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Chiang Mai celebrates 3rd Mardi Gras Festival

12 couples take wedding vows during jumbo sized Valentine’s Day affair

Friendship Night at Saenkham Terrace

Magic moments in the mountains of Mae Sariang

Chiang Mai celebrates 3rd Mardi Gras Festival

Numbers down, despite impressive line-up of VIP’s

Phitsanu Thepthong and Saksit Meesupkwang

Chiang Mai’s 3rd Mardi Gras festival was organized by Chiang Mai Provincial Authorities, the Municipality and the Tourism Authority of Thailand to mark the opening of the tourist high season for the north. It was hoped the four day and night event would draw Thais and foreign tourists to the city.

Transvestites on parade

However this year, numbers were down, especially on the first evening of February 12. Some of the audience said that they expected the arts and culture from the Lanna kingdom to be presented, but there was not much evident.

Chiang Mai governor Suwat Tantipat hoped that more visitors would come to visit Chiang Mai, but warned that the Chiang Mai people must help preserve its unique merits, with kindness, goodness, and generosity by carrying on these type of activities.

Governor Suwat delivers the opening address

The opening evening had the colorful Mardi Gras parade starting from the front of Krung Thai Bank, going along Charoen Muang Road, crossing the Navarat Bridge, along Thapae Road, Changklan Road, and ended at Wat Sridonchai on Sridonchai Road. It was presented by Chiang Mai tourism and cultural association, with the spectacular transvestites from the Simon Cabaret Show giving it the real ‘Mardi Gras’ atmosphere.

One dancer leading the parade

However, floats were fewer this year, with most coming from the hotel food and beverage departments, pubs and restaurants, and from Chiang Mai handcraft groups, and the float with Miss Mardi Gras.

After the parade, Chiang Mai governor Suwat Tantipat presided over the opening ceremony with VIPs Chalermsak Suranant, director of Tourism Authority of Thailand, Northern office, Region 1; Dr Ken Santitham, the permanent secretary of the Municipality and Vorapong Muchaotai, president of Thai Hotels Association (THA), Northern Chapter.

Seen on Changklan Road during the festival

After the opening session, it was music at the central stage set up at the Chiang Mai Night Bazaar on Changklan Road, featuring Sanit Pongsanoh, Jarerk Viriya and Elvis impersonator Ritchie Newton, the Chamberlains and many local northern bands.

Governor Suwat (centre in blue), at the opening

Simon Chiang Mai cabaret show

Imperial Mae Ping Hotel’s float

One of the Mardi Gras floats

12 couples take wedding vows during jumbo sized Valentine’s Day affair

An event nobody will forget

Saksit Meesupkwang

It was an adventurous event this year, with 12 bridal couples from Lampang, Sukhothai, Bangkok, Lamphun, Kanchaburi, Prachin Buri, and foreigners from Austria and Sweden.

Some of the participants

Lampang province, Tourism authority of Thailand, Lampang Tourism Promotion association, the National Elephant Institute (under the royal patronage of HRH Princess Galyani Vadhana) and the Forest Industry Organization organized the elephantine weddings in Lampang.

Thawil Kalaopitchsa, the Hangchat district chief officer, presents a certificate to the bridal couple.

This was the third year they offered young lovers the chance of having their wedding ceremony on an elephant’s back on February 14, Valentine’s Day, the traditional day of lovers.

Sealing their vows with a kiss on an elephant

This most untraditional Lanna style wedding ceremony took place at the Thai Elephant Conservation Center, Hangchat District, Lampang and all eligible couples joined in enthusiastically. The ceremonies were presided over by Dr. Udomsak Sakmanwong, the deputy president of World Cultural Council.

A happy couple

The elephant procession was composed of a Khan Maak procession, the traditional tray of gifts from the groom to the bride’s parents, the Shoo Khoe ceremony, the bride begging ceremony, shows, dancing, the Bai Sri Shoo Khan wrist tying ceremony and even souvenirs for the couple and 20 invited guests. About 40 elephants joined the procession, but were not married off during the day’s fun event.

Snacks and refreshments, as well as the marriage certificate, were given out before the couples were invited to a one night home stay in Lampang and a Khantoke style feast.

Birgit and Matthias Prichzi of Vienna, Austria, (center) dressed in period Thai costume before boarding an elephant when they participated in Valentine’s Day ceremonies at the Elephant Conservation Center in Lampang.

One couple on the elephant’s back

Leading the procession

Guests and a foreign bride

The bridal procession

The nuptial atmosphere of the event

The wedding ceremony chairman

Part of the procession

Friendship Night at Saenkham Terrace

Marion Vogt

Saenkham Terrace Restaurant was the elegant setting for the ‘Friendship Night’, one of the highlights of Chiang Mai’s social calendar, always held on Valentine’s Day and hosted by the German Hon. Consul Hagen Dirksen and his wife Wanphen.

Director of the Alliance Francaise and Hon. Consul of France Thomas Baude with his wife Poo

Hagen and his wife personally saw to it that everybody who came was pampered, enjoyed excellent food and that the mood was as it is supposed to be on Valentine’s day. Friends were seen talking sincerely, had fun and enjoyed meeting in the relaxing ambience of Saenkham Terrace.

Hagen and Wanphen Dirksen with members of the German community of Chiang Mai, the Zimpfer family, the Loeschmanns and (far right) Boris Mimietz from the Thai Horse Farm in Phrao.

Hagen Dirksen officially opened the evening with a very short ‘Thank you’ to everybody who had taken the time to spend Valentine’s evening with them, as a symbol of extended friendship.

(L to R) Hon. Consul of Finland, Dr. Supawat Poowakul, Consul General of the United States of America Eric Rubin, the wife of the Hon. Canadian Consul Nit Wangwiwat and host of the evening, Wanphen Dirksen

For the guests, there was another surprise in store. Instead of long speeches during dinner, the Dirksens had two special guests to entertain their party. Well known professional concert pianist David Wilson teamed up with Puk, a most talented singer, to perform the songs from famous musicals.

Patrick Ghielmetti (left), GM of Four Seasons Resort and general manager of the Empress Hotel in Chiang Mai, Khun Kanok (right) with their wives Margret and Mei

After superb food and good wine, the guests strolled on the terrace and were seen enjoying the easy going party mood and rekindling old friendships and making new ones.

Magic moments in the mountains of Mae Sariang

Annelie Hendriks

New canteens, dormitories, study center and water collection and purification installation at the primary and secondary schools in Baan Kapoeang, Baan Mae Sawan Luang, Baan Doi Liam, Baan Den and Baan Mae Lit, are the cause for smiles in the isolated villages in the mountains of Mae Sariang District.

The old dormitory at the secondary school in Mae Lit

Teachers, children, mothers, fathers, students from technical colleges and the villagers built them in two months as community based activities. The 1 million baht for the materials, skilled labor and the furniture was donated by two Dutch Foundations - the Wilde Ganzen/ICCO Foundation and the Samsara Foundation, both acting under the umbrella of FERC (the Foundation for Education of Rural Children). (The monitoring costs were only 2 percent.)

That’s how the old dormitories looked like, before Samsara and FERC stepped in to help. The old dormitory at primary school in Mae Sawan Luang

The two foundations received all the assistance they needed from the school directors of the five schools and the Department of Education in Mae Sariang. They established a very good working relationship and if more donations are forthcoming they will continue to build more facilities for poor schools in this region.

The new dormitory at the primary school in Mae Sawan Luang. Everybody is happy to lend a hand

There are 177 schools under their jurisdiction of Mae Sariang. Many schools are facing challenges as the obligatory age for school education will be raised from 12 to 16 years, and there are almost no secondary schools in the mountains. From May onwards many hill tribe children will be forced to go to the secondary schools in the Mae Sariang valley. These schools are lacking dormitories and library/study centers.

Pisit Yordwandii director of the Department of Education of Mae Sariang gives a certificate to Annelie Hendriks and Ratana Kheunkeaw of the Samsara Foundation at the opening ceremony of the canteen at Baan Mae Sawan Luang.

These pressing needs are some of the reasons why FERC will organize a fundraising gala on February 28th,to raise money for a study center/library at the Hoi Singh school which when realized will serve children from seven schools in that part of the valley.

It will give children an opportunity to study and do their homework as there are often not enough books for every child. It gives the elder children the chance to prepare for their entrance examinations without buying the books themselves.

Amongst the Karen children and villagers, (on the left) deputy director of the department of education Suradet Phahonyoothin and (right) Annelie Hendriks, Marion Rovers and Renee Vines of Samsara/FERC

The primary schools in the mountains of Mae Sariang are often lacking basic facilities such as books, clean water, electricity, dormitories, canteens and medicines, since the annual budget of the Mae Sariang department of education is very limited. They do whatever they can but it is never enough to provide the necessities to all the schools in the mountains. Bare-footed children often have to walk long distances to reach their schools. Nevertheless, that is what they do every day. But in the rainy season it is impossible and they need to stay for extended periods at the school and need dormitories and canteens.

The two Dutch foundations are committed to build those facilities, and much can be done for relatively very little. For example, a dormitory for 30 children can be built for 55,000 baht, including furniture; a canteen or study center will also cost that much, and for 150 children these can be realized for 150,000 baht, including furniture and kitchen equipment. Water installations cost between 35,000 and 55,000 baht, batteries to get the school television or computer working are 12,000 baht and annual scholarships for one child are between 3600 to 10,000 baht.

The fundraising gala dinner is organized by FERC to raise these amounts. For more information contact Annelie Hendriks, email [email protected]