HEADLINES [click on headline to view story]:

Chiangmai Mail celebrates 1st Anniversary

Phuket Airline successfully launched in Chiang Mai

Driving Miss Daisy

Chiangmai Mail celebrates 1st Anniversary

1664 pages later...

Michael Vogt

It truly seems like yesterday when we were frantically recruiting staff, setting up the initial office, arranging the ‘Grand Opening Party’, taking care of a million other things (at least, and of course all at the same time...), and, in addition, trying to complete the very first issue of the Chiangmai Mail, Chiang Mai’s first English-language newspaper.

Wow, and now it’s 12 months later, and I am sitting in my (new) office, and have to compose the very first “Thank You” article, knowing that there will be many, many more to come. It has been an absolutely incredible year, and we would have never dreamed that the Chiang Mai community and the Northern Region would have welcomed the Chiangmai Mail with such wide-open arms, and now holds it ever so dearly. Over the past year, we have met a great number of magnificent people who helped us with ideas, contacts, and know-how, and who made our integration into the community so much easier.

We are still impressed by the ingenuousness of both Thais and foreigners towards ‘The Mail’, and it makes the team truly proud that we now have a huge number of hard-copy subscribers (worldwide, I might add), an ever-growing number of weekly readers, and a permanent presence at most universities and schools in and around Chiang Mai, which are using the Chiangmai Mail as ‘material’ for their English classes. It will also remain our philosophy to always have an open-door policy, especially for graduates of a mass media related class, and to invite those youngsters to join the team, and to actually do what they have been taught. First-hand experience, fast paced, and fun at the same time.

There have been tough times too (and we know that they ain’t over yet), and Chiangmai Mail received its fair share of criticism - however, it was almost always meant constructively. The feedback and interaction with the readers was, and still is, enormous and continuing, and this is not only reflected in our Mailbag section - there is a lot of email correspondence and phone calls taking place on a daily basis. The team is trying hard to accommodate all wishes, complaints (yes, there are some...), requirements for this sort of information, requests for that kind of information, and one sometimes feels more like being in a supermarket rather than in a newspaper office. But we all love it!

We have stated a number of times that it is our aim and objective to be a community newspaper, and a paper for the whole family. There’s something for everyone, for mum, dad, and the kid(s) - a light, enjoyable read, which you will want to read from cover to cover. A local newspaper that supports and promotes the business, tourism and social events in the area and will provide residents and visitors alike with the information they want to know about, presented in a weekly, up to date, and enjoyable format.

Now for the ‘Thank You’ part - listing all the names of the local authorities, the officers at the municipality, the city hall officials, the governors office, the businesses, all individuals and personalities, the NGOs, the colleagues from the other medias in town, the new friends we have made, the staff who has been with us from the very first moment, the staff who has joined and left again, there are just too many! Allow us to universally say a big, big ‘Thank You’ to all of you! However, a special remark must be made for the dozens of hands behind the scenes at the good offices of the Pattaya Mail, our ‘mother company’, its management, its editors, its graphics people, its lay-outers, and its printer. Without you guys and gals, we wouldn’t be where we are today - thanks!

“200 red mini bus drivers protested that air-conditioned buses will take their customers,” which appeared on the front page of Vol. II No. 28, July 12. “The protestors blocked roads and paralyzed public transportation from noon until late afternoon on Friday, July 4, causing traffic chaos in Chiang Mai.”

A pretty picture appeared on the front page of Vol. II No. 23, June 7, but the message it brought with it was anything but pretty: “TAT admits tourist numbers are down 40% ... Doi Inthanon, one of the most famous tourist sites in Chiang Mai, used to attract many tourists before the SARS scare,” but unfortunately, it had by then become a bit of a “ghost town”.

Vol. II No. 22, front page, May 31 carried the message: “1,300 rai of forests have been destroyed, and deputy PM gave authorities 15 days to arrest culprits.” He also implied, much to the chagrin of many, that hilltribe people are still collecting forest products and destroying the forest for firewood.

 It was downright stiflingly hot back in May, so much so that the weather made the front page of Vol. II No. 19 on May 10, along with an ominous warning: “Northern Meteorological Center says oppressive heat will continue. Warns of possible cyclone activity mid-month.” The photo showed, “Children celebrating their summer with a swim in the Ping River under hot, sunny skies.”

 It was that time of year again for Vol. II No. 15, April 12, and we reported on front page: “It’s Songkran time again, so be prepared to get wet. The ‘holiday that Chiang Mai made famous’ gets underway this weekend, so be prepared to get a little wet and have a lot of fun. But remember, drive carefully, respect others, and don’t overindulge. Various traditional activities take place, including a lot of traditional Thai dancing” (shown here).

As the tensions reached a critical point in the Middle East, the effects were being felt throughout the world, including Chiang Mai. On the front page of Vol. II No. 14, April 5, the following appeared: “Anti-war protesters stage die-in at the front of US Consulate-General Office in Chiang Mai. Protesters lie on the ground near the consul office, to demonstrate how innocent people have died.”

Chiang Mai hosts its share of local, national and international sporting events, and the back page of Vol. II No. 21 on May 24 carried this fun shot: “A motorbike trail rider tries to climb obstacles at the Nippon Oil Trail Honda 2003 Thailand Championship arranged in Chiang Mai ... the overall winner became Thailand’s champion trail rider.”

Many “firsts” also take place in our Rose of the North, and as roses reached new heights, an unusual “first’ appeared on the front page of Vol. II No. 3, January 24 when, “German and Thai tie the knot in Thailand’s first balloon wedding ... Up, up and away... On January 9, Peter Copitz and Chatrawadee Sukhajaiti tied the knot in a hot air balloon above Doi Saket, thus becoming Thailand’s first couple to get married in a hot air balloon.”

Whisky distillers weren’t in a very good mood last March, perhaps part of it was due to the heat, but in Vol. II No. 12, March 22, our front page showed: “Over 20,000 local liquor Distillers Network protesters gathered in front of Chiang Mai City Hall to protest the government’s new tax resolution,” complete with, “Unbottled anger at discriminatory tax laws, protesters were prepared to burn their Thai Rak Thai membership cards and jackets.”

Ice hockey in the tropics? Yes, indeed, and it has featured prominently in the Chiangmai Mail sports pages, dating back to our very first issue. And on the back page of Vol. II No. 16, April 19 we featured another classic ice hockey event when, “Chevron Canstar wins PM Thaksin Shinawatra Ice Hockey trophy - Canstar came out flying in championship game against Rocket Thailand on April 7, and with their close checking and precision passing earned a hard fought 5-1 victory.”

An overturned oil tanker truck caused quite a scare in June, and the following appeared on the front page of Vol. Il No. 24, June 14: “A PTT oil tanker ran off the road at the Don Chan crossroad in front of Big C Superstore and burst into flames. The driver succumbed to very serious burns. Traffic was backed up for more than 3 hours. Burning oil leaked into the sewers, causing flames and smoke to billow out of the vents down the road.” And even though it was the middle of the day, “Police believe driver fell asleep.”

 As sure as the sun will rise every morning, at some point during the year there will be flooding in some part of the north, no matter how hard authorities seem to try to prevent it. At the time of just our 3rd ever issue, the flooding was enough to make the front page (and it wouldn’t be the last time, either...) Vol. I No. 3, Nov 9: “Flash floods cripple Chiang Mai. Municipality on the verge of announcing an emergency ... Roads turned to klongs last weekend in some of the worst flooding in recent memory.”

This photo essay would not be complete if we didn’t re-run the photo and caption that appeared on the first edition of the Chiangmai Mail. So, here it is: ISSUE #1 Vol. I No. 1 October 26 - “Electric school bus project switched on,” read the headline, with a sub-head that read: “Trial runs to begin in December.” The photo caption read, “Chiang Mai’s electric school buses are ready to be set in motion. The service is set to begin as a pilot project in December.” Unfortunately, there have been a few hiccups along the way...

The Chiang Mai Pool League has been a very big part of the Chiangmai Mail sports pages, nearly since the beginning of time (well, our time anyway...). John at the Outback, during his never-ending effort to “get off the bottom” has become a good friend of the CMM, and continues to send in the results of the league (thanks John). On the back page of Vol. II No. 36, Sept 6, we even managed to get in a photo of the action: “Julian holds his nerve on the black yet again. (Photo by Marie-Odile Kernoa)”.

The Golden Triangle has long been infamous for its opium production, something that local and international agencies are working hard to change. When the effort was continued, it appeared on the front page of Vol. II No. 5, February 1: “International agencies witness poppy eradication at Doi Sammuen area. White poppies are popular in Doi Sammuen because of their perfect resin.”

Perhaps you’ve heard of milk baths, but a milk shower? That’s what appeared on the front page of Vol. II No. 2, January 11 when “500 milk producers stage city hall protest. A case of crying over split milk? Protesters poured milk over one of the farmers in protest of an apparent over production of milk in Chiang Mai. The farmers called for the governor to re-implement zoning to solve the problems of overlapping suppliers.”

Phuket Airline successfully launched in Chiang Mai

National Travel receives a kick

Marion Vogt

Chiang Mai - Chiang Rai in 45 minutes, it seems almost too good to be true. But Phuket Air made it possible on Monday, October 20, 2003 with the first official flight from Chiang Mai to Chiang Rai and return.

The need is there, with Chiang Mai becoming more and more a business destination, and the post SARS development is seeing positive indications of the tourism recovery. Phuket Air grabbed that niche which existed in Chiang Mai and launched their new destination with a sell-out inaugural flight.

Governor Suwat Tantipat cuts the ribbon and officially opens the 1st Phuket Air flight from Chiang Mai International Airport to Chiang Rai.

They now offer this service twice a day -perfect timing either for business or for pleasure. It will be easy now to ‘quickly’ designate a day trip to the Golden Triangle when guests from overseas are here for a visit. And the flight schedule makes it equally perfect to attend meetings in Chiang Mai and be back in time for dinner.

Vikrom Aisiri, President of Phuket Air and Senator of Ranong Province received flowers from Chiang Mai MP Surapol Kiartchaiyakorn in front of the Phuket Air counter at the Departure Hall at Chiang Mai International Airport.

Even more perfect is the special introductory offer. Only 1,500 baht for a return ticket. There is no excuse anymore now to postpone that trip to Chiang Rai.

Every TV crew wanted to get a statement from Kanin Phuvastien, senior vice president of Phuket Air, who made these daily flights possible.

It was a celebration in itself, first in Chiang Mai with Governor Suwat Tantipat cutting the ribbon and officially opening the first Phuket Air flight.

All Phuket Air flight attendants are trained to provide special care to those who may need it the most, including young children, elderly travelers and people with disabilities.

And the welcome in Chiang Rai, after the 30 minute uninterrupted calm journey, had beautiful northern girls welcoming the visitors; dancers entertaining them and a welcoming committee with the President of the Red Cross Chiang Rai, the MD of Debavalya Group, plus the Vice Governor of Chiang Rai, who said that he hopes that the daily flights to and from Chiang Rai will benefit both cities and Phuket Air as well. It will bring more tourists to the North who can enjoy the northern food, tourist attractions, and the people of Chiang Rai are eagerly looking forward to bring out the beauty of their city.

Check with Phuket Air or your local travel agent for flight times.

Posing in front of the aircraft before the inaugural takeoff on October 20, 2003.

The YS-11, a Japanese manufactured dual turbo-prop aircraft can accommodate 64 passengers and is designed with modern fresh colors in pink and light blue.

Driving Miss Daisy

Or: getting a drivers license in Thailand

Daisy Vogt

The movie “Driving Miss Daisy” adapted from the hit play by Alfred Uhry was the winner of the Academy Award in 1989, chronicling the 25 year friendship between Miss Daisy, a stubborn, aging Southern widow (Jessica Tandy) and her loyal chauffeur (Morgan Freeman). However, this article is not about the movie, but more about a six hour ‘friendship’ between a young Miss Daisy and a stubborn pick-up, and its part in my getting a Thai drivers license.

If you see these red letters on a car - run for safety or drive with care.

Driving in Thailand is a fun and adventurous experience. Getting a driver’s license is also not as easy as it may seem, as I experienced this last week when getting ready to take the test. Having already received lessons in Germany this summer, I knew how to use a stick-shift, but not having driven for a couple of months I decided to take some lessons at a local driving school.

Full house for the written part of the test...

The first day was called field practice, which turned out to be in a field! A football field, it was overgrown with high grass and shrubs with a 2.5 meter wide cement ‘road’ around the outside. The two pick-up trucks standing in the shade had also seen better days looking at their appearance. Driving along the cement path I was allowed to shift up to third gear, but was repeatedly told to slow down because I was going too fast. After guiding me around two more times the teacher told me to stop, got out and then told me to keep going until I was tired, probably hoping that exhaustion would get the Michael Schumacher out of me. For the next two hours I drove around the circle feeling like a roundabout at the local fair, but at least I got back into the habit of changing gears whenever the engine told me to.

Waiting to pay - all in all 115 baht for a one year license plus about 1,300 baht for the lessons.

So we came to Day 2. With the memories of yesterday’s roundabout and the promise that I would be allowed to drive in the other direction today, I returned. To learn to drive backwards I had to reverse into a section between two poles with little red flags on them, this looked easy enough but turned out to be more difficult than I thought. Teaching me to reverse once from the left, once from the right my teacher again left me to enjoy the rest of the two hours by myself. 10 minutes later I was covered in sweat and after about 50 more times of reverse parking I gave up because the heat was killing me - isn’t there supposed to be air-conditioning in a car?

That was the plumber’s friend to push the brakes whenever I went too fast, which was often.

On day three, with a stiff neck, but in a good mood I arrived at the driving school ready for my last two hours of driving lessons - but this time around town. Being a bit nervous I was glad to see that the car had tinted windows and big red letters on the back reading “Caution: Student driver”. My teacher started the lesson by explaining how to hold the steering wheel properly, adjust my seat and use the mirrors to look at traffic. We drove around the outskirts of town, with him using a long handled plumber’s friend to push the brake pedal whenever I went too fast. Not quite the ‘dual controls’ I had expected! After two hours I drove safely up to the Chiang Mai Mail office and my teacher assured my mom that I would do fine on the test.

The truck had seen better days, but at least I was guaranteed I would not freeze.

The test proper started with one and a half hours of lectures on street signs, speed limits and all the little tidbits one needs to know for driving. After a 30 question test, where at least 75% has to be correct, we were allowed to show our skills at driving. I arrived at the test site and was told to get in my car and drive along the route.

The reception area of the driving school.

“Get in my car? I don’t have a car.” The officer was a bit confused why I did not bring my car to the driving test, but how could I drive there without a license? After more explanations, including that we only have an automatic at home, smiles and batting my eyelashes, I managed to convince him to let me use his pick-up to take the test; though I did have to pay 20 baht for the gasoline!

Field practice on Day 1, only turning right was allowed, stop and go...

Five minutes later it was over, and although I made some mistakes - I still received my license. Now I’m the new chauffeur for my parents and the proud owner of my little green laminated one-year license which I show to everybody. Miss Daisy now drives herself!

A patient teacher explaining why and how to use a mirror (not for makeup but for safety).