On this occasion, Nanda Jagusiak-Monteiro interviews the Ambassador of Thailand, H.E. Mr. Ittiporn Boonpracong
Former posts: The Hague, the Netherlands (2015-present), Nairobi, Kenya (2012-2015), New York, USA (2003- 2006), Geneva, Switzerland (1992-1996), Nairobi, Kenya (1986-1990)
1. On July 2 and 3, the 11th Thailand Grand Festival will take place in The Hague. Can you please tell the reader about the purpose, history and activities of this festival?
Thailand Grand Festival or TGF is an annual summer event organised 10 times already by the Royal Thai Embassy in July. Its main objectives are to promote Thai culture, tourism and commercial products in the Netherlands. We used to organize this event in Amsterdam but for the past three years we have decided to change the venue to The Hague to attract more visitors, including members of diplomatic corps. TGF has been warmed welcomed by local people and expats in The Hague since it is great opportunity for them to enjoy Thai Food from many local restaurants and importers while having picnics under the sun with imported Thai beers in their hands. In addition, live music, Thai traditional massage, the muay thai (Thai kick boxing) show and cultural performances are provided for visitors’ entertainment all day long. This year, the 11th Thailand Grand Festival will be held on 2-3 July 2016 at the Plein, The Hague from 12:00 – 20:00 hrs. There will be no entry fee and visitors are not required to buy any tickets in advance. More information and update can be found on our facebook: “Royal Thai Embassy The Hague”.
2. How do you experience to live in the Netherlands?
It is such an honour to represent my country in the Netherlands, not only because the diplomatic relations between the Netherlands and Thailand have been going over four decades, but also because The Hague is the capital of international law, especially, considering that I have spent over half of my career working in legal fi elds. Additionally, the Dutch people, on top of the fact that they are generally easy-going, frank, straightforward, interactive and innovative, always give my family and I warm welcome everywhere we go. The Dutch people, in general never fail to amaze me. I have a feeling that the Dutch people have positive attitudes towards Thailand. Hence, in brief I cannot deny that my time here as an Ambassador has been very meaningful and I also have a truly splendid experience here as a Thai person living on the Dutch soil.
3. How would you describe the relationship between Thailand and the Netherlands?
The relationship has always been solid and stable. I often think about how the two countries share so many commonalities: we are both constitutional monarchy countries, we love our Royal Families and we love our simple and sustainable agricultural lives. Our Royal Courts have shared close ties since the beginning of the relations. The Dutch Government always stands by our side with a helping hand. We always maintain our openminded attitudes to work together for mutual benefits.
4. The Netherlands is one of the most important European trading partners of Thailand. Can you please tell us about the Dutch-Thai economic relations?
The Netherlands ranks the 22nd of Thai trading partners globally and ranks the 3rd in European region. In 2015, overall our trading volume was 5,241 million USD. In light of foreign direct investments, investments from Dutch companies collectively make the largest foreign direct investments in Thailand. Last year, the Thai Board of Investment (BOI) approved 37 investment projects, equivalent to approximately 600 million USD, from the Netherlands.
5. What can you tell me about the “land bridge” between the Pacifi c and the Indian Oceans?
The land bridge project is designed as part of a newly-built railway to link between Surat Thani province on the shore of the Gulf of Thailand and Pang-nga province on the coast of the Andaman Sea to facilitate cargo and passenger transportation between the two seas and two oceans. The project is designed to become a land-based gateway for logistical and economic development in the coastal southern Thailand which largely relies on rubber plantations and tourist industry. There will be a dozen railway stations along the way between Surat Thani province and Pang-nga province, plus access to airports in those southern provinces as well as Phuket international airport.
6. More than 10 years ago a heavy earthquake took place in the Indian Ocean. In Thailand more than 5000 people died in this tsunami. Did your country completely recover of this disaster?
I recall that it happened in the morning of Sunday, 26 December 2004. Everyone was at shock and panicking. The Government at that time, in collaboration with international agencies, immediately executed emergency and early recovery response, e.g. providing shelters, food and medical care for indigenous people and tourists in the affected area, setting up a call centre and interpreter service for prompt coordination and sending off searching teams to look for missing people. Geographically speaking, the destroyed area has fully recovered. Sociologically speaking, however, the trauma requires longer time to cure for Thai people and foreigners who lost their loved ones. The observances of silence and activities to honour those who passed away were held occasionally by government offi ces and local people to support those families. We learned from our lessons and set up the National Disaster Warning Center, which works closely with relevant international agencies to prevent such horrifi c experience to happen again.
7. H.M.King Bhumibol Adulyadej is very much involved in his country and initiated more than thousand projects, ranging from irrigation, farming, public health, etc. Besides this he is also a successful composer. Can you please elaborate about this?
H.M. the King is a scientist, a musician and an artist. Since His Majesty’s coronation in 1950, His Majesty has dedicated himself to improving the quality of life of the Thai people. Droughts and poor public healthcare were, among others, serious problems at the time. In His Majesty’s speech in 1974, it was announced that the development of the country must be fostered in stages. It must start with the construction of infrastructure. From such determination, thousands of Royal projects were initiated to get people together, to work together and to help each other for living sustainable lives. Over 30 prizes were awarded to His Majesty from international and regional organizations and foreign universities in recognition of His Majesty’s life-long works. In addition, H.M. the King is specifi – cally talented in music and arts, growing up I remember coming across a lot of His Majesty’s composed songs, which I fi nd pleasant to listen to. In fact, I still am listening to them until these days.
8. There is a big Thai community living in the Netherland. Do you have any idea about the number living here?
There about approximately 15,000 Thais here, about 200 of which are students.
9. Thailand is a very popular holiday destination, also to the Dutch. How many Dutch tourists visited your country last year?
Around 200,000 Dutch tourists visited Thailand last year. In fact, this number has been steady for a number of years. To facilitate tourists in planning for their trip in South East Asia, we have just recently launched multiple-entry tourist visa. Furthermore, tourists who are 50 year-old and over may enjoy the benefi t of extended stays in Thailand. You may visit : www.thaiembassy.org/ hague/th/services or contact firstname.lastname@example.org for more information about eligibilities and required documents.
10. Which highlights would you recommend to visit?
There are a number of places in Thailand which are a must for all international travellers who will visit Thailand, such as the Grand Palace (Bangkok), Doi Inthanon National Park (Chiang Mai), Koh Muk and Tham Morakot (Emerald Cave) and Koh Samui. But for the Dutch, one unique place for them to visit comes to my mind: There is the remaining trace of Dutch community in Ayutthaya, the old and second capital of Thailand before Bangkok, and about 100 kilometres to the north from Bangkok. It is a large shipyard and cargo establishment on the mouth of Chao Phraya River, known amongst Dutch people as the ‘New Amsterdam’. Thai people called it ‘Baan Vilanda’ or ‘Baan Holanda’, which means Dutch village in Thai language. Baan Vilanda was recently renovated into the Information Centre on the History of Dutch-Thai Relations, following a donation by Her Royal Highness Princess Beatrix during Her State visit to Thailand, as the Queen of the Netherlands, for the celebration of the 400th anniversary of Dutch-Thai relations in 2004. The Centre has good collections of Dutch-Thai historical items, e.g. the VOC meticulous archives, and is a hidden gem that has yet been known amongst many tourists.
You may plan your visit there by www.baanhollanda.org/en/.