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How long will the red minibus be king of the road in Chiang Mai?

Age matters only when you are wine

How long will the red minibus be king of the road in Chiang Mai?

A long local history but now perhaps an anachronism

Autsadaporn Kamthai

The red minibus is not the only type of transport in the city as tricycle, buses and metered taxies are also available for public use today. Yet, it is still the most popular and accessible when compared with other choices.

A typical red mini-bus.

They can be seen in almost every corner of the city. Its price is the most reasonable for the pocket of the ordinary person than any other alternatives. For all these reasons the red minibus has been the king of Chiang Mai roads for a long time.

But, do the people in Chiang Mai enjoy using it this transport system? Many complaints have been coming to the surface recently, not only from Thai people but also from some foreign residents and tourists.

Pick-up can be anywhere - even when breaking traffic rules and regulations.

“I do not think the red minibuses are really safe,” voiced Sawittree, a 24-year-old Chiang Mai resident. Her comments were prompted by both the condition of the vehicle and the driving.

Anytime, and anywhere, the red mini bus driver can suddenly stop without warning or signaling his indication.

“The red minibus drivers rarely mind other drivers and riders on the roads. They stop their cars without making any signs to show us in advance. They stop beside the road and block it without thinking of other following cars while they hunt for their new passengers,” said Sawittree.

You can see the red minibuses parking along both sides of a Chiang Mai road, restricting traffic flow.

Narisa, 40, who has spent over 30 years in Chiang Mai, also said that the routes of red minibuses was in nonsystematic ways and always caused her to become frustrated even though she understood a nature of their job. She felt their numbers were greater than necessary so it was hard to have them controlled. She suggested the red minibuses should not be allowed to run around the city moats since the road in those areas was too narrow and had to carry a great deal of cars each day.

“I have to say they are causes of the traffic jams along the city moat starting from in front of Chang Puak gate, because I always see some of them just waiting for clients alongside the road and blocking other cars”, she said.

Narisa also raised a concern over the driver’s bad behavior. Some passengers were dropped off before they reached their destination because the drivers saw a new larger group or richer looking passengers. This behavior could make people think they are selfish and lack morality.

Apart from the ill-mannered driving, some other complaints were voiced as well. Two temporary foreign residents, Richard, 36, and Simon, 29, said that they did not like the red minibuses’ exhaust emission and that the city pollution was getting worse through an increase in vehicles.

Following all these complaints, Chiangmai Mail gave Singhkam Nunti, president of the Lanna Transport Cooperatives, the opportunity to counter these claims.

“We need all road users to be more open-minded to understand our situation,” said Singhkam. He said that all the frustration on any obstructions caused by minibuses could be considered as having another two causes, not only from his drivers. The first is that most of Chiang Mai roads have only two or three lanes that do not suit red minibuses operation. By nature, the service cars have to run slowly in the left lanes to look for and pick up passengers. He thought all dissatisfaction caused by the red buses would not happen if only the roads had more lanes and private vehicles were prohibited from parking along the roadway.

Secondly, he also said passengers who waved for a service and signaled for their destination in too short a distance or time, as another factor causing the drivers to stop suddenly and caused frustrations for following drivers.

Regarding the remarks on air pollution caused from red minibuses, Singhkam strongly disagreed, saying the amount from the red buses remains the same or even slightly reduced from the last ten years. On the other hand, he shifted the blame to be put on personal vehicles that have increased in number as the major cause of Chiang Mai’s air pollution.

He accepted that a few (2-5 percent he estimated) of drivers would have passengers get off before reaching the destination. However, he pledged that these drivers would be fired if he found evidence to indict them.

Singhkam said that all comments were welcomed to help the minibus service improve in line with the city growth.

On the other side of the coin, he felt that his organization was being neglected by local government. The cooperative had been trying to support the city offering new kinds of transport (metered taxis, service vans). It is only the only company running this mass transportation serving all residents and visitors.

However, the cooperative had never received any financial support to improve this transport service, said Singhkam. The cooperative has drafted many projects to upgrade the quality of the service and vehicles but all of them (requiring governmental funding) were rejected.

Amidst the strong attempt to position Chiang Mai as a regional hub, consideration and support of the city’s transport system has not been done as seriously as many other projects.

Will Chiang Mai reach the goal of being a regional hub if core elements in the infrastructure are of poor quality like the situation of the red minibuses?

The red minibus service is indeed a problem that the government and one in which all public services should cooperate to improve prior to any further projects to build Chiang Mai’s growth and international image.


Age matters only when you are wine

Four Seasons Chiang Mai and Mondavi Wines’ culinary extravaganza

Michael Vogt

The intimate and secluded area around the Four Seasons Resort’s Poolside Terraces was the spectacular setting for the latest culinary highlight for Chiang Mai’s gourmets. Newly arrived Executive Chef Claudio Rossi came up with a spectacular and creative Menu, and the wine dinner was a sold-out event. A great number of people found themselves wait-listed, and will need to be quicker for the next event. This is certainly not a surprise when two of the major players team up and join forces, complimenting each other’s expertise.

Executive Chef Claudio Rossi discusses culinary aspects with local connoisseur Armin Schoch.

Four Seasons General Manager Patrick Ghielmetti welcomed everyone, and expressed his delight about the appreciative response to this event. He then introduced Jeff Cook, Pacific Asia’s Director of Sales of the Robert Mondavi Winery, who explained that Robert Mondavi himself, now in his 90s, only started to think about wine business when he was at the tender age of 53, a time when the average person considers retirement rather than starting a new business.

The evening was not only a feast for the palate, but also for the eye.

The Mondavi Winery is recognized internationally as a leader in the wine industry. From their introduction of cold fermentation in stainless steel tanks and the use of French oak barrels in the late 1960s, to collaboration with NASA using aerial imaging to understand the health and vigor of the vines in the 1990s, the Robert Mondavi Winery has always been at the forefront of wine industry technology.

(From left) Timothy Harrell, US Consulate Chiang Mai, his wife Sonya, and visiting parents Larry and Gilda Harrell, who came from the USA to attend.

Four wines were on offer that night, with the first one being a 1994 Byron Chardonnay, displaying fragrances of lemon and spice, with nuances of honey and orange blossoms. This wine went very well with the first presentation of the four course dinner, freshly whipped Bacalao served on grilled Polenta. This was followed by fried crispy Squab breast, with Duck Foie Gras and Lanna Coffee Sauce, a most succulent combination. The accompanying wine, a 2000 Napa Valley Fume Blanc, had a bright fruit aroma with delicate spice and herbal undertones.

One of the choices of the main course - roasted US filet of beef, with truffle potatoes and pinot noir pan jus.

For the main course, the diners had the choice of roasted US filet of beef, with truffle potatoes and Pinot Noir Pan Jus, or Rotisserie Australian Lamb Loin “Porchetta”, mushroom Gnocchetti and Light white onion mash, complemented by a vivid red 1997 Pinot Noir, a very deep and fruit intense wine, or a 1999 Napa Valley Merlot, sporting great richness and depths.

The final course was a palate-relaxing Sabayon and chocolate ice cream truffle, with raspberry-caramel coulis.

Jeff Cook, Pacific Asia’s director of sales for Robert Mondavi, provides insights on the world-renowned winery.

The accolades given to Chef Claudio Rossi for a masterful culinary display, and to Mondavi’s Jeff Cook for carefully selecting these wines, as well as for providing insider tidbits on the history of this renowned Californian winery, were considered to be more than justified. The Four Seasons is to be congratulated, once again for a memorable evening of dining in the grand manner, but yet in a very relaxed way.

Local gourmets turned out in full force at the Four Seasons, welcomed by GM Patrick Ghielmetti (right) and his wife Margaret.