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Over 300 farmers take part in Farmer’s Day at Wat Phra Singha

A young man gives his life to Buddhist art

Nostalgia on rails - the Eastern & Oriental Express in Chiang Mai

Over 300 farmers take part in Farmer’s Day at Wat Phra Singha

Nuttanee Thaveephol

More than 300 farmers joined in the Farmer’s Day ceremony presided over by Chiang Mai Governor Pisit Khetphasook, who led the participants in worship of the Buddha while the monks blessed seeds, plants, and fish to be given to the farmers.

The priest of Wat Phra Singha sprinkled holy water on the farmer’s seeds.

Governor Pisit Khetphasook said that farmers are the most important group in the country.

Small fish were prepared to be given to the fish farmers

The governor said that farmers are the most important group in the country and they play a very important role in the economy. "At the same time, farmers should learn more techniques in production and marketing. The Ministry of Agriculture and Cooperatives need to assist the farmers in increasing their production potential as well," he said.

After the priest of Wat Phra Singha had prayed, the Chiang Mai governor distributed seeds, plants and fish to the farmers who participated in the ceremony.

The priest at Wat Phra Singha blessed the farmers.

Officials from the Provincial Agricultural and Cooperatives Office distribute plants.

A young man gives his life to Buddhist art

Autsadaporn Kamthai

Chaiyaporn "Roong" Phongphak, a 31-year-old bachelor, is a talented and skilful Lanna artist. After seeing his work, it is easy to believe he was born to be an artist.

Roong’s beautifully painted golden wall.

This Toong that Roong designed was used in the procession to Doi Suthep on May 14.

Wat Sri Supan, a beautiful golden temple. Roong has done every type of temple artwork, most related to the history of the Buddha, such as the painting on Wat Sri Supan’s wall

After finishing his studies at Poh Chang College (Vocational College), Roong has spent 9 years devoting most of his time to doing all kinds of artwork for temples around Chiang Mai.

Although he could earn a living by painting, he does not really want to mix art and business. As a result, he decided to go freelance rather than be grouped with others and be dictated to by market influences.

Roong has done every type of temple artwork, most related to the history of the Buddha, such as the painting on Wat Sri Supan’s wall, and when it got too late in the evening or he got carried away with painting, he would just sleep there. "One of the nuns in the temple I used to work in said if I had a wife, she would really pity her, since I always hung around the temples and there would never be time for her," Roong said laughing at himself.

One of Roong’s paintings on the inner wall of Wat Sri Supan.

Roong describes his artwork. "Buddhism helps teach me to concentrate while doing my art and I apply that in every piece of artwork," he said.

This window and wall inside Wat Sri Supan show Roong’s elegant artwork.

One of the doors in Wat Sri Supan.

Roong is a local Chiang Mai citizen and his home is in Mae Hia district, not far from downtown. "Whenever I finish my work, I always go back home to spend time with my mother." He is a rarity in the new generation, with his strong faith in Buddhism and his devotion to it. "In my secondary school days, I studied in Metta Thamma Suksa at Wat Chedi Luang so I received much influence from Buddhism."

All this study of Buddhism seems to have influenced both his life and his arts. "Buddhism helps teach me to concentrate while doing my art and I apply that in every piece of artwork," said Roong.

When Roong helped his senior to paint the wall of Mon Thien Thamma tower in Wat Buppharam 10 years ago, he found that he loved this kind of work. "I found this a suitable way of living."

Surprisingly, he was once a DJ. "I used to be a DJ to publicize Pra Tri Phi Dhok (Buddha’s teachings of three parts) on a radio program," he said proudly.

He has found more youngsters from the new generation who are devoting themselves to Buddhist artwork, similarly to himself. "Some teens who are willing to work with me say they love doing artwork and want to keep in touch with temples, as they believe they will get merit from that."

The famous Thai pattern, Phraya Naga, on the wall of Wat Sri Supan.

The workshop at Wat Loke Molee.

When asked his opinion on the reduction of Buddhist education periods in schools, he said he was worried that it would lessen our children’s awareness of the religion and affect the country in the long run. "People of the previous generation like myself have more awareness than the new generation because we were taught ethics and morality in school. I believe the country will face more problems and crimes - a reflection of the lack of morality in our new generation," Roong remarked.

Nostalgia on rails - the Eastern & Oriental Express in Chiang Mai

Story and photos
by Michael Vogt

A friend rang me the other day, asking if I would be available for lunch on Monday. "Sure," I said, "Where do we go?" "Well," he replied, "meet me at the Railway Station." "Fine with me," I answered, "did you find a new khao soi stall?" "Nope, we will be boarding the Eastern & Oriental Express, and catching a ride to Lampang."

The Eastern & Oriental Express upon its arrival in Chiang Mai. You have the chance to see this legendary train 6 more times later this year.

One can hardly believe what the chefs create in this kitchen with its extremely limited space.

Time for a rest and a good book - the reading room, dominated by mahogany and brocade, provides an extensive library, magazines and newspapers.

The bar car, next to the restaurant carriages.

That was it! These three words brought back memories on the spot, memories of my childhood, the fascination, the books and travel stories about the "Orient Express" (as we Westerners know it), the murderers, Agatha Christies’ Hercule Poirot, the plush and the lush - I could not wait to see it myself.

Monday came, and I went a little earlier to have a look around. At its maximum length, the train (if you may want to call it just that) consists of 22 carriages. The two restaurant cars, the bar car and saloon car were situated at the centre, with the compartment carriages located on both sides of these central cars. I found the observation car at the very end, and was looking forward to having a G&T just there.

Having caught up with my friend, we were met by the charming Ms. Leesa Lovelace, E&O’s deputy general manager, who took both of us on a tour of the train. In every way reflecting the style and grandeur of its European sister train, the Eastern & Oriental Express, it leaves its own mark on the world. It remains true to its grand heritage in its meticulous recreation of colonial splendor, yet offers a view of an altogether more exotic world.

Stepping on board, we knew that we would experience something out of the ordinary. Leesa informed us that the immaculate carria ges were brought to life by the traditional skills of master craftsmen, and we realized just how their delicate skills, intricate brass work and fine wood marquetry have decorated the interior. Passengers can, depending on the depth of their pockets, choose between ‘Pullman-’, ‘State-’ or a ‘Presidential-Compartment’; however all compartments vary only in size, as amenities and facilities are the same - ensuite shower and w.c., a personal safe, a minibar, not to mention towels, bottled water, toiletries, hairdryer, E&O stationery, and route information. To put it simple: a 5 star hotel on rails for not more than 132 passengers; stylish - the old-fashioned way.

After a little refreshment in the bar, we were politely informed that our table had been prepared, and that the food was ready to be served. The maitre-d had set-up our table at the saloon car, where we met up with Ulf Buchert, director of Passenger Services, the heart and soul of the train. No need to mention that the layout of the table was absolutely spotless and perfect, and so was the menu. Chef de Cuisine Kevin Cape had a light ‘East-meets-West’ menu prepared for us, starting with a clear vegetable and wonton soup, with tanlueng leaf and char siew pork, followed by an aromatic comfit of duck, Szechwan-style vegetables and puree of black bean and cumin. My personal favorite, however, was the Asian mixed-fruit crumble, served with Roselle ice cream.

One of the magnificent views you can enjoy from your private compartment, when the world is passing by.

Scenes at the bar - the ambience of the train provides a marvellous opportunity to display some glamour and style.

An obligatory farewell picture after a short yet remarkable trip - from right; David Thomas, Wanna Tours, Ulf Buchert, E&O’s Director of Passenger Services, Leesa Lovelace, E&O’s Dep. General Manager, and Chiangmai Mail’s Michael Vogt.

While the train majestically found its way through the most scenic surroundings, I asked Ulf about some operational issues - having seen the very limited space in the kitchen earlier, having noted the very discreet and very attentive service, I wanted to find out how he recruits and trains the staff. His answer was quiet simple - "We don’t have to! We basically do not have any staff turnover, and about 90% of the employees have been with us ever since we started the E&O Express, and that is now almost 11 years ago. When I do interviews, I look for people with charisma and character, that’s what we need. Experience is certainly welcome, but not really essential. We like people with an attitude!"

In my opinion (having had 25 years hotel experience myself), a very refreshing and modern approach towards "Human Resources", which proves to be successful, and could also work for other hospitality sectors that claim to ‘know it all’.

Asking Ulf about one or another unusual experience or request he has had in the past 10+ years, he hesitated to answer. Why? Noblesse oblige! At the E&O Express, the passengers’ wish is the command, and should you ever need a private airplane at 3 in the morning - check with Ulf. He and his staff make the impossible possible, and he might even tell you where to find the best local food stalls between Chiang Mai and Singapore, whenever the train halts for a routine stop.

Without any doubt, there is something special about this train - Leesa and Ulf proudly remark that they welcome about 60 to 70% returning passengers on board, passengers who have undertaken other trips on the European routes, or in Australia. Passengers who are enjoying their honeymoon, a wedding anniversary, or any other auspicious occasion which calls for a very special treat.

At a very gentle pace, we approached Lampang, and as we watched the scenery unfold from the comfort of this luxurious cocoon, we could understand what inspired Paul Theroux to write, "The journey, not the arrival, matters". So, should you have your personal special occasion coming up later this year - the train will be back in Chiang Mai 6 more times before this year comes to an end. Spoil yourself, and experience a most unique, nostalgic way of traveling.