Editorial: August 2017

 |  August 1, 2017

I’ve been rusticating of late.

Early mornings lying in bed watching the mist sweep in, settle, shift and miraculously evanesce only to reform again…a morning moving picture of shapeshifting vapour. Long country walks, huffing and puffing up sweltering mountain trails, mustering the energy to sulk as geriatric Hmong men and women carrying their bodyweights overtake me with toothy grins. Evenings spent fascinatedly inspecting one gaudy and incomprehensibly curious and ludicrous looking insect after another while glaring at gigantic and rudely impervious tukkaes. I was blissfully far from the maddening crowds and loving it.

You see, I’d had enough of the city and had decided to take a few weeks off to head into the hills. I’d just finished our last cover story about the flash floods and the rather depressing discovery of the coagulation of filth blocking our city drains. Following months of respiratory pollution, I was also looking forward to breathing in some fresh mountain air and not having to drive to work on what seems like atrophying highways. I was getting fed up with my beloved city and I needed time out.

And so it was that I was lying in my hammock a few weeks into my treasured self-exile, ironically checking my Facebook feed to see who was doing what in the city, when I saw that Chiang Mai had been voted best city to visit in Asia, and third in the world, by Travel+Leisure magazine. “Come on, really?” I thought, cynically, to myself.

As a city magazine, we attempt to not only tell you about what is new and happening in the city, introducing you to fascinating people and great ideas, we also feel as though we need to use our voice to pressure for change. So we write about the pollution and the politician, the traffic and corruption, the urban blights and other issues which we believe need to be spot lit and exposed. And by doing so, we ourselves end up focusing on the negatives, becoming jaundiced, our own objectivity skewered.

Sometimes we forget that it requires an outside perspective to look within.

It is all well and good complaining about the many eyesores and urban challenges our city is facing, but it’s important to not forget that these are growing pains of a city struggling to find a balance between its past and its future. A city toying with phrases and ideas — smart city, creative city, ASEAN hub — while reality is running amok. We’re looking forward, often taking great leaps with boundless energy, but without plan nor purpose. What we mustn’t forget, however — and this is why such affirmations as this T+L nomination is so interesting — is where we have come from.

Chiang Mai is a city deeply rooted in culture, tradition and history. It is our past that has afforded our present, and which will shape our future. The growth of tourism which has led to such riches has stemmed from this past. So perhaps before we go leapfrogging into a directionless future, we need to make sure that we hold onto and appreciate our heritage because no one is going to be voting for Chiang Mai again if we don’t. Culture, sites, traditions, festivals and our Lanna identity need not only be preserved, but encouraged to flourish and to breathe. It’s not just slogans and cute fonts which will attract the all-important tourist dollar, but the vibrant appreciation of who we are.

I wrote to Travel+Leisure, asking them for some insight as to why Chiang Mai was chosen, and Jacqui Gifford, Special Projects Editor at Travel+Leisure who heads up the World’s Best Awards kindly replied, “Cities that are rich in culture and history continue to resonate deeply with our readers, who are some of the world’s most intrepid, adventurous travellers. So it’s no surprise that Chiang Mai — long considered the spiritual heart of Thailand — continues to rate so highly. Our readers also expect intuitive, seamless service at hotels, and Chiang Mai has many top properties that deliver a standout guest experience. 137 Pillars House, Dhara Dhevi, the Anantara Golden Triangle and the Four Seasons all made the top 10 Resort Hotel list in Southeast Asia.”

So there you go. Culture and history. And with that, we are spot on this month with our content. You have a great read ahead of you, if I do say so myself…and I do!

This month in Citylife:

Aydan Stuart, in honour of the 6th cycle, or 72nd anniversary of the end of the Asia-Pacific War, looks around the north of Thailand for evidence, and scars, of the war, finding that we had a surprisingly large role. Our new writer, Tus Werayutwattana, tells of the long relationship we have had with elephants and discusses our future together. I work with intern Priyakorn Prateepkoh on a story about the slow and inevitable death of our northern language, kham mueang, and how it’s affecting the erosion of the Lanna culture. And, while history and culture are all well and good, we wouldn’t be Citylife without a bit of contention, so intern Orathai Panyayuen sits down with the head of the songtaew coop for a very fiery interview.

Enjoy and stay dry through the monsoon!