Every year, winners of the Bright Leaf Agriculture Journalism Awards are given an all-expense paid trip somewhere in Southeast Asia.  This year, all the winners were given such privilege to Thailand. 

When I heard about it, I was not really that excited.  After all, I had been to Thailand several times.  In fact, my trip abroad was in Bangkok when I attended a seminar on food security in the region, which was convened by the UN Food Agriculture Organization and the Press Foundation of Asia. Since then, I had been to Thailand various times.  At first, I wasn’t that much interested to go back to Thailand but when I learned that our destination would be Chiang Mai, I changed my mind.  

At one time, I was supposed to go the said city some years back where I would be one of the facilitators and participants on a regional workshop on coastal ecosystem.  But a week before the event, I decided to forego the trip for some reasons I could no longer recall. 

From Davao, I had to stay in Manila for a night before our flight going to Chiang Mai.  At the Terminal 1 at Ninoy Aquino International Airport, I had finally met all the winners.  (I wasn’t able to attend the awarding ceremony since I was in the United States at that time.  Instead, I asked our editor-in-chief, Antonio M. Ajero, to attend in my behalf.) 

Aside from me, the three other top grand prize recipients were present: Wilfredo Lomibao, winner of the Agricultural Photo of the Year which was published in Philippine Daily Inquirer; Erwin Beleo, named winner of Tobacco Photo of the Year which appeared in The Star Norther Luzon; and Ian Ocampo Flora, who got the Tobacco Story of the Year for his article, “Is Tobacco the Next ‘Miracle’ Crop” that was published in SunStar Pampanga. 

Joining us were six other winners: Davao’s Karren Montero, producer of the ABS-CBN’s “Agri Tayo Dito;” Jasper Emmanuel Arcalas, an agricultural journalist of Business Mirror and his co-author, Cai Ordinario; Baguio Chronicle‘s Karlson Lapniten, and Baguio Midland Courier‘s Hanna Lacsamana.  Only DXND’s Malu Cadelina Manar from Kidapawan who wasn’t able to go with us. Serving as our chaperones were Philippine Star’s Krip Yuson, Philippine Daily Inquirer’s Rina Jimenez-David, and Business World’s J. Albert A. Gamboa – all three were members of the board of judges of the journalism contest.  Together with them was the mother of all mothers, Didet Danguilan, who represents the Philip Morris Fortune Tobacco Company, Inc. (PMFTC). There is no direct flight from Manila to Chiang Mai.  And so, we had to fly first to Bangkok, the country’s capital, via Thai Airways.  Flying time was almost three hours.  After an almost two hours stop over, we flew to Chiang Mai for an hour. 

Our guide fetched us at the airport and brought us to Movenpick Suriwongse Hotel, where the group was billeted for the whole duration.  We left all our luggage at the hotel’s lobby and headed immediately to the hotel’s buffet restaurant. 

The good thing about the hotel where we stayed was the night market which was located at the back of the hotel.   

I didn’t go out that night because I was so tired.  The following day, I learned that most of my companions did some shopping! 

We had an early breakfast as we were to leave the hotel at 8 in the morning.  Two vans brought us to Bhubing Royal Palace, the winter residence of the Royal Thai family.  The palace is built in the mountains overlooking Chiang Mai and the temperature is a little bit cooler compared to the city. 

What made the palace appealing to us were the flowers and ornamentals that were planted all over the place.  Although some of them were grown in the Philippines, there were those that were really new to our eyes. 

A few kilometers below the palace was the Wat Phra That Doi Suthep, a Theravada Buddhist temple.  The day before our tour, our guide said that we “must be dressed appropriately” as the temple is a sacred site to many Thais.  When getting inside, we were advised to remove our footwear. Chiang Mai is overflowing with temples. 

In the afternoon, we visited temples located in the heart of the Old City.  Just outside the old walled city is Wat Lok Molee, which holds one of the largest and most impressive chedis in Chiang Mai.  This chedi (also called stupa or sometimes pagoda) was built in 1527 (although this is under question as no one really knew when it was constructed). 

Next was the Wat Phra Singh, which houses an important Buddha statue: the Phra Buddha Sihing, which gives the temple its name.  No one knows where the statue originated but according to our guide, it was supposed to have been brought via Ceylon (now known as Sri Lanka), to Ligor (present day Nakhon Si Thammarat) and, from there, via Ayutthaya, to Chiang Mai. Wat Chedi Luang (translated as “Temple of Big Stupa”) may not be as grand Wat Phra Singh but it has a towering chedi.  In the past, the famed Phra Kaew (Emerald Buddha) can be seen here, but today only a jade replica is present (the original one is now in Bangkok’s Wat Phra Kaew). Wat Chiang Man is Chiang Mai’s oldest temple as it was built around 1296, the year the city was founded. 

This temple holds several very old and important Buddha images.  According to some stories, when King Mengrai decided to build a new city and make it the new capital of the Lanna Kingdom, he built this temple. (To be concluded)