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Billy carts in Baan Buak Jan

Doing business among friends

Billy carts in Baan Buak Jan

Nopniwat Krailerg

Each year more than 5,000 Hmong people gather to participate in the largest congregation of Thai Hmong hilltribes. Thai and foreign tourists joined the festival sponsored by the Royal Project Foundation held at Baan Buak Jan, Mae Rim-Samoeng district, Chiang Mai on January 14.

Hmong children in their costumes at the New Year festival.

Visitors enjoyed the processions of the Thai Hmong people in their traditional costumes which must be personally hand-made before the wearer can participate in the procession. Other sports activities take place including spinning the top, spear throwing and archery, the imaginative water bucket race and rice winnowing competitions.

The most spectacular event is the 200 meter down-hill wooden cart race (or billy cart derby), now held for the third year and supported by Red Bull. This hair-raising race is open to both men and women from other tribes (and even tourists) but the Hmong competitors have to dress in traditional costume.

Competitors check their carts before the race.

Tourists were able to enter two-person teams in the two at a time knock-out competition. The competitors wear helmets, gloves, and use safety-belts, with the winner receiving a trophy and a prize of 30,000 baht.

The most distinctive aspect of the event is the design of the wooden cart. There is also a prize for the most creative cart. The rules are simple: the cart must have only four wheels with no engine or any other mechanical propulsive device; it must be 80 x 100 centimeters; its axle must be made from wood; the diameter of the wheels must not exceed 12 inches; the width of the wheels must not exceed 3 inches; no rubber is allowed around the wheels; shock absorbers, springs or other anti-shock devices are not permitted; the steering must be foot operated; the brake system must use a wooden stick; a seat cushion is allowed; the cart weight is not limited and all lubricants are permitted.

The highlight of the festival.

The origins are from the primitive carts made by the Hmong from available forest materials to drag food garnered from the high mountain forests to their distant homes.

Hmong children.

This annual cart race is has become very popular among tourists and the atmosphere is full of fun and tumbles, as the spectators cheer on their champions. If you have missed the event, come back next year and have fun without technology in an ages old way.

There are 12 Hmong villages in Chiang Mai: Ban Nong Hoi Kau, Ban Nong Hoi Mai, Ban Mae Sa Mai, Ban Mae Ki, Ban Phanok-kok, Ban Bauk Toey, Ban Buak Jan, Ban Huay Siew, Ban Huay Kwang, Ban Nam Sum, Ban Kun Chang Kien and Ban Doi Pui.

The wooden billy cart race.

The audience cheers their favorites.

Spectators and racers await the start.

Doing business among friends

Skal International reappears at Rydges Amora Tapae Chiang Mai

Skal International is one of the oldest tourism and travel organizations in the world, with over 23,000 members in 500 clubs spanning 87 countries. It has been present in Thailand for more than 50 years, but despite strong growth in Samui and Pattaya, Chiang Mai’s club membership diminished after the 1997 economic crash and Skal International Chiang Mai was left as another casualty of the imploding Asian economy.

Brian Sinclair-Thompson, (GM Thailand, Myanmar, Laos, Cambodia and Vietnam for Swiss International Airlines and 1st vice president of Skal International Thailand), with David Thomas from Wanna Tours Chiang Mai.

However, all that looks as if it will change. At the 27th Annual General Meeting of Skal Clubs in Thailand, held at the Rydges Amora Tapae, travel and tourism leaders from all over Thailand descended on Chiang Mai. With the growth in the hospitality industry being particularly strong in the North, much discussion ensued as to how this momentum can be harnessed to allow the professionals in the North to network with the rest of Thailand and the world. The answer, the meeting concluded, was quite simple. Skal International Chiang Mai and the North should be reborn!

Marc Dumur (Asst. MD The Legend Chiang Rai) talks with Malai Sakolviphak (Pacific Leisure Group and president Skal International Thailand).

That evening, at a most convivial dinner organized by Chiang Mai’s energetic Arie de Keijzer (Rydges Amora Tapae), the Skal International members, friends, partners and leading Chiang Mai professionals all expressed interest in Chiang Mai, both as a tourist destination, and as a future stronghold for tourism networking. In other words, Skal International.

Speakers at the dinner came from all facets of travel and tourism, with Thailand President Malai Sakolviphak (Pacific Leisure Group Bangkok) reaffirming the strong stance taken by Skal International in assisting the tsunami-affected South of Thailand.

Old Skalleagues catching up – Marion Vogt (sales and marketing Chiangmai Mail), Andrew Khoo (GM Hard Rock Hotel Pattaya), and MC of the evening Michael Vogt (MD Chiangmai Mail).

Brian Sinclair-Thompson, the local driving force behind the rebirth of Swiss International, and president of the Bangkok chapter, also spoke on the need for Thailand to get behind the many rescue packages to assist the members in the South.

These ideas were also emphasized by others, including Bob Lee (Welkom Hotels), president of the Pattaya and the East club, who has recently returned from the World Congress which was held in South Africa and showed the entry done by the Pattaya club in the eco-tourism awards, while Rose Laodee (Artasia Press Phuket) spoke from the heart and expressed her gratitude at what was being done for her island.

Daniel Schneider (Siam Sun Tours), Armin Schoch (Impulse Tourism) and Natalia Kortchouganova, assistant SPA director Jirung Health Resort, during the cocktail reception at the Rydges Amora Tapae.

During this year, there is the Skal International Asian Congress which will be held in Phuket. This ravaged tourist resort island is fighting to regain its place within Thailand’s tourism, and the advent of the congress will assist the Phuket members to hang on, thankful of the assistance that has been extended to them by Skal International.

Pratheep “Peter” Malhotra, (MD Pattaya Mail Publishing and chairman of the board Chiangmai Mail) in talks with Lilli Saxer (Impulse) who recently moved from Myanmar to Chiang Mai.

The diners were also told of the forthcoming World Congress (2006) that will be held in Thailand, in Pattaya. These congresses will allow Thailand members to network with the world leaders in their fields, and are exceptional opportunities for Thailand professionals to be “doing business with friends,” the motto of the organization. With both the Asian Congress and the World Congress, members of Skal International have the chance to see the tourism and travel potentials in the global marketplace.

Doing business with friends are Arie de Keijzer (GM Rydges Amora Tapae Chiangmai Hotel) and Eleanor Hardy (GM The Chedi Chiang Mai).

For many of the dinner guests, Skal International was very well known to them, such as Armin Schoch (Impulse), David Thomas (Wanna Tours) and Shane Beary (Track of the Tiger), and all of them know the advantages that such a ‘special interest’ organization can have not only for them, but for Thailand’s increasing prosperity.

The media was well represented, with Chiangmai Mail and Pattaya Mail out in force, and a TV documentary was filmed by ChiangmaiMail using the newspaper’s executive editor as anchorman. Other media people included Margaret Bhadungzong, Horst Hornung (Samui Journal), and Ramlah Magnusson. Hoteliers were also out in force, with Andrew Khoo (Hard Rock Hotel Pattaya), Vitaya Whangpattanathon (Chaweng Regent, Samui), Marc Dumur (The Legend Chiang Rai), Wim Fagel (Amari Rincome), Prinyar Prinyarnussorn (Northern Heritage Resort and Spa), Jason Friedman (Four Seasons) and Eleanor Hardy, GM of the soon the be opened The Chedi, Chiang Mai, all seen exchanging business cards with the travel representatives.

Chiang Mai travel and tourism professionals who would like more information on the organization should contact Skal International Thailand, 02 652 0506 or email: [email protected]

Aed Beary, David Thomas (Wanna Tours) and Shane Beary (Track of the Tiger Tours) after a very enjoyable night at the Rydges Amora Tapae dinner.

50 managers, executives, Skal International members and prospective members enjoyed an informative dinner reception after the National Committee meeting of Skal International.

Irish Coffee time after the networking business was over.