Monday, 13 December 2010

Jaffee: Take me to the River ...

Jaffee Yee is all about the Mekong River. Or the Greater Mekong Subregion to be exact. The publisher is passionate about that whole stretch of the world which encompasses the countries contiguous to the Mekong, starting from Yunnan (southwest China) and following its course along through Indochina.

As such, the Malaysian-born Chinese has made Thailand his home since 1985, choosing Chiang Rai as his home base. "It's a full cycle," explains the dapper man about town. "When I was a kid in Penang my environment was exactly like that -- green environment and mountains. Having lived in Hongkong and Bangkok when I got older I found a place I'd like to retire."

He regards Chiang Rai as being the real centre of the Greater Mekong. "I can see the river by driving less than one hour. It's an ideal base to promote the GMS with my new magazine, Yunnan Mekong Travel (www, And I can go to the beach, just 5 minutes away."

A beach in land-locked Chiang Rai??? Please explain. "Chiang Rai beach is a river beach, of course, the Kok River."

When not at home tending to his garden -- his lawn parties are well-renowned -- curating art exhibitions for the Le Meridien Hotel, or cycling on his US-made Trek bike, he's on the road. "I travel quite a bit, maybe 10-14 days each month travelling in the region."

His favourite part of Thailand is Northern Thailand, the Lanna region. "This whole place is cool, nice culture. In the south you have nice beaches but what else? The rice culture is here, the Lanna influence."

He's seen changes in the country over the last 25 years, too. "You can see change in Bangkok, Pattaya and the south, especially Phi Phi island." He shares some photos from his first project, Thailand From the Air, published in the mid 80s which show swathes of green even in the City of Angels, the tallest building being the medium-scale Bangkok Bank building. "Chiang Mai has changed a lot too, very fast, in the space of two decades."

Jaffee Yee's top 5 tips for travellers in northern Thailand:

1/ Sbun-NGA Textile Museum, Chiang Mai. "A lot of people coming to Thailand miss our museums ... insects, textiles, many unique ones you can't find elsewhere in the world. The Textile Museum is inside the bank, it's owned by the bank,"  he laughs. Tel: 053 200 655

2/ Phan Waterfall, Chiang Rai province. "A lot of places of nature that are not on the tourist trail. This one at Phan, nobody goes there: you can pack a picnic sandwich, a book, and spend half a day there.

3/ Queen Sirikit Botanical Garden and Doi Tung. "We have a lot of parks and gardens in the north that people can explore, but these two are the best." ;

4/ Mekong River. "Hire a boat for the day from Chieng Saen and go anywhere you want ... just make sure you don't end up on the Laos side," he laughs.

5/ Ban Suan Thai Restaurant and La Crystal, Chiang Mai. "Ban Suan Thai is fantastic for Thai food by the Ping River, and La Crystal for European food for well-heeled tourists."

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