HEADLINES [click on headline to view story]:

Shopping mall engulfed in flames

Freak storm damages 8 homes and causes power outages

Private jet mishap shuts down airport for 4 hours

361 die during Songkran

Two killed and 4 kilos of heroin seized

Songkrash on the Mae Jo road

Foreigner found dead in the moat

City hosts youths from the southern provinces

Mae Hong Son airport wants to expand

More than 100 fires deliberately set in Chiang Rai

Lin Hui may finally be pregnant

Censors go after “Syndromes and a Century”

Thai’s PTT wins bidding for JET gas stations

Sweet treats cool down the animals at the zoo

Shopping mall engulfed in flames

100 million in damages and 200 jobless

More than 200 employees go jobless as their workplace goes up in smoke.

CMM Reporters

A major fire swept through Chiang Rai’s oldest shopping mall causing an estimated 100 million baht in damages and leaving at least 200 employees jobless.

The blaze began last Wednesday evening at 9:30pm after the Api Plaza shopping mall had closed.

Authorities believe a short circuit was to blame for the sparks that engulfed the three story building and threatened a nearby hotel.

It took three hundred firefighters and 50 engines about three hours to contain the massive blaze. Strong winds threatened the Krung Thong Hotel next door where all guests were evacuated. The hotel suffered minor damage.

The fire apparently began by a short circuit in a room where clothing was being stored and then quickly spread gutting the entire building.

Total damages are still being assessed but it is believed they could go as high as 200 million baht. Apparently the store owners only had a 10 million baht insurance policy.

The Api Plaza is owned by the Apinivet family and had been in business for some 20 years. They plan to reopen a new branch in the near future.

Freak storm damages 8 homes and causes power outages

A steel support pole came crashing down on eight homes during last weeks powerful wind storm.

Saksit Meesubkwang

A quick but powerful storm raced through Chiang Mai last Wednesday causing damage, power outages and traffic congestion.

Flimsy outdoor billboards around the city came crashing down or were blown away as heavy winds and rain surprised most residents.

The fast moving storm caused power outages in Phra Pok Klao, Somphech Market and Mae Hiya. Power was restored in just over three hours.

The worst structural damage occurred at Pimanthip Drive Range on Mahidol Road, Prasing district when a support pole used to hold up a net was blown over damaging eight houses in the process.

The homes suffered structural and roof damage and fortunately no one was injured.

Star Dome Company who owns the golf driving range, and will be responsible for reimbursing the homeowners who suffered damages. The authorities have closed the driving range until repairs are completed.

Private jet mishap shuts down airport for 4 hours

The private jet’s aborted takeoff caused a four hour shutdown at the airport.

CMM Reporters

A U.S. registered private jet attempting to take off from Chiang Mai Airport suffered a burst tire forcing an emergency stop on the runway.

The Cessna 10 seat model with two US pilots on aboard were scheduled to fly to Hong Kong after a brief re-fueling stop at the airport.

The incident occurred on April 18 at about 2:30pm and forced the airport to close down the runway forcing a four hour delay for all flight services.

Airport authorities launched their rescue operations and traffic officials began to re-schedule flights while the plane was moved to clear the runway.

Aircraft tires that burst during takeoffs and landings are not uncommon according to airport officials.

The private jet belonging to the US charter company John Minns Aviation Service apparently did not suffer major damage and the two pilots were unharmed.

Hundreds of passengers scheduled on commercial flights were inconvenienced due to the delays. The airport returned to normal operations five hours later.

A procedural investigation is underway according to airport officials.

361 die during Songkran

The seven-day nationwide Songkran holidays from April 11-17 saw a total of 4,274 road accidents with 361 deaths and 4,805 injured, according to Permanent Secretary for Interior Mr. Pongpayom Wasaphuti.

Mr. Pongpayom concluded that the government campaign to reduce the casualties during Songkran was successful as the number of travelers killed this year was 14 lower than last year. The number of accidents though was 77 more than last year.

Most accidents involved motorcycles, drunk driving and speeding.

The highest number of accidents was reported in Chiang Rai province with 160 followed by the province of Udon Thani with 135 and Chiang Mai with 130 accidents.

The number of deaths in Chiang Mai totaled 13 during Songkran. (CMM Reporters/TNA)

Two killed and 4 kilos of heroin seized

The body of an unidentified man suspected of transporting heroin was shot dead during a clash with the Thai army.

Soldiers from the Thai army encountered five alleged drug traffickers who were apparently transporting a large quantity of heroin in Chiang Mai province.

Two of the alleged traffickers were shot dead and more than four kilos of heroin was seized in a fight with Thai soldiers near the border with Myanmar, army officials said.

It remains unclear who was responsible for the deaths of the alleged traffickers.

The clash took place at a village in Wiang Haeng district of Chiang Mai province when five armed men fired at soldiers after refusing a search. Gunfire was exchanged for about 10 minutes before three of the alleged drug traffickers fled the scene.

Soldiers later searched the area and found the bodies of two alleged traffickers. They also found two guns and ammunition, as well as more than four kilos of heroin shaped into bars left behind.

Army officials said they had gone into the area after receiving tips on illegal drug smuggling. The scene of the fighting took place inside Thai border and about two kilometers from a United Wa State Army’s base on the Thai-Myanmar border but Army officials believe the deceased were of the Lisu hilltribe community.

Army officials said they believed the heroin was intended to be smuggled to a third country via Bangkok.

This is the second seizure in as many weeks to take place in the area as the army increases its patrols in order to minimize drug trafficking. (CMM Reporters/TNA)

Songkrash on the Mae Jo road

Missed the motorcycle but ended up on its side.

The driver of this nearly new pick up must have thought he’d got through the worst of Songkran unscathed before a motorcycle changed lanes without warning directly in front of him.

The accident occurred on the last official day of Songkran at approximately 6.30 pm on the Chiang Mai – Mae Jo Road, halfway between the Superhighway and the first ring road intersection. While the motorcyclist drove on – possibly unaware of the havoc caused – the pick up heading for Mae Jo swerved, lost control, turned over and stopped on its side facing Chiang Mai. Luckily, no serious casualties were reported. (CMM Reporters.)

Foreigner found dead in the moat

Identity a mystery

Chiang Mai Muang police were called to city moat on Mool Muang Road after receiving a call that a foreigner’s body was found floating in the water on April 14th.

The body was discovered at 5pm by a passerby opposite the Press Bar and Restaurant in Tambon Phrasing.

The police recovered the body and transported it to Maharaj Nahkon Hospital.

The victim, a male between the ages of 40 to 45 apparently had been dead for at least two days before being discovered.

According to the police the deceased was not carrying any identification and as of yet they have not received any calls from family or friends reporting any missing foreigners.

The police said the body showed no signs of assault or injury and they suspect the victim was under the influence at the time of his death.

It is unknown if the man went into the moat for a swim or had fallen in.

Anyone with information that may lead to the identification of the victim is urged to contact the Chiang Mai police. (CMM Reporters)

City hosts youths from the southern provinces

Saksit Meesubkwang

A new government initiative has been implemented in an effort to provide children who live in the Southern provinces an opportunity to temporarily escape the violence affecting their region by visiting tourist attractions in the Northern provinces.

The Tourism Authority of Thailand hosted a group of 45 youths representing three provinces from the south; Yala, Pattani, and Narathivas border provinces and spent one of their days touring the Chiang Mai zoo where they enjoyed visiting the pandas and other animals on display.

A representative of the youth group said he felt so lucky to have this chance to travel to the Northern region where people are very kind and generous.

"I feel very impressed with the Chiang Mai people and will tell my friends, emphasizing that if they have chance they should come up for a visit. I really hope that I will be back," he added.

This travel project to the North was initiated by the government who believes that providing opportunities such as this one will bring on more awareness to the participants and provide them with a chance to discover more about Thailand which otherwise would be impossible.

Mae Hong Son airport wants to expand

A recent photo of Mae Hong Son airport where officials want to expand the runway.

Kajohn Boonpath

Officials from the Mae Hong Son Airport have made a request to state and national budget offices for and additional 20 million baht to expand its runway and equip the airport in Pai with runway lights.

Suthep Khemthong, Director of the Mae Hong Son Airport stated that additional air services could be increased to both cities if the monies were made available for next years fiscal budget.

Airport official made a request last year for 20 million baht to expand Pai’s runway from the existing 710 meters long distance to 1,000 meters. However, the request was rejected by Ministry of Transportation and the cabinet.

Pai Airport officials want to increase the number of flights and attract more tourism to their city. Currently the city of Pai is served by one airline with one flight a day.

Worathep Kanthadee, Chief of the Tourist Association in Pai believes that by expanding and improving the airport more tourists will choose Pai as a travel destination.

More than 100 fires deliberately set in Chiang Rai

Police in search of arsonists

Chiang Rai Police were in search for those responsible in setting at least 105 fires in the forests near Doi Tung Palace that scorched at least 1,200 rai of land.

District Officer Chief of Mae Fah Luang Somchai Roongsakorn told reporters that an urgent investigation had begun and the authorities were in hot pursuit of the culprits who started the fires on both sides the road to Phra That Doi Tung and Doi Tung Palace on the top of Doi Mae Fah Luang Mountain.

Representatives from Chiang Rai Provincial Forest Office, the Forest Fire Control Units, the Mae Fah Luang Police Station and various hill tribes held a meeting to discuss the situation and attempt to determine who was responsible for setting the fires.

Clearing brush by fire is a normal practice in the region but forest property is considered off limits for farming.

The Doi Tung Palace is one of Chiang Rai’s main tourist attractions. The fires have been contained and the authorities have promised that those responsible will face severe punishment for their actions. (CMM Reporters)

Lin Hui may finally be pregnant

Chiang Mai’s Lin Hui may be pregnant as her hormone level is increasing, according to the director general of the Zoological Park Organization.

Zookeepers may finally have succeeded in impregnating Lin Hui, shown here during the artificial insemination procedure earlier this month.

Zookeepers artificially inseminated Lin Hui earlier this month after Chuang Chuang, her male partner, failed to perform despite videos of "panda porn" aimed at teaching him how to impregnate her.

With high hopes, the experts will perform an ultrasound test in the next four months to determine if she is pregnant.

Zookeepers are taking special care of Lin Hui who is kept in separate enclosures as experts are afraid that Chuang Chuang’s heavy-handed playing could affect Lin Hui’s chances for a successful pregnancy.

Ever since the pair was sent from China to Chiang Mai four years ago, Chuang Chuang’s sex life has become a matter of public concern.

Zookeepers have put him on a special diet to avoid crushing his partner and have made him watch other pandas mating on video to get him in the mood. (CMM Reporters)

Censors go after “Syndromes and a Century”

Mark Gernpy

The film "Syndromes and a Century" should have begun playing at theatres in Chiang Mai last week. It is directed by a leading Thai national who has brought great acclaim to Thailand worldwide through his award-winning films.

Actress Nantarate Sawaddikul delights audiences in her portrayal as Dr. Tei in Syndromes and a Century.

The movie won’t be coming to a theatre nearby anytime soon and a huge storm of controversy has erupted.

The Thai Censorship Board has said that four cuts had to be made to allow it to be shown in Thailand: 1. A monk playing a guitar, 2. A monk playing with a remote-controlled UFO toy, 3. A doctor drinking alcohol 4. A doctor kissing his girlfriend so that a viewer can notice that he is noticeably excited.

The director, Apichatpong Weerasethakul, instead withdrew it from release, saying he will only allow it to be shown uncut. He said: "I, a filmmaker, treat my works as my own sons or my daughters. When I conceived them, they have their own lives to live. I don’t mind if people are fond of them, or despise them, as long as I created them with my best intentions and efforts. If these offspring of mine cannot live in their own country for whatever reasons, let them be free. Since there are other places that warmly welcome them as who they are, there is no reason to mutilate them from the fear of the system, or from greed. Otherwise there is no reason for one to continue making art."

The Censorship Board was apparently so incensed at this insubordination they refused to return the film to the director as he requested, saying that they had to go ahead and make the cuts in the film anyway, even if it was not to be shown in Thailand. One infuriated member of the committee castigated the director: "No one has ever dared doing something like that; even any blockbuster has never done something like you."

Some consider the censors’ actions as petty and nonsensical. Thailand gained world notoriety when the censors cut the last 20 minutes of "The Da Vinci Code" at the behest of religious pressure groups. Now it seems to have been the doctors, hospital organizations and Buddhist groups that put up the hue and cry.

The film is one of several film projects initiated and funded by the city of Vienna as part of the celebration marking the 250th anniversary of Mozart’s birth. The film has won the following awards so far: Best Film Award, 9th Deauville Asian Film Festival, France, 2007 Best Editor Award, Asian Film Award, Hong Kong, 2007 Special Mention, Fribourg International Film Festival, Switzerland, 2007 and Honorable Mention, Adelaide Film Festival, Australia, 2007

He’s dealing here with reminiscences, we’re told (though not in the film itself), of the director’s parents, both of them doctors; of their courtship; and of what it was like for him to grow up in a hospital environment. Weerasethakul says that the first half, with its warmer, gentler mood, is for his mother, and the second, where scenes are repeated in brisker and cooler variations and the hospital is an antiseptic urban one, is for his father.

Movie critic Stephanie Zacharek, at writes, "This is such a gentle, delicate picture — it’s based on Joe’s parents’ recollections of their own early courtship — that at moments, I felt as if it were slipping through my hands like water. But a full day after seeing it, I’m finding that its rippling multiple storylines — there’s a singing dentist who befriends a young monk, and a beautiful young doctor who inches tentatively toward love — are still reshaping themselves in my mind. "Syndromes and a Century" is beguiling and confounding, and I hope to see it again soon: When I do, I suspect I’ll understand it even less and yet love it more. That’s the difference between a movie with a mystery in its heart, and one whose mystery is a gimmick you can take to market."

Apparently the government is embarrassed by Apichatpong and his success throughout the world because he is gay and a maverick, and does not make readily understandable films in the accepted mode. The Thai establishment apparently ignores him, accord him no recognition and try to discourage him in every way imaginable.

The ensuing public revolt and rebellion has led groups and individuals to petition to the National Legislative Assembly to abolish this kind of film censorship in Thailand.

Thai’s PTT wins bidding for JET gas stations

The state-owned oil and gas conglomerate PTT Plc made the top bid for Conoco-owned JET petrol stations with a value of about 7 billion baht.

PTT won the bidding over key rivals including Shell Corporation and Petronas of Malaysia.

With the apparent takeover of the JET gas stations nationwide, PTT will expand its market share dramatically. At present, PTT has a market share of around 34 per cent.

Chaiwat Churitthi, Senior Executive Vice President of PTT’s Oil Business group said PTT was keen on securing the JET properties due to their prime locations.

Conoco (Thailand), which operates JET petrol stations, has been trying to sell off all of its 147 stations countrywide following an overhaul of its organization.

The US-based Conoco entered into the gas and oil business in Thailand over ten years ago and had invested over 3 billion baht during this period. (CMM Reporters/TNA)

Sweet treats cool down the animals at the zoo

A monkey enjoys a pink colored flavored ice cream to cool down during the hot weather.

Chiang Mai Zoo’s officials have brought in ice cream mixed with colorful sweet syrups to distribute to animals to bring them some relieve during the hot weather.

The zoo officials have handed out the frozen sweets to the bear cats, the Asiatic black bears, Malaysian bears, tigers, lions, orangutans and monkeys.

The pandas were provided with healthier frozen carrots which they seem to enjoy.

According to the staff the animals are enjoying the special treats and seem to be more cheerful after eating their sweet snacks, especially the orangutans.

Bright food coloring such as pink, green, red and orange is used as this seems to make the icee’s more palatable. (CMM Reporters)