Big Bike Week 2009
Charity ride draws people from around the world
Some of the riders on the Chiang Mai Bike Week
Story and Photos by Shana Kongmun
87 riders and a total of 118 people participated in the annual
Chiang Mai Bike Week 2009 that took place on Sunday December 7. The local
and international community came together that day, donating dried food
staples to the children’s orphanage at Wat Don Chan and helping with the
pre-school built by the organization in Pong Yeang village in the mountains.
Franck, charity ride organizer ready to roll.
“At Wat Don Chan we take staple dried goods that will carry them through
making other food so that it can last for quite a while. We gave all the
kids snacks that would normally be a luxury. A treat that they couldn’t get
otherwise. So that it makes the children realize there is something
specifically for them”, Bob Franck, ride organizer said.
The ride started out from Sirinart Garden Hotel around 11 a.m. and included
members of the Chiang Mai Tourist Police, Special Branch Police, the Black
Belt Riders of Lamphun and the Chiang Mai Toy Ride was there to support the
event as well. Bob added that the North Comets plan to attend the next Toy
Ride event to show their support for their efforts as well.
Main, Marketing Director for Thaivisa.com takes a Harley on the charity
“Most of the people that were on the ride after we left Wat Don Chan were
guests from all over the world; US, England, Finland, Norway as well as
local tourist police and others.” They left for the mountain village of Pong
Yeang for the dedication of the pre-school building that the organization
helped to build for local children. Donations have been given every year
from the Big Bike Week to pay for a teacher and to provide school lunches
for about 60 children all year. The organization also donated the money to
build the pre-school building. “Each year we give them a design and then we
give them the money to build it themselves. It could be another 100,000 baht
for construction on top of the 30,000 baht from the Big Bike Week ride,” Bob
Earlier projects helped by the Big Bike Week have been the elephant hospital
in Lampang and prior to that a school in a mountain village. Bob Franck has
been a member of the North Comets motorcycle club for 7 years and has been
working on their charity events that whole time. North Comets have been
supporting local charities for 11 years.
Some of the riders discussing the upcoming ride
to Wat Don Chan and Pong Yeang.
The group of 87 riders head for Wat Don Chan.
Riders take off from the exhibition at the
Sirinart Garden Hotel.
Bikers lined up ready for the ride to Wat Don
Chan and Pong Yeang.
Local Tourist and Special Branch Police join in
the annual charity ride.
Alexander Barrasso; Champion chess playing diplomat
Political and Economic Chief at the U.S. Consulate
By Shana Kongmun
In a city teeming with creative locals and foreigners, and expats
who have led a full and interesting life before ending up in Chiang Mai,
Alexander Barrasso, the U.S. Consulate General’s political and economic
chief has to be quite high on the list of residents to know. The first thing
you notice about him is his warm and welcoming smile, followed by his quiet
companion sitting nearby, his seeing eye dog. With determination, ambition,
intelligence and heart he has made his way in a profession that even the
sighted find difficult.
Barrasso, Political and Economic Chief at the U.S. Consulate General with
Shana Kongmun, managing editor of the Chiang Mai Mail.
He was inspired to join the Foreign Service while on a high school trip to
Washington D.C. for the Seminar on Government in Action. There he met with
State Department recruiters and realized his dream career. “I thought, I get
to travel, learn new languages, represent the U.S. and get paid to do it.”
He went on to study history in university and then, as a recipient of the
Thomas Pickering Fellowship for his graduate degree, was committed to a
minimum of a two year stint in the State Department. From there, he never
looked back. Although prior blind applicants have reported having
difficulty, Alexander said that by the time he took the exams the State
Department was quite accommodating in ensuring they could be taken in
Braille. Fluent in Spanish, his first assignment was Colombia. With its
reputation of kidnapping and bonus ‘danger pay’, he found, instead of
danger, the woman who became his wife.. Considered one of the more difficult
assignments in theForeign Service, he found a home and learned to love the
country in the two years that he was assigned there.
His focus has always been political with economic interests secondary, but
as a member of the State Department’s Foreign Service, it is more often that
he takes the job he is given. He has also done consular work, as well as
public diplomacy. Often the job depends on the location and needs specific
to that position in that location. After postings back in the U.S. and
Singapore, he was assigned to Chiang Mai and has made the city his home
The latest issue of importance to attract his attention is the newest
buzzword for Northern Thailand and Chiang Mai, the creative economy. Defined
as a focus on intellectual properties and knowledge driven economic growth,
the U.S. Consulate plans to host a seminar on this in Chiang Mai next year.
Mr. Barrasso added, “This concept has backers, its not an outside creation.
The tourism and agriculture that have sustained this region are, as we have
seen, very susceptible to shocks, more so than other industries and that can
make things difficult in difficult times like this. It’s in Northern
Thailand’s interest to explore other options in order to diversify its
One of his duties in Chiang Mai has been public outreach programs, like
speaking to student groups, supporting cultural preservation, and organizing
film screenings at the American Corner. Located in the Chiang Mai University
Library, the American Corner is a partnership between the Consulate and the
University, offering satellite programs, digital video conferences, hi-speed
Internet access, book and multimedia collections, as well as organizing
talks in a bid to foster cooperation and stimulate dialogue between
citizens, institutions and groups from both countries. Other efforts to this
end include providing opportunities for Thai business and community leaders
to travel to the U.S. to meet and discuss ideas and issues with their
counterparts. He has worked with The Academy for Education-USA to organize
an inter-faith service day where books and supplies were donated to local
Muslim, Buddhist and Christian schools.
One of his concerns, as political chief, has been to keep an eye on
political developments in Thailand. “The United States wants to see a
stable, prosperous, peaceful and democratic Thailand that can be the same
excellent partner that is has been for the past 176 years.
This unique diplomat has been the U.S. National Blind Chess Champion (1993,
1996-98, and 2003) and continues to play chess. He said that his interest in
chess was a matter of happenstance, he had gone to a friend’s birthday party
when he was around 10 years old and, after playing some basketball, the kids
all went in to play chess. His friend was on the school’s chess team and the
friend’s father taught him how to play. It piqued his interest enough that
he devoted his free time to chess instead of basketball or playing the
trumpet on the school band. He started playing competitively at the national
level in the 9th grade, when he was about 15. Although he hasn’t competed in
the National championships since 2008, he continues to play chess here in
Chiang Mai with the Chess Club which holds meetings every Wednesday night at
7pm at The Pub on Huay Kaew road.
His next assignment will be in Naples, Italy next year and while he is
looking forward to returning to his roots, his family emigrated from Italy,
he has enjoyed his time in Chiang Mai greatly and found the people to be
warm, hospitable and friendly. He said when he first arrived in Chiang Mai
Thai members of the Consulate staff greeted him at the airport with small
welcome gifts. “That’s never happened to me before, and, I suspect, will
never happen again. We have a great team here at the Consulate, both Thai
Bird Watching for Pleasure
Majestic Eagles and Graceful Hornbills
Hoopoe on a tree at a little
By Mike Gilman
A recent birding foray took us south along narrow lanes to the
village of Pak Nam Pran. Here the Gulf lazily caresses the bay and rocky
shore line. During our early morning beach stroll we were graced by Green
Bee Eaters alighting from open branches, hawking unsuspecting insects for
their breakfast. The sun’s rays illuminated the copper / green plumage as
though portrayed on a Van Gogh canvas.
Perhaps it was in anticipation that the blue / purple flash before our eyes,
realised a species not yet seen by us in Chiang Mai. Coming to rest on a
nearby coconut tree, the Black Capped Kingfisher was indeed a delight to
observe, such striking features and threatening awesome red bill.
After breakfast we decided to continue along the beach road, a decision not
regretted. The road twisted and turned, eventually leading to a small
fishing port. Fishermen were busy repairing nets as we pulled into a shady
glade. Bird song was everywhere, and worthy of Beethoven’s ‘ Pastoral ‘.
Making ourselves inconspicuous behind bracken we gaped in awe as Coppersmith
Barbets, Olive Backed Sunbirds, Scarlet Backed Flowerpeckers, White Throated
Kingfishers, Common Sandpipers and a solitary Hoopoe searched for their
prey. Such a dream start to the day.
Khao Sam Roi Yot National Park and it’s wetlands were en-route to our next
destination where he freshwater areas were a haven for Black Winged Stilts,
Indian Shags, Grey Herons and an array of Egrets. The manicured sea view
golf course at Chumphon had a multitude of birds, Pipits, Drongos and Indian
Rollers revelled in the surroundings. The latter were numerous, their
rolling flight pattern was characteristic, and aptly described their name.
South East of Chumphon lies the Gulf isle of Koh Tao. We jumped on the
catamaran to further whet our birding appetites. One of the island’s common
species was the Dollarbird. Sitting atop poles and posts, the sun’s rays
highlighted the plumage sheen of purple and green. To our gaze the orange
flatish bill was prominent, and in flight the silver dollar like patch on
the wings derived it’s name. Off the beaten track and among rocky outlets
the Pacific Reef Egrets plied their trade. A Great Billed Heron was also
seen. Tall (115cm) and prominent, this mainly grey bird stood motionless as
it’s eyes fixed on unsuspecting aquatic delicacies.
A noisy, fume belching, long tailed boat took us to the adjacent island of
Naang Yuan. The boat battled into the headwind and heavy surf. With our
stomachs in our mouths we were pleased to finally alight, albeit showered in
sea spray. As we walked towards rocky cover, one or two pied birds flew
towards the isle’s wooded hillside. With the sun on our backs we scoured the
heavily foliaged greenery, then, there they were, way up above us, and
nestled close together. Ten Pied Imperial Pigeons enjoyed the comfort of
their shady lookout. Bigger than more common pigeons at 42cm long, this bird
prefers this type of idyllic habitat.
Thailand’s south western seaboard has a profusion of coastal areas and we
wound our way to a typical off track retreat, alongside the Andaman sea. Out
at sea and all alone was hazy Bat Island (Koh kangkow), just a dot in the
mighty ocean. When the locals told us it was uninhabited, it became a ‘ must
visit ‘ place, where the more rare or unexpected species might be found.
Weather permitting, tomorrow’s diary was full.
A motorised rowing / fishing boat waltzed through the choppy warm swells,
and dropped us on the solitary white sand beach. The steep, heavily wooded
isle was difficult to ascend in our non-climbing attire, so we succumbed to
making the shore line rocks our lookout position. Brahminy Kites, white
headed with brown / red shoulder plumage could be seen in the distance
looking for tasty fish snacks. But, it has to be said that the
characteristics of the White Bellied Sea Eagles were a joy to observe. This
72cm long master tactician is easily identified in flight as it soars on
high thermals with lifted wings in a ‘ V ‘ shape. Majestic in appearance and
kings of the ocean, the seas surface is it’s supermarket. A gifted species
with powerful telescopic vision, we watched and watched until the prey was
spotted. Circling lower and lower, and making adjustments for the prevailing
wind, it finally swooped, with talons open at the ready, and with consummate
efficiency, it plucked the wriggling aquatic lunch from the water without
seemingly getting wet. Absolute perfection.
Our retreat location boasted broad mud flats and mangroves. Just after
dawn, and with an ebbing tide, the crouching stance of the Little Heron was
clearly seen. However, the morning’s highlight was watching a pair of
Oriental Pied Hornbills as they flew from tree to tree with the grace of a
ballerina In flight their black wings were tinged with white trailing edges.
At 72cm long, and of unusual profile, this is one of the smallest Hornbills,
which extols such beauty. Enjoy the gifts of nature.
New resort showcases new environmentally friendly building techniques
A revered Phra Ganesh image from the Ganesh
Museum welcomed in a ceremony and parade to reside at the new resort .
By Phitsanu Thepthong
A new resort, Bandin Resort in Doi Lor district, has been
constructed using environmentally friendly materials like rammed earth as
well as wooden Lanna style houses. The 28 room resort is surrounded by
gardens and has used new techniques in construction to have a minimal
environmental impact and yet still reflect the natural charm of Lanna
culture. Surrounded by rice fields, small villages and canals, the new
resort hopes to mirror the peacefulness of the surrounding countryside.
TV star and singer Songsith Rungnopakunsri as MC, Thanoo, Supatra, and
Sakulrat Thirakarn, the owners of the Bandin Resort, release a Khom Loy into
the air, marking the official opening of the new resort in Doi Lor.
Thanoo and Supatra Thirakarn, both from Bangkok, bought the former orchard
land originally to build their own home, “We started to build a house at the
beginning for our own stay and rest purposes, sometime with the visiting
relatives, but one building became two, then three, four, five until now we
have 28 rooms, which are really unique. The resort‘s buildings were made
from earth and are surrounded by the village and canals,” Supatra said.
Bicycle rides, WIFI service, a club house with poll and a meeting room with
a capacity of 120 people make up the resort.
Bandin Resort was officially opened on November 22, with a hundred guests of
honor including the Doi Lor district officers, Doi Lor high ranking police
Tambon Administration Organization (TAO), villagers, and guests from
Bangkok. Musical guests Jenifer Kim, and Calories Blah Blah performed live
at the opening.
“This property has been built as a dream and in a unique style and designs
by both of us. We hope that our unique property will be another tourist
attraction in Doi Lor district in the future,” Thanoo Thirakarn added.
Bandin Resort is in Doi Lor district, 30 minutes or about 40 kilometers
south of Chiang Mai city.
The swimming pool, where live concerts were
performed by Jennifer Kim,
and Calories Blah Blah for the guests at the grand opening.