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March 30, 2011

Due to the March 24 earthquake we have received many concerned e-mails from friends around the world, and some tourists have even postponed trips to Chiang Mai. We therefore wish to clarify that the earthquake did not damage Chiang Mai, most people here did not even notice any shaking. The earthquake hit the far north of the neighbouring province Chiang Rai, at the very border with Burma, some 3.5-4 hours car drive from Chiang Mai. Although the earthquake caused death and destruction in some parts of Burma, it can not be compared with the devastating catastrophe that hit Japan.

The distance between Chiang Mai town in Thailand and Tachilek in Burma is like between Nice in France and Milan in Italy.

Ketsanee and I recently returned from Krabi in southern Thailand, where we had the pleasure of a free stay at a seaside resort. Among the highlights was a trip to a calcareous rock in the Andaman Sea called ‘Koh Hong’. We saw the ‘Oriental Pied Hornbill’ flying among the treetops even before we hit the beach. We asked the Thais who go there everyday how often they see this pterodactyl-like bird, and they said ‘never’. Maybe because they never care?

When I came up from the water after some snorkeling I saw a two meters long ‘crocodie same same‘ with a belly so fat of fish it almost touched the ground. Although I have seen such water dragons in Lumpini park, this specimen was majestic, and it is far more interesting to see them in their natural habitat than in a city park. I guess if I had bumped into a two meters long lizard while snorkeling, I should have freaked out. However, these creatures are a bit shy, and I am sure he was aware of me all the time while I was in the water. He took a chance when I left the water, thinking we could not spot him, but being the size of a log on a white beach does not make you invisible. These tiny islands are important refuges for plants and wildlife. A gigantic Borneo mahogany (Calophyllum inophyllum, Clusiaceae) provided shade on the beach. We have a baby specimen back at Dokmai Garden which grows well.

The far south was a bit rainy, and when we left several provinces experienced flooding. Meanwhile at Dokmai Garden we received another 5 mm of rain on the 27th. According to our staff we have had many days with overcast, and the evenings are still cold. In fact, on the 29th we had only 22 °C at 12.30, while 35°C would be normal this time of the year (average daily maximum temperature for the Chiang Mai Airport). It feels like this year skipped the hot season. I do not complain, and I am curious to see the effects on the vegetation and wildlife. We have already had a burst of mushrooms two months earlier than last year, which I shall discuss tomorrow.

A concise weather summary at Dokmai Garden, Chiang Mai:

2006. Unusually wet year.

2007. Neutral year. At the end emerging La Niña, cold oceanic phase.

2008. Unusually wet year. The rainy season ended after the first week in November. La Niña, cold oceanic phase.

2009. The driest year in 70 years. El Niño, warm oceanic phase.

2010. Delayed rainy season (as an effect of El Niño), terribly wet end (August – September) and emerging La Niña.

2011. Cold and unusually rainy March as an effect of the declining La Niña. The prediction for the rest of 2011 is uncertain, but probably a neutral year according to the Climate Prediction Center.

Eric Danell

Impressions from the downtown Krabi market: Barramundi & Barracuda. In the foreground two Barramundi (Lates calcarifer, Centropomidae), commonly named ‘Sea Bass’ in Thai restaurant menus. Since there are at least eight totally different fish species under the name ‘Sea Bass’, and since Barramundi is one of the most delicious fish in the world, it is quite important the gourmand gets what he is ordering. In Sweden the law states the scientific name has to be present to avoid fraud and disappointment, but when you are in Thailand you may request to see the actual fish before cooking. A Thai name, ‘ma lay’, meaning ‘striped horse’, may refer to many various fishes and Barramundi is not even striped. The hump-backed and silvery Barramundi occurs commonly in the waters outside Krabi, favouring mangroves and estuaries.

In the background Barracuda (Sphyraena barracuda, Sphyraenidae), a fish not recommended as food due to potentially high accumulations of toxins (ciguatera). This is due to the barracuda eating fish which feed on algae and corals containing toxic planktons (dinoflagellates). The toxins can make you dizzy or even kill you, and symptoms may last for long periods of time, resembling multiple sclerosis.

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