Udon Expat Club

Udon Expat Club By Steve Graham

The offer of free coffee and snacks on the 4th floor of Panyavejinter Hospital was too much of a temptation for this sad man to miss, so I took my sorry self to a recent meeting of the Udon Expats Club with a view to finding out what was on offer.

Udon Expat Club

Udon Expat Club Meeting December 2011

Personally, I am not really into this sort of thing; however, a club that helps its fellow members to fit into a new lifestyle in Thailand away from their country of origin could be something I would be interested in, especially if there’s lots of coffee!

This club has been running for about three years with the idea of helping expatriates with advice on immigration, finances and visits for those who are in really isolated areas.

At the beginning of this meeting, new members introduced themselves before moving onto details of a DVD and book exchange system that had been proposed in the agenda and also a discussion on how best the club could give charitable donations to worthy causes in the Udon Thani vicinity.

To liven up the monthly meetings, there is a presentation by an individual or group connected to Udon Thani or on a subject that would interest the members attending. I was fortunate enough to listen to a group from Udon Thani’s Air Traffic Control, who spoke in English about their duties and were prepared to answer questions from the audience once they had presented their presentation and short video.

Of particular interest to me was the fact that charter planes from China, The Philippines and Switzerland use Udon Thani airport for freight. In addition, the air traffic controllers have been working round the clock during the recent floods last year.

Udon Expat Club

Guest Speakers at the Udon Expat Club Meeting

One question from the audience concerned the amount of training that an individual would receive to do the job. We were informed that after four months of tests, candidates would spend a year training, followed by the completion of one year of work experience before being qualified. Starting salaries are around 15,000 baht a month, so is above the average wage for Udon Thani, but doesn’t really blow your socks off!

Once the lecture was finished, members discussed the possibility of having a future presentation by a teacher explaining how to learn the Thai language and various entertainment ideas for the future enjoyment of the membership.

Before the meeting closed, there was a heated debate concerning administrative matters that seemed to have been outstanding for a considerable period of time; however, this did not detract from the obvious will of the membership to have a club that was for the benefit of all members and one that would also benefit the local community as well.

If you are interested in joining, application forms can be found on the internet www.udonexpatclub.com and at the time of going to press, membership costs 600 baht a year or 3,000 baht for life membership. So, if you are interested in keeping up to date with all things ‘expat’ that are going on in and around Udon Thani, why not take yourself to the monthly meetings which is on the last Sunday of every month (usually) at the Panyavejinter Hospital. I believe that you will get out of it as much as you put into it!

Central Plaza – A work in progress

Central Plaza – A work in progress By Steve Graham

If you are like me and have spent a considerable amount of time in Udon Thani, you will remember the swimming pools and water slides that used to be on the roof of Robinsons about 10 years ago. This facility was great at the time as my kids were really young and I could let them cause havoc all day while I drank the odd Singha and slept the day away. For some reason it closed at the same time as my kids grew up, inevitable change I suppose.

Central Plaza Udon Thani

New Look Central Plaza Udon Thani

Now that Robinsons has been reborn as Central Plaza, major building work is underway to make this shopping mall the biggest in the Isaan region. An estimated investment of 5 billion baht is being spent in time for the influx of foreign tourists and shoppers expected as the countries of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) opens its borders to free trade in 2015. In fact the complex is due to be finished in March 2012 which is pretty quick considering work started on the expansion back in September 2010.

To get the latest information and the up to date new design of the building, I thought I would speak to Khun Tanin Pakdeepinyo, who is the Shopping Center General Manager of our soon to be finished Central Plaza in Udon Thani.

He started by explaining that there are approximately 1000 labourers working on the site at the moment, which obviously helps the local employment situation and that the area when finished will be 30,000 square meters, making it bigger than the Central Plaza at Khon Kaen (my students please take note). The Khon Kaen Central Plaza caters for middle Isaan customers, so Khun Tanin explained the four factors which contribute to the Udon Thani customer base.

Tanin Pakdeepinyo Central Plaza GM

Steve Graham from UdonMap.com interviews Khun Tanin Pakdeepinyo Central Plaza GM

First, the Thai people living in Udon Thani, the staple customers that will always be there rain or shine. Then, there are the customers from Laos who believe in the Central Plaza brand name and travel across the friendship bridge to fill up their cars before returning home. Next, there is the expatriate community that live in Udon Thani. Khun Tanin believes that there are about 10,000 foreigners living in Udon Thani and that their individual disposable income is considerably more than the local population if you believe the research that states that the average wage in Udon Thani is about 48,000 baht a year. Finally, there are the Thai labourers who work overseas and send back approximately 2 billion baht a month to families in Udon Thani (figures verified by the banking community I am informed).

In addition to these four factors, Khun Tanin explained that there are nearly 100,000 Chinese living in Laos and they are also a recognised customer base. Add to this the visitors from Vietnam and you have a large consumer platform to base future strategy.

I asked how the shopkeepers feel about all the turmoil that is taking place during the expansion and renovation that is taking place and it was explained to me that the retailers as well as the customers are happy because they know what to expect in March 2012, once the grand opening has taken place and everything gets back to normal.

For example, parking during the building work is a bit of a nightmare and I am certainly looking forward to being able to park at Central Plaza on a Saturday afternoon without the cross country obstacle course I have to sometimes endure. What looks like a new car park is well underway and looks to make life a lot easier on that front.

I was interested in what Khun Tanin had planned for the foreigners living in Udon Thani and how he saw Central Plaza catering for their needs. I was informed that the majority of foreigners are with their families, so the strategy is to make the experience a family one. I happen to agree with this idea as there is nothing worse that having the wife and kids moaning at you as you spend your Saturday afternoon doing the shopping.

Most companies have a system in place for corporate responsibility and Central Plaza is no different. Donations to various projects are reviewed on an individual basis and include contributions to local temples, assistance to those affected by flooding in Udon Thani, learning and teaching materials for local schools and also support for the aged. I believe that the old age pension in Thailand, if you qualify, is only 500 baht a month, so some kind of assistance to old peoples’ homes is a very worthy cause.

Central Plaza Udon Thani

Central Plaza construction January 2012

One question I had to ask was about the road that used to run in front of the main entrance of Central Plaza before the building work began. Where did it go? It now seems part of the main building. Khun Tanin was able to answer this by explaining that the road was a private road and so could be built on as part of the project. I had done some research on this matter and was advised by a secret source that if you look at the older maps of Udon Thani, you will not see that road marked on the map. The road was added later on private land.

Competition from other countries and companies is welcomed by Khun Tanin as the 2015 deadline for the ASEAN Free Trade Agreement approaches. Central Plaza has conducted research and believes that they can trust their staff, that they have belief in their brand name and that the systems that they have in place will progress according to plan. Khun Tanin told me that he welcomes the opportunity and was ready for it.

Future plans for other projects were also discussed, albeit some areas were not, as they are still classified as secret. However, with stores destined for Italy and China, it doesn’t take the brains of an Archbishop to work out that there is plenty of scope within the boundaries of the ASEAN context for further expansion.

So, there you have it. A work in progress and not yet like the finished product; however, work has been completed very quickly and it looks as if the inhabitants of Udon Thani will be once again spoilt for choice when it comes to shopping at Central Plaza. Now where did I leave my car?

Centara Hotel & Convention Centre Udon Thani

Udon Thani’s Indispensible Hotel The Centara Hotel & Convention Centre By Jeff Petry

As I walked into the Centara to chat with the staff about their newly reopened hotel, I noticed a change in the place.  It wasn’t just the recent renovations that caught my eye – the whole atmosphere seemed different: like someone showing off an expensive facelift they’d just received.  In fact, this was pretty much the situation here.

Centara Hotel Udon Thani

Centara Hotel Lobby

Before I’d taken three steps inside, Khun Thananya, the amiable Public Relations Director, and Khun Phantipa, the lovely Catering Manager, asked if I was from Udon Map, and escorted me to a comfortable sofa.  After recovering from my initial shock at their state of readiness, I was handed a print-out detailing all aspects of the new Centara, from its rooms to its restaurants to its meeting facilities and its spa, fitness center, and pool.  I was thinking to myself, “We’re not in Udon anymore;” or rather, “Welcome to the new Udon Thani.  And the new Centara.”

The Centara is Udon Thani’s largest hotel and main convention center, and is joined at the hip to Central Complex, itself now undergoing complete reconstruction.  When completed around April, these two behemoths will have indisputably staked out their territory as the beating heart of Udon Thani.  Most everyone in the area will come to see what is now available in Udon, and virtually every VIP, from the Prime Minister to the Royal Family, will have slept in the Centara and enjoyed her charms by the end of 2012.

Centara’s Public Relations Manager

Centara’s Public Relations Manager Mrs. Thananya Chowurai (left) & Catering Manager Ms. Phantipa Chiemwichitra (right)

A quick note on the name: Mr. Suthikiati Chirathivat, Chairman of the Executive Board of Central Plaza Hotel (Public) Co., Ltd. (CENTEL) said that after much discussion several years ago, they finally settled on “Centara” to be their new hotel brand. He stated that “although ‘Central’ is more famous here in Thailand, especially in the retail business, for the hotel’s international customer base, it doesn’t really reflect ‘Thai-ness’” and the depth and quality of their product and service.

However, “Centara” does sound more Thai, more exotic, but still links the association with the group – “Cen” from Central, which has a reputation spanning 60 years, and “Tara,” coming from the Thai language meaning “Water”.  Worth noting is that Centel’s Fast Food Division includes KFC, Mister Donut, Baskin Robbins, Auntie Anne’s, and Pepper Lunch.  Obviously, we’re looking at one of Thailand’s major players here.

The hotel looks deceptively small from the outside, given the virtual world that lies within: a place one could easily live for ages without ever having to venture outside its walls. There are 259 newly renovated rooms and suites in the hotel, each offering a minimum of 32 square meters of space. There are also 21 Suites, ranging from 42 to 128 square meters in size, with a separate living room and a bedroom equipped with a king-size bed.

Centara Hotel Udon Thani

Centara Hotel Twin Room

All rooms come with the latest mod-cons, as you would expect of a hotel of this caliber in the 21st Century.  The details can all be found on their corporate website (see link below), but to give you an idea of (Internet) prices, we’re talking roughly 1900 Baht for a Superior Room and 2300 Baht for a Deluxe Room, which many tourists will find very reasonable indeed, given the Centara’s facilities, service, quality, and location.

There is a business center for those needing the latest equipment for their work, as well as secretarial services on offer.  The wide array of restaurants ensures you won’t tire of the regular cuisine in the main restaurant, which would actually take you a long while to work through on its own. And master chef Peter Lai, a very young 59-year-old Hong Kong Chinese, always seems to be around, guaranteeing the quality and diversity of scores of scrumptious dishes.  There are breakfast and lunch buffets every day, and dinner buffets on Friday and Saturday nights.

After indulging in Mr. Lai’s offerings, you may want to work some of it off at the fully equipped Fitness Centre, including weight & Yoga Studio, or pamper yourself in the Jacuzzi, Sauna, or Steam Room, take a dip in the Swimming Pool, or ease your muscles with a traditional treatment at SPA Cenvaree, “the place to get body, mind, and soul back into shape.”

Restaurants include the Ban Chiang, for Thai & International cuisine; Luk Fatt, for Chinese food; Deli Corner, a bakery shop & café; the Lobby Lounge for snacks, drinks & light refreshments; the Pool Bar featuring light dishes and drinks; Karaoke @Tune for those who enjoy this type diversion, complete with 7 private rooms; and finally, a la carte in-room dining, available 24 hours a day.  With all these choices, you’re not likely to go hungry at the Centara.

Then, there’s the second half of the name: “The Convention Centre,” the first choice for many planners, both professional and personal, for meetings, conferences, conventions, presentations, product launches, incentive groups, weddings, and private celebrations of all kinds.

At 2,900 square meters, the Udon Thani Convention Centre will hold up to 3,000 guests for a reception and 5,000 people for a concert. The 11-meter ceiling makes this a versatile space, and indoor sports can even be staged here.

The Tung Sri Muang Grand Ballroom has a capacity for 600 guests, and a total area of 700 square meters. For smaller events, the room divides into two equal sections as Grand Ballroom 1 – 2, each with a capacity of 300 persons.

There are five additional meeting rooms, each measuring 100 square meters with a capacity of up to 80 guests per room, making them ideal for breakout meetings or for seminars or receptions. For a slightly larger event, the Ban Phue Banquet Room will hold 100 guests within its 135 square meters, while the 300 square meters Na Yung has a capacity for 200 guests.

The hotel also operates a separate Halal Kitchen to ensure appropriate catering for guests who follow a Halal diet.

Should you wish to stage a full-blown, “hi-so” wedding ceremony, you need look no further than the Centara for this as well.  They can provide all you need for the big event, starting from the arrangements of traditional lustral water ceremony to the reception, and much more.

As I sat in the restaurant sampling dish after dish, for purposes of this article of course, I was expertly handed off between the PR Director, the Catering Manager, the Chef – who had just served a huge group upstairs – and I was now enjoying the lively company of Food & Beverage Director Mr. Vichit Chatthong.

He was telling me about the host of extras available for wedding receptions, including decorative ice sculptures, flower arches and stands, traditional garlands and corsages for the wedding party, guest books, multi-tiered cakes, and so on. Plus, a special rate for an overnight stay with complimentary meal voucher at the resort.

I was surprised to learn that he also organized and arranged events outside the hotel, for those wanting to have a wedding or ceremony at a place of their choosing – at home, or perhaps in an idyllic natural setting.

We also discussed the different charities and programs he has been involved with over the years with the Central Group, including training ethnic Karen students in Mae Sot to work in their hotels, and much more.  In fact, many of these hospitality industry professionals with whom I had the pleasure of speaking have worked with each other on and off for twenty to thirty years in different Central properties throughout Thailand.

Finally, pet-lovers will be pleased to learn that they can bring their precious animals to the Centara as well, given a few reasonable rules, which can be found on their website, but include the following: Your pet must be clean and shampooed prior to arrival; only one dog per booking is permitted to stay with you and can weigh no more than 20 kilograms and must be trained to obey your commands; and, as the owner, you will be responsible for cleaning up any “accidents” that occur within the hotel grounds.  A fully refundable cash deposit of 2,000 Baht is payable upon check-in.

I was tempted to sample some of the “Exclusively for Him at SPA Cenvaree” treatments on offer before leaving, but decided to postpone this to another time.  The Swedish Massage was particularly enticing, a full body massage designed to stimulate blood circulation and break up lactic acid build-up in the muscles. Also on offer was the Jurlique Men’s Vitality Facial: a deep-cleansing and purifying facial designed specifically for men’s skin.

Those interested should visit www.spacenvaree.com, where you can review the various programs and treatments, shop online for spa products and chat with a spa concierge about your upcoming visit and personal treatment needs.

I thought I’d met most everyone at the hotel by the time I left; however, the very friendly GM, Mr. Chaiphun Thongsuthum (Jok) met me in the lobby on my way out, inviting me and all my friends to come experience the new, improved Centara.  Based on my brief encounter, I can highly recommend it, and believe that most visitors will be pleasantly surprised by all the Centara now has to offer.

Much more info can be found on the Centara Udon Thani website at www.centarahotelsresorts.com/cud/

You can also contact the friendly, well-trained staff using the info below:

Centara Hotel & Convention Centre Udon Thani
Tel.:  +66 (0) 4234 3555
Email:  cud@chr.co.th

Udon Thani Potash Project

Udon Thani Potash Project © Steve Graham

Udon Thani Potash Project

Conceptual Layout Udon Potash Mine

Whilst attending a recent Udon Thani Chamber of Commerce meeting, I met a representative from the company that is developing the potash mining project in Udon Thani. We spoke briefly about the project and I asked if I could interview someone high up the chain of command with a view to getting the latest information about where the project is going.

Potash is used in the production of fertilisers, so on paper this would look like a good idea as the local communities could benefit from the business that would be generated and there would be a local supply of fertiliser on hand at an attractive price. I have read many negative articles on the internet and in the newspapers concerning the human rights aspects of what is proposed; however, the company who is conducting the development doesn’t seem to publicise their side of the argument. My research seemed very one sided, so I wanted to address the balance (in my own mind, at least).

Months later, I found myself on the other end of a telephone line talking to Khun Visuth Jirathiyut, the Managing Director of Asia Pacific Potash Corporation (APPC) Ltd. Our conversation lasted for about an hour and I was able to pose some questions and receive answers that our readership may find interesting concerning a project that will take 25 years (3 years construction and 22 years for the operation).

I found that there is a certain amount of distrust between local communities and APPC. This goes back to the early 1970s when allegedly a ten year survey was carried out by the Thai government without the full knowledge of the local people. Nobody was sure whether the officials were looking for oil, water or something else.

NGOs have taken up the case for the local communities involved and publicised a list of grievances including land rights violations, environmental damage due to initial exploration, lack of informed consent, bad communication between agencies and local residents, perceived lack of credibility of initial Environmental Impact Assessment, fears of contamination, loss of livelihood, mental anxiety, community division and potential loss of culture. All these subjects were taken from one report by the Educational Network for Global and Grassroots exchange (ENGAGE) published in 2003.

Khun Visuth informed me that there are two sites, Udon North and Udon South, of which Udon South is where the proposed first development will begin. Here, there is an estimated 300 million tonnes of potash of which 120 million tonnes will be excavated into ‘rooms’ and the remaining material will act as pillars to support the load above the mining area, leaving 180 million tonnes behind. Khun Visuth explained that the Room and Pillar method of mining requires that the rooms are cut underground with a continuous miner type rotating head which means that no explosives would be used as part of this process.

Let’s not fool ourselves, mining is a dangerous business and requires plenty of planning and forethought. The main problem for this project whilst drilling is the chance of hitting water and flooding to occur. Safety measure can be in place; however, it is always difficult to take on nature, especially underground.

The total mining area for Udon South is a proposed 26,000 rai. 1500 rai of land has been bought in order to construct a processing plant which will separate the sodium chloride and the potassium chloride using what they call a flotation process. The potassium chloride is the material required for this project. The left over material (tailings) will be backfilled into the “rooms” after a period of 3 to 4 years to assist with the added prevention of subsidence. Khun Visuth assured me that the ground where this processing plant is to be built will be fully prepared and protected with a monitoring system (water, air, dust and soil subsidence) in place to check for any form of contamination as the company appreciates that the water table at this location is not very deep.

One of the main concerns from the ENGAGE report was the perception by local people that the initial environmental impact assessment approved by the Thai government was flawed. A second study has been underway for sometime now in order to address the fears of locals and interested NGOs. Due to a change in Thailand’s constitutional law, it is proving a lengthy process; however, two of the three stages have been completed to date. The first public scoping phase and the visit to the villages affected has taken place and all that is left is the public review stage before being submitted for approval by the Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment.

So how will the local community benefit from this project, I hear you ask? Well, 900 jobs should be created directly for local people with a further 4,500 indirectly. Landowners within the mining area are set to receive 48,000 baht per rai without obligation and 250 scholarships have been provided for local students, increasing to 500 once production has started.

The government will receive a 7% royalty payment over the period which has been calculated as 37,372 million baht @400 US Dollars per ton and an exchange rate of 30 baht to 1US Dollar (prices are nearer 500 US Dollars now). This money is to be divided up with 40% going to central government, 20% to the districts in the mining area, 20% to Udon Thani Administration, 10% to other districts in Udon Thani and 10% to other districts in Thailand.

A compensation fund has been set up administered by the local community in the event that there is any environmental damage during the mining and production processes.

Khun Visuth and APPC are hopeful that their license will be granted even though there are many more steps of the scrutinisation process to be approved by numerous government departments. We have to wait and see as to whether the second Environmental Impact Assessment will be accepted to the satisfaction of the Ministry of Industry, the Ministry of National Resources and Environment and of course, the general public sometime next year. Even then APPC will allocate funds to hire another consultant to review the study before being presented to a public hearing for all stakeholders in accordance with the Mining Act and onward submission to the mining licence committee under the Ministry of Industry for consideration.

The Festival of Lights – Loy Kratong

Float All Your Cares Away – By Jeff Petry

“Loy, loy kratong; loy, loy kratong,” goes the popular festival song, the rest of which most of us have no clue.  But singing the chorus over and over is always good for a smile during this most ritualistic and graceful of Thai festivals.

loy kratong udon thani

Floating kratongs in the lake

It’s telling that Thailand’s two biggest festivals revolve around water, as it is such an important and critical part of Thai society, from the fields of Isan to the great Chao Phaya River around which Bangkok was built, and on which so much traffic moves.

There are many holidays and festivals in Thailand, as everyone knows, but most would agree that Loy Kratong is the most striking, picturesque, exotic, and romantic. “Loy” means “to float” in Thai, and a “kratong” is the typically lotus-shaped base upon which candles, joss sticks, flowers, coins, and sometimes food and betel nuts are placed.

Previously, banana leaves were used more regularly for the base, or a spider lily plant, and there has been an environmental movement to return again to these natural materials, instead of the river-polluting and clogging polystyrene. Some celebrants even make their kratongs out of bread, a nice touch that feeds the fish as they gradually dissolve.

This November 10th, when the moon of the twelfth lunar month is full and bright, and the tide in the rivers is highest, friends, couples, families, and lovers throughout Thailand will make their way to nearby klongs, ponds, and especially rivers. Here they will gently float their kratongs out into the water, evoking the spirit of the sacred past under the radiating blessing of the shimmering moon above.

With the rains ended, and the cool season gently moving in, it is perhaps akin to the rebirth of spring in the milder climes of other parts of the world. The great floods that this year brought so much suffering and devastation are now past, and it is the perfect time to purge evil and bad luck from one’s life. Indeed, most of the rice in Thailand is now being harvested around this time and with it much food, and perhaps a little cash, for the coming year.

No one is quite sure of the exact origins of Thailand Loy Kratong Festival. Many believe that it is of Indian origin and based on the “Deepavalee” ritual, which is also accompanied by floating lights in an act of worship to the Brahmin gods Brahma, Siva and Vishnu, or an act of remission or absolution to the Indian Ganga or Ganges.

The Loy Krathong tradition we know today has most likely evolved from the royal rituals of the early Rattanakosin period in which several types of lanterns were set afloat in the Chao Phaya River and its waterways. The practice was subsequently adopted and adapted by Thais throughout the country.

Given the riverine culture that formed the foundation of the traditional Thai way of life, Loy Krathong evolved into a ritual in which offerings are made to Mae Khongkha, the Mother of Waters, the Thai equivalent of the Hindu goddess of water, in an expression of gratitude for providing life-sustaining water throughout the year. It is further believed that the offering are made in an act of appeasement to beg her forgiveness for the thoughtlessness and carelessness of all those who pollute the pristine water that nourishes all life.

As some believe that when launching their kratong, they are symbolically casting away life’s grief, misery and ill-fortunes, there are accounts of some placing tufts of hair or clipped finger-nails into the krathong in the hope of ridding themselves of a spell of bad luck or misfortune, or even to have nicer hair or nails. Coins are also placed in the krathong as offerings, many of which are quickly seized by kids swimming among the kratongs.

In the northern Thai provinces that were once part of the ancient Lanna Thai kingdom, the Yi Peng Northern Lantern Festival is still celebrated. Tubular lanterns, fai khom, resembling hot air balloons, are lit and released into the night sky as offerings to the Lord Buddha. With fireworks going off in all directions in the midst of the reverie, the scene is not dissimilar to that of the Do Lung Bridge in Apocalypse Now.

Watching hundreds of these loy khom floating off into the sky like so many illuminated jellyfish, mirrored by the thousands of kratongs floating down the Ping River, is a truly mystical experience, forever etched into one’s memory. If there’s one Thai holiday not to be missed, it would probably be Loy Kratong.

No-vision Customer Care – Truevisions

No-vision Customer Care – By Steve Graham

Truevisions Udon Thani

Truevisions Udon Thani

I have just experienced the most frustrating period of time since arriving in the ‘Land of Smiles’ and thought I would take this opportunity to share it with you. Anyone who has had dealings with Truevisions will be able to understand the trauma I have just experienced and sympathise with the plight of anyone else caught in the same predicament as myself.

Once upon a time in a place far, far away (Udon Thani) a man used to have his UBC connection maintained by a shop in town. Every year, the owner of the shop would collect the money and the man from Udon would have 13 months of football and assorted goodies. Even though the quality of some of the programme deteriorated over the years, eight years passed and he was still on the Gold package allowing all Premiere League football games to be watched at leisure.

One day, the transmissions stopped. Nobody would answer the telephone and the bewildered man from Udon had to call the Call Center. This was the first mistake of the day! Is it me, or does it require a frontal lobotomy to work in one of these places? This is not a language barrier, it is like ordering Chinese food from the restaurant in, “Dude, where’s my car?” And then????????????????

Having spoken to two robots and got nowhere, I decided to go to Big C and ask at the counter there if there was anyone who could help. Time was running out as Chelsea were playing Manchester United the next day, so I was on a mission. Mistake number two!

The people there were nice enough; however, they were as effective as a chocolate fireguard. I spent most of the time with some one on the telephone who kept telling me that I had to call the Call Center. Would nobody actually listen to what I had to say? I did manage to find quite a few people who could tell me what I can’t do. Not one could tell me what I can do. A reflection of our times, I suppose. I was eventually told that if I wanted a new card, I would have to go to Central Plaza, so off I went. Mistake number three.

I arrived to find what I believed was the voice on the other end of the phone. And of course, no… you can’t get a new card here! Where can I get a card? Bangkok!

Time was ticking away and I had spent more than 4 hours getting absolutely nowhere. Every time I said something it was met with the word Ka. When I said that I wanted to do it, I was told I can’t! If I had hair on my head, I would have pulled it out. I was in pain, my life flashed before my eyes and so I gritted my teeth and paid for another month’s worth of Gold package using my old card, in the knowledge that at least I could watch the game the next day.

Do I have a new card? No! Am I any nearer solving the problem as to why I was cut off initially? No! Does anyone care? Of course not! I am now paying twice as much as anyone else on this planet for Truevisions. Mug!

I decided to write an email to the customer care department at Truevisions; however, my email was returned as the inbox was full. No surprise there then. So I am left to find a solution in the next 30 days otherwise I am back to square one again. To rub salt into the wound, Chelsea lost to Manchester United 3-1 the next day.

Chern Chim Foods Relocates

Chern Chim Foods Udon Thani

Jon & Dao - Owners of Chern Chim Foods

Chern Chim has been a successful part of Udon’s ex-pat food culture for the last two and a half years, supplying imported brand name products, frozen/fresh meats, bacon, ready meals, fresh bread, a popular sausage range and much more.

Due to its increasing popularity, CC is currently undergoing major changes and expansion plans and is moving from their Adunyadet Road business unit into larger purpose-built premises overlooking the scenic Nong Sim Lake and park.

The Adunyadet Road shop will close its doors for the final time on October 28th at 6pm. The new premises will open to wholesale & local business customers on 1st Nov. The official grand opening for general customers is currently subject to the construction deadline and will be announced later on the udonmap forum. The target date however is 10th November.

The new CC premises will host a larger ground floor area, warehousing space for palletized products and forklift truck access as well as ample customer parking space. There is even a spacious apartment available for private rental.

The core of the business will remain the same with some unique additions to the deli-café  menu, imported brand names and a freezer section.

The expansion and development plans will see some new additions to the business such as:

1. Off-license (liquor shop) selling wholesale imported alcohol, and a tasting center selling drinks to enjoy on the terrace or to take-away wholesale in 4’s 12’s, and whole cases of the usual (plus some unusual) imported beers, ciders, wines and party drinks like WKD and others from Europe, Australia, and other countries.

2. An imported alcohol hotel mini-bar supply department servicing the provincial hotels, guesthouses, and resorts.

3. A unique addition to the business will be Udon’s first working classic ‘old’ style shop with traditional 60′s/70′s theme similar to that of the UK TV sitcom “Open All Hours”. The annex will be named ‘Arkwrights’ and staff will wear traditional brown coats and use a delivery bike complete with basket. Photos ops will be available next to ‘Arkwright n GGGGgranville’ – a truly unique shopping experience.

Jon & Dao, the owners of Chern Chim, say the business has really taken over their lives in the last 2 years, but they love it. In their opinion Tesco, Big C, Makro, and similar superstores all have a place in the market; and they see this as investing in Udon Thani, whilst keeping alive the tradition of the corner shop; in turn having fun, being happy doing it and obviously making enough to take care of their family and maintaining the odd hobby.

Jon & Dao said they would like to thank all customers past and present who have in any way supported the business during the last two and a half years.  Without them, none of this dream would have been possible.

The Bookhouse & Coffee Shop

The Bookhouse & Coffee Shop first opened its doors to the public back in September 2009 primarily as a bookstore and café.  Business was very slow initially, says Thai owner Ratchanok Hluengsitong (Nok), and they had to adapt quickly to cater to their customers’ needs.

After a few months of trading, they realized that a key part of their business was missing, so they introduced a small selection of foods and snacks for customers to enjoy while browsing for reading material.  The food sales proved to be very popular and the business took off in a big way.  They gradually introduced more new food items until they had enough items to warrant a menu. The Bookhouse Restaurant was born.

Jeremy (Nok’s husband) then had a menu specially designed and printed, and although it was quite expensive, the resulting increase in business made it more than worthwhile.

The Bookhouse & Coffeeshop

The New Bookhouse & Coffee Shop

A couple of years later they received a call from out of the blue to say that they had to vacate their premises because the land their business was on had been sold to developers; therefore they had to relocate. They then had to spend several months looking around Udon for suitable premises.

They were split between a town center location, keeping the business café-style, or finding a scenic location away from the hustle and bustle to make a new upmarket restaurant, with a pleasant view to attract local customers.

A short time later they stumbled upon an amazing site in an ideal location overlooking the very beautiful and scenic Nong Sim Lake. Not wanting to miss this amazing opportunity, they snapped it up and began converting it into their new lakeside restaurant.

They were up and running in no time and business was full steam ahead. Nok says that after just two months of trading, business had increased by a notable percentage.  Their old location attracted mostly foreigners; however they are now attracting more local Thai customers. Nok says business is looking altogether positive and upbeat.

By the time this article is printed they should have their new menu ready, introducing a wide variety of new Western food items. They will also be doubling their Thai Food selection, as well as introducing a wine and cocktail drinks list.

Their new cake display cabinet is proving to be very popular with its vast selection of tempting treats, and many customers are popping in solely to buy a cake or dessert to take away.

From Double Chocolate Fudge Cakes, Tiramisu, Cheesecakes and White Chocolate Cheesecakes to the humble Apple & Cinnamon Pie, Summer Pudding and Cookies, there is something scrumptious to appeal to all tastes.

They also have special food days including Mexican Wednesday, Indian Curries, and Sunday Roasts with a complimentary drink as well as regular “Daily Specials”.

Nok says her goal is to create a pleasant environment with good food and drink, aimed at a target audience of friendly folks of all nationalities who appreciate the effort they make to ensure every visit is pleasurable and satisfying.

Everyone we speak to agrees that Nok is certainly living up to her word!

TukCom IT Mall Udon Thani

TukCom It Mall Udon Thani

TukCom It Mall Construction Site

An empty piece of land on Udon Dutsadi road near the clock circle, the site that the old Chao Phraya Theater used to sit before it burned down is now the designated site for the TukCom IT Mall. Posters say it will be the largest IT mall in the Issan area.

The mall will have 7 floors and 40,000 sqm’s of retail space. Tuk Com already has malls in Pattaya, Sri Racha and Khon Kaen. They have a website here: http://www.tukcom.com Tuk Com means .com in Thai.

Centara Hotel Udon Thani to reopen soon

Centara Hotel Udon Thani

Centara Hotel Udon Thani Logo

Centara Hotel and Convention Centre, which is adjoins Central Plaza shopping center in central Udon, is still undergoing major renovation and will be ready in March 2012.

The hotel renovations have expanded the number of guest rooms and suites to a total of 259. The rooms are being redesigned to offer international standards with stylish furnishings and brand-new bathrooms.

There will be 236 Standard, Superior, and Deluxe rooms, each with 32 square meters in area. The two Petit Suites feature 42 square meters of floor space, while the 20 Junior Suites have their own individual bedroom and living room within their 64-74 sqm. The Executive Suite on the top floor has one bedroom and one living room and offers a very spacious 128 sqm.

The restaurant, Ban Chiang, which is open all day, will serve local Issan cuisine along with international food. There will be a Chinese restaurant called Luk Fatt, this will serves Cantonese food in a modern style setting. The hotel will also host a karaoke lounge called @Tune.

Amongst the leisure facilities on offer, there will be a Spa called Cenvaree with six elegant Thai pavilions where private treatments will be offered to customers and guests, and there will be a newly fitted out fitness center with a yoga studio, sauna, Jacuzzi, steam room, and an outdoor swimming pool.

Centara Hotel & Convention Centre Udon Thani is located in the heart of the city’s commercial, shopping, and entertainment area, and adjoins Central Plaza, the largest shopping and entertainment center in the north-east of Thailand. The hotel is only a 20 minute drive from Udon’s International airport, the central bus terminal is within walking distance, and the train station is a 10 minute walk away.

Centara Hotels & Resorts is Thailand’s biggest operator of hotels, with 38 deluxe and first-class properties covering all the major tourist destinations in Thailand. A further 16 resorts in the Maldives, Philippines, Vietnam, Bali Indonesia, Srilanka, and Mauritius Indian Ocean, which brings the present total to 54 properties.