­ers but ones with deep pock­ets.

In other de­vel­op­ments, some 61 na­tional parks, in­clud­ing 25 marine parks, has closed to vis­i­tors for the mon­soon sea­son, an an­nual move to try and help them re­cover.

But some en­vi­ron­men­tal­ists have ar­gued the most vul­ner­a­ble ecosys­tems need to close for longer, or face much stronger re­stric­tions on vis­i­tor num­bers. – AFP Re­laxnews

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