An Isaan Journey
Recently, the realization dawned that, after 13 years in Thailand, I
had only a peripheral acquaintance with the eastern side of the Kingdom,
better known as the Isaan region. To remedy the situation without further
delay, I scrounged around for my maps, fired up the computer, did the
required Google searches, ran out and bought a used Lonely Planet Thailand
guide book, and, thus well armed, was ready to plot this Vasco da Gama
journey through the world of Isaan. First, though, I must give credit to a
fellow Chiang Mai expat, Bernard Davis, who had told me that this was
“really a very nice trip”. He was to be proved right, in spades! With many
hours at the computer, much research on tourist sites and local hotels, and
an attempted foray to find some restaurant suggestions, (the latter of which
proved to be most elusive), we were ready to begin our journey.
gilded bronze Chinnarat Buddha at Wat Phra Si Ratana Mahathat. This
beautiful image is considered to be second only in importance to the Emerald
We left Chiang Mai on a Monday morning, on a route that would take us
through Uttaradit, and on to Phitsanulok, for our first overnight stay. Just
outside of Uttaradit, we encountered Wat Denchai, home of a 29 metre image
of the reclining Buddha, in serene repose in front of the impressive Wat.
Leaving Wat Denchai we headed to Phitsanulok, and, more specifically, Wat
Phra Si Ratana Mahathat, the home of the Chinnarat Buddha. This bronze image
is considered to be second in importance only to the Emerald Buddha in
Bangkok’s Wat Phra Kaew. Cast in the late Sukhothai style, the image’s
flammiform halo becomes dragon serpent (naga), heads either side of the
After sightseeing in and around the Wat, and its environs, we began the next
leg of our journey, heading to Khon Kaen, where we had planned to stay the
night. The drive, 376 kilometres, through the loveliest scenery of the trip
thus far, took a total time of about 6 hours, including gas, bathroom and
refreshment breaks, mainly because of the mountainous winding roads, After a
good night’s rest, we departed Khon Kaen and moved on to the city of Korat.
As you get near this historical area, there are many ruins to visit. The
first major area you encounter is Phimai Historical Park. One could make
this a whole day’s excursion by itself, and thus we could not do it justice.
However, we did cover a lot of ground, and if one has already visited the
superb ruins at Angkor Wat, it helps one to speed through this site.
After leaving Phimai, we stopped at other ruins, most of them less than
impressive, and decided to head for the next pit stop, the Dusit Princess
Hotel in Korat, where we had planned to stay for two nights. Our next treat
was a day trip to a wonderful site, Phanom Rung, where we soon became aware
of a feeling of spirituality that was really enthralling. One could
literally feel the peace of the Lord Buddha here, and the Khmer influence of
the sculptures and architecture was easily recognised.
We decided next day to make a loop off of Highway 24, along what seemed to
be a short loop to the Khao Angkhan Temple. On the map, it looked easy and
close; however, this was definitely not the case! But at the end of the day,
it was clearly worth the effort and time. Although this complex was erected
in 1982, and is a modern stylization of the Khmer style of architecture, it
is worth the trip. Not easy to find, but really worth the effort.
After spending some time at Wat Khao Angkhan, we continued on the loop and
worked our way over to Prasat Meuang Tam, another site in what I call the
“Phanom Rung loop”. This ancient Wat dates to the 10th century, was
“sponsored” by King Jayavarman V, and is reputedly, and I would say I agree,
considered to be the third most interesting temple complex, after Phanom
Rung, and Phimai.
On leaving Meung Tam, our planned visits were over, but, candidly, there
were many sites we missed because of the lack of available time. Our last
night was spent in Si Saket, gathering strength for the arduous journey
home. Certainly, our first trip to Isaan was one of discovery and enjoyment,
and definitely needs to be repeated some day soon! The pictures, of course,
are just a few examples of the amazing photo opportunities that one finds at
these historical sites, but they give you a sense of wonder of these special
places. Clearly, this is an area of Thailand that one could spend serious
time exploring in order to truly appreciate the essence of these sites, and
to clearly understand and feel their magnificence and ancient heritage.
The 29 metre image of the reclining Buddha at
Wat Denchai, Uttaradit.
An ancient stupa in Phimai Historical Park.
Wat Khao Angkarn, built in 1982, using a modern
of the Khmer style of architecture.
An entry gate to Prasat Meuang Tam, built in the 10th century, and sponsored
by King Jayavarman V.
The “Grand Staircase” to the main stupa at
near Khorat, showing clearly the Khmer architectural style.
Chiang Mai Mail M.D. Pratheep Malhotra
installed as Rotary District Governor
The 61 clubs in the Rotary International District 3340 turned out in
force at the Royal Cliff Beach Resort in Pattaya recently to honour
their new District Governor, Pratheep (Peter) Malhotra. More than 400
well-wishers came to see Peter’s 21 years of selfless devotion to the
Rotary ideals rewarded by the bestowing of the governorship of the
district. Almost every organisation in Pattaya with connection to
welfare and tourism was represented, including the Director of Tourism
for Thailand and the President of Skål, Thailand. However, the most
honoured guest was H.E. Bhichai Rattakul, the most respected Rotarian in
Thailand, former President of the Thai Parliament, past District
Governor, past Rotary International Director and the first Thai to
become, in the year 2002-2003, President of Rotary International.
Rotary International President Bhichai Rattakul installs Pratheep as
Governor of District 3340 R.I.
To initiate the proceedings, a “Welcome” dance was performed by Thai
dancers, followed by an Indian epic supplied by Sopin Thappajug, which
included an interesting leading “lady”! The personal touch was provided
by Pratheep’s three sons, Prince, Tony and Dave, who formed a trio with
guitars and sang a song for their father, bringing more than one tear to
their father’s eyes.
The installation ceremony itself was conducted by H.E. Bhichai Rattakul,
who, in his official address, said that “Pratheep was born in
Phitsanulok, the second son of Indian parents who ran a successful
trading business in textiles, typewriters and sewing machines. Malhotra
senior, however, with a wise eye to the future, decided that an ability
to speak English would soon be a pre-requisite for the future of
business in Thailand. The most accessible place for Pratheep to learn
this skill was India, which would also give the young boy a chance to
investigate and understand his Indian roots. Consequently, he was sent
to an Irish Catholic boarding school in Mussoorie, at the foot of the
Himalayas, when he was 5 years old”. H.E. Bhichai continued, “One of his
most obvious traits is his enthusiasm. He will embrace an idea or a
concept and run with it, encouraging all those around him to look ahead
to its ultimate aim. This international man, however, always
acknowledges his debt of gratitude to his parents and to the other
members of his family. Whilst the symbolism may have changed for
Pratheep, in all his guises, his personal philosophy never has. He
retains the close bonds of the Thai/Indian family unit and the respect
for that concept which his father and mother gave him. That is now, in
turn, being taught to his own three sons, and his nephews and nieces.
Hopefully, the strengths which come from that will continue through the
Malhotra lineage. One aspect that does put Peter apart from many others
is his understanding of people and their strengths and weaknesses, and
he has never stopped helping those in unfortunate circumstances. Whilst
Pratheep may seem an enigma to many, he is not really so. He is just a
man driven by his own quest for excellence, a quest that has been the
same for all pioneers, whether they were the Pilgrim Fathers,
Christopher Columbus or Magellan. A pioneer has to have a mission, a
pioneer has to have forward vision and a pioneer has to have boundless
enthusiasm. Pratheep, the pioneer has all that.”
pours his heart out to the audience, thanking one and all for the love
showered upon him.
Ending his speech, H.E. Bhichai, knowing Pratheep’s stance regarding
hard work, ethics and goal-setting, quoted the former British prime
minister Maggie Thatcher, who said that one has to stick to one’s
principles - if you stand in the middle you get run over from both
directions! Pratheep will not suffer that fate.
The new District Governor’s reply to H.E. Bhichai began with these
words, “Out of the gloom a voice spoke to me and said, smile and be
happy, things could be worse. So I did smile and be happy, and things
still got worse!” He explained that the quote was taken from the words
of a great Rotarian, the late past District Governor, Nelson Alexander,
who had loved life, loved people, and was always there to lend a helping
hand, to pick up those who had stumbled and to hold them steady until
they were strong again. Nelson had fought tirelessly with Rotary
bureaucracy to allow a Thai to become the RI President, but sadly, in
2002, when his resolve bore fruit, he was no longer there to see it.
Pratheep pledged to dedicate his year as District Governor to Nelson’s
memory, and mentioned that his own father, who had predicted that his
second son would become a president one day, sadly did not live long
enough to see him rise even higher and become a District Governor. He
proceeded to thank all those people who had inspired and assisted him on
his way, including H.E. Bhichai, his elder brother Marlowe, his family
members, and all his role models in Rotary’s selfless society whose
motto is “Service above Self”, and whose theme for 2008-2009 is “Make
Dreams Real”. The worldwide organization will instigate projects to
decrease child mortality under the age of 5 years. Every day around the
world, some 30,000 children under that age die from preventable causes
such as pneumonia, measles and malaria. Thousands die from the lack of
that most basic resource; clean water, and many more die from a
combination of factors, in which malnutrition and poverty play major
It will be towards alleviating these shocking statistics that Pratheep
will be guiding the 61 clubs in District 3340. “Nothing happens on its
own”, is almost his motto. He is a man who is not afraid of hard work,
and those children will have a wonderful champion for their cause. It
will be a busy year for the new District Governor, but not one in which
he will shrink from the task.
In 1932, Rotarian Herbert J. Taylor created the Four-Way Test, a code of
ethics adopted by Rotary. The test asks the following questions:
Of the things we think, say or do - Is it the TRUTH? Is it FAIR to all
Will it build GOODWILL and BETTER FRIENDSHIPS? Will it be BENEFICIAL to
Pratheep Malhotra has applied the Four-Way Test to all his dealings, not
just within Rotary circles, but to his life in Pattaya, which explains
in some way the standing he enjoys within the local community, which, by
the end of the next 12 months, will have been extended to the greater
area of Thailand covered by RI District 3340. The new District Governor
will make sure his year in office will be beneficial for those needy,
and very young, children.
Pornsak Euerprasert, Governor (2008-09) of
District 3360 R.I. and Khun Jiraporn wish Peter and Rani a successful
year as governor.
Past Rotary International President Bhichai
gives moral support to (l-r) Suthasinee, Thinakorn, Primprao, Yanyong
and Krisda, volunteers of the Pattaya Rotary Liaison Office, for their
untiring work at the District Assembly.
Dave, Tony and Prince (l-r) sing for their
London businessman’s Chiang Mai
Children’s Trust supports Hang Dong school
A very special trip and an engagement party!
John Stewart, the owner of the “Farang” shop in Camden, London
UK, is also the director of the Chiang Mai Children’s Trust,
which supports the educational development of children at Tong
Khay school in Hang Dong by raising funds from his customers.
and Nuke at their traditional Thai engagement ceremony at the
Sirinart Garden Hotel.
Twice yearly, John comes to Chiang Mai, and organises the
distribution of the funds according to the school’s needs, and
on his recent visit, he also organised an educational day trip
for 70 of the children. The day began with a visit to Mae Moe
mine, where the children were taught about the process of
electricity generation, after which an enjoyable and very noisy
lunch was provided! Then came the fun - hill sliding - 70
children with grass sleds and a great deal of laughter.
Afterwards, everyone moved on to Lamphun, where a tour of the
town in horse-drawn carriages had been arranged, together with a
visit to a local temple. Shopping and refreshments followed, and
all arrived home weary but overjoyed with their day.
On this visit, the funds provided repairs to the school
building, scholarships for 4 graduating students to enable them
to attend high school, and 150 books and educational DVD’s. In
addition, Ning, a local resident and former pupil of the school,
offered the use of her sala, (which is currently serving as an
impromptu library till school resumes), as a summer reading
This very special visit was one which John will remember all his
life, as, whilst he was here, he became engaged to Natthanicha
Boonsuit, (Nuke), whom he had met on a buying trip to Chiang Mai
in 2006. The happy couple celebrated a traditional Thai
engagement ceremony at the Sirinart Garden Hotel, attended by 75
family members and friends, and partied in the evening at the
air traffic controllers’ club on the airport complex. John has
been a frequent visitor to Chiang Mai for many years, making
regular buying trips for his shop.
The happy couple, John and Nuke,
celebrating their engagement with friends.
Children from Tong Khay School
enjoying a horse and carriage ride in Lamphun.
A horse and carriage for the bride -
Imperial Mae Ping’s Wedding Fair
The Imperial Mae Ping’s Wedding Fair
all happy to give the bride and groom their “perfect day”.
A romantic horse drawn carriage
adorned with beautiful flowers is available
to whisk away the bride and groom.
On May 16-18, the Imperial Mae Ping Hotel held its 4th annual
Wedding Fair at Robinson’s, Airport Plaza. This year’s theme is,
“We make your fairy tales come true!” Together with the Wedding
Fair’s sponsors, WOW 88 studio, who provide both the beautiful
wedding and bridesmaids’ dresses, a professional hairdressing
and make-up service for the bride if required, and even smart
suits for the groom, the Imperial Mae Ping’s wedding packages
take the headaches out of organising the great day!
Along with its sister hotel, the Imperial Resort at Mae Rim, the
Imperial’s facilities for the wedding itself and the reception
are sumptuous and elegant. The sales team consists of 10
experienced staff, who will help with all the necessary
decisions, such as the choice of an indoor or outdoor venue, and
accommodation at either hotel both before and after the occasion
itself. There are three “wedding packages” to choose from;
Silver, Gold and Platinum, and over 70 weddings, mostly of local
couples, were held at the Imperial Mae Ping last year.
An innovation for the bride who wants to arrive in style this
year was unveiled earlier this month - a horse and carriage,
which was paraded, decorated with flowers, around the moat
accompanied by an escort of motorbikes. One large version of
which, it must be noted, was ridden by the hotel’s GM, Nick
Bauer. The horse, a gentle beastie named San-Bao, didn’t seem to
mind the noise at all!
The Chiang Mai Mail’s reporter asked Nick about his most
embarrassing moment at a wedding - he replied that on one
unforgettable occasion, there had been 500 guests booked for the
formal sit-down reception, and 650 turned up! Of course, without
disturbing the ‘big day’ of the happy couple, the staff managed
to sort it out without anyone noticing, much to Nick’s relief.
If there’s any occasion where expertise truly counts, surely it
must be that “big day”.