1984 – Chiang Mai Style -Little Nephew is Watching You

Admirers of the handsome Chiang Mai Mayor Tessanai Buranapakorn, Nephew of Provincial Administrative Organisation President Boonlert B, may regret the fact that since the abrupt change of  government last May, the seemingly endless procession of new posters on the streets of town showing our leader’s exploits have come to an end.

To compensate, at various locations around town, however Little Nephew’s eyes in the form of spy cameras will be recording our every move.

 Nimman Spy Cameras

Nimman Spy Cameras

An apparent adjunct to this new costly paraphernalia are blue boxes in strategic locations.  The one below is  a few metres from a pair of cameras and strategically placed between two 24 hour grocery outlets.

Blue box scam

Perhaps the fact that traffic police are failing to enforce the prohibition on obstructing the footpath, thereby increasing the likelihood of injury to pedestrians is a factor in choosing the location of this device?

Blue Box Station

Blue Box Station

Looking North from Blue Box

Apparently the much heralded clean sweep of the footpaths of Bangkok is yet to reach the Rose of the North.


Illegal Parking - 5000 bt fine

Illegal Parking – 5000 bt fine




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Creative but NO Dialogue

14th December 2014 is the final day for Chiang Mai Design Week under the auspices of the TCDC ( Thailand Creative Design Center, part of the Prime Minister’s office), events and displays having commenced on the 6th .

This may come a surprise to many Thai folk who cannot read English, as the many signs around town advertising the event are all in English.  As for the residents of this multi-cultural city those who can, they might have expected the week to feature visiting presenters from ASEAN and wider afield.

On 12th an event advertised as “Creative Dialogue” was held between 4 and 7 pm.  I went knowing only that I wanted to hear one of the nine speakers, who lucky for me turned out to be the first.  No program was on hand so I did not know what to expect in the three hour session, except dialogue.  All the talks were given in Thai and simultaneous translation was given by a headset, but apart from myself I could see no other foreign faces in the packed to over flowing auditorium.After 70 minutes with 4 very interesting presentations by imaginative and inspiring folk all of whom were from Thailand and working here I decided to depart.

Black Tape

Why did I leave early? Because I felt somewhat like the folk in the above protest photo taken from the Bangkok Post. No the police were not breathing down my neck but no time had been given for dialogue, neither among the speakers, nor with the audience.

Maybe in my case this was a good thing as when the first speaker told us how the use of earth and vegetation to protect riverbanks is far more effective and far less costly than the present unabated building of concrete walls along the Ping River, I might have been moved to chip in with a comment critical of the government.  Similarly I was saved the task of correcting one speaker who mistakenly said that roadside vegetation reduces noise problems or the comment that Yang Na is a native tree in Chiang Mai, while all the evidence suggests otherwise.

I feel sad for the other attendees though, who must have had questions they could not raise in a timely manner, and those who went away with misinformation or the impression that dialogue means passively listening.

I suggest TCDC consider these criticisms and develop a more consultative and participatory approach to their work.

They have built an impressive resource center with a spacious large library with a wonderful collection of titles, almost all in English. To use the library one must pay an annual subscription which Chiang Mai’s many design professionals will find a good investment.

The library and meeting room is situated in the grounds of the Lanna Ladies Club which is at the corner of the road from the moat to the White Chedi, just east of the President Hotel.


 Lanna Ladies Club GardenTCDC Library Chiang MaiTCDC wires Priority No 1TCDC Street Trees Lagerstroemia

These pictures show:

1. the Ladies Club lawn looking south, lovely to play lawn bowls if they can stand the heat of the sun.

2. The TCDC building with the library on the top floor.

3. The priority given to electric wires over an old tree, cut to suit. Rather than placing the wires underground, beginning from the road, they have been extended some 20 metres ontot the TCDC land and then placed underground to travel a short distance beneath the car park where trees for shade are not planted.

4. Trees – all showy Lagerstroemias have been planted along the adjacent foot path where wires are not an issue. Had the designer read Dr Preecha Ongprasert’s doctoral thesis on the street trees of Chiang Mai, this is the last genus they would have planted. Many straight growing local species including evergreen trees would be preferable.

Judging from the excellent turnout at Friday’s event Chiang Mai Design Week must be regarded as a success in providing opportunities for networking among professionals.

Next year the organisers might like to consider how they can make a contribution beneficial to the great majority of Chiang Mai folk including the many who will likely gain no benefit from the kind of high end design displayed this year.

Post Script:

Adjacent to TCDC is the Provincial Electoral Office, now turned into a display venue, and behind that a few ancient trees and pond. Rubbish is all around, but a clean up by a group of volunteers like iServe could turn this into a delightful mini park away from the grime and hustle and bustle and stench of the Mueng Mai market.

 Big Tree &  Rubbish


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Low Stress Bike Routes – CMU, 700 year stadium, Huai Teng Tao

As part of a recent government initiative to improve cycling facilities in Chiang Mai a 17 million baht bike path from Huai Keow to the International Convention and Exhibition Center to the north along Irrigation Canal Rd is proposed.

Here we suggest something less ambitious but better serving cycling having earlier alluded to pitfalls in expensive project spending   , ( where Sunday Bike Club member Dr Nirandorn also suggests different priorities.)

The first point to mention is that the seldom used convention center is not an important travel destination, whereas Huai Teng Tao, 700 Year Stadium and to a lesser extent Chiang Mai University are.

The second point is this analysis is based on the need for low stress routes to make cycling cool, safe and attractive for an average, as opposed to say a hardy Tour de France cyclist.  Divided highways with little shade, and fast cars and trucks thundering by are no place for school students to brave on a bicycle, so we present alternatives.

Below are snaps from Google Earth. please click on each picture to see our analysis and again to magnify the image.

700 Year Stadium to Huai Teng Tao

Huai Keow to 700 Year Stadium

Huai Keow to 700 Year Stadium

The photos below are at a finer resolution with the minor roads overlaid in white:

The route from Chang Peuk Junction via soi 17 ends jst to the right of th red marker for moo 1. There a number of interesting possibilities for a bike path heading north from here , skirting the housing estates to Huai Teng Tao.

Huai Keow Chang Peuk Intersection to soi 17Chang Peuk Intersection to CMU Sports center

Your comments are welcome.

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A “ChiangMai Urban Landscape Model” on 4th December 2014

“ChiangMai Urban Landscape Model.”   *

ChiangMai's Entrance in Transformation

Over the long history of the development of the Earth countless species of living things have evolved. As a result of this evolution, and given its fortunate geographical position, Thailand has some of the greatest diversity of plant life on Earth. For example there are more species of orchids and also of the ginger family in Thailand than in any other country. The orchids and the gingers, both with their fantastic beauty and variety, however, do not live in isolation. They are plants of the forest, one growing mostly on the branches of trees, the other in the shade beneath them.

The trees of our country also show great variation in appearance, form and mode of living, with over 1000 species recorded in the north. Yet for those of us growing up the fertile plains of the valleys, and in the towns and cities, this may come as a surprise. When we look around we see mostly a few varieties of economic trees and of ornamental trees planted for shade and color. Most of the latter either come from distant continents, from Africa, Australia or America or if from Thailand from distant provinces.

As a result, our society is so losing touch with the natural world, that we have come to regard living trees as if they were inanimate pieces of furniture, perhaps at times also beautiful, but never-the-less just objects of utility to be shuffled around at will or cut or destroyed. So it is little wonder that we tend to shrug off news that a swathe of trees has gone for a road widening, or that yet another damaging fire sweeps through the forest destroying natural regeneration.

With this attitude we stand to lose much of our natural heritage and what makes the place where we live unique.

To counter this we propose here in Chiang Mai we develop a program to reverse this trend and to bring our community, and especially the younger generation, back in touch with nature, and in particular the natural heritage of Chiang Mai.

So here in the city, near our river the Mae Ping we are beginning to replant the trees which grew here in ancient times as an early step in the development of the ChiangMai Urban Landscape Model.

Rather than planting trees in the tradition of feudal Europe, evenly spaced and one species, the model copied by the roads department, our model aims to be true to the natural heritage of the place we plant.

Shady Shorea Soi

This means selecting trees native to the location and its natural diversity, and attempting to restore this diversity in our parks and gardens. Similarly along the roads and lanes of the town we prefer a mix to reduce the problems of loss and disease which can result where only one species is planted.

So for example near the river we are guided by remnants of the ancient forests and by a study of similar riverine environments.

Mae Hia Nai Forest

Mae Hia Nai Forest

We find Hopea odorata growing at the Forest Office, Holoptelea integrifolia (Thai names here) , Drypetes roxburghii at the McKean Rehabilitation Center, while Anogeissis accuminata grows both in a riverside cemetery, and with Aphanamixis polystachia and Dipterocarpus turbinatus on the banks of the Nan River and tributaries of the Ping.

Further from the river and streams species such as Shorea roxburghii and Irvingia malayana and others become prominent until one reaches the Tectona grandis – Teak zone at the edge of Doi Suthep.

Along with the issue of selecting the right trees for the right place comes that of their placing and management. As almost all of our local trees have an erect habit growing them near, power lines and large buildings need not pose a problem so long as any pruning is restricted to lateral branches and the tops of the trees are allowed to soar and the root zone is protected from undue disturbance. This means guidelines for tree planting and maintenance are an essential element of a ChiangMai Urban Landscape Model, along with training programs for utility and garden workers and managers.

As originators of this concept BIG Tree in Town and Gum Hak Doi Suthep welcome community involvement in developing a working model uniquely suited to Chiang Mai.


*  Lead photo – As one enters Chiang Mai from the Narawat bridge over the Ping River on the left in front of the Governor’s Residence is a green space laid out in the style of Baroque Europe. There is but a handful of trees with a clump of exotic deciduous Delonix regia providing a patch of shade. In the heat of the afternoon one sometimes sees an occasional tourist taking refuge there. Elsewhere all is hot and avoided. In ancient times one might have found 30 large trees providing cool shade in such a fertile spot.

This photo shows stakes laid out in preparation for a community planting event for Thai Environment Day 4th December 2014 at 8:00 am.

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Bangkok Shared Bicycle & Pedestrian Way

On Wednesday 26th November 2014, ChiangMaiCityNews.com reported on the issue of bicycle lanes for Chiang Mai. That very same morning I took a half hour walk from the Sathorn area of Bangkok, near the now gone Lumphini Boxing Stadium to Sukhumvit Rd emerging there at Soi 10.

I found it surprisingly pleasant in the morning cool and there were places where trees or workers flats provided some welcome shade.

Then half way along the journey, to my astonishment I came across a very expensively built  Bicycle & Pedestrian Way as these pics below illustrate.

Shared path bridge5 Transport Modes in Parallel Pathway Beside Bangkok KlongNo Easy Riding Stairs



Walking the bike

Walking along this pathway and up and over two big bridges around 9:30 am I only met 3 cyclists and no other pedestrians, and it appeared little used. This raises questions about the advisability of this kind of heavy investment.

A bike path, and likewise a bike lane, which does not link in well to the other streets and lanes which cyclists use for their journeys is unlikely to be well patronized. Does this path lack good connections? One recent article in the Bangkok Post complained that although there is now a bike path around the perimeter of  Suwanabhumi airport one needs to put the bike in the boot of the car and drive there to ride.

Or perhaps few people own bicycles or are confident enough to ride in the city, or the path is not publicised? I saw no signs directing traffic there.


Were any of the above issues raised with the Chiang Mai governor by the Sunday Bike Club?


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Mae Kha – New Plan Misses the Point

Since the inception of activities in December 2009 when the newly elected Mayor Tessanai Buranapakorn failed to turn up at a tree planting ceremony to mark the inauguration of the Mae Kha Clean Up Campaign we have been reporting on developments such as progress,  which was also reported to a grand meeting in 2012 and backsliding in 2013 and again in 2013.

Now with another year gone by, including six months ago a newly unelected government with claims to bring fairness, end corruption and “return happiness” to Thailand, what can we report about Chiang Mai’s notoriously smelly Mae Kha Canal?

Sadly not a great deal on the positive side that can be readily seen. But if the Mae Kha has not been cleaned up, the same can not be said for the long time grubby engine of the Gum Hak Doi Suthep work truck.

2014-10-27 14.10.38 Happy Mechanic

While trucks are not particularly friendly to  the environment, our friendly part time mechanic and tour operator Khun Chang, has persuaded us of the virtue of installing an hydrolysis unit to improve fuel efficiency.

More about the truck below, but to return to the Mae Kha story, the past six months has seen a flurry of activity, which is documented in Thai on the Facebook pages of Dr Wasan Jompakdee formerly of Chiang Mai University.

Much of this has been ceremonial. However at this ceremony on 19th September 2014, to celebrate the diversion of some water from the Mae Daeng irrigation canal to flush out some of the stagnant water from Mae Kha, Gum Hak Doi Suthep brought just three trees to plant to ensure some concrete (other than sand, cement and steel reinforcing ) was had.

Mae Kha Ceremony

Clearly Dr Wasan has spent much time chewing the ears of Governor Suriya and the local military brass, just as he did with Mayor Tessanai four years back, and has persuaded them to join his campaign and attend large meetings of government officers and this Monday 10th November a public meeting attended by 300 invitees.

Dr Wasan is reported to have presented a one year plan to clean up the Mae Kha, however no details appear to have been posted on the internet (try searching Mahe Kha pollution ) and when asked via Facebook no answer was forth coming.

Community groups, some certainly many we cannot confirm, which has shown a consistent interest and organised activities to benefit the Mae Kha we not invited, unless one regards a Facebook posting on the morning of the event as an adequate invitation that is. The process appears remarkably similar to the notorious    “consultation” process over the defunct government’s highly unpopular Water Scheme, where Dr Wasan played a key part.

One person who did attend the meeting on Monday has reported that the Governor opened the meeting and announced his desire to have the whole creek lined with concrete, much to the horror of some in the audience. When asked about the question of slum housing beside and over the top of the Mae Kha we were informed that many of the government built “oppurtunity” flats, which in many respects are far superior to private developments remain unoccupied. If that be so and the apartments are in places easily accessible to the work and schools of the slum residents, their relocation could deliver some of the fairness and happiness Prime Minister Prayuth talks about, while allowing environmental, rather than concrete, restoration of the canal.

Pollution of the Mae Kha results from a failure of Chiang Mai to implement a comprehensive  sewerage a drainage plan which would capture major contaminants at source, remove the nutrient contamination  through the construction of wetlands and prevent flooding.

One retired academic, expert in fisheries, challenged a fatal flaw in the plan that there was no mention of the important concept of  “point source pollution” in the plan.  So in a year’s time, when you have a car cleaned, or dine at a greasy eatery, rest assured, the muck will still flow into a still stinking Mae Kha canal.




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Prayuth Government gets it wrong on transport


2013 saw 13 derailments on the northern railway line to Chiang Mai and in response the transport minister of the day ordered the line closed, all the track from Uttaradit to Chiang Mai relaid, and had the line reopened by December in the same year.

Yet the new government according to a news release cannot begin the nationwide project to lay double track until 2016 over a year away. Meanwhile it is pouring money into road expansion.

Warning - The roads Juggernaught cometh to Route 11






















The latest news on this front is the wildly extravagant road tunnel at the only main road T-junction on Chiang Mai’s Super Highway, and now the announcement of a dual carriageway extension of Nimmanhaemin Rd south to the gate of the Wing 41 Airbase.

No sign however that general access will be allowed through this sensitive area where commercial vehicles are excluded and only Chiang Mai residents who purchase a special pass are allowed to drive their motorcycles or cars enroute to the airport, Airport Central and beyond.

Returning to the issue of railway improvements, an essential feature will need to be the elimination of hundreds of road-rail level crossings, such as the one in the picture below. Here the SRT (State Railways of Thailand) chose instead to link the Airport Rail Link it runs with the MRT underground railway by building a 200 metre long steel footbridge, rather than a short tunnel which would have sufficed and left money to spare to replace the level crossing with a bridge.


Bangkok Railway Footbridge

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iServe – who in Chiang Mai ?

Firstly lest one might think otherwise let’s dispel the suggestion that iServe is yet another overpriced product from an American maker of electronic goods.

No iServe is a Christian youth organisation which aims to bring together young people from the many, often small churches in the city to meet together and perform community service.

2014-10-25 08.43.19  iServe at Tapae Gate

October 24th 2014 saw iServe’s inaugural environmental activity following in the footsteps of the monks from We Clean who could be seen on the streets two years ago.  If you have clicked on the We Clean link you will know that, try as we might to serve the community, the people, the country … success is not a sure thing. More on that later.

So what was the aim of the activity? Take a look at the pictures below:

  Moat Nailed Tree & OrchidNails to attach defunct fairy lights.2014-10-26 09.42.11 Moat Nailed Tree






Nails in trees can become entry points for disease and insect attack which may lead to reducing the vigour of the tree and possibly death of parts or all of the tree. The aim of the activity was to examine all the trees on both sides around the city moat and remove all nails.

Leading the exercise was a consultant team from Chiang Mai Keow Suay Hom in conjunction with the City Council, shown below briefing participants,  under the watchful eyes of soldiers of the Royal Thai Army.


Plan of Attack

So was the event a success? Bringing the young people together constitutes a success in itself for which the church leaders deserve congratulation, however was the community served as hoped for?

The  above pictures of nailed trees was taken  across from the end of Huai Keow Rd, on the day after the Saturday event. One can hardly blame the young participants if the job was left unfinished as I only saw two out of around one hundred carrying tools to remove nails.

But should they have been asked to walk around between 10 am and Noon, without hats in the sunshine? What ever happened to safety first? The council gardens workers do not go about so unprotected from the cancerous rays of the sun.

Why did not the Keow Suai Hom organizers ensure hats and tools were provided?

Why one might also ask, were not Municipal Officials, the people responsible for nailing the trees required to remove them? The precedent exists in Chiang Mai because following a highly corrupt tree purchasing program during the mayor-ship of the uncle of the present mayor of Chiang Mai, officials who oversaw the purchases at highly inflated prices were required to reimburse the state, and some are still paying monies although they have retired from government service.

Your reporter was unable to stay with the campaign until the finish, so we cannot report here on the final outcomes apart from the observation of trees remaining full of nails. We would like to know if there was any challenge to the municipality over its mismanagement of trees around the city moat, and its audacity in expecting volunteers to undo damage it caused?

In future iServe would be well advised to scrutinize with care the credentials of those who would take its labor for free.

May they succeed and may readers give them encouragement and support.





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David Sampson Yoghurt Tribute

A culinary surprise hit me some years ago when I moved to Chiang Mai. That was the abundance of freshly made yoghurt available in full milk or low fat varieties with no sugar added.

These were not available from the omnipresent 7-eleven stores which had pre-flavoured and sweetened varieties, but could be bought in smaller grocer shops such as Aden and Kasem Store.

Having developed what was becoming an expensive habit, with the price now at 160 baht for a couple of days supply, I was pleased when David Sampson, who then running West Restaurant offered a supply at 70 baht a jar.

Then after a while David kindly told me how I could make yoghurt myself, and the recipe appears below.

Sadly David is no longer with us having passed away last July, and a lovely tribute to him is written by his old friend and customer in Bert’s blog.

So every morning I think of David and every other day I follow his instructions:

1. Take 3 desert spoons of yogurt and put in a clean jar

2. Top up the jar with milk of choice and stir well

3. Put on the jar lid and put in a warm place.

It should be set in around 12 hours and ready to eat. Don’t make the mistake I made of topping up an almost empty jar with milk, as the yoghurt which is exposed to air for sometime develops an unsavoury  odour.


And the home made price? Around 40 baht.


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