|International Vegetarian Union (IVU)|
| IVU News|
A Thai Welcome
My visit to Thailand to co-ordinate arrangements for the next World Vegetarian Congress, to be held from 4th to 10th January 1999, allowed me an excellent opportunity to establish personal contact with the growing Thai vegetarian movement and to gain a better understanding of the eastern origins and religious and spiritual traditions that have shaped our diet, our ethical concerns and our thinking and social relationships through the centuries.
As guests of the conference organisers, Veg Bangkok, the IVU Regional Secretary for India and the Far East Jashu Shah and I spoke of the relevance of vegetarianism and the personal, social and environmental benefits of a non-violent lifestyle at several functions and social events in Bangkok and Chiangmai, where we were warmly welcomed by friendly vegetarians and non-vegetarians alike who showed a keen interest in the ethical and health aspects of vegetarianism and whose natural sensitivity could be a significant contributory factor to the rapid Growth of vegetarianism in Thailand and South East Asia.
On October 2nd - Gandhi's birthday - we were invited to the luxury Queen's Park Hotel to speak at the fifth anniversary celebration of the International Veg Bangkok Club, founded and run in a very professional way by Pornthep Srinarula, newly elected IVU council member, Veg Bangkok charter president and secretary of the organising committee for the 33rd world congress. Despite serious flooding affecting many areas of the city, the event was well attended and included such prominent vegetarians as the retired supreme Thai Army Commander Saiyud Kerdphol and television host show personality Dr. Charmsak Pinthong, whose show - recently banned for his political outspokenness - enjoyed as much local popular support as "Larry King Live" in the USA. Dr. Pinthong called for urgent political and social change in Thailand in line with sound ethical vegetarian principles and stated his personal commitment to devote the self-estimated remaining 3,000 days of his working life to that end.
Jashu Shah spoke about vegetarianism in India and invited Thais to attend the Regional Vegetarian Congress to be held in Mahabaleshwar, Maharashtra, from 28th February to 3rd March 1997. He expected the 1999 congress in Thailand to attract a good attendance from India.
At the anniversary celebration, and also at the inaugural meeting of the new Veg Chiangmai vegetarian society and at other Rotary Club gatherings, I spoke of the ethical and ecological arguments for vegetarianism and stressed the urgent need to identify and reject the health risks and unsustainable environmental effects directly resulting from current wrong dietary habits and emphasised the personal, social and environmental benefits of a plant-based diet.
On October 4th - St. Francis day - we set off for a two-day visit to Chiangmai. On our way to the airport, we visited the Chatuchak Park cafeteria, one of the most popular of Bangkok's 39 vegetarian restaurants. Run by the Santi Asoke Buddhist monks, it offered a variety of appealing and reasonably priced dishes served by devoted volunteers in friendly open air surroundings.
After the 50-minute flight we were driven by minivan to the Chiangmai Phucome hotel, chosen as budget accommodation for the congress due to its proximity to the university conference centre where the congress will be held. Our official programme included a speaking engagement at the Rotary Club and at Veg Chiangmai's inaugural dinner at which, on behalf of Veg International of Thailand and IVU, I presented Veg Chiangmai's first president Professor Maitree Suttajit with a crystal trophy to commemorate the founding of the second branch of the vegetarian society of Thailand.
Before visiting the congress facilities and the new university conference centre, to be opened in January 1997, the congress organisers joined us for breakfast at the Chiangmai branch of the Santi Asoke restaurant, one of 20 local vegetarian restaurants, to discuss the congress arrangements. The conference centre, facing the 3,500 ft wooded mountains and the magnificent Doi Suthep temple which overlooks the town, accommodates up to 3,000 people and will be used for the opening and closing ceremonies and other social and entertainment functions during the first part of the two-centre congress. Meals during the congress will also be served at the centre.
The Uniserv hostel, located in the 1,000 acre university grounds and within easy reach of the conference centre, has 67 comfortable air conditioned rooms, all with private shower, as well as 10 meeting rooms for general meetings and workshops. The other congress hotel will be the 90-room five star Holiday Inn, a short drive from the university and the Chiangmai Phucome hotel.
The less hectic, more relaxed atmosphere of Chiangmai will provide an interesting contrast with the fast pace of Bangkok city life. However, peace and tranquility may be found at both locations by visiting any of the many Buddhist temples such as the one run by the Santi Asoke vegetarians or Chiangmai's Wat Phra Sing, where we were personally welcomed by the 84-year-old spiritual leader and former Buddhist teacher of one of our accompanying hosts, Khambhir Nimnual, deputy secretary general and president elect of Veg Bangkok and deputy secretary of the congress organising committee.
During our stay in Chiangmai we also visited the magnificent Mae Sa Falls, where it is possible to bathe in the Mae Ping river and enjoy the surrounding lush tropical forest. At nearby Mae Rim, the Mae Sa Elephant Camp showed a large group of trained elephants in natural surroundings but performing unnatural tasks and tricks in front of a large crowd of tourists. While the beautiful jungle location and the sight of friendly elephants may be appealing to visitors who lack the opportunity to make contact with these endearing animals, it was unpleasant and distressing to see such magnificent beings forced to stand, bow and perform degrading tasks which are contrary to their gentle nature for the "entertainment" of people who reward them with bunches of bananas and pieces of sugar cane before riding on their backs.
Having accomplished the goal of our visit, we returned to Bangkok, fittingly known as the "city of angels" on account of its surprising resemblance to the sprawling city of Los Angeles, USA, and regarded as the new gateway to South East Asia as well as the third most popular destination, after Hong Kong and Tokyo. There we saw the congress facilities and accommodation at the 34-storey Amari Watergate hotel, with 576 rooms and extensive recreation facilities - an excellent choice of congress location near Thailand's tallest building, the 80-storey Baiyoke tower, and the bustling Pratunam shopping and commercial district.
The charm, friendliness and warm hospitality of the Thai people, the delicious coconuts and other tropical treats, plus a whole world of unique sensory and spiritual experiences await the vegetarian visitor to Thailand and will undoubtedly contribute to a highly successful 33rd World Vegetarian Congress. Any international visitor will be bound to feel really welcome and at home in both Chiangmai and Bangkok, so do not miss the opportunity to join vegetarians from all around the world from 4th to 10th January 1999 and experience the welcoming magic of Thailand and the East.
33rd World Vegetarian Congress
The next World Vegetarian Congress will be held in Chiangmai, Thialand - from 4th to 10th January 1999.
Excursions will be scheduled to visit the Doi Suthep temple, the Mae sa Falls and elsewhere. For details of accommodation and any further information see the: Congress Page