HEADLINES [click on headline to view story]:

San Patong’s anti-drug promotion

Flying Tigers Reunion at Wing 41

Military Camp, a new choice for university freshmen?

Lanna Art in Chiang Rai

Laos: The Hidden Heart of Southeast Asia

The shadowy life of the gender benders

San Patong’s anti-drug promotion

Phitsanu Thepthong

6,000 people from 118 villages, 11 tambon and two municipalities participated in the grand parade along the main Chiang Mai-Hod Road starting from San Patong District Agriculture Office, ending at the San Patong District government office grounds.

The grand parade proceeded along the Chiang Mai-Hod Road in San Patong.

The parade was to express their support of the anti-drug campaign as a part of the 60 day countdown drug project initiated by the government with San Patong district the first pilot scheme for Chiang Mai.

Prinya Panthong, Chiang Mai deputy governor led the people in taking an oath not to get involved with drugs. He was then followed by Thawatwong na Chiang Mai, a former MP for Chiang Mai and a former minister who spoke on the problems.

This event in the anti drug campaign was called “Palang Paen Din, Kachad Sin Ya Septid, or “People power can eradicate drugs” which is a part of the 60 day countdown in honor of the His Majesty the King on his birthday on December 5, this year.

The Drug Combat Operations Center in San Patong district organized this campaign, with district officials, local administration officers, kamnans, village headmen, and the public.

Deputy Governor Prinya led the people in an affirmation not to get involved with drugs.

Thousands of people took part in the parade.

A marching band led the parade.

Some marchers carried the portraits of Their Majesties the King and Queen.

Aerobic dance was one of the more active activities on the day.

A pretty majorette led one of the marching bands.

Hundreds of adventurous people took part in aerobics exercises during the event.

Flying Tigers Reunion at Wing 41

Fortunately, they came in peace!

Michael and Marion Vogt

It was a truly special event - special was the venue, special was the attendance, special was the decoration, and foremost special were the people. Imagine the Tango Squadron’s hangar next to the Chiang Mai Airport’s runway, with planes taking off and landing, and tables and buffets set-up in the midst of warbird airplanes, such as the Curtis P 40 Fighter, complete with the painted shark mouths and squadron insignia. A rather spectacular scenario.

Group Captain Veerayuth Didyasarin and his daughter, HRH Princess Siripachutaporn, upon arrival.

Consul General of the United States Eric Rubin and Hon. Consul of the United Kingdom David Hopkinson were amongst the selected group of attendees to await the arrival of the ‘Flying Tigers’ Squadron. It is indeed remarkable that those veterans, nowadays in their late 70s and 80s, made the effort to travel all the way from the US, half way around the world, in order to attend this year’s ‘Remembrance Day’ ceremony here in Chiang Mai, and to personally witness the dedication ceremony of the Flying Tigers memorial (Chiangmai Mail issue No. 46, page 2), held earlier on that day on the grounds of the foreign cemetery near the Gymkhana Club.

The president of the American Volunteer Group (AVG) Captain Dick Rossi during his opening address.

Upon arrival of the Flying Tigers, Group Captain Veerayuth Didyasarin welcomed all, and personally showed them around the hangar. The wreckage of a P-40 Hawk 81A-2, shot down on 24 March 1942 in Mae Hong Son, drew their particular interest, and must certainly have brought back some special memories. Looking at the remains of the plane, it seems a miracle that the pilot William McGarry survived the crash.

One of the props of the venue - albeit a real one!

As the last reunion dates back 3 years, all those attending had to catch up on a number of things, and it was amazing to watch the younger pilots chatting and exchanging experiences with those living legends, who more than willingly stunned the listeners with their adventurous stories, sounding more like coming from a Hollywood storybook.

A miracle that Captain William McGarry got out of this wreckage alive.

The more stories they told, the more boyish and adventurous became the look and expressions on their faces, and one could imagine that if there would have been a fully-functional P-40 on stand-by, the Tigers would have started to roar, hop in the plane, meaning ‘business’. Luckily, the warbirds surrounding the party venue were not sufficiently fuelled, so that everyone could hold on to their drinks, rather than anything else.

The Tigers were busy signing posters, flyers and caps at the end of the evening, as everyone wanted to have a personal autograph.

Sirens and a police escort signaled the arrival of one of Captain Veerayuth’s daughters, HRH Princess Siripachutaporn, who graced the evening with her presence. Dinner began to be served to the thunderous sounds of another TG flight taking-off, and the light-hearted and blissful atmosphere was enjoyed by everyone present.

The wreckage of a P-40 Hawk, shot down and found in Mae Hong Son, brought back memories to the Flying Tigers.

In his formal opening address, Captain Veerayuth expressed how proud and privileged he and his squadron felt to yet again host this important evening. Adding to this, Peeya Chakrapak, member of the “Free Thai” group and representing HSH Prince Bhisadej, recalled a number of adventures from his active times as a pilot.

Responding to his speech on behalf of the group, AVG President Dick Rossy said how much each and everyone appreciated the warm welcome, and that everyone is looking forward to return to beautiful Chiang Mai next year. On behalf of all participants, he presented a number of memorabilia and George Shaw’s painting replicas, autographed by as many as 30 Flying Tigers.

Late at night, a truly memorable evening came to an end, and everyone left with the impression ‘I am one of them’.

Military Camp, a new choice for university freshmen?

Chin Ratitamkul

The initiation rites and ceremonies involving university freshmen have been getting out of hand, according to some authorities. Oppression and threats have become commonplace according to some students who have been through it in the past.

The freshmen were under the instruction of a military trainer.

However, things have changed at Payap University. Pongthep Termsnguanwong, a lecturer announced that they would not have any freshmen activities in the university area.

The members of Payap University Faculty talked about an activity which could establish the relationship between students in each year. The committee concluded that a military camp should be suitable for new students to learn the discipline, sacrifice, and respect senior students, under military trainers.

Jaturadaj Unjai, president of the project.

Lt. Col Wisit Dechsakul, leader and trainer in this 33rd Military Circle camp, said it was good to get the freshmen heading in the right direction under instructors and military trainers. However, the training had to be adjusted to be suitable for women.

Jaturadaj Unjai, the second year student and president of the project, said besides forging the relationship between each year, the instructors would stay with them the entire project 3 days 2 nights. “We could also reduce the gap between teachers and students,” Jaturadaj concluded.

An enjoyable campfire on the second night.

However, it has not received universal acceptance. Chaleampong Thondee, a 1st year student who attended the camp, revealed that on the second day senior students still used mental intimidation with them. “Some of us were not satisfied and they requested to leave the camp,” he said.

Freshmen who did not follow discipline were punished.

Lanna Art in Chiang Rai

Small museum for art lovers

Jacquelyn Suter

If you’re an admirer of Lanna artistic heritage, you will have already seen the gorgeous photos of royal court and temple art in Michael Freeman’s and Susan Conley’s well-researched texts on Lanna culture. But there is one item you probably will not have seen-even in a photo. I’m referring to the magnificent gold-gilded teak throne from the ancient Lanna court at Chiang Tung (present day Keng Tung in Burma).

Julasak Suriyachai, a teacher and art connoisseur, who began collecting Lanna artifacts when he became concerned about foreigners buying antique works and taking them out of the country.

At the Oub Kham Museum in Chiang Rai, you can see the real thing. The throne is a masterpiece, and probably the only throne left in Southeast Asia of the former Lanna kingdoms. This small exquisite museum is too much of a well-kept secret. The museum is a private collection of Lanna art from the last 300 years up to the recent past, when the provinces of north Thailand, northwest Laos, parts of northeast Burma, and Yunnan China were ruled by local royal courts independent from the increasing encroachment of Siam.

The museum itself consists of a number of small reconstructed Lanna houses like this one, delightfully arranged in a tropical garden.

Set within its own enchanting garden of plants, sculpture, woodcarving, bubbling fountains, with a small outdoor cafe, the museum itself consists of a number of small reconstructed Lanna houses. Touring the museum, one goes from one to the other, experiencing wonders at every turn.

There are some absolutely magnificent items here. Foremost among which, and the namesake of the museum, are collections of oub kham, giant elaborately carved and gilded royal food bowls. From Yunnan, come outstanding examples of silver jewelry, one strange piece being a large hair pin that also doubled as a small dagger for women in proverbial distress.

A collection of ‘oub kham’, giant elaborately carved and gilded royal food bowls.

The museum also contains exquisite Buddha statues from Chiang Saen as well as other outstanding examples of centuries-old temple art. Lovely examples of contemporarily-woven textiles in traditional patterns are on sale in the 15,000 baht range.

We have Julasak Suriyachai to thank for preserving these wonderful items. A teacher and art connoisseur, he began collecting Lanna artifacts when he became concerned about foreigners buying antique works and taking them out of the country. He felt strongly that Thailand’s Lanna heritage should be kept here for the study and appreciation of Thai’s and local visitors. A wealth of information, Julasak is usually available onsite to give you a personal tour of the museum.

If you’re an art lover, don’t miss this museum. For you, a trip specifically to visit the Oub Kham would not be out of the question. There are now 45-minute direct flights from Chiang Mai to Chiang Rai at affordable promotional rates. If you have wheels, the season is now splendid for a 3-hour drive on highway 118 with khi-lek trees and bougainvillea in full bloom.

The museum is open daily from 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. 200 baht admission for foreigners. Located on the far west side of Chiang Rai on Na Khai Road next to the Den Ha market. Call 053-713-349 for more info.

Laos: The Hidden Heart of Southeast Asia

A Map Review

Reinhard Hohler

Situated in the heart of the golden mainland of Southeast Asia or Suvannaphum, the Lao Peoples’ Democratic Republic has a high potential for adventure and eco-tourism projects alike and is fast becoming an exciting tourist destination within the Greater Mekong Sub-Region. The number of tourist arrivals has increased gradually from 14,000 visitors in 1990 to 737,000 visitors in 2002. Would it not be because of the outbreak of the Iraq War and SARS in 2003, Laos would have easily welcomed a million tourists.

David Unkovich as people know him: on his bike somewhere exploring the best roads.

That is why a timely detailed map, especially for motorcycle enthusiasts, is heartily welcomed. Surveyed and researched by David Unkovich, an Australian long-time resident of Chiang Mai, and digitized by his son Jason Unkovich, the Laos Guide Map was published in 2001 by ‘The Golden Triangle Rider Company’ in Chiang Mai and since August 2003 is in its second edition.

The handy map comes alone and is printed on protected paper that can be cleaned after a dusty bike ride or after getting wet in a heavy rainstorm. There are nine city & town maps mainly on the back side of the main Laos Guide Map plus a very helpful sketch of the pre-historic sites on the Plain of Jars.

Laos - The Lao People’s Democratic Republic.

Also, there are very useful written guidelines for the visit of the several indicated National Bio-diversity Conservation Areas (NBCAs) and eco-tourism guidelines, taken from the booklet of the Nam Ha Eco-Tourism Project in Luang Nam Ta. The map legend considers 6 different road conditions, branching out from National Route No.13, which connects China in the north to Cambodia in the south. Special signs for tourist attractions such as waterfalls, caves, and temples are colorfully exposed and indicated, also the only private run elephant camp, managed by German national Markus Peschke in Luang Prabang.

With a total area of 236,800 square kilometers, Laos is around 70% mountainous, reaching a maximum elevation of 2,820 meters in Xieng Khouang Province. The Mekong River is the main watery highway and flows nearly 1,900 kilometers through Laotian territory, partly forming borders with Myanmar and Thailand in the west, while the Annamite Cordillera forms the border to Vietnam in the east. The Mekong in Laos runs through the Middle Mekong River Valley, stretching from the Green Triangle in the north and via the Golden Triangle to the Emerald Triangle in the south, where the Mekong creates 4000 islands and an endemic zone for the ever-dwindling Irrawaddy dolphins.

David Unkovich has indicated all updated international border crossings, where it is possible to get a visa on arrival with a fee of 30 USD and a validity of 15 days. But besides the Nampao international checkpoint in Borikhamxai Province, there is also the Naphao international checkpoint in Khammouane Province to connect Nakhon Phanom and Thakhek directly with Vietnam by National Route No.12. The highly promoted East-West Corridor runs from Danang in Vietnam on National Route No.9 through Savannakhet Province and Thailand’s I-san to Myanmar and India.

A tricky border crossing is between Laos and Cambodia’s Stung Treng Province, where you have to cross over the Mekong from Voeun Kham to reach the checkpoint at Dong Crorlor with a pre-arranged visa. There are now two other authorized land checkpoints with visa hold in advance: one from China to Sobhun in Phongsali Province and from Myanmar to Xiengkok in Luang Nam Tha Province. To enter Xayaburi Province from Nan Province or Loei Province in Thailand is still a political problem.

It is not very easy to get all the different place names and geographical terms in the right spelling. It depends if you are picking them up from French, German, or English written sources. Nevertheless, there is a local system of writing slowly emerging and David tries to follow it by exactly copying from the traffic signs and official advertising boards. Nobody can really know how much working hours went into compiling this Laos Guide Map on a scale of 1:1,400,000. Meticulous notes and shared information from fellow companions make this map as accurate as possible. It is human nature that there are some mistakes such as the wrongly indicated course of the Mekong at the top of the map or the failed marking of the new Mekong Bridge, south of Pakse down in Champasak Province.

There are some overseen sightseeing stops on the Luang Prabang city map, which gives details such as hotels, restaurants, bars, hospitals and bus stations. Also, there must be at least some bars in Oudomxai, I’d guess.

The Khmer sanctuary of Heuane Hin is worth a visit and is located in Ban Dongdokmai right on the Mekong and 66 kilometers south of Savannakhet. Nearby is the ancient That Phon Pagoda dating back to the 8th century as part of the mythical kingdom of Sikhottabong. Further south stretches the relatively unknown Boloven Plateau, where in the eastern parts there are still remnants of the Vietnam War along the infamous Ho Chi Minh Trail. Treks and excursions to local hilltribe villages are easy to arrange and are much more rewarding than visits to the overrun Akha villages of Muong Sing in Luang Nam Tha Province.

We have to give honorable credit to David Unkovitch to supply a low-cost Laos Guide Map for 175 baht - a piece that will endure many years to come, of soft and hard adventure travel in the land of a million elephants. Furthermore, the map would be a highly recommended addition to the information kit for all the delegates of the upcoming ASEAN Tourism Forum that will be hosted in Vientiane January 30 - February 7, 2004.

For further information, please contact the web site www.GT-Rider.com or Reinhard Hohler, GMS Media Travel Consultant, by
e-mail [email protected]

The shadowy life of the gender benders

Story and photos by Chin Raitamkul and Supansa Sumanakrit

Among the drift of air in the winter night, the light from many cars passed me by at Thapae Gate, where transvestite prostitutes earn their livelihood. They are regarded as beautiful flowers, but they are actually just made out of plastic.

I stopped at a restaurant where I met Nui, who has lived with husbands from three different countries. Nui talked about her job, and that she did not take it too seriously, but was mainly hanging out with her friends. She added that she was happy when going out with someone, as she, at the same time, could make some extra money.

Bargaining between a transvestite and a potential customer.

While she was talking to me, she glanced at someone passing by, shouting “Hey! Boy free for you. Come on!” She immediately walked towards a guy whom she found very attractive, I noticed. It was amazing that in a fraction of a second of that first sight could make her attracted to someone she did not know before.

After their arrest, there are no transvestites left on Loi Kroh Road.

I left the restaurant hoping to understand and get more insight, but regrettably rarely found cooperation. While I was walking back, my hopes were raised again. I saw an old man sitting in front of another restaurant. He was a fortuneteller who was acquainted with the transvestite prostitutes since they had worked in the same area for a long time. “During the day they won’t go out, but rather stay at a cheap rented room, paying probably only 100 baht. They only start working at night,” said the fortuneteller. He also introduced me to Pat, and I hoped that she could help me achieve understanding.

Thapae Road, a main area where transvestite prostitutes roam.

Pat has never had gender reassignment surgery, because she was afraid of the pain, and didn’t want to be like her friends who became demented after having the operation. She was 27 years old, and probably had experienced much during her time as a transvestite.

Pat talked about her life before becoming a transvestite prostitute, and that she had graduated from a vocational college of hospitality. She used to work in various jobs in hotels, or in many salons as a beautician. She found that it was not easy to express what she really felt inside, her real identity.

The fortuneteller at Thapae Gate, familiar with transvestites in this area.

As a result of that frustration, she began work at a Gay Bar, before starting to look for customers on her own, mostly at Thapae Gate and Loy Klor Road. Her customers were both Thai and foreigners; however, paying a different fee: foreigners 500 baht, but Thais only 300 baht.

My next question might have shocked her but I wanted to reflect on those aspects, and how she really felt when giving sex. She grinned and said the feeling was really different from real women. The sexual emotion would be aroused by the customer she liked. This, to me, illustrated that she was not happy every time despite being paid for her services.

I spent about an hour talking with Pat. I asked what her highest objective was in life. She immediately answered that she wanted to take care of her parents as much as she could. “I have given up love, just being a transvestite is a life of sin,” she said.

I was surprised when I was went back to my car, that there were no transvestites left. Then I noticed that there was a white van, approaching from Kotchasarn Road, with big letters showing “Tourist Police”. I was confident that they must have arrested the transvestites, and I followed the van. It stopped at the Muang District Police Station. One of the undercover police told me they have to control them so that they do not disturb foreign tourists, or create a bad image for Thailand. However, after releasing them, they all went straight back to their ‘beat’. They could do that, as they had committed only a minor crime. After paying a small fine, they were released.

I returned home with many questions still unanswered. Whenever the social rule limits people’s lives who are not like ordinary people, it results in physical and mental pressure. Do they have any place in our society? Even though it was confirmed that Thai society accepts transvestites, and much more, it was still an ambiguous fact that they were considered deviates.