HEADLINES [click on headline to view story]:

Chiang Mai’s water festival turned on by the PM

The magical Easter Bunny and the Easter Egg Hunt

Think spa beauty, think Earth

The ancient tradition of Songkran - bestowing the water of life

An ‘Air Show’ with a difference

Chiang Mai’s water festival turned on by the PM

Water shortages? What water shortages?

Staff reporters

Chiang Mai’s Grand Lanna Civilization six day Songkran Festival was turned on by Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra on April 10 at the Buak Had Public Park. The grand parade was well attended by tourists from Thailand and overseas.

PM Thaksin is blessed with good luck and fortune by Ajarn Manee Payormyong (right), during the grand opening.

Chiang Mai’s Songkran festival is always one of the country’s largest and began with a spectacular procession partly organized by Tourism Authority of Thailand (TAT). The Lanna Kingdom included Chiang Mai, Chiang Rai, Lamphun, Lampang, Mae Hong Son, Phayao, Phrae and Nan plus the five neighboring countries located in the Greater Mekong Sub-region including Laos, Burma, China, Vietnam and Cambodia.

PM Thaksin said that Songkran, the traditional Thai New Year celebrations, were family days including veneration of the elderly, so the government has encouraged that the festival time should conserve and observe Thai culture and promote the significance of family culture among Thai people nationwide. (Unfortunately, this side of Songkran is largely forgotten in the aquatic excesses.)

PM Thaksin also thanked the neighboring Mekong countries for their participation. The festival will help strengthen their international relations among the countries located along the Mekong river basin, he said.

Transport stations were over-extended with visitors coming for the festival, and locals getting out, some to visit relatives in other provinces. Both the bus stations and the railway station experienced record crowds.

Tambon Faham residents offered food to 209 monks and novices from Wat Srisoda, Wat Chetupol, and other temples in Tambon Faham to make merit during Songkran. As part of the celebration, the Buddha Sihingha image was floated down the Mae Ping River for people along the river to pay respect.

Cambodia has many traditions similar to Thailand, as could be seen in the parade.

A pretty bird dances through the streets in the annual Songkran parade.

Stilted hill tribe men walk tall on their bamboo sticks.

The Buddha Sihingha image was floated down the Mae Ping River for people along the river to pay respect.

Lucky we had our windows rolled up, as splashing was fierce all along the city moat.

The Vietnamese contingent was well represented in the parade.

Splashing and pouring water on foreign visitors at the city moat.

The ancient Cambodian Buddhist symbol turned a few heads at the parade.

No, this isn’t an elaborate umbrella - it’s the annual dance parade.

Songkran celebrations aren’t complete without people dancing the ramwong.

Dwellers in Tambon Faham offered food to 209 monks and novices from several wats.

The magical Easter Bunny and the Easter Egg Hunt

Even if rabbits don’t lay eggs!

Marion Vogt
Photos: Michael Vogt

What a relief! Despite bird flu, water shortage and many Songkran activities, the Easter bunny found his way to the Chiang Mai kids.

He was caught hiding Easter eggs for the American Consulate community kids and friends as well as for over 60 Rejoice children (affected by HIV/AIDS) and at least 20 of their caregivers.

Tons of fun and lots of games was the spirit of the day, with a clown who made balloon hats and balloon animals, and a grand magic show with a small guest magician.

The older community children helped all morning during the games and looked like they had as much fun as the participants themselves. Activities included tossing a ping-pong ball in the bucket, pinning the tail on the bunny, ringing the peg, catching a fish, tossing the ball in the bowl, face-painting and drawing and - most important - an egg-and-spoon race.

Despite the heat, the kids had smiles on their faces and the adults were grinning just as much. Of course the Easter egg hunt was the highlight of the day and after all the eggs had been collected the kids and adults attacked the huge buffet of snacks and sandwiches to fuel up on all the lost energy.

The buffet was “a kid’s dream come true” - it started with dessert and ended with the “serious” food. The children enjoyed the sumptuous amount of BBQ, sausages, rolls and sweets.

The Easter Egg Spoon Race

Wow! How did the pigeon get in the bag?

Now we finally know that the Easter bunny is a she and called Cherryl

Frank Hesse obviously enjoying the morning with the kids

Are you sure you can do this?

The smallest Magic Man in town but his tricks were ‘outstanding’, when he started throwing umbrellas out of an ‘empty’ box

Children are all alike, not matter which race, if healthy or not healthy. A magician charms all.

If your day begins like that and you start seeing a bunny with a ‘soap bubble gun’, it’s either Easter at the American compound or you should consider to get back to sleep!

YES! Let me be your assistant...

These were just some of the kids who enjoyed the Easter morning, the magician, the balloon man and lots of food.

Think spa beauty, think Earth

Marion Vogt
Photos by Michael Vogt

Beauty, health, spa and Chiang Mai seem to be combined in one sentence more often day by day.

Vice-governor of Chiangmai, Kwanchai Wong nitikorn, and Dr Chao Duan na Chiang Mai during the official candle-lighting ceremony at the opening of Siam Spa.

Siam Spa has opened a new branch at Hillside Plaza Condotel 4. It is open seven days a week until 8.30 p.m., which means that even working people have the chance to relax after a hard day in the office.

Ampai Sheehan (3rd from left) in the company of many invited guests and VIPs from Chiang Mai’s business community.

Many VIP guests, many speeches and a whole lot of healthy information were provided during the official opening ceremony last Friday.

From left: Chitra Klanprayoon, owner of Ban Sabai Spa village and president of the Thai Lanna Spa Association, Wachara Tantranont, Kwanchai Wongnitikorn and Ampai Sheehan.

Dr Chao Duan na Chiang Mai addressed the audience, stressing the increasingly important issues of health, beauty, food and taking care of your body. Jumpol Chutima, president of the Chiang Mai Chamber of Commerce, wished Ampai Sheehan, managing director of the Ampai Institute of Hair Design and Siam Spa, luck and confidence to believe in Chiang Mai and the high standards of the Lanna culture.

From left: Dr Chao Duan na Chiang Mai; vice-governor of Chiang Mai, Kwanchai Wongnitikorn; Jumpol Chutima, president of the Chiang Mai Chamber of Commerce; and Ampai Sheehan, the managing director of Ampai Institute of Hair Design and Siam Spa, watch the beautiful show.

The vice-governor of Chiang Mai, Kwanchai Wongnitikorn, took the opportunity to congratulate and thank everybody involved in believing in Chiang Mai to become the health and spa hub of Thailand. He said, “In Siam Spa, what we see today is the business opportunity of beautifying others, while teaching the importance of a healthy lifestyle.”

A VCD presentation followed and a show by extraordinarily beautiful northern girls, who showed the purity and simplicity of water, combined with natural health products.

The ancient tradition of Songkran - bestowing the water of life

Rungratree Thongsai

Songkran, the traditional Thai New Year, dates back dozens of generations and it wasn’t until 1940 before the official New Year in Thai calendar was moved to fall into line with the Western World.

‘Khao Chae’ or rice chilled in rose water is an art in itself that requires not only the best in the recipes but also heart and tenderness in the preparation process.

However, the true meaning behind Songkran is one of family and charity. Families would gather at the local temple and present offerings to the monks or ‘Tamboon’, listen to the teachings of the Buddha and pour water over the hands of the elders and monks to wish them health, prosperity and long life, a tradition steeped in religious and local belief as well as to provide encouragement to the respected elders of the community.

Preparation of the natural aromatic water is essential before being used to bath the Buddha Statue or poured over the hands the monk or senior family members.

As Thailand celebrates Songkran, in the modern day calendar from April 12-15, many districts, villages and ethnic groups have over the centuries come to celebrate the New Year in their own unique way through activities that are specific to that area, and not how it is “celebrated” by the masses.

Religious ceremonies believed to bring luck during the Thai New Year festival include people bathing the Buddha statue as a symbol of cleanliness and purity for the years to come.

The Mon or Raman ethnic groups around the nation, and in particular, Prapadaeng, Samutprakarn, on the outskirts of Bangkok the province of Ratchaburi (famous for its floating markets), Sarmcoke district in Pathumthani, and Koh Kret in Nonthaburi, each carry out specific traditions fused with Thai culture throughout the festive period.

The younger generations carefully pour water over the hands of senior family members, bequeathing them wishes of health and prosperity.

One thing does remain at the center of Songkran and that is the temple or Wat, where just prior to the actual day, families converge on the temple and build a temporary sala. The ladies of the households prepare a special table on which to place food that is to be offered to the monks and deities. Specific summer dishes, now a rarity in most parts of the country, include ‘Khao Chae’ in Thai, or rice in chilled rose water called Perng Sangkran in Mon. The food is not only tasty but is an art in itself specific to the Mon people, who also pride themselves on their culinary skills down to the very minute preparation details. Rice dishes, a variety of noodles and fruit are also prepared as part of the offerings to their ancestors who they believe revisit them each year during Songkran.

It is a time when the family gathers to enjoy the Songkran festival within the community, games and contests of various types are held and include sand castle building competitions, spinning tops used to select dance partners, and the release of birds and fish as a continued reminder of the merit making activities.

Individual families also gather for the ‘Rumphee’ dance of the spirits in which they call in souls of their fathers, mothers and or grandparents as a means of communication between the two worlds. The soul of a loved one is said to enter one family member during the dance and the spirit bestows and receives good wishes, aids in studies and relieves suffering to the living. In return, further merit is made for that person in the form of items made from flour in the shape of what is requested.

Songkran for the Mon, as with traditions for Thais, is also held to welcome the New Year and remove the clutter and dust from the previous year. Everyone bathes carefully, puts on clean clothes and cleans the house in the hope of allowing new things to enter into their lives.

Water used throughout the Songkran festival is a symbol of cleansing that which has collected on the body over the previous year, as well as being used to refresh the body and soul in the height of the summer season. Water is carefully poured over the senior family members as wishes on health and prosperity are bequeathed in the process.

Over the years, the true meaning of Songkran has been lost on today’s fast paced society, and many opt for inappropriate methods to celebrate. The true spirit of Songkran lies not only in the refreshing water but also in the hearts of the Mon and those who remember the values of family, charity and community spirit for the betterment of their fellow man.

An ‘Air Show’ with a difference

No strings attached

Marion Vogt
Photos Michael Vogt

On Easter Sunday, with the Songkran activities in full swing, there was a dry alternative for people who did not want to get soaked. Geschwister Weisheit, 14 aerial acrobats from one family covering three generations with the youngest performer Katja only 11 years old, were here.

A family enterprise on their three months Thailand tour, they brought the whole family, even one year old Johanna. Heike Weisheit said, “The children are allowed to perform with us from four years onwards, but today, Louise (4), Elisabeth (8), and Max (7) wanted to stay at the pool. We don’t force them but they love to perform with us.”

The high wire troupe ‘Geschwister Weisheit’ is internationally acknowledged, but they are also mothers, fathers, aunts, uncles and just children. They got soaked during their first trip to town, got stuck in traffic while trying to get around, but were in awe of Thailand, its friendliness, the even-tempered Thais, their composed, cool attitudes and the point that everything works out in the end.

The show started with Katja, Jasmin, Nathalia, Katharina, Katrin, Doren, Heike, Alexander, Andre, Jens, Rudi, Jens number two, Heino and Peter-Mario greeting the 8,000 folk in the audience followed by Alexander riding up a pole at 50 km/h and when he reached the top, he stood up to salute the audience. But that was just the warm up. He returned to terra firma, picked up Jens, who hung under the car, while Alexander, when he reached the top did a handstand on top.

But the audience found they were on “terror” firma watching Peter-Mario Weisheit on the Sway pole. It was one of those ‘I can’t watch anymore’ experiences, seeing Peter-Mario be drawn up to a height of 40 metres, climbing up another 25 metres and then performing death-defying tricks. The finale was ‘Amazing Grace’, while free-standing. He was greeted with roars of applause and relief when dropped back to the ground just hanging on to a rope with his teeth from a height of 30 metres.

Part three of the program was the motorcycle show, 10 acrobats on three motorcycles who showed that they can do much more than drive on steel ropes. Speed and moto-X on the ropes, plus acrobatic tricks over and under the machines 40 metres in the air. Strength, balance, agility and nerves of steel were the order of the day. Especially by the audience who were ready to scream at any minute! An amazing hi-wire family!

Let’s get this show on the rope...

Alexander gets into his car.

It looks as if these guys are having fun - and they did!

Don’t try this at home, even if your little brother misbehaved.

Sensational mid-air stunts.

A dramatic performance.

An airline passengers nightmare - midair turbulence.

The highlight of the performance was Peter-Mario 65 meters up, performing without a safety net, playing ‘Amazing Grace’ on the trumpet. 8014 people (8000 audience and 14 family members) were relieved when he returned safely.

The Weisheit family reunion after another successful performance!