Author

Kathleen Pokrud

The Chao Phya Abhai Raja Siammanukulkij Foundation recently presented its new book: Chao Phya Abhai Raja Siammanukulkij Foundation, an album celebrating years of projects nurturing good relations between Thailand and Belgium and helping the society. The new statue of Chao Phya Abhai Raja Gustave Rolin-Jaequemyns, General Advisor of H.M. King Rama V was unveiled.

Count Gerald van der Straten Ponthoz, Chairman, M.R. Priyanandana Rangsit, Vice Chairman, and other board members of the foundation presented the book.  The luxury book of over 700 pages retraces 15 years of activities since the origins, with hundreds of pictures of many events and their distinguished guests.

An important chapter, written by M.R. Thepkamol Devakula, retraces the story of the work and achievements of Chao Phya Phya Abhai Raja Gustave Rolin-Jaequemyns between 1892 and 1901, when he was a trusted advisor to the King and the Government of Siam, not only in the field of Law but also most other aspects related to the modernisation of the administration. Chao Phya Abhai Raja Gustave Rolin-Jaequemyns is the only foreigner to have been bestowed upon the title of Chao Phya in the Rattanakosin era.

Besides preserving the memory of Chao Phya Abhai Raja Gustave Rolin-Jaequemyns, the foundation also aims at helping the society and contributing to the good relations between Thailand and Belgium. Since its creation, the Chao Phya Abhai Raja Siammanukulkij Foundation has organised many projects and activities to help disadvantaged youngsters. These projects are all detailed in the book, such as the “People of the World Ceramic Project”, done in collaboration with a French sculptor, the “Hill tribe Violin Band”, organised together with a Belgian professional violinist, or even the construction of a whole football stadium to open opportunities to youngsters in the field of sports: the Chiang Rai Hills Stadium.

The Chao Phya Abhai Raja Siammanukulkij Foundation has also organised numerous activities to contribute in strengthening the good relations between Thailand and Belgium. In this regard, the foundation has hosted members of the royal families of Thailand, Belgium, and other countries, in its events.

An important chapter of the book retraces the visit of H.R.H. Princess Maria-Esmeralda of Belgium, who came to Thailand in 2015. The Princess was invited by the foundation to participate in the Thai-Belgian Friendship Celebrations. Several events were organised, including an exhibition, which was presided over by H.R.H. Princess Maha Chakri Sirindhorn. A charity gala dinner was also hosted and was honoured by the presence of H.R.H. Princess Soamsawali Krom Muen Suddhanarithana, as well as numerous important guests of the Thai society.

The first visit of H.R.H. Princess Lea of Belgium to Thailand, in 2018, is also covered in this book. The Belgian princess was invited to attend the events celebrating the 150th anniversary of the bilateral relations. The chapter also includes countless pictures of the other activities, which the foundation organised for the Princess on that year. H.R.H. Princess Lea of Belgium made a second visit to Thailand in 2019. This time she attended the Simply Exceptional Gala Dinner, a glamorous event that celebrated Thailand, Belgium, and Lesotho, through their diamond and jewellery industries. Royals of no less than six countries, including the King and the Queen of Lesotho, as well as Princes and Princesses of Malaysia, Bhutan, and Russia, attended this event. On this occasion, M.L. Sarali Kitiyakara represented Princess Soamsawali Krom Muen Suddhanarinatha. Besides the gala dinner, H.R.H. Princess Lea also visited the provinces of Chiang Rai and Nan.

One of the greatest symbols of the Thai-Belgian friendship is the friendship between the two royal families, and especially between late King Bhumibol Adulyadej and late King Baudouin of Belgium. This historical symbol is also present in the book, with articles and many pictures of the commemorative events organised by the foundation. The new book about the activities of the Chao Phya Abhai Raja Siammanukulkij Foundation is very unique in more than one aspect. It is a non-commercial commemorative luxury book, which will be distributed as a gift only. But a particularity of this edition is that over one hundred personalities of the Thai and foreign societies have contributed to its publishing, by writing short or longer texts. These include quotes, memories or feelings, but also texts about the Thai-Belgian relations or the very diverse projects of the Foundation.

All of the contributors have been part of the history of the Chao Phya Abhai Raja Siammanukulkij Foundation, be it through their presence at the foundation’s events, or their direct participation in their organisation. This makes so that, as Count Gerald van der Straten Ponthoz likes to say, this book is “for everyone who has been part of the foundation’s story”, or for those who would like to know more about its activities.

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Thailand and Kenya have enjoyed cordial ties and close cooperation since the establishment of diplomatic relations in 1967. Kenya opened its Embassy in Thailand in 2006 but had maintained an Honorary Consulate since 1992 and since then both countries have expanded cooperation in various sectors including trade and investment, health, agriculture, fisheries, amongst others.
 
Expat Life sat down with H.E. Mr. Lindsay Kimwole Kiptiness, the new Kenyan Ambassador to the Kingdom of Thailand with accreditation to Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos PDR and Myanmar. Prior to his posting to Thailand in March 2021, Ambassador Kiptiness was the Director for Asia-Pacific Affairs in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Kenya and the Deputy Head of Mission at the Kenyan Embassies in Turkey, Sudan and Botswana.
Which city were you born and brought up?
 
I was born in a village called Kartur, deep in rural Kenya, 600km, Northwest of Nairobi, the capital city. I grew up in a rural setting where I went to school every morning and, in the afternoon, looked after my father’s livestock. During weekends, my siblings and I either worked on the family land or looked after the livestock. School life was tough, often running up the hill, 10km every day to and from school without shoes. As a polygamist, my father had two homesteads set over 50km apart and he would sometimes send my sister and I to trek through the forest teeming with dangerous animals to the second homestead to take care of the animals. At the age of 12, I moved to the city of Nairobi to stay with my elder brother and was forced to a repeat class four to improve my English, which was not very good, having come from a rural setting.
 
 
At which age did you decide you wanted to become a diplomat?
 
Deciding to be a diplomat is a recent development. Whilst growing up, I wanted to become a teacher or an army officer, luckily, I became my first choice – a teacher. I did not however teach for long as I switched to a District Officer when the opportunity arose in 1995. After 10 years, I wanted a change to a more challenging environment where I could use my deep knowledge about the local environment to promote Kenya’s interests abroad, hence the decision to transfer my services to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. In Kenya, you do not just join diplomatic service like any other public service, you must undergo a one year Post Graduate Diploma course in Diplomacy and International studies at the University of Nairobi as a precondition, which I did 2005. I have also attained a Master’s Degree in Peace and Conflict Studies in Turkey and a diploma in National Security and Defence Studies at the National Defence College of Kenya. I am currently writing a project for my second Master’s degree in International Studies, at the University of Nairobi and have done various diplomatic courses in the USA, India, Pakistan, Ethiopia, Turkey and Sudan. I have visited over 30 countries in the course of my diplomatic service. I have served in various capacities in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs including as Director for Horn of Africa Division, where I handled the Sudan and Somali peace processes, been a spokesperson of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Personal Assistant to the Cabinet Secretary for Foreign Affairs amongst many other assignments at HQ.
 
 
Do you have any other diplomats in your family?
 
No, we have no other diplomats in the family, I am the first to join the Diplomatic service, but I will certainly not be the last, I already have two of my boys and other extended family members who want to follow in my footsteps to become a member of the Kenya diplomatic service.
 
 
How do you see Thailand today, in ASEAN, and in a wider context?
 
Thailand is an important and influential member of the ASEAN alliance and has a major role to play in the search for peace and stability in neighbouring Myanmar and the region in general. Other than the damage caused by the Covid-19 pandemic, Thailand has a strong economy, driven by a broad manufacturing base, and tourism mostly for the export market, hence is a powerful regional economy. Through the Thailand International Cooperation Agency (TICA), Thailand has supported development cooperation not only with its neighbours but further afield in Africa and the Middle East and Kenya is a beneficiary of TICA’s capacity building programmes.
 
Due to its healthcare system, Thailand has become an affordable international medical hub and many patients come from all over the world for treatment of various ailments including cancer. In terms of managing Covid-19, especially the vaccination, the government of Thailand is doing a commendable job; imagine inoculating over 40 million people, more than half of the population despite all the challenges. Thailand is an important contributor to the maintenance of international peace and security and Kenya and Thailand have cooperated on many international issues of mutual interest.
 
 
Do you see any similarities between your country and Thailand?
 
Definitely, and tourism comes to mind. The pristine sandy beaches, common in both countries, have attracted millions of tourists from around the globe. Other similarities include, common environmental challenges and conservation credentials, tropical agriculture that includes the growing of sweet tropical fruits like mangoes, avocado and bananas. And traditional foods like sweet potatoes, cassava, melons amongst others are also common. A strong regional infrastructure, financial and communication hubs among other similarities. Both countries are influential members of regional organisations like ASEAN (for Thailand), and the East African Community (for Kenya), and subscribe to the ideals of South-South cooperation. I take this opportunity to invite and encourage Thai citizens and the huge expatriate community in Thailand to visit Kenya for a change of their holiday destination and experience the original home of the African safari. I assure them that they will not be disappointed. Witnessing the great Wildebeest migration and sand and sun bathing in the pristine and clean sandy beaches of coastal Kenya is truly unforgettable lifetime experience.
 
Do you have children, if so at what age and where do they go to school, university or work?
 
Yes, I do, some are already grown up and independent, the oldest one is 26, working in Kenya whilst the others are in university in Kenya and abroad. The youngest one stays with me here in Bangkok and studies at one of the international schools, in year 12.
 
How do you look upon your work here? How does an average day look like?
 
I do enjoy my work although much of it has been confined to the office and the residence, due to Covid-19. Much of what I set out to implement has been delayed by the Covid-19 wave that has hit the country for the last seven months. My typical day is diverse, sometimes, I rise up early to attend to internal office matters – perusing through local newspapers to make sure I am up to date on socio-political developments in the countries of accreditation, correcting and signing letters, reading official mail and letters and giving direction to officers on administrative and financial matters, signing off letters and documents, attending to consular issues where necessary, and reading reports prepared by officers before they are dispatched to headquarters. Occasionally, I chair staff and various Embassy committee meetings on matters that require me to give direction. On other days, I would attend virtual meetings with identified investors and importers, engage members of the private sector on strategies to deepen trade and investment cooperation between Kenya and Thailand and the other countries of accreditation. I would also engage identified universities to facilitate collaboration between Kenyan institutions of higher learning and their Thai counterparts. At the end of business of the day, I go home and change into my tracksuit and do a workout for 30 minutes with my son and spouse. Over the weekends, I love to take a swim and play lawn tennis.
 
Have you set some goals you really would like to fulfill before you leave Thailand?
 
Yes, I have an agenda to deepen and expand socio-economic and political relations between Kenya and Thailand and the other countries of accreditation. I intend to focus my engagements with stakeholders in both the private and public sectors in areas that are important to the national development of Kenya. These sectors include market access for Kenyan fresh agricultural produce, processed and semi-processed gemstones, leather products amongst other items. I also intend to intensify engagements with leading investors in the region to attract them to go and invest in Kenya in sectors including pharmaceuticals, medical equipment, agro-processing, blue economy, wildlife management and conservation, eco-tourism, and technology investment in the ‘Silicone’ Savanna’ of Africa, popularly known as ‘Konza Technopolis’ in Kenya that is fast emerging. Part of these engagements would be to promote human capital development and technology transfer.
Have you managed to travel in Thailand yet?
 
No, not yet, we arrived in the heat of Covid-19 so we have rarely ventured out. It has really been boring just sitting around the house or going to the office or nearby shopping malls for fear of getting infected with Covid-19. However, with the pandemic infection numbers going down, it is now time to move out and meet different people and experience the beauty of the country and its people. We have a ‘Kenya House’ in Northern Thailand that I would love to visit and plant some trees and of course the famous tourist sites of Pattaya and Phuket, that we used to hear about whilst in Kenya.
 
 
When you have a day off, what do you prefer to do? Hobbies or pastimes?
 
I love tending the garden and the trees, swimming, working out, playing lawn tennis and watching the English Premier League, especially if Chelsea, my favourite team is playing.
 
 
How many of your countryfolk are living in Thailand? When and why did Thailand become a desirable destination for your people?
 
We have close to 3,000 Kenyans in Thailand and other countries of accreditation. Most Kenyans in the region are either English teachers, IT experts, Missionaries, working with International Organisations, local companies or just business people. A few are married to locals and have settled here for over 30 years. Thai people are warm and friendly, their institutions love diversity and we have an opportunity to interact with them through the Embassys CSR and environmental diplomacy activities. Generally, the country is an attractive destination for many foreigners who include Kenyans. It is our desire to deepen people-to-people exchanges and would love to see more Thai people visiting and doing business in Kenya and Africa.
 
Do your country and Thailand have an exchange programme for students?
 
Yes, we do, Thailand provides many scholarships to Kenyan students at post-graduate level mostly. We have had exchange programmes between the Foreign Service Academies of the Ministries of Foreign Affairs of the two countries, where young Foreign Service Officers attend training in Thailand. Kenyan doctors and agricultural officers also attend short courses on matters pertaining to Universal Healthcare and modern agriculture respectively. I intend to expand these exchanges to include faculty members in the universities and research institutions.
 
Any funny moment from Thailand that youd like to tell us about?
 
Yes, we have had awkward or funny moments too. My arrival in Thailand at the beginning of the third wave of Covid-19 in March 2021 was uneventful. Usually, under the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic and Consular Relations, an Ambassador is received with all the VIP accolades that go with the high office of the Ambassador including being picked with a VIP car at the plane’s exit door. But because of the fear of Covid-19, we were all herded through port health, regardless of your status (and Covid-19 doesn’t make allowances for status) with very strict social distancing. At one point, I felt like I was being harassed by port health officials and my attempts to explain who I was fell on deaf ears until a Protocol Officer appeared and saved the situation. We were finally ushered out of port health and immigration and were received by a Protocol Officer from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Another amusing experience was during mandatory quarantine, where I could not see my spouse for sixteen days despite staying in the same hotel. To see each other, we resorted to Zoom meetings, where we read the bible and prayed together. This is one advantage that came with Covid-19. At one time, my spouse attempted to ‘sneak’ a basket of fruits to my son’s room because she doesn’t eat a lot of fruit, she was captured on camera and received a stern warning. Covid-19 is therefore one of the most humbling experiences for us as a family and every country is really struggling to deal with it through trial and error. Today international travel has become a big challenge people are hostile, fearful or suspicious of each other of having the infection, even when one just coughs or sneezes. 
 
 
Do you regularly meet up with your community?
 
Since my arrival, I have not had the opportunity to mingle physically with the Kenyan community in Thailand or any of the other countries of accreditation because of the surge in Covid-19 pandemic. I have however had several virtual meetings with the Kenyan community, and we maintain active Whats App groups to keep each other updated on consular matters and new developments. I have plans to mingle with them when the situation allows, especially during the upcoming Jamhuri (Independence Day for Kenyans) on December 12, 2021.
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The Bangkok Art Biennale Foundation recently announced the first twenty artists and seven venues for the third edition of the Bangkok Art Biennale (BAB). Organised in collaboration with Thai Beverage Public Company Limited (ThaiBev) and public and private sectors, BAB 2022 Chaos: Calm will take place from 22 October 2022 to 23 February 2023 at various locations across Bangkok as well as BAB Virtual Space, which will showcase several innovative artworks specifically created for the digital realm.

 

Under the theme, this edition invites artists to contemplate the tumultuous conditions of the world around us as communities recover from the Covid-19 pandemic, as well as the urgency to address the climate crisis and socio-political uncertainty around the globe.

 

Selected by BAB 2022’s curatorial team, participating artists and collectives range from the emerging to the established, with representation from across Thailand, Asia, Europe, Oceania and America: Marina Abramović (Serbia / USA), Jake and Dinos Chapman aka “the Chapman Brothers” (UK), Jarasporn Chumsri (Thailand), Tiffany Chung (Vietnam / USA), Jitish Kallat (India), Kimsooja (Republic of Korea / USA), Rachel Kneebone (UK), Robert Mapplethorpe (USA), Nawin Nuthong (Thailand), Be Takerng Pattanopas (Thailand), Amanda Phingbodhipakkiya (Thailand / Indonesia / USA), Alwin Reamillo (The Phillippines), Arin Rungjang (Thailand), Pinaree Sanpitak (Thailand), Chiharu Shiota (Japan), Wantanee Siripattananuntakul (Thailand), Myrtille Tibayrenc (France), Uninspired by Current Events (Thailand), Xu Zhen (China), and Kennedy Yanko (USA).

 

Art is a path of hope in this chaotic world. We hope to find happiness and power through art at the Bangkok Art Biennale,” comments BAB 2022 artist Marina Abramović, who returns to BAB for the third time.

 

Seeking a sense of calm in the midst of turmoil is a journey that offers knowledge and opportunity. Experiences of stillness and tranquility can still be found in this post pandemic world of seeming upheaval. The Bangkok Art Biennale invites artists to explore the dichotomy of Chaos: Calm and express the nuanced tension between these two concepts that are seemingly at odds, yet continue to coexist in our daily lives,” says Prof. Dr. Apinan Poshyananda, Chief Executive and Artistic Director of the Bangkok Art Biennale.

Since its inaugural edition, the Bangkok Art Biennale has continued to push boundaries and make art accessible to the public at sites across the capital city. At BAB 2022, visitors will be able to enjoy the exhibition throughout the urban area at venues including: Bangkok Art and Culture Centre (BACC), Queen Sirikit National Convention Center (QSNCC), as well as experience contemporary art in traditional heritage sites including Wat Phra Chetuphon Wimon Mangkhalaram Rajwaramahawihan (Temple of the Reclining Buddha or Wat Pho), Wat Arun Ratchawararam Ratchawaramahawihan (Temple of Dawn or Wat Arun), Wat Prayurawongsawat Worawihan (Temple of Iron Fences or Wat Prayoon), and Museum Siam: Discovery Museum, a museum dedicated to the history and culture of the Thai people.

 

The 2022 edition will also launch the BAB Virtual Space as a new venue edition, which will showcase a number of innovative artworks specifically created for the digital realm. In the post pandemic world, technology has been a critically important tool to support accessibility in contemporary art and the creative industries, while also offering artists new mediums to create and share their work. Moreover, BAB 2022 will continue presenting its rich digital programme of talks, symposiums, live performances and virtual walkthroughs to allow the international community to engage with the Biennale online.

 

BAB has also launched its Open Call for Artists programme on November 1, 2021. They received an overwhelming response from young and professional artists from around the world, who submitted portfolios to be considered for exhibition in the Biennale. The panel will review and interview applicants, and announce the results in January 2022.

About BAB 

 

Founded in 2017, BAB is an art festival set in the capital of Thailand. Spanning various venues over a period of four months, BAB transforms the bustling city of Bangkok into a lively hub that celebrates art, creativity, and culture. Visitors are invited to immerse themselves in contemporary art from a diverse range of contemporary artists, both local and international, throughout the city in art and cultural spaces, as well as in Bangkok’s iconic landmarks, temples and public spaces.

 

In 2020, the Biennale expanded to virtual platforms to allow people from all over the world to view the exhibition online. In addition, BAB is accompanied by a rich programme of public events, including educational conferences, talks, hands-on workshops, guided visits, publications, and online programmes to ensure a memorable and educational experience for all.

 

https://www.bkkartbiennale.com | @bkkartbiennale 

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When we think about women powerlifting, often we have the notion of muscular and bulky women without make up. This assumption is shattered when Expat Life had the opportunity to meet an attractive blonde mother, Sara Guzman who represented Thailand to win a gold medal at The World’s Classic Championships of Powerlifting in Sweden this year. We are here to learn about her journey, not as a professional athlete, but a recreational one. Anyone who wishes to pick up powerlifting as a new personal goal may find some useful tips here. Every champion has a story, here is Sara’s.

Why do it?

Powerlifting is challenging and requires a lot of training, discipline, dedication and determination. I asked Sara “Why do it?” and she explained, “Roughly around six years ago, I got tired of the routine that the standard commercial gym has to offer. I was working out and in good shape, but I craved for something more exciting and challenging. That led me to join the Cross Fit world starting with a Cross Fit programme on Sathorn. Cross Fit is a strengthening and conditioning exercise where you have a mixture of aerobic, body weight, and Olympic lifting exercises with compound movements. In the end, Cross Fit did not turn out to be my fitness goal as it is a sport where one can easily be injured due to their fast pace routine. I ended up getting injured during the process and finally decided to forgo this type of training. During my recovery, one thing was clear to me that I wanted to keep lifting weights in the style that is typical of Cross Fit.”

Sara’s journey started when she was invited as a spectator to watch a powerlifting competition in Bangkok that was being organised by the Thai Powerlifting Federation. She was fascinated and attracted to the world of Powerlifting. She found this sport aligned with her objectives and decided to start training for it. Explained further, “Firstly, I know that powerlifting offers numerous health benefits, from changing your body composition to improving your mental health. You get to build muscles, your bones get stronger, and your overall strength improves, it keeps you sane, prevents injuries, who would not want all those benefits? I reckon it is a perfect newfound passion and hobby at my age.”

Self-challenge perseverance test

Describing her experience with powerlifting, Sara proclaimed, “It is just “amazing”, I have discovered how much determination I have and how strong mentally I can be. Just like any journey there are ups and downs, there are some hard days but at the end it is all worth it. Building my self-confidence also helped me to cope with the long lockdown whilst separated from my family. I have also made some very good friends and connections through the sport from all across the world which has also been another great source of motivation and support.”

Recalling her fond memories over the countless local competitions she participated in, “In November last year, I broke the world record in a competition in Bangkok with 176 kilograms on a Deadlift. It was a huge highlight for me, seeing everyone cheering for me was something that I will never forget along with the nerves and the rush of adrenaline in that moment… it was epic!!!”

This September, Sara proudly represented Thailand on the podium to receive a gold Medal for Deadlift and placing Thailand with bronze medal overall at The World’s Classic Championships of Powerlifting in Sweden. Sara affirmed, “I honestly did not believe that I could be a champion in a World Competition. It was surreal at times to be at the competition and see all of the best lifters from across the world and to be able to compete against them and be successful! We always doubt how capable we are to achieve anything that we would like to. It really motivated me to continue to improve so that I can do that again and achieve even more. I want to keep making the people who support me proud.”

What’s next?

Sara thanked her husband, Cesar Guzman for all the financial and mental support. “Both my husband and daughter were extremely supportive of my goals and knowing that was good motivation. Unfortunately there is not much available in terms of financial support for athletes at this time, which does create some obstacles for talented lifters to be able to compete at this highest level. There were also a lot of challenges due to the Covid-19 surrounding the competition such as the travel restrictions, which made things harder, but it was all worth it in the end. In addition to the support from my family, I had my coach who was always giving me mental support and my dear friend, Ana Carolina always gave me the best tips to believe in myself.”

I asked Sara on her next plans, she confidently shared, “The sky’s the limit! I want to keep competing and continue getting better. I want to continually break the world record in a world competition and make that record official. I want to increase the national records I already hold here in Thailand and travel the world to more competitions to win even more championships for Thailand. I love training and the process of it, as soon as I returned to Thailand after the competition I was back in the gym to start to getting ready for the next event and keep improving myself!”

General tips for powerlifting

As a world class champion, Sara shares some valuable advice for pursuing this healthy sport.

  • First tip is to learn with a knowledgeable and qualified coach. This is very important and definitely anyone who wants to do well in the sport should do so. It helps you to start off things in a good and efficient way and develop well over time. There is a lot of information on the internet for example, but it is easy to spend a lot of time at the start doing things that are not very good as you do not have adequate facts. Even if you train alone, you can hire a coach that will work with you online which is quite affordable and well worth the investment, I would recommend this to anyone who wants to start to explore the sport or even just get better at lifting.

  • Secondly, any age is good to become a power lifter. One of the great things about Powerlifting is that you can compete at any stage of life, younger people have junior divisions and there are masters divisions for people who are older, not many sports offer that and it is something you can pick up and do well in at any stage of your life. You also will meet a lot of very interesting people from all around the world who share a similar passion as you do which is great and it can build some lifelong friendships.

  • It is important to listen to your body and prevent injuries. This is closely related to having a good qualified coach who can guide you along and make sure that your training is safe and efficient. A good training plan and approach should allow you to work very hard to push yourself in a way that will get you better. Powerlifting is actually a very safe sport in terms of injury rates when compared to other sports as long as it’s done properly.

  • Trust the programme and have the discipline. Powerlifting is a journey. It is not a sprint; it is in fact, a marathon. If you have a good programme that is designed specifically for you by your coach it will develop and adapt over time to keep you moving towards your goals and improving. Also it is important to enjoy the process and have fun!

In concluding our interview, Sara’s journey as a Powerlifting World Champion gave us a sense of women empowerment. Everything is possible if we put our minds to it. A life lesson for everyone! 

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Thailand and Indonesia celebrated their 70th diplomatic relations in 2020. Expat Life’s Kathy Pokrud  sat down with H.E. Mr. Rachmat Budiman, the new Indonesian Ambassador to the Kingdom of Thailand. Accompanied by Madame Reitanty Budiman, the diplomatic couple arriving to Thailand directly from Jakarta in December last year. In April, Ambassador Rachmat presented his credentials to His Majesty Raja Maha Vajiralongkorn Phra Vajiraklaochaoyuhua. In January, his ambassadorship also assumed the official duty as the Indonesian Permanent Representative to the UNESCAP. Ambassador Rachmat was the Inspector General of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Indonesia from 2017-2019. He served as the Indonesian Ambassador to Austria and Slovenia and Ambassador/Permanent Representative to UNODC, UNIDO, CTBTO, IAEA, OFID, and IACA from 2012 – 2017. 



Which city were you born and brought up?

I was born and grew up in Tasikmalaya, a small town located at the southeastern West Java Province. It is around 120kms from Bandung and 250kms away from Jakarta, the capital city of Indonesia. Tasikmalaya is known for its beautiful mountainside scenery, plaited mats, painted paper umbrellas, embroidery, hot springs and batik of particular designs and colours. I am proud to say that Tasikmalaya’s batiks are among the batik collection of King Rama V. One of the most famous places in Tasikmalaya is the remains of the Galunggung Mountain eruption, which happened in April 1982. 



At which age did you decide you wanted to become a diplomat? 

I never had a dream to be a diplomat. Raised in the countryside, I spent my childhood playing in the paddy fields, catching kites, fishing barehanded and swimming in the river. Diplomacy had never crossed my mind until I finished my study at the faculty of law of the University of Indonesia in Jakarta. Being studied in one of the best universities in Indonesia opened my mind and perspective and that was how I finally started to apply to be the Foreign Service officer at the Indonesian foreign ministry.  

Do you have any other diplomats in your family?

No, I do not have any relatives that worked or work as a diplomat. I am the only one of the five siblings of the family that pursues this career. 



How do you see Thailand today, in ASEAN, and in a wider context?

Thailand is not only a neighbouring country, but also our close partner from the very beginning of the Independence Day of the Republic of Indonesia in 1945. Thailand is well known as a trusted and reliable friend and one of key economic drivers of ASEAN. These have undoubtedly provided strong and solid foundation for Thailand to engage with any other countries in the world including Indonesia. 

In the context of ASEAN, as we know, both Indonesia and Thailand are the founding fathers of ASEAN in 1967. Since then, both countries continuously play significant roles in the ASEAN, particularly in promoting peace, security and prosperity in the region. Indonesia and Thailand underlined the importance of ASEAN as main regional mechanism in achieving regional stability and sustainable development.



Do you see any similarities between your country and Thailand?

Historically, the fraternal ties of our two people dated back centuries ago through trade, religious contacts and exchange of cultural missions between our various kingdoms. We shared many similarities in term of culture and values. In term of language, we also shared many similarities, especially words derived from Sanskrit language such as Putra; Singha; Bhumi; Manusia/manut and Samudra/samut. Indonesia and Thailand also share same story of Ramayana and Panji or Inao in Thai. 

We also have the same traditional ceremonies particularly one that is held during harvest season when neighbours show their kindness in helping those in need without asking for money or in return. In terms of cuisine, almost all of the fruits and vegetables grown in Thailand can be found in Indonesia as well. Similar menus of Thai and Indonesian food include Sate, Gado-Gado, Serabi dan Rujak. 



Do you have children, if so at what age and where do they go to school, university or work?

Yes, I have a daughter and she got married in July. As a child of diplomat, she went to schools wherever I was assigned such as in The Hague, Perth, Vienna, and New York. She finished her Bachelor’s degree in Japan and now she lives in Jakarta with her husband. 



How do you look upon your work here? How does an average day look like?

As close partners and friends, both countries have various cooperation mechanism in term of bilateral, regional and multilateral cooperation. There are many opportunities to strengthen the existing cooperation such as maritime, trade and investment, defence, research and education, agriculture, energy, as well as social and culture. I have mapped out many programmes and activities to be conducted before I arrived in Bangkok, but due to Covid-19 pandemic, some need to be adjusted and some of them have been postponed. 

During the pandemic, most of the programmes and activities are conducting virtually. We do hope that the situation will be better soon and I lam looking forward to having many activities, discussions and events to promote and strengthen the bilateral relations between Indonesia and Thailand. 

For the time being, my average day is working at the office where I will have some meetings or discussion with my team. I frequently also have online meetings with the capital to discuss many issues ranging from political, economic, social-cultural, consular and education. As the Indonesian Permanent Representative to the UNESCAP, I also attend UNESCAP meetings and chair some of their meetings, which are very crucial and relevant to Indonesia’s interest. As the situation gets better, I also have plan to have meetings or pay a courtesy call to high ranking officials in Thailand at the Ministerial level or Director General. In June 2021, I had the privilege to pay a courtesy call to Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha and we had a friendly discussion on issues of our two countries’ interests. 

I am also looking forward to meeting business communities, media, academician and other related stakeholders. I believe it is very essential for me to listen to everyone’s thoughts and ideas on how Thai and Indonesia can forge ahead together not only for the interest of our bilateral relations, but also of the regional and global. 

Have you set some goals you would like to fulfil before you leave Thailand?

Giving the fact the tremendous potential and opportunities the two countries possess, I have set definite goals to achieve during my assignment as the Indonesian Ambassador to the Kingdom of Thailand. In the economic sector, my target is to boost our export to Thailand to enable us to have a more balanced trade and to increase two-way investments. Indonesia and Thailand offer many opportunities and potentials that need to be tapped into. I also believe on the importance of increasing ‘people to people contact’ that will lead to a better understanding amongst us. 



Have you managed to travel in Thailand yet?

Unfortunately, I arrived in Thailand during the second wave of Covid-19 pandemic. The number of daily infection cases was higher than before and at that time the Thai government made a regional zoning policy based on the Covid situation development in each province. 

Yet, I would love to travel across Thailand when the situation permits, as the Land of Smiles offers so many beautiful natural landscapes and historical heritages and more importantly its friendly people. I am definitely looking forward to that opportunity. 



When you have a day off, what do you prefer to do? Hobbies or pastimes?

I usually spend my free time to do sports and enjoy art and music. Before the pandemic situation in Bangkok is worse, we used to play soccer, tennis and badminton at our premises and sometimes I tried to play golf. We are fortunate enough that our embassy is equipped with sport facilities such as a football field, tennis court and a multi-purpose sport hall. However, since there are current restriction policies from the Thailand government, especially a ban on mass gatherings, we have to temporarily suspend our group sport activities. 



How many of your countryfolk are living in Thailand? When and why did Thailand become a desirable destination for your people?

Currently, there is approximately 2,000 Indonesians living in Thailand. Most of them are students or professionals working in the international organisations or in private companies. A small percentage of them are Indonesian’s married to Thais.

Indonesians choose Thailand because Thailand is a quite open country for foreigners to live in and also its close proximity to Indonesia, which is only three hours flight. In addition, Thailand and Indonesia share similar weather and culture, which make us easier to adapt and adjust to the environment and surroundings. 

For students, Thailand is a friendly place, with many international class universities. Not only is Thailand a safe place, but another advantage is that Thailand has many choices of low cost airlines available before Covid-19 pandemic, so it is relatively convenient for Indonesians to go back and forth. 



Does your country and Thailand have an exchange programme for students?

Indonesia and Thailand have provided some scholarship schemes for students in both countries so they can study and learn in some universities in Indonesia and vice versa. The scholarship aims not only to promote people-to-people contact, but also to enhance mutual understanding among youth of the two countries. 

Some of the scholarships offered by the Indonesian Government are the Indonesian Arts and Culture Scholarship Programme (BSBI), Darmasiswa Scholarship Programme and Kemitraan Negara Berkembang Scholarship Programme for Thai Students. There are also other scholarships provided directly by Indonesian public or private universities. The BSBI and Dharmasiswa Scholarships have been successful in attracting the attention of Thais as the scholarships offer opportunities to learn Indonesian art and culture. We have actively promoted those scholarships to students across Thailand and I am proud to say that Thai students have shown great interest and enthusiasm in applying for the scholarships. Unfortunately, now we have to suspend the scholarships due to the pandemic but we will resume it once the situation gets better. 



Any funny moment from Thailand that you’d like to tell us about? 

Since I came to Thailand during the Covid-19 pandemic, I rarely had a chance to go outside the embassy to explore interesting places in Thailand, particularly in Bangkok. My fun moment so far in Thailand is that playing football at the Embassy’s premises with Indonesian students every Friday afternoon after office hours. It was really encouraging to see their spirit in playing football during which I had also the opportunity to talk freely on any issues of their needs and interests. 



Do you regularly meet up with your community?

Yes, I have a regular programme called “Dubes RI Menyapa” to meet and greet the Indonesian community in Thailand. Dubes Menyapa is a suitable platform for me to meet our people here. During the meeting, we discuss a range of issues from consular and immigration issues, business opportunities, education, health, as well as a programme of Indonesian Diaspora in Thailand to promote bilateral relations between Indonesia and Thailand. We also created a platform to help and advise the Indonesian community in need due to the Covid-19 pandemic. Since there is a restriction on mass gatherings, we have held it online, but we will have it in person once the situation gets better.  

In a normal situation, we also invite all Indonesian community to attend special occasions conducted by the Embassy such as celebration of anniversary of the Indonesian Independence’s Day and celebration of religious holidays or festivals. 

We also engage the Indonesian Student’s Organisation in Thailand (PERMITHA) to collaborate with us in promoting Indonesia in Thailand, especially amongst their friends and community. We have great communication with Indonesian businessman in Thailand and held several programmes in order to support and strengthen our economic cooperation with Thailand. 




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Thailand was the first country to report the case of Covid-19 outside of China in January 2020. In March, two weeks before the first lockdown in Bangkok, the Hong Kong Ladies’ Group was ready to host one of our major events, The International Food & Tourism Fair 2020. It was finally postponed as we took responsibility for the health and safety of our guests.

Treasuring our handful of gatherings

Throughout the twenty months since Thailand closed its borders to the outside world, we continued to put the safety of our members as a priority. HKLG membership supported the Thai government initiatives for social distancing; especially under the consideration that many of our members are senior citizens or mothers with young children. For the past year until present, we have held only a handful of gatherings marking important festivities. We celebrated the Chinese Mid-Autumn Festival last October; over six months after the virus first hit Thailand. In November, we held our Annual General Meeting luncheon to celebrate our birthday anniversary a month before the second wave. In March this year, we celebrated the International Women’s Day. By invitation of the Thai Hong Kong Trade Association, HKLG participated and supported Hong Kong Nostalgic Night in the same month. 

HKLG 30th anniversary 

HKLG was founded in 1991 and this year marks our 30th anniversary. Due to the Covid situation, we are unable to host any event for the grand celebration this year. Nevertheless, we are grateful that our membership is in good health. Thankful for modern communications, our members are in touch with each other from our group chat, sharing daily doses of laughter, community news and useful information.

Charity drive 

This July, when the numbers of Covid cases were significantly high, field hospitals were set up around Bangkok. HKLG played our small part to help the local Thai community during this difficult time through the International Support Foundation ISGF. In August, we donated new mattresses for a field hospital organised by Busarakam Hospital in Suvarnabhuni Airport, with the aim to treat 5,000 Covid patients with 1,000 beds for those critically ill. Another dozen of our generous members made individual personal donations to this charity drive. On an annual basis, HKLG supported two ISGF student scholarships. 

In March, HKLG celebrated International Women’s Day with attendance of many members and friends. The House of Grace, a refuge for teen moms and abused women, was invited to present to the foundation. Members brought pre-loved clothing as donation to the worthwhile cause.

Looking into the future 

Covid has certainly affected lives of our members. Many who frequently travel between HK and Thailand, have missed seeing their families for the past two years. Who will travel when the quarantine restrictions in Hong Kong are 21 days and then to return to Bangkok will be another 7 days under Thailand ASQ rules? Returning to Hong Kong means a total of full five weeks to be isolated in a hotel room. By having faith in the future, the Hong Kong Ladies’ Group continues to be optimistic.

HKLG hope everyone will come out from these trying times to be more tolerant and appreciate life better. We look forward to hosting our International Food & Tourism Fair in 2022 when normalcy returns, and to celebrate our 31st anniversary with families and friends!

Hong Kong Ladies’ Group is a Bangkok based, non-profit making social group founded in 1991. Our objective is to assist newly arriving lady expatriates from Hong Kong to adjust to their new environment and to meet new friends through the monthly luncheons and activities. Apart from promoting friendship, unity and mutual support amongst its members during their residence in Thailand, HKLG has also established charitable trusts, funds from which are used to help the needy throughout the country. 

Interested parties can contact us at email: [email protected]

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In November last year, H.E. Mr. Moustapha El Kouny, Ambassador of the Arab Republic of Egypt to the Kingdom of Thailand arrived in Bangkok. Ambassador Moustapha received his credentials from the King Maha Vajiralongkorn Phra Vajiraklaochaoyuhua in April. In addition to Thailand, he is also Ambassador to Cambodia. At the spacious embassy office, Expat Life sat down with Ambassador Moustapha to learn about his perspective on Thailand and discuss the bilateral relations between the two countries.

Egypt has one of the longest histories of any country, tracing its heritage along the Nile Delta over 7,000 years. As a cradle of civilisation, ancient Egypt saw some of the earliest developments of agriculture, central government, organised religion, writing and urbanisation. Thailand and Egypt established diplomatic relations in 1954. Egypt was the first Arab country with which Thailand established diplomatic relations.

Career diplomat 

Ambassador Moustapha is a veteran diplomat since joining the Foreign Service in1990. Born in Tunis, he graduated with the Bachelor of Commerce from Cairo University in 1987. Following the footsteps of his father who was ambassador, both he and his brother are proud ambassadors representing their country. Ambassador Moustapha recalled, “It was very competitive to join the Foreign Service. The entrance examinations were very tough that involved writing, oral and psychology. During my time, only 56 candidates were selected out of over 2,000 applicants. I was very interested to obtain knowledge of other cultures at a young age.” Prior to moving here, Ambassador Moustapha was Assistant Minister of Foreign Affairs in 2018, and Ambassador in Senegal from 2015 to 2018. Previous overseas postings include Australia, France, and Israel.

Views on similarities between Egypt and Thailand 

Expat Life asked Ambassador Moustapha on his views of Thailand, “Without doubt, Thailand is very important country in the context of ASEAN, with the 2nd largest G.D.P.” On similarities between Egypt and Thailand, Ambassador Moustapha positively shared, “Firstly, the mentality of Thais are very comparable to Egyptians who are very hospitable. Secondly, Thais relax just as Egyptians who like to do the same. Lastly, Thais are open, polite and discipline, and Egyptians are just as open to tolerance and dignity.”

On his goals during the term in Thailand, “Covid has affected the exchange of trade. My goals are to increase more cooperation between our two countries in terms of economics, investment, trade and cultural aspects. Take tourism for example, prior to Covid, there is over 40,000 Egyptian visitors to Thailand annually.”

Covid situation 

Due to the Covid situation, certain work of the embassy has been hindered with the lockdown. “Our embassy is open and staff are able to work every day within our roomy offices. In March this year, I was fortunate to meet with the Thai Prime Minister, Prayut Chan-o-cha. I look forward to the improvement of the Covid restrictions so we can again organise more meetings with the Thai government and meet the local communities.”

On the Covid situation in Egypt, “The infection rates in Egypt has been manageable and our borders are never closed. Nevertheless, the border controls are always strict to prevent influx of refugees from our neighbouring countries. The Egyptian government has aimed to reach 40-50% of vaccination rate by end of the year, this equates to 52 million out of our population of 102 million.  We are confident that this is achievable as Egypt is one of the pharmaceutical manufacturing hubs in Africa aside from South Africa. We have produced Sinovac since May and very recently, Moderna. Discussion is under way to launch production of AstraZeneca with the U.K.”

Students exchange programme

Currently, there are around 3,700 Thais studying in Egypt prior to Covid. The Al-Azhar University is a public university in Cairo with the history of over 1,000 years. Associated with Al-Azhar Mosque in Islamic Cairo, it is Egypt’s oldest degree granting university and is renowned as the most prestigious university for Islamic learning. Annually, there are scholarships granted to Thai students in scientific fields and religious studies. According to Ambassador Moustapha, “Number of scholarships has recently increased from 128 to 144 scholarships. The scholarships are granted with the objective to introduce moderate Islam and to encourage students to integrate with their societies.”

New Museum of Egyptian Civilization 

Ambassador Moustapha encourages our readers to visit Egypt, “By the end of this year, The Grand Egyptian Museum will be inaugurated. It is considered the largest museum in the world, covering 490,000 square metres and will display a collection of over than 50,000 artifacts, presenting Egyptian civilisation. It is truly an academic centre.” Further elaborated on tourism, “Egypt as a vast country with such long history, visitors will find remarkable experiences from ancient culture like pyramids, spiritual journeys, romantic outings, family fun and adventures.”

Travel around Thailand

Ambassador Moustapha candidly admitted that he is very much a “workaholic”. Spare time during weekends is spent on readings books and keeping up to date with the global news. He enjoys visits to museums and look forward to the reopening’s in Bangkok due to Covid restrictions. For the past months, Ambassador Moustapha has only managed to visit Phuket and Pattaya.

Accompanied by Madame Omneya El Kouny in Thailand with their grown up son based in France and two daughters in Egypt, Ambassador Moustapha is looking forward to have the opportunity to travel more within Thailand and experience the Thai hospitality.

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Thailand and Portugal have enjoyed over 500 years of bilateral relations, and Portugal was the first European nation to make contact with the Ayutthaya Kingdom in 1511. Expat Life recently sat down with H.E. Mr. Joao-Bernardo Weinstein, the new Portuguese Ambassador to the Kingdom of Thailand. Arriving directly to Thailand in January this year from his ambassadorship in Israel, Ambassador Weinstein received his credentials from the King Maha Vajiralongkorn Phra Vajiraklaochaoyuhua in April. In addition to Thailand, he is also Ambassador non-resident to Cambodia, Laos, Malaysia and Vietnam.  

Multi linguist career diplomat

Ambassador Weinstein was born in Lisbon, Portugal. He graduated with a First Degree and Ph.D. in History, and Masters in Political Sciences at the University of Paris. He speaks seven languages, including Portuguese, English, French, German, Italian, Spanish and Romanian. Ambassador Weinstein recalled why he chose a diplomatic career, “My German great grandfather was the Consul-General to the German empire. As a banker and businessman, he was very much involved of both diplomatic and business affairs. Our family moved to Portugal in 1880. I think I was already fascinated with the idea of becoming a diplomat since I was a 12 year old boy. I started off my first two years of working career as a professor before joining the Foreign Service in 1986”. 

During a distinctive diplomatic career, Ambassador Weinstein has had overseas postings in Austria, Cyprus, India, Italy and Germany. His first ambassadorship was in Romania (2013) and in Moldova (non-resident 2014) followed by Israel (2017).

Impressions on Thailand

Expat Life asked Ambassador Weinstein on his views of Thailand in ASEAN, “Thailand as a founder member of ASEAN is an important and responsible partner. My impression is that Thailand often acts very discreet with traditional quiet diplomacy to deal with authoritarian regimes, as opposed to more outspoken countries. It is a very interesting manner of doing things that may be, in some circumstances, more efficacious.

On the subject of similarities between Portugal and Thailand, “Portugal is a country of sea traders and explorers, with our extensive history, there are Portuguese influence in Thailand in terms of architecture and cuisine. I am very impressed with the grandiose of Thai temples. I believe that there are similarities between our two countries. A very good, and touching, example is the love of children and the culture of close family orientation.”

Covid restrictions

With the current Covid restrictions, Ambassador Weinstein has frankly admitted that it has put certain limitations to his work. “For the first two months after my arrival, I was able to meet with representatives of Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the diplomatic core and other business communities. Unfortunately, since the partial lockdown from April, meetings are limited to online. Video conferencing as the new form of communication cannot compare the effectiveness of face-to-face physical discussions. The uncertain progress of the Covid situation also dampens our ability to set goals. At this stage we focus on Consular work, trying to support Portuguese nationals living in Thailand and/or in the other countries we are accredited to, and study how best to resume our work in the cultural, business and political domains when the time is again appropriate for it.

On travelling around Thailand, Ambassador Weinstein regretted that he has not had the opportunity to travel around yet. On weekends, apart from enjoying his love of reading, “I like taking walks from our embassy to Chinatown to explore new temples or cultural attractions. I appreciated the visit to the National Museum and Jim Thompson’s House.”

Thailand as a tourist destination

According to Ambassador Weinstein, there is not a huge community of Portuguese living in Thailand, around 200. Due to the Covid situation, it has not been possible to meet up with his local community. Thailand is a desirable tourist destination for Portuguese visitors. “There is a classic Siamese style pavilion built in Jardim de Vasco da Gama, Lisbon. It was a tributary gift to Portugal from the Thai government. The Thai Pavilion was inaugurated by Her Royal Highness, the Princess Maha Sirindhorn in 2012, and represents a token of friendship and recognition of 500 years of diplomatic relations between the two countries. There are Thai restaurants in Portugal. We also see Thai investment in our country.”

On the subject of students exchange programme, Ambassador Weinstein shared, “Currently, we do not have many exchange programme for students.  This is one area that I hope to focus and improve on.”

As Expat Life closes the interview, Ambassador Weinstein shared, “Although I have arrived in Bangkok for a few months, I visited Thailand before as a tourist and very much looked forward to my posting here. Thai hospitality is well recognised and I totally agree. I have felt tremendously welcome since my arrival.”

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Hua Hin has always considered as a romantic and elegant holiday destination, and a popular seaside gateway for the family. The sentiment started off about 100 years ago when the Royal Family and affluent Thais would spend their summers. I have lost count how many long weekends spent there. I recalled my first visit taking over three and a half hours thirty years ago, with the drive passing through rows of beautiful and towering pineapple trees. Now, the three hour short drive encourages its popularity remain for Bangkokians in taking a break from the hustle and bustle of the capital for relaxing weekends. The popular Hua Hin attractions are the countless attractive seaside houses, villas and a few captivating vintage summer palaces. In addition, the newer, purpose built community malls and special themed sightseeing villages mean there is something for all generations.

Perfect weekend getaway 

According to Christian Wurm, General Manager, Hyatt Regency Hua Hin and The Barai, “With its natural unkempt beauty, Hua Hin offers just as much charm, adventure, and luxury as other Thai destinations. It is a tropical paradise with mile long beautiful beaches and a peaceful ambience making it suitable for families, couples, or friends’ vacation. Its location on the Gulf of Thailand is within easy access especially from Bangkok, so it is the perfect combination for a spontaneous weekend getaway or longer visits too. Hua Hin is more than just a break closer to home; you will feel a sense of serenity, a sense of belonging while you soak up the ambience at your own pace.” 

David Ippersiel, General Manager of Sheraton Hua Hin Resort and Spa also advocated, “For locals and expats, Hua Hin is a family friendly weekend getaway at the beach. There are a wide variety of things to do and several special tourist attractions. Hua Hin is a seaside city with a colourful royal past, a laidback present and a promising future. It is an enthralling city for every visitor.”

Old world charm

For first-time visitors, Hua Hin’s appeal lies in the town’s tantalising old time feel, best illustrated in Hua Hin Railway Station and the Maruekhathaiyawan Palace. The summer seaside Palace, often referred to as “the palace of love and hope is located midway between Cha-Am and Hua Hin. It was built in 1923 under the royal command of King Rama VI using golden teakwood from the demolished Hat Chao Samran Palace. Another tourist’s favourite is the Klai Kangwon Palace. The 83-year-old Palace was formerly the personal residence built by King Prajadhipok (King Rama VII) in 1926 on his privy purse and given to Queen Rambai Barni. 

Staycation activities

Hua Hin offers a wide variety of activities from cultural experiences and outdoor trips to culinary adventures. As a coastal town, Hua Hin has an abundance of fresh seafood, especially blue crabs and tiger prawns and these are available from street food havens to upscale dining. For eye catching natural attractions, the rainforest Phraya Nakhon Cave is certainly worth a visit. Located inside Khao Sam Roi Yot National Park, its spectacular beauty is among one of the most photographed landmarks of Hua Hin. For avid golfers, there are a few classy and renowned golf courses where golfers play against picturesque backdrops of hills and lakes.

Exploring the night markets that offer food, fashion, and handicrafts offers another enjoyable experience. “Chat Chai” market, popularly known as Hua Hin Night Market, was originally built on royal treasury land. Its seven arched roofs are in honour of King Rama VII. Available daily, the market offers street food stalls, vendors selling clothes, local handicrafts, and souvenirs. Another must visit place for art lovers is the weekend only Cicada Market. Created for artists to connect with locals and visitors, Cicada Market comprises four zones. “Art A La Mode” presents casual clothing and accessories. “Cicada Art Factory” features original artworks from young artists. “The Amphitheatre” presents various entertainments, ranging from concerts to theatre. “Cicada Cuisine” is dotted with stalls selling local and international dishes. During the day, it will be amusing to try the 25B per set Royal recipe “Khao Chae” at Khao Chae Paa Auen, which serves “Khao Chae” (cooked rice served in cool jasmine flowers water), “kapi” (shrimp paste)” balls, sweetened fish and “chaipo waan” (sweet pickled Chinese turnips).

Trendy instagram spots

With social media, everyone likes to share their best and fun moments with family and friends. There are several popular “instagrammable” places in Hua Hin. McFarland House at Hyatt Regency Hua Hin is a restored two storey 19th century pavilion that has been transformed into a beachfront restaurant. The ambience is rustic and casual. The restaurant has become one of the landmarks of Hua Hin, a perfect place for a wonderful afternoon tea, lunch or dinner with excellent food. After a round of golf, Prime Restaurant at Black Mountain Golf Course is great place to relax to wine and dine. Other “insta-worthy” places include Baan Chok, a beachfront café and eatery, and Memory House Cafe. Although it is a normal cafe, which sells cakes, pastries, coffees, teas and drinks, the surrounding areas of Memory House are designed to offer the feel of calm and relaxation with the wide lawn and tall grass.  

Monsoon Valley Vineyard

Apart from seafood, fine dining and street foods, Hua Hin now offers quality vino to go with their tasty top notch cuisine. The must visit spot for new experience is Monsoon Valley Vineyard, an awesome place to visit with family and friends, especially during the harvest events. Monsoon Valley was founded in 2001 by Chalerm Yoovidhya, a wine loving entrepreneur who sought to build a robust Thai wine culture. Formerly known as the Hua Hin Hills Vineyard, the Monsoon Valley Vineyard was built on a former elephant corral, a precious land where wild Asian elephants were once domesticated. This land is mostly made of sandy soil and slate, which is ideal for growing many grape varietals.  

The vineyard’s proximity to the sea allows it to enjoy a cool nightly breeze, while the sandy and loamy soil enriched with sea shells and fossils lends our wines their characteristic flavours and freshness. In 2006, Monsoon Valley Vineyard Hua Hin had its first harvest. The Monsoon Valley Bin 9 Royal Reserve 2005 was created in honour of His Majesty King Bhumibol Adulyadej the Great and served at the Royal Palace on the occasion of 60th anniversary of His Majesty’s Accession to the Throne.

Monsoon Valley Vineyard recently celebrated their “Exceptional 2021 harvest”. With remarkable grape quality, the attention turns to creating great quality wine and adding to over their 320 International Awards secured from previous vintages, the most of any Thai wine. Monsoon Valley White Shiraz was being named “World’s best Rose” by James Suckling in 2018, beating out over 150 Rosé’s from around the world in a blind taste test. 

Suppached Sasomsin, Winemaker at Siam Winery clarified, “As a Winemaker I am very excited about this year’s vintage. Not only was it a bountiful harvest, the high quality allows me to use conventional winemaking techniques to express the terroir. This year’s grapes are incredibly balanced and with over 30 varietals bearing fruit, I’m really looking forward to creating wines with unique character. On top of our Shiraz, Sangiovese, Chenin Blanc and Colom bard varietals, I am especially excited about the quality of this year’s Merlot grapes, which has historically been very challenging to grow in Thailand. We have been experimenting with growing Merlot grapes for almost 10 years, and the plants have matured nicely, producing consistently well-balanced fruits over the past 3-4 seasons. We look forward to being amongst Thailand’s first wineries in introducing locally grown Merlot this year.” 

Today, Monsoon Valley produces 4 ranges of wines, which include Classic range primarily served in Thai restaurants around the world; Premium and Signature range served at leading hotels all over Thailand, and the Cuvée flagship range, which is made from the finest grapes from our vineyard each year. The vineyard continues to pioneer grape growing techniques in Thailand in order to prove that Monsoon Valley Thai wines can overcome the tropical climate, and assure that Thai farmers can grow great quality grapes and produce the best wines. 

The perfect venue to taste and enjoy the internationally recognised premium quality Thai wines at Monsoon Valley is to dine at The Sala Wine Bar and Bistro. Inspired by the enchanting shape of the Thai pavilion, Sylvia Soh, a former Norman Foster architect, designed this restaurant building as a place to offer information about viticulture and the science of winemaking. The design of The Sala Wine Bar and Bistro combines the local beauty of Thailand with modern aesthetics to give visitors a comfortable, yet spectacular experience. Monsoon Valley offers an impressive dining experience amid the relaxing atmosphere of hectares of vineyard. The menu was inspired by the vineyard setting, using wines, grapes, and grape leaves to create unique dishes that can be enjoyed with Monsoon Valley wines.

Throughout the year, Monsoon Valley Vineyard offers a range of fun excursions, such as vineyard tours and cycling tours, wine tastings, elephant feeding, wine safaris, and most of all the Harvest Festival held annually from March to April.

With the current Covid-19 situation, Hua Hin remains the right choice for a laid back beach town feels with fresh air and sunshine. To unplug from the everyday monotony of life, the seaside town offers suitable options of romantic escapes, family getaways, golf drives, pet-friendly breaks and spa recharges. Its popularity as a holiday sanctuary is never ending!

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Exceptionality of Austrian wine

“Small is beautiful” – that is what best describes Austrian wine, when put into international perspective. Austrian wine is one of the most interesting phenomena happening in the world right now. Wines from Austria are now highly appreciated both by wine experts and wine lovers all around the world and can be found on almost every refined wine list. Expat Life recently interviewed Günther Sucher, Austrian Commercial Counsellor and Head of ADVANTAGE AUSTRIA in Bangkok to learn what is it that makes Austrian wine so special.

Wine critics across the globe appreciate that Austrian wines are exceptionally delicious and pair wonderfully with different kind of food, making Austrian wine sheer drinking pleasure. Mr. Sucher has been promoting Austrian wines in Thailand over almost 6 years, and he explained, “Austrian wines have a compact body and climate driven freshness which makes them an excellent partner for Thai cuisine. Take for example Som Tam, a dish that combines sweetness, fruity acidity and above all fiery spice, which poses a particular challenge to the wine accompaniment. Austrian wines can cope with these challenges, for instance Grüner Veltliner which is high in extract and therefore tames the incendiary spice with agility, highlights the flavour of the coriander leaves (cilantro) and proves itself a lively companion with its fresh apple toned fruit.”

Wine making dated back centuries

The diverse climates and soils of Austria provide ideal conditions to produce the world’s finest wines despite being a landlocked “Alpine” territory. The first findings of wine producing in Austria dated back to the Celts and Romans (700 BC). “Gruner Veltliner”, the Austrian flagship wine, is another good historical example. It covers 37% of Austria’s vineyards today, was created in the 10th century. Austria produces 1% of the global wine production and 30% of this production is exported. After Germany and Switzerland, the U.S. is the third biggest export market for Austrian wine.

Perfect accompaniment to many cuisines

Austrian wines offer the perfect accompaniment to an array of dishes and food styles, from Central European to Mediterranean cuisine, right through to Asian and Oriental dishes. This is due to their compact and elegant body and fresh style; the result of climatic conditions.  

Mr. Sucher advocated, “For Thai cuisine which is rich in fiery chilli, the right wine requires sweetness and extract, to lessen the searing heat. Robust Grüner Veltliner or Riesling with well integrated acidity are nicely suited, as are indigenous and full-bodied RotgipflerZierfandler or Roter Veltliner. The residual sugar and fruit of a Beerenauslese also cool the fire. At the same time a robust Chardonnay (barrique) is great with prawns, lobster or chicken in curry. Its velvety tones attenuate the hot spices and emphasise the succulent sweetness of the seafood. Generally speaking, wines should not have too much acidity or tannin, and white wines ought to have a bit of bottle age.”

Austrian wine producing regions

Wine producing region is concentrated on the Eastern part of Austria as the West of the country is covered by mountainous terrain. The biggest of the four wine growing regions is lower Austria, which covers 60% of the total vineyards. This is home to Austria’s top notch white wines, above all Grüner Veltliner but also fruity Rieslings and some more ancient varieties like the Zierfandler or Rotgipfler.

The second biggest wine growing region is found in Burgenland, which offers ideal conditions for full bodied red wines like Blaufraenkisch, St. Laurent and Zweigelt, but also delicious dessert wines like the Eiswein or Trockenbeerenauslese. The third biggest wine producing region is found in the Southern province of Styria. With around 10% of Austria’s vineyards, Styria makes fantastic Sauvignon Blanc, Gelber Muskateller, Welschriesling and Weissburgunder. Last but not least, Vienna is the fourth wine growing region. No other capital in the world can compete with the 1,600 acres of vineyards. The Danube River going through Vienna provides ideal conditions for the Riesling and other white wine varieties.

Austrian wine tasting in Thailand

ADVANTAGE AUSTRIA organised the first stand-alone Austrian Wine Tasting in Thailand on March 23rd 2021, at the SO Hotel in Bangkok.

Around 150 wines from 47 leading Austrian wine producers from all wine regions in Austria were presented at this unique tasting. Mr. Sucher is extremely pleased with the growing interest of Thai industry experts in Austrian wine, “More than 150 representatives of the Thai wine industry joined our Austrian Wine Tasting, which is a great success during COVID-times. I am confident that we will find more Austrian wines in restaurants and hotels after this tasting.”

According to Mr. Sucher, “About 1/3 of the wines presented at the event were already available in Thailand, 2/3 of the wineries were looking for new partners in order to enter the Thai market. The wines were jointly presented with eight local importers and distributors (Black Forest Distribution, FIN – Fabulous Is Needed, GFour International, IWS – Independent Wine & Spirit, italasia, Napaphan Wine Cellar, Siam Winery and Wine Garage), that already have Austrian wine in stock.”

He further commented, “Austrian wine goes very well with (spicy) Thai cuisine, as well as with Asian food in general. Up to now, the availability of Austrian wines in Thailand has been quite limited. Wines from our small country, located in the heart of Europe, have been little known in this part of the world so far. Therefore, the aim of the Austrian wine tasting was to increase the number of local distributors of Austrian wine, so that step-by-step customers may find Austrian wines in more and more upper class hotels and restaurants. Additionally, the event was designated to enlarge the network of distributors that directly supply to private wine connoisseurs in Thailand.”

The event exclusively targeted professionals of the Thai wine and hospitality industry, especially importers, distributors, F&B managers of hotels and restaurants, sommeliers and journalists. The highlight of the event was the exclusive trade session and wine tasting, where wine professionals discovered the unique taste of 47 Austrian wine producers. Visitors had the opportunity to explore more than 150 different wines from all regions of Austria!

In addition, selected sommeliers of leading restaurants and importers participated in an Austrian wine master class. During this session, the participants explored a variety of typical Austrian grapes, presented by wine expert Christophe Mercier of Wine and Spirit IQ, and experienced the full spectrum that Austrian wines have to offer.

To conclude on the interview, Mr. Sucher encouraged our readers, “Whoever has not managed to taste Austrian wine in Bangkok is cordially invited to visit one of the importers and distributors that already have Austrian wine in stock. In contrast to better known wine producing countries, family run wineries dominate the Austrian winemaking scene, which is why the focus is not on mass production. Nonetheless, Austria’s wines are excellent value for money in all the profitable price bands. Wine lovers, please be prepared to be amazed by the unique and distinctive flavours that Austrian wine has to offer!”



About ADVANTAGE AUSTRIA:

ADVANTAGE AUSTRIA, with around 100 offices in over 70 countries, provides a broad range of intelligence and business development services for both Austrian companies and their international business partners. Around 800 employees around the world can assist you in locating Austrian suppliers and business partners. We organise about 1,200 events every year to bring business contacts together. Other services provided by ADVANTAGE AUSTRIA offices range from introductions to Austrian companies looking for importers, distributors or agents to providing in depth information on Austria as a business location and assistance in entering the Austrian market.






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