Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Tour Guides Fear Escalating Political Instability

Chiang Mai tour guides are concerned that the red-shirted protests could worsen the tourism industry, which has been hard hit by the global economic slump.

Somrit Haikham, president of the association of tour guides in the province, said hotel booking has dropped by half from the same period last year as local tourists flock to beach destinations. He noted that the situation could improve if tourists from Europe and the Middle East return to Chiang Mai in May.

"Foreign tourists are highly concerned about safety issues. They are afraid that the ongoing protests could escalate and the airport may be closed again. Hotel operators are also fretting that history will repeat itself," he said.

Currently, from 2,000 tour guides, only 5 per cent work on permanent job contracts while the rest work on freelance basis. Their monthly income has dropped sharply to Bt7,000-Bt14,000 from Bt28,000-Bt42,000.

Anucha Damrongmanee, accounting and finance director of Mandarin Oriental Dara Dhevi Hotel, said that if the protesters seize control of the airport, the industry would be hit definitely. The luxury hotel has also witnessed a 50 per cent drop in the number of visitors. Recently, it cut the room rate by half from Bt15,000 per night on average.

Source: The Nation 01/04/09

Stunning 3' Handcarved Lotus Panel

The three dimensional Handcarved Lotus Panel is a marvel of intricacy & is a highly prized & valued possession within Thai society.

The lotus flower itself is a very important symbol within the Buddhist religion as it symbolizes prosperity and fertility. These Handcarved Lotus Panels are so prized that Thai families typically make them the centerpiece of a room.

Each Lotus Panel created by hill tribe craftsmen in Northern Thailand is the result of countless hours meticulously shaping, sanding and finishing each of the intricate lotus flower motif designs.

These wonders of wood are all completely crafted by hand, the smaller Lotus Panels can take a couple of weeks to complete, the larger panels EACH take between 3-6 months !!.

For ease of making, shipping & mounting each Lotus Panel is cut into 30cm(12") wide sections that all fit together perfectly when assembled.

These exquisitely detailed carvings help pay for new community buildings & other projects within the remote mountain villages of the far north of Thailand, each piece is completely unique, variations in wood color and carving will occur, which only go to enhance the beauty of the panels.

Item No 208
Description: 3' Square Handcarved Lotus Panel Set
Item Price: $199(delivered to your door !!)

Absolutely beautiful square handcarved 3' teakwood lotus wall hanging set with a stunning whitewash finish.

The set contains 3 individual panels and can be displayed either with slight gaps in between the panels, or altogether.

Handcrafted by the highly skilled artisans around Chiang Mai in Northern Thailand, this set will add beauty & tranquility to any room within the home.

The set measures approximately 90cm wide x 90cm high x 3cm deep (36"wide x 36" high x 1.2"deep).

This item is shipped by Thailand Post, deliveries worldwide between 14-28 days.

PLEASE NOTE: Any taxes or charges levied within the destination country are NOT included within the selling price, and are therefore the responsibility of the buyer.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Karen Hill Tribe Silver - History & Origins

Hill Tribe silver jewelry is renowned throughout the world for its purity, beautiful artisan crafting & exquisite designs, but the origins of this ancient art form are as “misty” as a winter’s morning in the mountains of Northern Thailand !!.

To fully understand its roots & origins we need to first learn about the Oppressed Groups who were forced out of their own countries, and took shelter in the mountainous areas of Northern Thailand.

For Several Centuries a sizeable proportion of the population of Northern Thailand has been made up of different ethnic groups, the largest of these cultural groups are commonly known as 'Hill Tribes'.

There are up to fifteen groups in total, but the five main ones are: Karen Akha , Lisu ,Hmong & Lahu .Each tribe is also divided into clans or sub-groups, which then have distinct customs, rituals, clothing & languages with common linguistic roots.

The largest & oldest of the Hill Tribe groups is the Karen (pronounced Kar-ren) which numbers approximately 400,000 within Thailand, and up to a further eight million who live just over the border in Myanmar.

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The earliest settlements in Thailand were established within the 17th century and from then until the 1960’s the Karen Hill Tribe (who are primarily subsistence farmers who live at peace with nature and the forests), led a semi-nomadic life using Swidden (slash and burn) farming methods to produce rice, vegetables and opium, moving from one area to another on a seven year cycle.

It was as recently as 1969 that His Majesty King Bhumibol, Thailand's reigning monarch, initiated 'The Royal Project for the Hill Tribes'.

This project was set up to address the problems that were being caused by both their farming methods & also reduce dramatically their reliance on the opium crops that flourished all around Northern Thailand at that time.

To address these problems and to also help improve their quality of their lives the King granted the Hill Tribe groups long-term permission to reside within his Kingdom (up until then they had always been just migrants, with no rights at all), they were provided with Thai ID’s & land rights. In exchange for this the King insisted they switch farming methods & cease growing opium.

It was during the Royal Project that King Bhumibol learned of the Karen Hill Tribes traditional jewelry making skills which had been passed down through generations for hundreds of years.

To help “commercialise” these skills he provided them with the silver, tools and a series of contacts that allowed them to become more self sufficient, and within a few years a potentially lost art was revived.

Today, Karen Hill Tribe artisans are taught to carefully handcraft each design from scratch, using only high-content silver (97%-99% pure) & employing traditional methods & tooling.

Each Handmade Piece is a unique masterpiece that is the result of centuries of Karen Hill Tribe culture and art.

Typically, this Beautiful Jewelry is engraved with plants, flowers, animals, or geometric designs, symbolizing their direct connection & historical links to both the land and water.

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The “distribution” centre for this production is Chiang Mai, the Karen Hill Tribe families still travel into the city once a week to Trade Their Wares
as they have done for generations, and from Chiang Mai their Distinctive Jewelry is then sold and shipped to EVERY corner of the world.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Thailand MUST Get Real
About This Pollution !

Here are two quotes from sites on the Internet in reference to air pollution in Chiang Mai. I think they both speak for themselves:

"In London, the United States and the European Union as a whole it is considered a serious pollution 'episode' if the PM-10 level exceeds 50."

For some reason, the Thai Pollution Control Department has set the "safe level" as anything less than a PM 10 of 120. Just to illustrate how high the levels can get in Chiang Mai, on March 14, 2007 PM-10 levels reached 303.9, catastrophically high by any standards.

"Chiang Mai Air Quality Initiative Programme: building capacity of Thai federal and provincial Air Quality Department - July 12, 2000 ".

This project is based on the cooperation and partnership between the United States of America and Thailand at the national and local levels, to conserve and enhance air quality and to reduce noise levels at the local level, namely in Chiang Mai municipal area. It is aimed at making the municipality of Chiang Mai one of the healthiest cities in the world. The project, which was approved in May of this year, will officially start on July 12, 2000.

Maybe it is time Thailand stopped resting on its laurels and realised the implications. I appreciate that this is a developing country, but many of the problems it is facing, such as pollution, already have working solutions developed 50to a 100 years ago in the West.

All they have to do is stand on the shoulders of giants. We need education, a sense of individual responsibility, alternatives, not six water-spray fans on Narawat Bridge in central Chiang Mai - though it's good to see that the local think tank has a sense of humour as well as a member who owns a fan factory !!.


Chiang Mai Enjoys Rain at Last !

A few days of substantial rainfall have eased the problem of fine dust in Chiang Mai, but health officials are still concerned about residents' health after 30,000 people reportedly suffered respiratory illnesses from March 1-17.

Local authorities are continuing their anti-outdoor-burning campaign, opening fountains and introducing twig-crusher machines to tackle the problem.

Following three to four days of rainfall, Chiang Mai's air-quality stations yesterday found PM10 fine-particle dust to be lower than the safety standard of 120 micrograms per cubic metre.

Earlier this month the province had been shrouded by fine dust for 11 consecutive days, especially on March 14, when the dust in the city centre peaked at a massive 238.3ตg/m3.

The poor air quality caused 30,000 people to suffer from respiratory illnesses, and the number of patients could reach 100,000 by month-end, said Public Health Office academic Molwipa Sirihorachai yesterday.

The number of asthma patients had doubled compared to the same period last year, she said.

Forest fires were blamed as a major cause of the problem. Royal Forestry Department academic Wichai Kitmee said that from February 26 to March 10 fires had ravaged 6,000 rai compared to the 9,000 rai damaged last year.

He said there would be another burning from late March into April to clear 180,000 rai for farming. The last time farmers burnt their land was in November-December to clear 55,000 rai, he said.

Meanwhile, Chiang Mai Administrative Organisation president Boonlert Buranuprakorn said the agency had spent Bt4 million on 32 twig-crusher machines for all districts to study the possibility of farmers using them instead of resorting to burning to clear their land.


Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Chiang Mai Hit by Double Whammy !

Chiang Mai's Songkran 'Water Festival' dampened by economic downturn
CHIANG MAI, March 17 (TNA) - Tourism in Thailand’s holiday-oriented northern province of Chiang Mai is being impacted by a double crisis,a sagging economy and smog from forest fires both adding to a plunging hotel occupancy rate, according to the Chiang Mai Tourism Business Association.

Association advisor Boonlert Buranupakorn said the global financial crisis has negatively impacted the tourism business in the province, and smog from continuing forest fires in parts of the northern provinces had driven the tourists away from Chiang Mai.

The average occupancy rate for Chiang Mai hotels during the mid-April Songkran festival has plunged to some 40 per cent compared to last year, he said.

Chiang Mai is a favoured location for experiencing Songkran, Thailand’s traditional New Year. Songkran’s water gentle water pouring -- often more vigorous splashing -- will be held at the ancient city moat.

Countrywide Songkran falls on April 13-15 this year. In Chiang Mai the festivities will be celebrated from April 11 to 16.

Mr. Boonlert said tourism business owners had increased their public relations activities by e-mailing tourism agencies worldwide to clarify that Thailand’s situation had returned to normal in order to attract tourists to the province again.

However, he asserted that even though tourism prospects are not bright, hoteliers have no plan to lay-off staff.

Instead, the hospitality industry will cut costs by reducing working days from 26 to 22 days per month to weather the economic crisis. (TNA)

Monday, March 16, 2009

Chiang Mai Chokes
- Further Flights Cancelled !

Thai Airways International has cancelled flights between Chiang Mai and Mae Hong Son for safety reasons as dust haze continues to shroud the northern sky.

The national carrier made the decision as the dust clouds hang over the two provinces, creating some areas of zero visibility on the 35-minute flight, according to THAI staff.

The pollution situation, mainly caused by fires in forests and open fields, has become worse as winds have not been able to take the haze upward due to a new ridge of high pressure from China which has spread to northern Thailand over the weekend.

As a result, the haze is expected to blanket Chiang Mai until the end of the month, said Chiang Mai's deputy public health chief Surasing Wisarurat.

The province of more than 1.6 million has already been hit by dust clouds for 10 consecutive days.

Chiang Mai residents hope rain will relieve the situation. Many people suffer respiratory disorders because of the haze.

Officials have been forced to use water trucks to spray streets as well as using water sprinklers, officials said.

An average of 2,000 people are visiting public health clinics every day. For the past three weeks, more than 10,000 people have sought medical advice mainly for respiratory problems and allergic reactions, according to Chiang Mai public health office.

The dust haze is made up of tiny particles, better known as particulate matter (PM) 10 with sizes of less than 10 micrometres. These particles can easily enter human lungs.

In Mae Hong Son, the PM 10 level was measured at 244 microgrammes per cubic metre, or two times higher than a safety level of 120, while Lampang has suffered 29 days of PM 10 haze.

Surapol Lilawaropas, director for forest fire control, blamed villagers who set fires in forests and farmlands for the pollution.

Those who search for wild plants such as mushrooms need to burn the undergrowth to quicken growth while farmers simply cleared their lands with fire.

The number of bushfires increased sharply this year, Mr Surapol said. This month, fires have occurred on 2,257 rai of forest, compared with only 453 rai in the same period last year, he said.

The state has begun a campaign in a bid to halt people setting fire in open fields, but it seems to have have fallen on deaf ears.

"It's difficult to talk with them. Such practices are their way of life," Chiang Mai governor Wibul Sa-nguanpong said.

Source: Bangkok Post 16/03/09

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Dutch Property Group
Invests in Chiang Mai

Dutch property conglomerate, the ECC Group, has officially announced the launch of a new landmark shopping and entertainment destination in Northern Thailand: "Promenada Chiang Mai" with Bt3.1 billion in investment is expected to open in the second half of 2011, Promenada Chiang Mai will be located along Ban Sahakorn Road. It has 75,000 sqm of retail and entertainment space, Promenada Chiang Mai will offer residents and tourists alike an innovative mix of international and local brands in fashion, food and beverage, as well as leisure and entertainment.

When completed, it will employ 3,000 Thai people. Construction is scheduled to start in the second half of 2009 and will provide thousands of jobs to local workers.

ECC chairman and founder Dion L.J Heijmans said shopping malls' revenue in Asia is projected to grow by over 10 per cent per year, compared to just 4-5 per cent growth for the group's Promenada brand in European amrkets.

ECC International Real Estate, ECC Group's holding company in Thailand, has received a license from Thailand's Board of Investment (BOI). For the development of the Promenada Chiang Mai, it has formed a partnership with VGF Design, a Chiang Mai-based company specialising in the design, manufacturing and retail of luxury furniture.

Established in 1991 in the Netherlands, the ECC Group will leverage on its success in Europe, where the Dutch retail expert has been developing several shopping malls.

To date, the ECC Group has invested US$350 million) in completed projects in Central Europe. The group is currently investing in new markets in Europe, South-East Asia (Thailand and Vietnam), North Africa (Morocco) and the Middle-East (UAE). The investment volume of the pipeline projects is about US$500 million.

Source: The Nation

Thick Smog Engulfs Chiang Mai
- Flights Cancelled !

Thai Airway International has postponed flights on Thursday from Chiang Mai to Maehongson province in the north of Thailand due to the poor vision condition after forest fire generated thick smog in the region.

It has remained uncertain when the flights will be resumed, the website by Thai-language newspaper Matichon reported.

The poor vision condition has affected the air travel from Wednesday when Thai Airway canceled three flights for Chiang Mai to Maehongson province, Peerat Ruengsuksai, chief of Maehongson's meteorological office said.

Currently, about 1,100 acres of forests in Maehongson have been destroyed by the forest fire, resulting in the thick smog problem in Maehongson, Pornchai Tonsaipech director of Maehongson's natural resources and environment office said.

The level of dust particles, technically called particulate matter (PM-10) is found to exceed acceptable limits. The PM-10 is a complex mixture of organic and inorganic substances. It was measured at 245.3 micrograms per cubic meter against a health standard of 120 micrograms per cubic meter.

Several thousands of people in Maehongson suffered from the respiratory system diseases, said Sumet Ongwandee, medical doctor of Maehongson province.

Masks were distributed to local people at public health offices across Maehongson.

Source: Criengligish.com

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Government Warning:
Chiang Mai Can Damage Your Health !

Thousands of people in and around Chiang Mai, Northern Thailand, have been affected by respiratory infections and other health problems this month, due to the air pollution, which is four times that of the Thai capital, Bangkok.

Another major town, Chiang Rai, was on Tuesday shrouded in a brown haze with air pollution five times worse than the capital, according to the Pollution Control Department.

Many residents in Chiang Mai, northern Thailand, have been affected by respiratory infections and other health problems this month, due to the air pollution.

Authorities have recently recommended locals in the tourist-oriented city of Chiang Mai to wear surgical masks if they are cycling or driving motorbikes and advised people not to jog or partake of outdoor exercise or allow children to play in parks.

Health authorities have issued warnings in the local press warning that the current haze could cause heart problems and respiratory diseases, and exacerbate conditions such as asthma and bronchitis. The air pollution could also act as a catalyst for throat and lung cancer, doctors say.

Visibility in the center of Chiang Mai—ironically nicknamed “The Rose of the North” by travel guidebooks—is around 200 meters in the streets. The surrounding mountains—which trap the pollution into the urban valley—cannot be seen from the city.

The city’s landmark, Doi Suthep temple, located on a hillside overlooking the city, can be made out faintly at night through the haze, but only when its lights are on.

Staff at The Irrawaddy, which is located in an office block in the city center, have also been affected. One senior staff member who has worn a surgical mask at work for the past two days, said that when he went to the hospital, he was told hundreds of other people had come in that day with respiratory infections.

“I feel really bad and I can hardly breathe,” he said, adding that he had red irritated eyes, a sore throat, a runny nose and a slight headache.

In the Thai-Burmese border town of Tachilek, a Burmese resident said that she felt sick and that the town was becoming hazier every day. She said that many people in the town had respiratory diseases, especially children and the elderly, and had gone to clinics and hospitals for treatment.

The traditional rural method of slash-and-burn farming, whereby fields are burned by farmers in the dry season between February and April, so that the ashes fertilize the fields while they lie fallow, is responsible for the greater part of the pollution.

According to local government data, the toxic levels of nitrogen dioxide—mainly caused by emissions from factories and motor vehicles—are fairly high in the mountainous northern Thai region. However, the levels of PM-10, a particulate matter of tiny dust particles caused by burning waste, are at a potentially fatal level.

In Europe and the US, the air pollution in an urban area is considered “serious” if PM-10 levels reach 50 micrograms per cubic meter. On Tuesday, PM-10 dust particle levels hit 181.4 in Chiang Mai, 243.7 in Chiang Rai and 236.1 in rural Phayao district.

This year is by no means extraordinary for air pollution in the northern province. In the particularly hazy dry season of 2007, the PM-10 dust particle level in Chiang Mai peaked at a tear-jerking high of 303.9 on March 14, dispelling myths about the northern capital’s reputation as a charming mountain retreat with a healthy ethnic vitality.

According to Earthoria, a travel and lifestyle Web site, even in supposedly “clean” countries such as New Zealand, as many people die every year from air pollution as from traffic accidents.

How has Chiang Mai’s atmosphere been allowed to deteriorate to such polluted levels? We are (literally) dying to find out.

Source: The Irrawaddy Newspaper 10/03/09

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Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Trekking -
in Northern Thailand

Over the last few years, trekking has become an integral part of the visit to Northern Thailand for thousands of tourists, along with the history & charm of Chiang Mai & its people, trekking has become a major drawer for the region.

Trekking in Northern Thailand provides its visitors with memories that will stay with them forever, it really is an unforgettable experience, I actually have a couple of friends who after trekking around Northern Thailand for a couple of weeks promptly went home, sold everything up and now live up in the mountains north of Chiang Rai, and confided to me recently that they had never been happier, it’s that good !.

Chiang Mai as the major city in the region, is also the “hub” for all the trekking orientated activities. The mountainous ranges that surround the city, offer lush un-spoilt tropical jungles & wilderness containing numerous wild plants & flowers, including hundreds of varieties of wild flowering Orchids.

The area is also home to the Hill Tribes People ,who although are officially migrants originally arriving from mainly Myanmar & China, have scraped an existence in these mountains for over 200 years. The Hill tribes people are proud of their Chinese heritage, but also of their Thai nationality,consequently in schools the children learn in Thai in the morning and Chinese in the afternoons !.

In the North of Thailand trekking adventures provide the perfect opportunity to view first-hand the traditional lifestyles of the major groups of different ethnic hill tribes including the Lisu, Karen, Long Necks, Akha,
Lahu, & Hmong hill tribes.
Many of the treks are actually built around the hill tribe villages & people all which adds up to a fantastic adventure for both the visitors & the locals.

Please Click Here for Full Article

Koh Chang
- Whatever Happened
to this Paradise Island ?

It is a rather unfortunate fact of life that the vast majority of visitors to Thailand and particularly Koh Chang do not appear to have any real concerns about the environment and the effects that tourism is having on all the islands of the Kingdom.

Koh Chang is a classic case of unregulated tourist development gone wrong!.

I first visited Koh Chang around 7-8 years ago, and have been back regularly since. My first visit was around the time that the government was trying to promote the development of the island - and was rather disturbed by what I found and even more so about what has happened in the subsequent years.

Thailand's record of preservation and conservation is best described as flawed and Koh Chang is showing the classic signs that nothing has really been learned from the past lessons of Phuket, Pattaya, Hua Hin & Koh Samui and that it would appear that nobody really cares.

Koh Chang is the second largest island in Thailand.It is located on the North-Eastern seaboard of the Kingdom some 5-6 hours by car from Bangkok.

The island was given an unexpected boost by the post-tsunami unpopularity of the west coast namely Phuket & Krabi, having got this lucky break there are now ever increasing numbers of western tourists heading for the island,unfortunately completely to the detriment to the natural beauty of the island that existed just a few years ago.

The fundamental problem with Koh Chang is that it's being developed very badly, it's overpriced compared to its services & facilities versus Phuket,Samui & Krabi, and it appears to be going downhill rather quickly !!.

If you're arriving on the island from either Europe or the United States you'll find that the cost of living is still relatively cheap, a room is still less than half what you would pay at home, but it is no so cheap when you compare it to other tourist spots elsewhere within Thailand.

Sure, you will love the sunsets and the lovely white sand, and you won't wonder or worry where all the sewage is going and whatever happened to all the mangroves,farmland or the fishing industry that gets smaller catches every year, or the fishing villages being turned into souvenir arcades-cum-hotels.

Please Click Here for Full Article.

Monday, March 9, 2009

Chiang Mai is Choking !

Chiang Mai - Chiang Mai has been hit by smog and has dangerous tiny dust particles higher than safety standard for five consecutive days, the provincial pollution control office said Sunday. The main reason for this pollution is the widespread Swidden Agricultural farming methods employed within Northern Thailand, Myanmar & Laos whereby large areas of the mountain forests are "torched" between February & April each year as preparation for setting new crops.

The office's three air quality measuring stations found that the province had particle pollution, which is less than 10 micrometers in diameter (PM10) higher than the safety standard of 120 microgrammes per a cubic metre of air for five consecutive days.

The station at the provincial hall Sunday recorded the lelvel of PM10 particle at 168.4 microgrammes per a cubic metre of air.

The level of PM10 particle was recorded at 208.0 microgrammes at the Yupparaj Withayalai School in Muang district and at 130.4 at the Phuping Palace.

Sunday, March 8, 2009

Chiang Mai Weather

Let's face it, one of the main reasons we all love Thailand is the weather!.

Close your eyes and picture yourself on one of those lovely balmy evenings when the weather in Chiang Mai is just perfect (that could be most nights of the year!), relaxing at your favorite restaurant, down by the Mae Ping River having a pre-dinner “aperitif”! It doesn’t get much better than that.

But, let’s get back to reality, you are probably reading this wishing that you were currently in Chiang Mai rather than being somewhere else where the weather is not so kind, and life is a little faster than here.

"What is the best time of year to visit Chiang Mai; does it get a bit chilly in the evenings during the Winter & Spring?".

We've put together some "Chiang Mai Weather" information and links, which we hope you'll find useful.

The information is obviously generalized, with slight variances each year, but the basics are all correct.

Please Click Here for Full Article

Saturday, March 7, 2009

The Sukhothai Period

Sukhothai, one of the most remarkable architectural sites in the whole world is hidden away in the middle of Thailand !.

Some 300kms(180 miles) north of Bangkok in amongst the orchards and paddy-fields, in the heavily forested flat-lands that spread across the valleys of the parallel rivers flowing down from the northern mountains near the Chinese border, where the Mekong River also rises.

Behind a screen of mango's and coconut palms,the tall towers, the domes with their pointed steeples and the giant statues emerge proudly from the tangled undergrowth clinging to their base and almost smothering dozens of smaller monuments.

This is all that is left of a once formidable city, and the buildings still standing, apart from the ramparts and the ruins of the moats, are all shrines, temples and monasteries, though the men who built the city, and made their own dwellings out of mud and wood, had wanted to leave only the testimonies of their spiritual quest to posterity.

Sukhothai -"the dawn of happiness", is the name of this city, which between the thirteenth and fifteenth centuries was the capital and whose history sums up the beginnings of the Thai nation.

A Kingdom and a dynasty were founded here in the middle of the thirteenth century, and the Thais gradually brought under their sway the whole of the land that has remained theirs, from Burma to Cambodia and, to the south, down as far as the Malay Peninsula.

For 200 years Sukhothai was the moving spirit behind this development. Its decline came about only in the first half of the fifteenth century, when a new capital farther south, Ayuthaya, was set up and became the new political centre, asserting its authority over all the cities in the new state.

The first Thai princes no doubt brought with them the Mongol hierarchical organization of society, for theirs was divided into warriors, commoners and serfs.

Click Here For Full Article

Thursday, March 5, 2009

The History of Lotus Panels

The techniques and designs that have been employed for millenniums in the crafting of hand carved lotus panels have travelled many thousands of miles over the centuries.

The earliest examples of carved relief panels were made of sycamore wood and were discovered in Egypt, and may date back as long ago as 4,000B.C.

From there the skills slowly moved to the Indian sub-continent where the oldest existing example of the Lotus flower being used as a feature decoration are within the sandstone carved relief railings found at the Great Stupa at Bharhut Northern India which dates back to around the middle of the 2nd century B.C. (a stupa is a mound-like structure usually containing Buddhist relics).

This ancient stupa holds significant importance within the Buddhism faith.

From India the skills & techniques slowly migrated eastwards, there next point of call being Burma ( Myanmar) arriving there in the 10th century A.D.

The oldest examples of hand carved relief panels carved in Thailand date back to the 13th century, around the time of the ”Sukhothai Period” which was the first Thai kingdom stretching from the Malaysian border in the south, right up to the Laos border in the north.

It was during the last few years of the 13th century that the northern kingdom of Lan Na Tai(the million rice fields) was established by King Mengrai
, its newly founded capital was Nophaburi Sri Nakorn Ping Chiangmai (later changed to just Chiang Mai for obvious reasons !).

And so the long journey of the hand carved relief panels has finally found its home in the mountainous areas of Northern Thailand and has been here ever since!.

As you travel around Thailand you cannot help but notice the absolutely stunning architecture on show at the 1,000’s of Buddhist Wat’s (temples) around the Kingdom.

the majority of the highly ornately carved relief panels & fine carved wooden decorative pieces all originated from the Chiang Mai area of Northern Thailand.

The crafting of the hand carved relief panels was for centuries traditionally done by the farming families that produced rice crops during the season, and in their spare time carved the wooden panels from the plentiful supply of teak trees that covered all of the northern areas to supplement their meagre existences.

Over the years those basic early skills that arrived from Burma in the 13th century have been honed & fine-tuned, also greatly assisted by the large influx of skilled artisan Burmese Hill Tribes people that started settling in the Northern areas from the 17th century onwards.

The basic implements used today are still very similar in design & purpose to those that would have been present all those years ago, the skills required are carefully preserved within the families & have been handed down from generation to generation, from grandfather to father & father to son.

Typically “training” would begin before the child was 10 years old, and by their 12th birthday would be turning out beautiful carved wooden item’s !.

The manufacturing process of taking “raw” teak wood, and turning into stunning works of art is usually shared between different family members, dependant upon their individual skills levels.

The most artistic members typically do all the design & actual carving work, the more practical ones do the wood preparation, drying, sanding & finishing, there are jobs for everyone !!.

Today, the felling of teak (Tectona Grandis) is strictly controlled by the Thailand Royal Forestry Department from sustainable farmed teak forests, which means that the artisan families can no longer just go out & cut a local tree down !.

Rather than just source all of their teak wood requirements from the farmed teak forests, which would have increased their costs dramatically, the ever resourceful families came up with an excellent alternative – "using recycled rough-hewn teak planks(floor boards) from old dwellings and community buildings !!".

The reason teak wood is used for the manufacture of handcarved relief panels is because it is easily worked and has natural oils that make it suitable for use in exposed locations, where it is exceptionally durable even when not treated with oil or varnish, it is also a very dense hardwood & therefore very resistant to termites & other wood boring insects.

The 3 dimensional Handcarved Lotus Panel is a marvel of intricacy & is a highly prized & valued possession within Thai society.

The lotus flower itself is a very important symbol within the Buddhist religion as it symbolizes prosperity and fertility. These Handcarved Lotus Panels are so prized that Thai families typically make them the centerpiece of a room.

Each Lotus Panel created by hill tribe craftsmen in Northern Thailand is the result of countless hours meticulously shaping, sanding and finishing each of the intricate lotus flower motif designs.

These wonders of wood are all completely crafted by hand, the smaller Lotus Panels can take a couple of weeks to complete, the larger panels EACH take between 3-6 months !!.

For ease of making, shipping & mounting each Lotus Panel is cut into 30cm(12") wide sections that all fit together perfectly when assembled.

These exquisitely detailed carvings help pay for new community buildings & other projects within the remote mountain villages of the far north of Thailand, each piece is completely unique, variations in wood color and carving will occur, which only go to enhance the beauty of the panels.

Our online shop Chiang Mai Arts & Crafts carries a substantial range of stunning Lotus Panels ,along with beautiful ranges of Buddha & Angel handcarved relief panels, and the ever popular handcarved
Elephant Wallpanels ranges, please just click on the links to visit those pages.

Please don't forget - ALL ITEMS INCLUDE FREE SHIPPING ! &
we are always happy to receive your BEST OFFERS !!

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Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Songkran Festival of Water
- Chiang Mai 2009

The annual Songkran Festival is one of the largest Thai Festivals
of the year occuring during the month of April, when the focus of daily life shifts from Bangkok onto the northern city of Chiang Mai.

A large proportion of the local business community stops trading, the traffic is gridlocked, and everyone pours onto the streets of the city for what is probably the biggest water fight in the world!.

There is simply no comparison with any other festival of its kind as the whole city is completely immersed in water from head to toe.

Forget about shopping for a few days as the entrepreneurial local vendors stock up with a wide range of plastic pistols, guns, buckets and hoses. Prepare your self early & get your Accommodation in Chiang Mai booked well in advance and get ready for some fun!.

Welcome to the Songkran Festival of Water 2009, which takes place from 13th April to 15th April inclusive, and the opportunity to party and celebrate like there is no tomorrow. The hot season is in full swing with temperatures reaching a sizzling 40C which is well over 100F, in these scorching conditions there is no better way to cool off than with a festival of water.

The old traditions of Songkran may be diminishing, but the party spirit is stronger than at any other time of the year.In Northern Thailand Songkran is not just for the Thai people, everyone is welcomed with a smile and a bucket of water.

It's a great time for tourists to visit, providing that you are happy to join in and get a good soaking. The word "fun" is at the heart of Thai culture and this special occasion epitomises the country and its people.

It is virtually impossible to stay dry during the festival, so much so that the few people who don't have the spirit to join in often have to leave town!.

Throughout the city on every street and in every alley, you'll find children and adults confronting you with a loaded water pistol or a bucket of water.

Those on motorbikes or riding in a tuk-tuk are far from safe, and will likely arrive at their destination soaking wet. Most of the celebrations are centred around a square mile of the Old Town,and Chiang Mai's historic moat is the perfect setting.

Once the festival begins, it turns into a huge water-fighting venue and swimming pool,as throngs of festival-goers line the adjoining streets and grassy banks of this famous attractive area.

The central area has a large number of taps installed for the duration of the festivities and most of the bars and restaurants provide large containers of water.

Chiang Mai is without doubt the most popular place to celebrate
Songkran, and hoards of people from Bangkok arrive every year to join in the fun.

Northern Thailand is certainly the place to be. Be warned, all the Chiang Mai hotels will be full.Songkran is the official New Year in the Thai calendar, and a time for people to join with their families to celebrate together.

There are many old traditions associated with the festival such as the ritual spring clean of the house as the dusty dry season finally gives way to the rains. The country is a huge producer of rice and Songkran is used to invite the gods to start the rains for this essential basic commodity crop. At least one member of the family will also pay their respects to the village elders by offering food hampers and then receive a blessing in return.

The water element originated when people visited the local temple for a ceremonial cleansing (making merit) of the Buddha ,and by pouring water onto the shoulders of family elders and villagers. This has somehow changed over the years to become a huge water fight involving everyone, and lasting for days.

It's not just a Northern thing in Thailand, although many visitors will only witness the water throwing,there is far more to Songkran for the Thai people. Every town and village will have traditional blessing ceremonies, while the larger towns and cities like Bangkok and Chiang Mai will have a choice of different events.

This will often include street parades and the making of sand chedis or stipas (which literally means "heap" and is a mound-like structure usually containing Buddhist relics to be found at most Thai temples,) as a symbolic gesture to the Buddha.

One of the largest programme of events can be found in Chiang Mai, and includes costume displays, a beauty contest and a very large street parade of floats. Thai people might normally have a reserved character however Songkran provides a great chance for the local people to let their hair down and forget about cultural norms.

Girls turn out in their best skimpy outfits, which would normally be frowned upon, and ladyboys strut their stuff for everyone to see, nothing new there then !.

The usual hierarchal society is forgotten about as all rules are broken and everyone gets a complete drenching. Tourists make particularly good targets,so don't think for a moment that you have special exemption!

A word of advice if you plan to visit Chiang Mai during Songkran - it can be chaotic and sometimes frustrating. The traffic can be horrendous and reaching your destination can take a long time.

Don't forget that you are likely to have a bucket of water thrown over you if riding a bike or travelling in a Tuk-Tuk ,or even if you are just taking air through an open car window!.

Make sure you ride slowly if on a Motorbike ,as it's common to get a face full of water. Wrap your camera,mobile phone & wallet / purse in a sealed waterproof bag, and above all else, try to retain your sense of humour at all times!.

Most of the water throwing thankfully ceases after nightfall, allowing you respite & a chance to dry out !.

Northern Thailand is certainly the place to be, Chiang Mai is a popular destination at this time of the year for Bangkok residents and all the Chiang Mai hotels are full.

One sobering comment to end on - Songkran Festival each year has the HIGHEST death toll of any time of the year within Thailand in the "seven dangerous days" that surround the festival in 2008, nationally 360 people were killed and 4,794 others injured in road accidents.Drunk driving was the major cause of road accidents during the period and four out of five accidents & deaths involved motorcyclists, it really is a dangerous time to drive as vast amounts of alcohol are consumed during this period with no regard for others !.

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