Nov 24, 2013

Fire destroys set for Hollywood Film in Lampang

The set of "The Coup", a Hollywood Movie filmed in Lampang, was destroyed by a fire on Wednesday night, as reports. The fire broke out in a building, which was used as a studio for the American thriller movie with the stars Pierce Brosnan, Lake Bell and Owen Wilson. The movie, directed by John Erick Dowdle, is about an American family moving to Southeast Asia but finding themselves caught in the middle of a coup and they have to escape an environment where foreigners are being immediately executed.

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Nov 15, 2013

Taxi Services in Chiang Mai

We had the pleasure of enjoying the driving service by Mr. Thirachip Poopuangchant, Tel 089-5528176, 089 2667199, He offers privat taxi service in Chiang Mai, Chiang Rai, Lamphun and Lampang.

There has been a moving story about Plaa in Chiang Mai Citylife. She offers tuk tuk (or sedan) driver services and is a certified guide speaking excellent English, contact Plaa at 080 845 6178.

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Aug 5, 2013

Nighttrain from Bangkok to Chiang Mai
derails again - this time in tunnel

See the locations on Train derailment in Northern Thailand Google Map

Hard to believe: Six carriages of a Chiang Mai-bound express train derailed early Saturday August 3 in an over-100-year-old tunnel in Uttaradit's Muang district. Fortunately no injuries were reported. This after the same nighttrain had derailed in July with 23 people injured and bad maintenance of Thailands train network has been reported. As The Nation reports, the train left Bangkok on Friday night with 415 passengers, 90 percent of them foreign tourists. It derailed at around 3am yesterday in the 382-metre-long Khao Pleung tunnel, located between Ban Pang Ton Phueng in Uttaradit and Huai Rai Station in Den Chai, Phrae. The six carriages ended up leaning against the tunnel wall. The five leading carriages were undamaged and able to resume their journey to Den Chai. The other passengers had to change to buses. Bangkok Post notes, that old and broken sleepers are believed to be the cause of the derailment.

Auidrey Bergner ( was in the train, that derailed, and describes, how the passengers had to wait in the tunnel for hours with minimal information about what had happened. Read My Train Derailed in the Northern Thai Jungle.

Reported on Juli 17:

See picture by Hollie Freestone on Twitter

No good news for who loves travelling by train in Thailand: 23 people were injured when the Bangkok-Chiang Mai Express - an overnight sleeper train - derailed. Almost 300 passengers were on board, when seven carriages of State Railways of Thailand fell off the tracks early on Wednesday. See video on youtoube.

The accident happened in Den Chai district in the northern province of Phrae, about 200 kilometers southeast of Chiang Mai, between kilometer markers 540 and 541, between Pak Pan and Kaeng Luang stations, at about 3.45am. Five second-class sleeping berths, one first-class sleeping carriage and one dining car toppled onto their sides.

Five of the injured passengers are Thais, the others foreigners from Australia, France, Spain, Japan, Belgium, Poland, China, United States, New Zealand and Chile. Bangkok Post has publihed the names of the injured. There were some broken arms and minor injuries.

The train service between Bangkok and Chiang Mai was supended after this accident. Passengers were transported by buses.

Who plans to travel by train to Chiang Mai, should note, what has been said after the accident: "Derailments happen quite often," said State Railway of Thailand governor Prapat Chongsanguan. "Initially we think that this time it's due to old rail track," he told Agence France Press (AFP). It was the second derailment on the route in a month. Therefore Nopparat Chaichalearmmongkol writes: "Thai railway officials have acknowledged that the country’s train network is suffering from poor maintenance after the sixth serious derailment in less than a year" and quoted Prapat Chongsanguan saying, that "the rail system has been missing out on improvement and maintenance". He added that the government has approved some 170 billion baht, or $5.5 billion, for maintenance since 2010. But only about a 10th of that has been received to date by State Railways if Thailand. Since October 2012 six similar accidents have taken place on the northern line, three each in Phrae and Lampang provinces, but this was the first that involved injuries.

Thai media reported, that the speed limit in the hilly region of Phrae is 45 kilometers per hour. The derailed train was travelling at 40 kilometers per hour.

Discussions about a new high-speed railway between Bangkok and Chiang Mai are ongoing. Thailand's cabinet in March has approved a plan to spend 68 billion US Dollars for the railway and other transportation mega projects. Under the seven-year scheme high-speed trains will drive across Thaila on four lines linking Bangkok with the north, south and east of the country. But the plans have yet to be approved by the parliament.

18.7.2013: Bangkok Post notes, that train service between Bangkok to Chiang Mai is "back to normal". But what does normal mean unter these circumstances?

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Mar 10, 2013

Enjoy Coffee from the Akha Hilltribes
in Chiang Mai

See the location on Mae Chan Tai Google Map
See the location on Akha Ama Cafe Chiang Mai Google Map

Pictures by Aka Ama Coffee
Coffee is harvested in Mae Chan Tai village and served in Chiang Mai:

Picture by squarewithin
Akha Ama Cafe

Akha Ama Coffee กาแฟอาข่า อ่ามา - Ama means "mother" in Akha language - was the idea of a woman and her son in the Akha village of Ban Mae Chan Tai บ้านแม่จันใต้ (also: Ma Jan Tai). But it was a long way until 14 Akha families of Mae Chan Tai in 2007 began producing “Akha Ama Coffee” instead of selling the green beans to middlemen for a low price. The story of this coffee starts in the 1940s in the middle of the civil war between the Chinese Communist Party and the Kuomintang, as notes. Many of the Akha people, living in the southern mountains of China, fled south out of the country by foot - to Myanmar, Laos and Thailand. Many then began growing opium. In the 1990s the royal family of Thailand startet projects to help them out of opium production, then coffee was introduced to the Akha people. But they got dependent from the coffee buyers, also because they had their own language and did hardly speak Thai. This began to changem when Akha Ama sent her first son, Lee, off to a Buddhist school at a temple in Lamphun. From then on he improved his Thai and started picking up English. To improve his English skills he started talking with foreign tourists. Lee finished high school and became a member of various youth groups and organisations in Chiang Mai, including UNICEF. "I wanted to do something for society, but I didn't know what," he explained to Chiang Mai City Life how he went on to study English at Chiang Mai Rajabhat University. And then he did an internship at Child’s Dream, an NGO run by former Swiss bankers based in Chiang Mai. There he learnt about community development. And he realized: His village was growing coffee. "But the problem was that we received very little benefit from it. We had knowledge but we were not business savvy."

Lee and his mother convinced the people of her village to not only produce, but also process and market their own coffee. The climate of the northern Thai mountains is suited to growing Arabica coffee beans. The majority of the coffee plants grown in northern Thailand are of the Catimor hybrid. But Mae Chan Tai village mainly grows the true Arabica varieties Catuai and Typica, which produce a much higher quality coffee. They also decided to produce in an organically sustainable way. The coffee plants at an altitude of around 1500 meters are now grown in between larger fruit trees and a wide variety of vegetables. This benefits the soil ecology, creates humus, stabilises hillsides against erosion and retains moisture during the dry season. Due to constant crop rotation, pests are less liable to negatively affect the plants. Therefore the use of chemical fertilizers, herbicides or pesticides can be reduced. And this is close to the system that the Akha people have used throughout their history.

Meanwhile Lee Ayu Chuepa runs Akha Ama Cafe in Chiang Mai (see video of Thai PBS), where you not only get Akha Ama Coffee but also a variety of teas and fruit juices as well as delicious cakes and muffins (9/1 Mata Apartment, Hussadhisewee rd, soi 3). He started it after receiving a social entrepreneurship grant. And from here he distributes the coffee to other shops and also abroad. The Way of the Wai shows pictures of the cafe and the village. Mrs Red Has a Red Bag has also pictures from Lee's village. See more pictures of Akha Ama Cafe.

Every November and January now Lee organizes coffee journeys to Mae Chan Tai village with a homestay overnight at his familys home. A Teacher's Journey describes this experience: "They offered us tea and dinner which consisted of peanuts, green vegetables, mushrooms, and shredded shoots from some unidentified plant. I took a very chilly bucket bath in the bamboo shack out back by orange light of a candle and the blue light of the full moon." Read also this story.

Picture by
The Akha village Ban Mae Chan Tai

Picture by
Coffee beans

Picture by
He gets a better price for the coffee beans now

Read about the marriage ritual of the Akha at Mae Chan Tai in a study by Mahachulalongkornrajavidyalaya University.

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Mar 9, 2013

After the Execution of Naw Kham in China:
Mekong Safety remains an Issue

After the execution of Myanmar Druglord Naw Kham by the Chinese authorities in Kunming the safety for boats travelling on the Mekong River from Yunnan in China to Chiang Saen in Northern Thailand is still an issue: A new drug gang controlled by Jasi Bo has taken over from Naw Kham in leading an armed group active along the river. This has been said by Vichai Chaimongkhon, director of Narcotics Control Office Region 5 in Northern Thailand according to Bangkok Post. The group is said to employ 40 to 50 armed men and to be based about eight kilometres north of Ban Samphu in Myanmar where Naw Kham's gang was based. The group is said to extort protection money from boats sailing up and down the Mekong.

Meanwhile Police from Xishuangbanna in southern China have presented a security cooperation plan to deal with crimes on the Mekong. They plan to establish a centre in Chiang Rai to jointly patrol on the Mekong River with Thai forces.

The drug trade in the Golden Triangle remains a big issue for Chinese authorities, as Global Times reports. In the 1990s it had around 165 000 hectares of opium poppy fields. This shrank to 18 600 hectares in 2006. But since then the drug plantations have been creeping back to 33,000 hectares. Hu Zujun, director of the anti-drug bureau under the Yunnan Provincial Department of Public Security, said, the Konkang area in the Shan State in Myanmar saw "the most severe resurgence". But also new types of drugs are flowing into China. Of the 16 tons of drugs intercepted by Yunnan police last year, methamphetamine accounted for around two thirds of the total, said Hu. "In 2010 Chinese police for the first time seized more methamphetamine than heroin over the course of the year, and over the following years, the share of crystal meth has risen", writes Global Times.

The Shan Human Rights Foundation, based in Chiang Mai (Thailand) has accused police and military authorities in the Shan State of “making money out of the (drug) issues, instead of trying to address them”.

Read more:
The killing of 13 Chinese sailors on the Mekong: A puzzle about the drug hub in the Golden Triangle with missing pieces
Beijing Flaunts Cross-Border Clout in Search for Drug Lord on
An Open Secret, an Illicit Trade without End
Laotian Anti-Narcotics Agents Seize Boat with 22 Million Metamphetamine Tablets in Golden Triangle

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Feb 20, 2013

The killing of 13 Chinese sailors on the Mekong:
A puzzle about the drug hub in the Golden Triangle with missing pieces

See the locations on Golden Triangle Google Map

Posted February 14 in 2013

Picture by Mike UCL
The Mae Kong river from the Golden Triangle viewpoint. Thailand on the left, Myanmar in the middle, Laos on the right. Nearby 13 Chinese sailors were killed in October 2011.

Naw Kham was tracked down by a Chinese elite unit - in Bokeo province in the north of Laos, after he had crossed the Mekong River from Myanmar into Laos. He was arrested on April 25 in 2012. Only a few days later he was extradited from Laos to China. There he is wating now in the prison. His only hope is the appeal against the death sentence he got from judges in Kunming, the capital of Yunnan province. A drug baron from Myanmar caught in Laos and sentenced in China - this has never happened before.

Naw Kham, presented to the media by Lao authorities before his deportation to China

Shortly after the two cargo ships Huaping and Yuxing 8 had crossed the boarder to Thailand on the Mekong near Chiang Saen they were entered by the elite Thai military unit called the Pha Muang Taskforce, named after an ancient Thai warrior king. What happened before and afterwards on October 5 in 2011? There are different tales from more than hundred witnesses. Clear is only: 13 Chinese sailors from Yunnan were found dead afterwards. The captain of one boat lay dead over an AK-47 assault rifle. The twelf other sailors had to be fished from the Mekong. Most victims had been gagged and blindfolded, with their hands bound behind their backs. Some had massive head wounds; others had been sprayed with bullets. "It was the deadliest assault on Chinese nationals overseas in modern times", reported Reuters. A shockwave went through the Chinese media. And the Thai government in Bangkok soon felt the heat of the diplomatic pressure from Peking. The Pha Muang Taskforce pointed to Naw Kham, in Thai media also written Jai Norkham.

The story, that emerged from these newspaper articles: Since 2006 Naw Kham (43) - an etnic Shan and citizen of Myanmar - ran "a protection racket taxing drug smugglers along the Mekong" (the Shan Herald Agency). Xian Yanming, a member of the Chinese investigative team, told Chinese Central Television that Naw Kham had been operating with a force of around 100 men, known as Hawngleuk Militia. Equipped with weapons such as AK 47s, machine guns, pistols and grenades. He is said to have committed crimes including murder, kidnapping, drug trafficking and extortion. They were pirates taking a tax also from ships on the Mekong. Naw Kham and his militia had terrorized this part of the Mekong River for nearly a decade. So were the tales. He had to be caught. And then the extradition of Naw Kham and some of his men to China took a big burden from the shoulders of the governments of Thailand and Laos.

Naw Kham confessed his responsability for the killing of the 13 Chinese - according to some reports. During the trial in september 2012 in Kunming Hsang Kham, the number two of the militia, said according to "Chinese boats did not pay up, and reported us to Burmese soldiers, which hurt our gang badly." And he added: "Naw Kham wanted revenge. On October 5, after the boats were hijacked, he told us: 'Kill them all'". But Naw Kham denied the murders in front of the court.

What happened really on October 5 in 2011, in the famous Golden Triangle, where the borders of Thailand, Laos and Myanmar converge? Tourists looking out from the point of view in Sop Ruak see a casino on the Lao side of the Mekong, a casino on the Myanmar side and they can observe the Mekong River emerging from the mountains far behind. From the No Man's Land with isolated jungle valleys and mountains between Thailand, Laos, Myanmar and China. Looking out you may remember newspaper stories about a lawless land, where rebel armies inside Myanmar fight against the government, where governments and security forces are far away. You may have read that today Myanmar is the world's second-biggest opium producer after Afghanistan. You have heard, that Myanmar is the producer of Methamphetamine drugs known as yaba, ice, shabu or just "crazy drugs". Every year hundreds of millions of this pills - worth hundreds of millions of dollars - have to cross borders, find ways of transport into Thailand and Laos. Shan State Army–South (on the Thai-Myanmar border) and United Wa State Army (on the border to China) are said to make a lot of money in the drug business. This has been reported for example by Chiangrai Times. Someone has to organize and protect this business, find ways through the No Man's Land and onwards. Someone has to have good connections in Thailand and Laos.

Was Naw Kham with his around hundred men the big mastermind?

“Kham’s capture has taken a massive load off our shoulders. The fact that his gang is now destroyed means a new lease of life for trade and tourism on the Mekong,” said a Thai security official in Chiang Saen port (Thailand) according to Asia Pasific Defence Forum. "This is a warning in case similar cases occur in the future," said Liu Zhi, a professor of international relations at Yunnan university according to So this warning went to other criminals in the area. There are doubts about the role of Naw Kham. He has "become a near-legendary figure", wrote Andrew R.C. Marshall for Reuters. "So many shipping attacks are attributed to this 46-year-old ethnic Shan that it seems as if the Mekong ambitions of the Asian superpower are being foiled by a medieval-style drug lord with a few dozen hill tribe gunmen."

Despite the judgments by Chinese courts the murder of the 13 Chinese Sailors remains mysterious. No clear proves and motifs emerged from the courtrooms. Also investigations in Thailand raised questions. There are pieces of a puzzle - but some pieces are still missing for the clear picture. The pieces:

A Chinese patrol boat on the Mekong came under fire in 2008, three police officers were killed, one injured.

In April 2011 a casino boat was seized by pirates near Sam Puu Island and 19 crewmen were held. Zhao Wei, representant of the unknown owners of King Romans Casino seems to have paid for a 733,000 US-Dollar ransom. The Shan Herald Agency for News reported this. A Casino spokesman even denied the existence of the kidnapping. But Democrazy for Burma reported on April 11 in 2011: 13 Chinese who were kidnapped by Golden Triangle godfather Naw Kham were released Friday, 8 April, 4 days after they were taken by his men, according to a source close to the King Romans casino in Laos.

In September 2011 a raid on the casino of King Romans Group in Laos brought 20 sacks of drugs (worth 1.6 million US Dollars) to the daylight - according to Thailand’s deputy prime minister Chalerm Yubamroong.

On October 5 in 2011 the 13 Chinese sailors were found dead. The boats Huaping and Yuxing 8 wer not only carrying the officiall load - fuel, apples and garlic - but also 920,000 methamphetamine pills with an estimated value of 6 million US-Dollars. It remains unclear where the drugs came from and to whom they belonged to. Where the Chinese sailers involved in the drug trade? Or came the drugs on board on the way down from Yunnan?

After October 5 the men of the Pha Muang unit came under suspense to be involved in the murders. Again Reuters: "On October 28 nine members of the Pha Muang Taskforce appeared before police in the northern city of Chiang Rai to answer allegations of murder and tampering with evidence." The nine soldiers denied. A Thai parliamentary comittee investigated the massacre. "Circumstantial evidence suggests that Thai officials were involved in the sailors' deaths", the House Foreign Affairs Standing Committee said on January 12 in an apparent reference to the military task force. "However, their motive, and whether it is connected to the drugs found on the ships, remains inconclusive," it said in preliminary findings seen by Reuters. There were many versions about what happened on the two boats. One has been published on "The first account of what had occurred was floated by senior Thai officers of the RTA Third Army's Pha Muang Task Force (...). According to this version of events, the barges had been hi-jacked and the crew killed north of the Thai border where the river flows between Myanmar and Laos by drug smugglers who were planning to use the vessels to smuggle drugs into Thailand. As they entered Thai waters around 1:30 pm on October 5, they were intercepted by a PMTF unit acting on a tip-off. A fire-fight reportedly lasting half an hour between the PMTF and the smugglers erupted during which it appeared the dead man on the deck had been shot and killed while all his associates escaped overboard."

The attacks on Chinese Ships did not stop after the killing of the 13 Chinese sailors. In January 2012 a Chinese cargo ship carrying logs on the Mekong river was fired on by unidentified attackers. The Shengtai-11 was returning to Xishuangbanna, in the Chinese border province of Yunnan, from Thailand when it was fired on from the Lao side of the river. No-one was injured, as Reuters reported.

Some tales underline the role of a Thai godfather: Chamras Phacharoen, better known as Pu Nuad (“Moustache”), is believed to be a close associate of Naw Kham. In September 2011 in Mae Sai (Thailand) his home was raided by joint Thai and Burmese officials according to Shan Herald. Nothing incriminating was found. But the Shan Herald wrote later: "Chamras Phacharoen aka Olarn Somphongphand had planned the killing of the sailors and planted 920 000 speed pills to implicate Zhao Wei, the owner of the Kings Romans casino in Laos’ Tonpheung." On Juli 13 2012 Changrai Times wrote, that Chiang Rai provincial court had approved a warrant for the arrest of Olarn Sompongphand, who is believed to have been involved in the attack on the two Chinese boats and to be involved in the narcotics trade. And he is also wanted for the murder of former deputy interior minister and former Chaiyaphum MP Santi Chaiwirattana in Chiang Rai in 2011. The Police believe that Olarn - whose wife is a Shan - has fled to border areas under the control of Myanmar’s Wa ethnic group. In the same time Police General Pansiri said according to Bangkok Post, that his team has issued arrest warrants for the nine soldiers for their suspected involvement in the murder of the 13 sailors. In November 2012 Thai police and military forces raided 50 locations in Mae Chan, Mae Sai and Mae Fah Luang in the northern province of Chiang Rai according to Five locations were major drug warehouses and homes of drug syndicate network figures. The authorities, meanwhile, seized the assets of Jamras Sompongphand, alleged member of a drug trafficking ring in the Golden Triangle. Police confiscated assets of more than 500 million Bath from Mr Jamras in Mae Sai district to be determined whether they were acquired from illicit drug trading.

What is clear: Drug trafficking out ot the Golden Triangle was not much disturbed by the arrest of Naw Kham. In May 2012 Thomas Fuller writes on "The Thai authorities seized 31.3 million methamphetamine pills from October through March — a 45 percent increase from a year earlier, when 21.6 million pills were seized, according to a recently published Thai government report. (...) Over the past three years, corrupt officials in Thai hospitals have been complicit in the drug business, selling to Myanmar-based gangs millions of cold tablets made from pseudoephedrine, which is used in the production of methamphetamines. (...) An estimated 48 million cold pills have been seized or disappeared from public hospitals since 2008, according to Thailand’s Narcotics Control Board."
In December 2012 Thailands notional police chief Adul Saengsingkaew launched raids at 107 locations across the northern provinces of Chiang Mai and Chiang Rai, as Bangkok Post documented. "The police chief said that the region is known to be a major narcotics hub". Police also seized assets attributed to the cartel once headed by Naw Kham, included a house in San Sai district, cars, gold and cash with an estimated value of 25 million baht. In Mae Taeng district anti-narcotics agents busted a Laotian Hmong drug ring and arrested Chatchawan Atsawacharonekul (23) along with half a million meth pills and 7.3 million baht in cash. The suspect was hired to transport the drug shipment to dealers in Chiang Mai. A 74-rai opium plantation was also destroyed.

In January 2013 a special unit of the Pha Mueang Task Force killed three drug smuggling suspects in Mae Sai, more than 1.2 million methamphetamine pills were being seized during the operation. The drug smugglers were believed to be part of a drug caravan of Lieutenant Colonel Yi Say's drug trafficking network, as reported. Five of them were killed earlier in a clash with the authorities on January 6.

On January 10 a Lieutenant, dressed in his uniform, was arrested with 1.3 million methamphetamine tablets and 30 kilos of crystal methamphetamine hidden in the panels of his black Ford Ranger pickup truck. It was Surapol Phromvijit, presenting the identity card of Internal Security Operational Command and stating that he was a special officer with responsibilities of border patrol and international security intelligence (see This was not the first arrest of officers delivering drugs. In Nan in 2012 a Lieutenant and four non-commissioned officers were arrested delivering drugs in a police car from Chiang Rai to Ayutthaya. In August 2012 Chiang Mai Provincial Police arrested Police Senior Sergeant Major Wasan Wisarutwetsaphu (45), a policeman belonging to the Border Patrol Police 33, in San Sai, with 24,000 yaba pills in his truck.

The questions remain: What was the role of Naw Kham? Thai MP Sunai Chulpongsatorn, who chaired the parliamentary foreign affairs committee during its investigation, believed that a Naw Kham legend had been created by attributing attacks by other bandits in the Golden Triangle to him. "There are many Naw Khams, not just one," he said. "It's like in a drama. He's a made-up character. He exists, but it seems he has been given a lot of extra importance." He Xilun, who lost his older brother and sister-in-law in the attack on the two Chinese ships, was doubtful too during the trial in China. “In this trial the truth has not been revealed”, he told "The Irrawaddy". “We have worked on ships on the Mekong for 14 years and never once heard that Chinese ships pay protection money to Naw Kham", he said, adding that only the tip of the iceberg has come forth in the case. The nine soldiers of Pha Muang, who were on the two cargo ships, until now have not been charged and remained on active military duty.

So only something comes out very clear from all the tales around the killing mistery: A drug trade business worth hundreds of millions of dollars attracts not only militia men but also poorly paid law enforcement officials across the region, in Myanmar, China, Laos and Thailand. May be the truth in the case of Naw Kham and the 13 dead Chinese sailors will remain hidden among many other secrets along the Mekong River in the Golden Triangle. Nearly for sure human rights activists will not protest against the death sentence for a militia leader from the No Man's Land.

What remains furthermore: China's presence in the Golden Triangle has grown. After the killing of the sailors joint ship patrols on the Mekong were sanctioned by China, Myanmar, Thailand and Laos. In December 2011, after less than a fortnight of patrols, three Myanmar soldiers were killed in a clash with suspected drug traffickers. The cargo and passenger shipping from Yunnan to Chiang Saen - blocked after the killings - has resumed. On October 7 in 2012 a tourist ferry carrying 21 Britons and 2 South Africans set off from China’s Jinghong to Thailand’s Chiang Saen. No incidents have been reported since then.

Added February 20 in 2013:

China considered using a drone to kill drug warlord Naw Kham in the Myanmar section of the Golden Triangle last year, the Chinese anti-drug agent who chased him for months has revealed. "One plan was to use an unmanned aircraft to carry 20 kilogrammes of TNT to bomb the area," said Liu Yuejin, commander of the Chinese anti-drug force based in Yunnan, in the Chinese newspaper Global Times. But then the Chinese officials wanted Naw Kham taken alive. According to Bangkok Post it was the first time any Chinese official has spoken openly of the development of drones by the country.

Added February 27 in 2013:

Myanmar drug lord Naw Kham and three of his accomplices, convicted of murdering 13 Chinese sailors on the Mekong River in 2011, will be executed on March 1 according to Xinhua. They will be executed by lethal injection in the city of Kunming in southwest China's Yunnan Province, the Kunming Intermediate People's Court said. Naw Kham's three accomplices were identified as Hsang Kham from Thailand, Yi Lai, stateless, and Zha Xika, Laotian.

Read also:
After the Execution of Naw Kham in China: Mekong Safety remains an Issue
Beijing Flaunts Cross-Border Clout in Search for Drug Lord on

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Feb 12, 2013

Macao on the Mekong: How Chinese money flows into the Golden Triangle

Picture by johntrathome

From the Thai border near the town of Chiang Saen you see two golden domes dominating the Laotian side of the Mekong River. If you cross the river you enter the Golden Triangle Special Economic Zone (SEZ). Welcome to the "Macau on the Mekong": The casino at Tonphueng in Bokeo province (see video on video 1 on youtube and video 2 on youtube) has been built by Chinese money and investors with links to Macau. Alongside the waterfront boats disgorge Lao and Thai businessmen, and gamblers. Beneath the Laotian immigration officers and some policemen you will meet a lot of Chinese people. The Casino has the Chinese name Jin Mu Mian (金木棉, "golden kapok"). The casino wants to attract visitors from countries, where casinos are forbidden: China and Thailand.

What is a Special Economic zone in Laos gives not mainly work to Lao people. "Of the more than 4,500 people employed in the zone, only around 500 are Laotian", notes Tom Fawthrop in South China Morning Post. And he continues: "The investors who signed the contract to create the SEZ with the Laotian government back in April 2007 have pledged to change the image of the Golden Triangle, once the epicentre of the global heroin trade, into a tourist haven with glittering nightclubs, ecotourism and a new international airport. Yet despite the influx of cash and grandiose plans, there are plenty of concerns about the project, with a prominent Thai business leader and a UN agency worried that the centrepiece casino will be used to launder money from the region's infamous drug trade." And he adds: "And despite the scale of the multibillion-dollar project, the identity of the investors remains largely a mystery."

The man who runs the operation in the name of the King Romans Group (KRG) is 60-year-old Zhao Wei(赵伟), chairman of the SEZ and KRG president (see Zhao Wei on youtube). He says he is vice-chairman of the Macau-Asean Business Association, but the journalist could not track this group down. Critics say that he is connected with the casinos of Mong La, in the Shan area of Myanmar, which many believe belong to the former drug baron Sai Leun, aka Lin Ming Xian (read Clear ist, that Zhao Wei has run a casino in Mongla, the Sin-City in Myanmar, situated opposite the town of Dalou in China's Yunnan province. Mong La in the 1990s established itself as a Chinese tourism hub for gambling, prostitution and transsexual cabaret shows - not to mention rampant money-laundering. 2005 Beijing, after reports of corrupt officials investing state funds on Myanmar gaming tables, banned Chinese officials and citizens from traveling to Mong La. The King Romans Group (Dok Ngiew Kham) is registered in Hong Kong. Its investors are said to be from Hong Kong, Macau and Yunnan Province.

For the moment, there is the casino, a restaurant and a two storey hotel, designed to resemble Beijing’s Forbidden City, and a 30-kilometre road to the nearest town, the regional capital Ban Houei Xay. Later the complex should include a golf course, karaoke bars, massage parlours, a swimming pool, hotels, clinics and shopping centres (see promotion video on youtube. KRG also dreams about an international airport. The government of Laos has signed over 10,000 hectares to the King Romans Group on a 99-year lease, including Don Sao Island. According to Tom Fawthrop KRG plans to invest US$2.25 billion US by 2020 (the entire Laotian national budget in 2009 was estimated at US$1.13 billion). And Zhao Wei is planning a city of 200 000 residents at the end. This would be the second largest town of Laos after Vientiane.

Crucial to the project is the Kunming -Bangkok Expressway. The China section is completed; the only major work remaining is the construction of a bridge spanning the Mekong and linking Laos and Thailand. The 4th Thai-Lao friendship bridge between Chiang Khong and Houay Xay is expected to be completed between late 2013. Some people fear, that Houay Xay could turn into the next Boten, a border town at the Lao-Chinese border, where Chinese traders and workers outnumber locals (read more on Chiang Rai Bulletin) and a Chinese casino had to be closed.

Picture by Prince Roy
Chinese stores and restaurants lining the road to the casino in the Lao border town Boten

The Golden Triangle Special Economic Zone (Homepage: lies "in the stomping grounds of one particularly powerful drug runner named Naw Kham", notes Lauren Hilgers. She writes: "Naw Kham is a Shan minority from the Burmese side of the border and a wanted man in Thailand, Burma, Laos, and China. His forces (called the “Hawngleuk militia”) exert control through Laos and northern Thailand. His speedboats are said to show up on the river and levy taxes on passing cargo boats, particularly the Chinese ones. In 2008, Naw Kham’s forces shot up a Chinese patrol boat. In April 2011, 34 crew members on three Chinese boats were briefly taken hostage by a group of pirates assumed to be answering to the drug lord. This past October, 13 Chinese were shot and killed while sitting in two small boats full of methamphetamine." Meanwhile Naw Kham has been arrested and waits in a prison in China for his trial.

Lauren Hilgers adds: "Border casinos are attractive to Chinese investors for two reasons — they fill a huge demand for gambling and they facilitate the process of getting money out of the mainland." And then she writes: "Zhao insists his intentions in Laos are good. His goal, he says, is to be here for a long time. But it is hard to see how he will do it without at least reaching an agreement with local drug runners."

Vice president of Kings Romans Group is Wenxin Zheng. He assured Lauren Hilgers "that there is no drinking or prostitution in the casino, but on the north side of the hotel I spot a shabby pink building with a row of dubious-looking massage parlors on the ground floor, and on the second level a bar whose windows have been blacked out by giant posters of pole-dancing ladies. A tall woman in short shorts stands outside one of the storefronts, sipping a Coke."

If you are foreigner and visiting Thailand it is not so easy to go to the casino. You are now allowed to exit or enter Thailand at Sop Ruak and exit/enter Laos at the Golden Triangle Special Economic Zone. Here you need a Lao visum (30 days for 30 to 35 US-dollars.

Read also:
Gambling a Foreign Hand
Busted flash: How Golden City in Boten, at the Lao/China border, was shut down
Dams, Casinos and Concessions - Rising Powers. Chinese Megaprojects in Laos

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Jan 30, 2013

Your Guide to Chiang Mai

You discover Chiang Mai through the eyes of people, who have been there. This blog collects their voices from blogs and travel-related forums like or and their pictures from and other sources. Google Maps help you to create your own tour. Links give you background. Welcome to Chiang Mai!

Guesthouses: Cheap or not too expensive beds, some very charming locations like Pak Chiang Mai. Click

Boutique Hotels: Small hotels with traditional architecture like Bury Gallery House. Click.

Hotels: Big and splendid ones like Rachamankha. Click.

Restaurants: Where food is created with love and where vegetarians get mouthwatering stuff. Click.

Temples: Chiang Mai's Old Town counts more than twenty temples with spledid architecture. And Doi Suthep on a nearby mountain is famous. Click.

Markets and Walking Streets: Shop and eat with the locals and don't miss Wualai Walking Street or Ratchadamnoen Walking Street. Click.

Massage: Enjoy a massage by well trained people - for exampla at a shop with connections to the female prison. Click.

Nightlife: Pop, rock and jazz in music clubs, for example at the riverside. Click.

Loy Kratong: Enjoy the full moon festival in Chiang Mai or Mae Jo. Click.

Doi Inthanon: Take a day-tour to the highest mountain in Thailand and discover rainforest and birds. Click.

Institute for elephants: Take a day tour to the National Elephant Institute near Lampang, where some elephants even know how to play music in an orchestra. Click.

The Mae Hong Son Loop: From Chiang Mai through the rainforest and the mountains to Pai and Mae Hong Son Click

The Footprints of four Buddhas: A sanctuary in the mountains near Chiang Mai with four footprints on one stone. Click

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Nan น่าน - beautiful nature and wonderful temples

See the locations on Nan Google Map
See the Thai Meteorological Weather forecast for Nan
See Your guide to Nan น่าน

Picture mauve55

Picture Adrian Whelan
The hills of Nan

Picture fredalix - อาลิกส์

Did you ever hear about Nan? No? You are among many tourists, who believe they know Thailand well - and have no idea of this provincial capital with around 25000 inhabitants in a quite secluded valley in Thailands remote north, flanked by mountains, near the Lao border. So you cannot imagine the treasures you will discover here. Who visits Nan is rewarded: by a spledid nature, formed by rivers and evergreen mountains, and by cultural riches as superbly-crafted Buddha images, vibrant murals and elegant temple architecture. Nan has long been a crossroad of cultures, with people from nearby lands — modern-day Laos, Myanmar and China — arriving here to trade their goods for the local salt, which is still mined near the headwaters of the Nan River to the east of town. A local historian dated the founding of the town to the mid-14th century. Nan has been strongly influenced and sometimes controlled by the nearby kingdoms of Sukhothai, Lan Na, Lan Xang (Laos) and Burma - and by the ethnic group Tai Lue: people, who immigrated from southern Yunnan in China, somtimes forced, sometimes voluntarily. This immigration continued until the 1950s. Read more about the ethnic groups in the province of Nan on See also the video Unseen in Nan แอ่วน่าน

Does all this sound promising to you? Then follow my litte guide to the treaures of Nan.

The National Museum

You start by looking at the beautifully restored colonial building in the centre of Nan, erected in 1903 by Phra Chao Suriyaphong Pharitdej (Nan’s then independent ruler). Inside you find textiles and household implements of local ethnic groups like the Tai Lu, Htin and Khamu as well as a variety of Buddha images. And a black elephant tusk is thought to be over three centuries old; it is held aloft by a garuda and has become Nan’s principal icon.

Temples in Nan

Wat Chang Kham วัดช้างค้ำวรวิหาร: Built from 1406 onward. The "Monastery of the the Relic Supported by Elephants" stands near the National Museum. The first building was the chedi (behind the viharn). Below a guilded upper part you discover a square base with six elephants on each side. "In Buddhist cosmology this represents a the structure of Mount Meru, the central world-mountain whose base is supported by elephants", explains Inside the viharn you find a massive gilt Buddha showing influences from Chiang Saen, Sukhothai and China on a platform between richly-decorated pillars. He is flanked two bronze Buddha images from 1426-1427 (Sukhothai period). To the east of the viharn stands Thailand's largest ho trai (library) with two garudas on the front facade.

Picture mauve55
View from the ground of the National Museum

Picture marhas

Picture marhas

Picture marhas

Wat Hua Khuang วัดหัวข่วง : Across from the museum. This name means "The Monastery North of the Plaza". The main buildung functions as viharn and ubosot. "Its most attractive feature is the front gable with a richly carved eyebrow-shaped pelmet that hangs in front of the portico", notes There is a small chedi and a wooden ho trai (library), serving as monks quarter today.

Picture marhas
See also picture by D33montri.ka

Wat Phumin วัดภูมินทร์: Opposite Wat Chang Kham, Nans most famous temple. The monastery was foundexd in 1596. But its present dates from 1867-75, when it was renovated during the reign of Chao Anantaworaritthidej (more about the history on and ubosot are in one building. Very special is the cruciform shape of the wat. Inside you discover four buddhas sitting back to back and famous mural paintings, covering the interior walls, depicting not only scenes from Buddha’s life, but also battle scenes, festival celebrations, the arrival of foreigners in town and locals flirting. Several sections of the murals, which were painted in the late 19th century, have faded, but what remains "shows a high degree of artistry", notes E-Magazine. Read also article on

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Picture Justin Gaurav Murgai
Wat Phumin Wihan

Picture marhas

Picture Nicolai Bangsgaard
Murals at Wat Phumin.

Picture jobjob

Picture jobjob

See also picture by D33montri.ka

Wat Ming Muang วัดมิ่งเมือง: Just 100 metres west of Wat Phumin, in the heart of the city, with Lak Muang City Pillar, read more on Wat Ming Muang is a modern temple with freshly painted murals. The City Pillar has faces carved on it, and is known as Mukhalinga.

Picture mauve55

Wat Phra That Chae Haeng วัดพระธาตุแช่แห้ง : Now you cross to the east of Nam River to get deep into history. Wat Phra That Chae Haeng was built from 1354 onward on another location and then moved two times to the present location (read more on On a hill beyond Nan River southeast of Nan. A broad stairway is guarded by two huge nagas. Then you cannot overview the slender, 55-metre gilt stupa, built in the Haripunchai style. Have also a look at the mondop and its roof in rustic style. See pictures on

Picture fredalix - อาลิกส์

Picture fredalix - อาลิกส์

Picture Pruet

Wat Phra That Khao Noi วัดพระธาตุเขาน้อย : From here, a couple of kilometres southwest of the town, you have the most stunning panoramic view of Nan - and you share it with a huge image of a walking Buddha, who seems to guard the valley. And sunset can be overwhelming here!

Picture by Adrian Whelan
Standing Buddha

Wat Phayawat วัดพญาวัด): Here you find a chedi in Mon style, but constructed after the occupation by the Mon, during the 17th or 18th century. "It is nearly identical in appearance to the Chedi Mahapol at Wat Ku Kut in Lamphun", knows See picture by Pisanu

Wat Suan Tan วัดสวนตาล: "The Monastery of the Sugar Palm Grove". Behind the not so old viharn you find a Sukhothai-style chedi from the 14th century. More pictures on See picture by martinsilverston

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Wat Hua Wiang Tai วัดหัวเวียงใต้:

Picture Adrian Whelan

The King of Nan's Teak House

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The Teak House of Nan’s King (Mahaprom road, opposite the rear entrance of Wat Phra That Chang Kham) was built in 1866 with pure golden teak. It has been renovated in 1941.Today it is the home of Chao Sompradhana Na Nan, a woman and her husband. Inside you find various antiques, ancient weapons and original photographs of King Rama V. For visiting contact the owner (Tel. 054 710 605). Read about the history of the kingdom of Nan.

Picture marhas

The House of Chao Fongkham โฮงเจ้าฟองคำ

8 Soi 2 Ban Phra Kerd, Sumon Devaraj road. Museum open daily from 10am to 5pm. A large teak house in classic Northern Thai style set in a beautiful garden, built about 150 years ago. Chao Fongkham was a descendant of Chao Anantaworarithidej, the 62nd Lord of Nan and the father of the last two Lords. In the oldest parts of the house you see planks formed by axe and knife. It is probably the best preserved such noble house in the province of Nan. Read more and see pictures on The Noble House โฮงเจ้าฟองคำ on Facebook. See the gallery by visanu_euarchukiati

More temples in Nan Province

In Tha Wang Pha:

Wat Nong Bua วัดหนองบัว): The "Lotus Pond Monastery", built by the Tai Lue people from 1862 onward, around 40 km north of Nan. Wat Nong Bua is well known for its mural paintings. The Tai Lue people emigrated from southern Yunnan in China, read about the history on In the village around the wat you find Tai Lue textiles, which are produced at a cooperative.

Picture sluj78

Picture sluj78

In Pua ปัว:

Wat Ton Laeng วัดต้นแหลง:

Picture Bleumontagne

Picture Bleumontagne

Picture Bleuemontagne

Picture Bleuemontagne

Wat Prang วัดปราง : Here you find Ton Dik Diem (also called Di Diam, Dip Diam or Dik Doi). If you touch this tree, its leaves will shake. See also this video on
See more pictures by sunshinethailand

Picture marhas

Wat Phrathat Beng Sakat วัดพระธาตุเบ็งสกัด: The main Buddha image in the local style resides on the so-called Chukkachi base. The back of the Buddha image is decorated with a mirror. That comes from the belief of the Thai Lue people. The Phrathat and the Viharn were completed in 1283, but the current Viharn is not that old. It is located on a hill. The arch on the main doorway shows an image of the god rahu, holding the sun in his hands. See picture by

Picture supercar

Rafting on Nam Wa ล่องแก่งน้ำว้า

You can go for white-water rafting on Nam Wa River from September to February, but be aware, that this can be difficult and dangerous. There is even a Nam Wa Rafting Club. Read more on, and See galleries by Jiffy Gnosty and

See videos by mrkatchai, somchai153 and moohinvideo

Picture pleroma
Nam Wa River

Other attractions in Nan Province

Phu Fa Palace พระตำหนักภูฟ้า: Residencve of Her Royal Highness Princess Maha Chakri Sirindhorn.

Silaphet Waterfall น้ำตกศิลาเพชร: You find it southeast of Pua, just off the road between Pua and Ban Nam Yao.

Picture นักล่าน้ำตก
More pictures: See Pong's Site

Doi Phu Kha ดอยภูคา National Park:
Khun Nan National Park ที่ทำการอุทยานแห่งชาติขุนน่าน: Forest on limestone mountains, the source of several streams which flow into Nan River, highest elevation around 1,900 metres above sea level. Doi Phu Kha is one of the tallest mountains in Thailand. Its height allows a wide range of forest types to exist

At the shrine of Chao Lung Phu Kha you find a very rare tree, threatened from extinctiont: Chomphoo Phu Kha (Bretschneidera sinensis), whose pink and white flowers bloom in February and March. (See the flowers on and on youtube) Once this tree was found in Southern China and the northern part of Vietnam. Then it was disappeared, until the Thai botanist Tawatchai Santisuk discsovered one of these treets on Doi Phu Kha. Studies show that this tree can prosper in hilly evergreen forest at heights above 1200 metres, it needs high humidity and low temperature throughout the year. Read more on

There are also several scenic waterfalls.
Read about Ban Mani Phruek Security Development Projekt.

In Bo Kluea บ่อเกลือ you can observe tha traditional salt gaining process. According to a legend a hunter obeserved wild animals drinkinh from the stream. He tasted the water himself and learned, that it was salty. Chao Luang Phu Kha and Chao Bo Luang heart about this discovery and founded a community here. Today an annual ceremony is held to remember the two founders. Today the salt production is still done in the traditional way: It starts with an offering ritual, when saline water is drawned from the pit. Then the water is boiled in woks during four hours. The gained salt is put into baskets to dry. After boiling the woks are immersed in the river for three weeks. The lime stone is now scraped off.

Mae Charim National Park:

Nunthaburi National Park:

Si Nan National Park: A good place to see the mountain mists is Doi Pha Chu Viewpoint, where you get a cliff-top view and see the Nan River winding its way in the valley below.

Tham Sa Kern National Park:

Map of the Northern National Parks here

Ban Pak Nai: A fishing village on the bank of the fresh-water lake above the Sirikit Dam. There are restaurants and accommodations on Rafts.

Travel Agents in Nan:
Lanna Touring
Nan Amazing Tour

Read more about Nan: Guide for Nan in Thai
The Treasures of Nan
Markets in Nan
Bo Kluae salt
Pua and around
Backpacker's Secret Guide: Nan
Nan's Cultural Riches
Tourism acitivities in Nan
Festivals in Nan
A trip from Lampang to Nan

Travel Agents in Nan
GT Riders Touring Guide to Nan
Map of Nan Province
Nan Thailand Map
Map of Caves in Nan
Nan HoboMap

How to get to Nan

Three airlines are flying to Nan: Nok Air Mini from Chiang Mai (daily), Happy Air from Bangkok (Suvarnabhumi) on Fridays and Sundays and Solar Air from Bangkok Don Mueang on Fridays and Sundays from 3. December 2010.

Border crossing from Nan to Laos

Possible between Ban Huay Kon (Thailand) and Muang Ngoen. Visa on arrival for Laos seem to be available. Read more on And describes, how she got visa at the boarder, wanderingstraycat has informations about the transports to the boarder and into Laos on lonelyplanet.cpm/thorntree.

Discover more:
Your guide to Nan น่าน

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