HEADLINES [click on headline to view story]:

Jinghong - the new THAI destination

Paul Thomas and Darby Priest win inaugural Mr and Miss Songkran International contest

At Doi Mae Salong stop long enough for U-long

Still sharing romance and love after 50 years

PM Thaksin enjoys a full slate of Songkran traditions in the north

Jinghong - the new THAI destination

Jing, jing!

Marion Vogt

Wouldn’t it sound exotic telling your friends that you’ve just spent a couple of days in China? That you were exploring Jinghong, the centre of Yunnan province, looking for plant and animal research?

An old-style taxi in Jinghong’s empty, clean streets.

All this exotica is now possible with the new 90-minute flight on Thai Airways International (THAI), connecting Chiang Mai and Jinghong for 4,000 baht return. THAI’s newest route supports the Thai government’s policy to make Chiang Mai the aviation hub of the northern region.

Careful, it’s falling! The old house had to be demolished and the young Dai monks show great skills.

Jinghong is a city where a modern clean lifestyle and an ancient existence co-exist. Wooden houses are still neighbors to dwellings built in the concrete dynasty.

The young novices cleaning up.

Jinghong does have a lot to offer tourists, like the Xishuangbanna Medical Plant Garden. This botanical garden is located in the centre of the city, and covers over 20 hectares. Built like a tropical garden, it is also the base for scientific research and popular science education.

A thousand species of flowers and plants are preserved in the Xishuangbanna tropical flower and herb garden.

Xishuangbanna province is like a “mini-Thailand” with 13 ethnic groups living there, except the majority are the Dai. Their culture, handicrafts, clothes, traditions and language are very similar to Thailand’s northern region and make it very easy for the Chiang Mai tourist to feel at home.

A bronze statue of Premier Zhou Enlai at the entrance of Manting Park. He visited the area to participate in the Dai people’s activities, while he was involved with resolving a border dispute between Burma and China. The statue depicts him grasping a bowl of water in his left hand while he lifts an olive-branch in his right.

About 45km downstream from Jinghong on the Mekong River lies the town of Ganlanba, also called Menghan. It presents the visitor with a picture of tranquility. The sound of frogs and cicadas fill the air. Typical Dai-style bamboo houses are hemmed in by coconut trees, betel palms, mango trees, and Bombay black wood. The monks chanting in the Buddhist temples and pagodas, add a strong religious character to the atmosphere. The Dai women happily sell fruits and handmade crafts, or just sit in the market place, playing cards.

Dai women sell BBQ items or sit in the market place playing cards.

A unique experience is the “home stay project” run by the Dai Garden Residence, with the possibility to eat a home cooked meal with a Dai family in their house and get to know their traditions.

Another must is a visit to Jinghong’s main temple, called Wat Pa-che-ma-ha-ra-cha-dhan, at Manting Park. The Buddhist monks are very much in favor of visitors and are happy to let you be a part of their merit making ceremony. You will see Dai boys, who spend time at the temple to learn the basic skills of reading and writing, as well as being taught the traditions of Buddhism.

THAI executives, including Dr Tatchai Sumitra, a member of THAI’s board of directors and his wife (2nd and 3rd from left), take part in a merit-making ceremony at the Buddhist temple in Jinghong.

Jinghong at night is not, however, similar to Chiang Mai. You can either stroll down the flower bedecked streets, with their many fountains and temples, or explore the shopping centers, or sit in one of the open noodle shops and watch passers-by who seem to have all the time in the world. No speeding or honking horns. Nobody bothers to rush. It is even safe to cross the street, since cars stop for pedestrians!

A unique experience is the ‘home stay project’ at Dai Garden Residence.

For something different you could go to a cultural performance and see the difference between Thai and Chinese cultures. Sitting in the theatre style arena, watching the colorful show, this is almost like being back in Thailand. The costumes are similar, yet some are even more colorful and mixed with Chinese hill-tribe costumes, as you can see at the Chiang Mai Night Bazaar.

‘Singing Dancing Fire Evening Party of the Lancang-Mekong River’ is the name of the cultural evening performance.

But even if you don’t understand the MC, it is clear that the main object is the Mekong River and perhaps even the importance of the unity of the Greater Mekong sub-region (GMS).

The audience is lively and takes part whenever they need a volunteer on stage. The highlight of the show is the lighting of krathongs, walking en masse through the park, letting the krathongs float away in the lake followed by dancing around two huge bonfires.

A dance around two huge bonfires ends the evening.

This new sector via THAI is definitely worth a try, so that you can see Xishuangbanna province, familiarize yourself with the so different, yet so similar, country that promises to go through a major expansion in the next couple of years.

One of the senior monks at the General Temple in Manting Park decorates the ‘chips tree’.

An old Chinese medicine man weighs herbs that are said to counteract pain and headache. Drink the clear broth after you cooked them.

The 300 meter Lancangjiang Bridge connects the northern industrial district and the southern political, cultural and commercial centre of Jinghong. The population is more than 40,000.

A Buddhist temple adds a strong religious character to the atmosphere in Ganlanba.

Paul Thomas and Darby Priest win inaugural Mr and Miss Songkran International contest

Christopher Paul Thomas from Germany and Darby Priest from USA won the titles of Mr Songkran International 2004 and Miss Songkran International 2004 in Chiang Mai.

President of the Chiang Mai Chapter of the Red Cross, Ornadda Tantipat (center) poses with all of the winners. (Photo by Saksit Meesubkwang)

Jonathan Alexander Brown from New Zealand was runner-up for the Mr Songkran title, while Sanne Agatha Van der Haar, was runner-up for the Miss Songkran title.

Thai Photogenic Songkran International 2004 went to Eddie Idik from Australia, and Miss Photogenic went to Heidi Bech Kristensen from Denmark.

The winner of Miss Songkran International 2004, Darby Priest from USA. (Photo by Saksit Meesubkwang)

The contest, organized by Thida Prasitburirak from Number One Media, was held for the first time this year.

There were about 30 foreign contestants. The competition was held at the Imperial Mae Ping Hotel in Chiang Mai on April 15.

The panel of judges was led by Ornadda Tantipat, the wife of the Chiang Mai governor and president of the Chiang Mai Chapter of the Red Cross.

Ornadda Tantipat (right) presents the winning prizes to Mr Songkran International 2004, Christopher Paul Thomas from Germany. (Photo by Saksit Meesubkwang)

The contest was supported by the Chiang Mai Provincial Public Relations Office and the Tourism Authority of Thailand, Northern Office, Region 1. It aimed at creating good relations between local people and international tourists and visitors during the Songkran celebration.

The contest was preceded by sabudchai (victory) drum beating and northern Thai folksongs.

Many foreign guests took part in the contest, wearing Thai costumes. (Photo by Saksit Meesubkwang)

At Doi Mae Salong stop long enough for U-long

A non-alcoholic refreshing amber liquid

Jiraphat Warasin

Chiang Rai is the northernmost province of the country, where 90 percent of the landscape consists of mountain ranges that constitute a natural boundary between Thailand and its two neighbors, Burma and Laos. The mountains actually stretch from the Himalayas and some of the mountains in Yunnan region of China to the river basin of the Kok, Ing, and Lao rivers.

The ceremony to remember former KMT soldiers.

Doi Mae Salong is renowned for its mild climate and its preservation of the local lifestyle of planting tea and winter fruits and deciduous crops. Doi Mae Salong is thus known as one of the excellent sources of U-long tea.

Tea leaf picking

U-long tea (“U” means cloud and “long” means dragon) originated in China about 300 years ago but it was discovered it could be best cultivated in Taiwan. U-long Karn Onn (U-long tea of mild-stem type) was first introduced to Thailand by Jui Ming Lu, who discovered it blended well with the Thai soil and climatic conditions.

U-long tea grown here is of an even better quality than the tea grown in Taiwan, especially the winter crops. U-long Karn Onn and U-long Tea No.12, produced by 101 Tea Co Ltd, were the winners in the World Tea Competition held in Chiang Saen District, Chiang Rai (Golden Triangle) and received the coveted prize from Her Royal Highness Princess Maha Chakri Sirindhorn.

Some hill tribe groups on Doi Mae Salong

The charming essence of tea comes from its preparation. The water used to make tea must be free from chlorine. Ceramic pots are regarded the best for making tea, while those made of glass, stainless steel and fine pottery follow in order of quality.

The water run through the tea leaves the first time is just for the rinsing step and should not be drunk - wait till the second time. Tea leaves should be steeped in boiling water for 1 minute 20 seconds for the second time, two minutes for the third and the fourth, and three minutes for the fifth and the sixth times.

Good tea tastes slightly bitter at the first sip but becomes sweeter and refreshing later on. Good quality tea counteracts bad breath and lessens phlegm. Drinking tea also frequently helps to reduce fatty acids, digest food, prevent cancer and diabetes and neutralizes toxins. However, tea should not be drunk on an empty stomach or with certain kinds of medicines, as their curative properties may be weakened. Tea leaves sealed in pouches may be kept for up to three years. If they are not sealed, however, they should be used within three months.

There are several activities waiting for tourists to experience at Doi Mae Salong. Puttarn Tea Field welcomes wayfarers at “tea time” in Kaa Nam Chaa Yak (Giant Teakettle) tavern, where they can savour their tea in a romantic atmosphere at the edge of the stream, drunk to the accompaniment of Chinese music. Visitors can enjoy the performance of the Tea Leaves Dance and view the spectacular landscape of the tea fields from on top of horse-drawn carriages.

Another highlight can be visiting the village of the Akha tribespeople and discovering the lifestyles of the natives, to whom tourists can chat and photograph, should not be missed.

Another interesting activity is paying respect to Mae Salong descendants at the memorial of the former Kuomintang (KMT) soldiers. The entrance fee is only 10 baht per person. Here you can learn about the history of the Mae Salong community residents. When General Tuan Si Wern, one of the former KMT soldiers, was defeated in the Civil War against the communist party in China and had to withdraw his forces, he migrated to Thailand in 1906, and later formed an alliance with the Thai government to suppress communism at that time.

This contribution of the former KMT soldiers led by the general was considered to be so important to Thailand that he and his soldiers were granted permanent residence in Doi Mae Salong, and the adjacent areas in Doi Luang, Doi Yao and Doi Pahmon.

Dr Sasithara Pichaicharnnarong, director of the Office of Tourism Development, said at the “Visit The Heart of Tea and Health Therapy at Mae Salong” fair that signposting and the information center will be improved, as Chiang Rai becomes better known for its tourist attractions. It is also the border region connecting areas with Burma, Laos and China.

The office has also decided to open 10 more countryside tourist villages apart from the one in Chiang Rai. Villages in Ayutthaya, Angthong, Surin, Udon Thani, Krabi and Nakhon Sithammarat have been earmarked for development.

Still sharing romance and love after 50 years

Tom and Dot find gold at the Amari Rincome

Marion Vogt
Photos Michael Vogt

“Until death us do part” is part of many marriage services, however with the divorce rate around 50 percent, many couples obviously do not follow a lifelong monogamous relationship.

Three generations, Tom and Dot Delaney (seated in the middle) with some of their grandchildren and their own children with spouses in the background.

How many people do you know who have been lucky enough to celebrate their 50th wedding anniversary? And with both in perfect health, somewhat older than on their wedding day, but no less excited?

The guests danced to the sounds of Daeng Fantastic and Friends until way past midnight...

Tom and Dot Delaney, who were the ‘stars’ of the Chiangmai Mail’s local personality column last week, celebrated their 50th last weekend, joined by three of their five children, five grandchildren and lots of friends from the Chiang Mai community, at the Amari Rincome Hotel.

Kovit Boonma and Noom from Hair Pro Salon, two of the many people who dropped by to congratulate Dot and Tom.

Traditional Thai dancing and a blessing for Tom and Dot, a speech reminiscing about small funny things which happened in their long lives together, as well as a “Wedding Kiss” and a “Wedding Dance” were part of the program.

Proud granddad Tom with two of his granddaughters, 10 year old Chanel (left) and 6 year old Jessica (right).

For those of you who are married and are imagining celebrating your golden wedding as the reward for all those years, there are various milestones to be passed before then. The first is after one year, when couples celebrate their paper wedding anniversary. Paper changes to wood after five years, followed by tin (year 10), crystal (year 15), china (year 20), silver (year 25), before finally turning to gold after 50 years.

How did they do it? What is their secret for keeping a marriage alive? Tom and Dot replied almost in unison, “We celebrate good days and we look forward to good days. We are very proud of our children and grandchildren and try to stay very close to them, even while living on different continents. We don’t stay home stuck in front of the TV, just because that’s the usual thing to do at our age. Instead, we go out, we enjoy ourselves and we hope it will last for many more years to come.”

Tom and Dot, all of your children, grandchildren and friends are looking forward to the next milestone in wedding anniversary parties when you celebrate your “Diamond” in 10 years time.

PM Thaksin enjoys a full slate of Songkran traditions in the north

By Saksit Meesubkwang and Nopniwat Krailerg

Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra took time off from his busy career in politics last week to join in the Songkran fun on the streets of Chiang Mai - impressing other revelers with his outgoing nature, but giving his bodyguards and security officers nightmares.

Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra with Chiang Mai Governor Suwat Tantipat (right).

Thaksin was in the north to pay his respects to his ancestors and elderly relatives back in his hometown of San Kamphaeng in Chiang Mai. He enjoyed the opportunity to fall back into his Kam Muang northern dialect and savour the traditional northern cuisine.

The prime minister pays his respects to the elders in the community.

He had returned home to take part in the “Rod Nam Dam Hua” water-pouring and blessing ceremony during Songkran. Even though he and his family live in Bangkok, some of his relatives still live in Chiang Mai.

Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra is presented with a gift from a well-wisher.

On April 13, Thaksin made merit at Wat Padaraphirom in Mae Rim district before going home to San Kamphaeng, where the locals welcomed him in warm Lanna style.

Later, he attended the “Rod Nam Dam Hua” ceremony to pay respect to his elderly relatives. Because the blessing ceremony was a private family affair, only relatives were allowed to attend - even his security police officers and followers were excluded.

However, a few high-ranking officials were invited to share in this occasion. They included Chiang Mai Governor Suwat Tantipat; Pol Maj-Gen Kasem Rattanasunthorn, commander of the Chiang Mai Provincial Police Division and his assistant, Pol Col Prasert Chantrapiphat; and Surachai Jongrak, San Kamphaeng district chief officer.

Thaksin joked that he was “not yet old”, so people did not need to perform the ceremony to pay their respects to him. However, many gave him gifts, and received a blessing from him in return.

During the ceremony, he urged the chief officer of San Kamphaeng district to try his best to maintain the district’s fame and provide equal opportunities for the local children to be educated.

Then it was time for family photographs - a rare opportunity as they seldom are together. This was followed by lunch, strictly only for relatives and invited officials. The PM made use of the opportunity to once again express his love for traditional northern foods - like tam khanun (jackfruit dressed salad), kaeng orm moo (curried pork’s entrails), nam prik noom (young chili sauce) and kaeb moo (crispy pork skin).

At 2 p.m., Thaksin escorted his youngest daughter, Praetharnthong Shinawatra, and her friends to join Chiang Mai’s water festival revelers on Thapae Road. The locals, excited at the appearance of the country’s prime minister, sprinkled water on him and shook his hand. It was the first time that he had taken part in the Songkran fun at home since becoming premier.

The PM was clearly enjoying himself and many people were impressed with his outgoingness.

However, the anxiety showed on the faces of his bodyguards and plain-clothes security officers and policemen there to protect him!

Songkran or the Thai New Year is one of the most important events on the Thai calendar, even though it is often difficult for family members scattered around the country to come together because of work obligations or distance.

Though it is marked throughout Thailand, the most popular region for the water festival is the north - especially in Chiang Mai. Every year, crowds of both Thai and foreign tourists flock to Chiang Mai for its fascinating Songkran festivities laid on by the locals who smile easily, speak a beautiful dialect, dress graciously and serve delicious foods with tantalizing herbs and spices.

This year’s festival in Chiang Mai was made even more special because of the presence of Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra.