*TEDx Chiang Mai an independently organized TEDx event operated under license from TED.

TEDx Chiang Mai

I lived in Chiang Mai back in 2008- 2009. It was my first time traveling to Thailand with my mom back to her hometown. Experiencing Chiang Mai and discovering the beauty of this region with my mom and family created an instant connection and love for this city. 

Ten years ago, there were only 2 malls. Nimmanhaemin was a genuinely Thai neighborhood that didn’t see many tourists. I could spend an entire day without running into another foreigner. I certainly never ran into other Americans. There was only one McDonalds and maybe one Starbucks. 

Maya Mall is for the Chinese, Tae Pae for Westerners. (Grab Car Driver)

Smart development for Chiang Mai

My mom decided to move back to Chiang Mai two years ago. I’ve been visiting Chiang Mai at least once a year for short trips to see her and my family.

I returned last month for a longer stay than usual. I’ve been slowly getting reacquainted with Chiang Mai. I have been wonderfully amazed at many of the changes but also shocked at some of the growth.

I am happy to see that the local art scene has grown and becoming more known to both locals and visitors. Amenities are much better than 10 years ago. There is a growing expat and digital nomad community that seems to be close knit and supportive of one another.

But my old neighborhood in the Nimmanhaemin area is unrecognizable to me. Trendy cafes and fancy shops replaced many of the family-operated businesses I once frequented. Condos and glitzy new malls have sprouted up all over the city. It feels like the roads are even more jammed with tourist filled mega buses haphazardly navigating small streets. The air at times is choked with more and more exhaust.

Is Chiang Mai Worse Off Today?

I’m not professing that Chiang Mai was a better place 10 years ago. Sometimes I believe that it may have been. Sometimes I don’t believe that. I do have a stake in this city. My brother runs his own shop in one of the main markets here. My sister runs a noodle shop. And my mom lives here.

I wonder what effect the rapid development will have on small family-run businesses. There are still plenty of them around the city, especially in neighborhoods like the one I am staying in now in Santitham or the Wat Get neighborhood. But one still has to wonder about future development.

Save Our Elephants

Like so many other cities around the world, Chiang Mai has its challenges but it has opportunities just the same. So I was thrilled to attend the TEDx Chiang Mai event over the weekend to learn from some of the people who are working toward a sustainable Chiang Mai.

“Our Common Future” was a fitting theme for TEDx Chiang Mai

The speakers and activities throughout the day addressed social, cultural, and environmental issues facing the city and the region.  

Topics included massive deforestation, developing sustainable tourism, big data, green city spaces, aging, curbing the reliance on plastic especially bags and straws, and much more. Artists performed traditional Karen music spoke of the importance of maintaining cultural traditions in the wake of a more connected and technology-based society.

I spent a lot of time particularly in one room away from the main auditorium. On one side of the room there was a wall depicting how things were currently in Chiang Mai. We used colored tacks representing pollution, high traffic, safety zones, good connectivity, and green areas. Participants were asked to use the tacks to locate these areas around chiang mai. Interestingly the tacks for pollution and high traffic were situated around the Nimmanhaemin area and where the Maya mall sits. For anyone who has experienced that intersection can attest to how frustrating it is to drive through. The color-coded map was an interesting visual interpretation of how people viewed their city in its current state.

Chiang Mai 2040

On the other side of the room there was a wall that listed 4 future visions for Chiang Mai:

City of Arts: Maintaining a balance of trendy shops, cafes, art galleries with Chiang Mai’s traditional northern culture.

City of Innovation: A thriving internationally regarded hub for research, start-ups, and thriving small businesses that are accessible for all Thais, expats, and visitors.

City of Temples: Preservation and protection of Chiang Mai’s historical stature while curbing rapid development.

City of Mobility: Developing Chiang Mai as hyper-connected city with efficient public transportation, light rail, and low-cost airlines that attracts entrepreneurs, digital nomads, retirees, and tourists.

Attendees votes on a vision they liked most and were asked to provide their own ideas for the future of Chiang Mai.


TEDx Chiang Mai Speakers: Special Mentions

There were many different activities during the day. I didn’t get the chance to hear every speaker. The ones I attended, there were some that really resonated with me.

Madeleine Rechnagel

Madeleine is a proponent and passionate speaker spreading her ideas on how to live a more sustainable lifestyle by living with less.  She lives a ‘nearly’ zero waste lifestyle in Bangkok using the 7R’s: rethink, refuse, reduce, reuse, repair, recycle, and rot. Madeleine has a lot of ideas that are simple for all of us wanting to live with less. Check out her ideas on her Facebook page and website.  

Say NO to Plastic

One of my goals for 2018 and on is to use less plastic. Before attending TEDx Chiang Mai, I’ve been refusing plastic bags whenever I purchase something. Saying no to plastics is often hard. Plastic is used for the most mundane things. Even individual fruits are wrapped in plastics at some places.

I was also able to pick up a free reusable straw while at TEDx Chiang Mai. I’m hoping to pick up a few more reusable straws to give out. Definitely look out for that announcement. And make a pledge to use less plastic!

Piyasak Khiaosaard

Piyasuk is a visual artist. Street art from his time in Germany and Switzerland inspired his own creations. His work incorporates animals with human reflections asking us to question our relationship with the environment and with all living things.

Your children may not know what an elephant is in the future. We have the same house which is called The Earth. They are the reasons for us to take care of each other, animals, and nature.

Piyasuk is a kindred spirit and I want to share his message. So I hope to spend some time with him to learn more about his art and explore his ideas he raised during his presentation. Please look out for that in an upcoming post.

Walter Lee and his son Zy Kher Lee – Walking without Legs

Walter Lee and his son Zy Kher Lee

Their presentation was one of the most inspiring ones that day. Zy was born with only a complete left arm, half a right arm, a deformed left leg, and no right leg. Doctors said that Zy or “Little Professor” as his dad calls him, would never walk. Zy had other ideas for his life.

“Not disabled, just differently-abled,” are words that Zy lives by.

He wanted to be like all other children. That afternoon, Zy walked up on the stage with his dad and shared his wisdom and inspired us all. Zy is the youngest “differently-abled” child to reach the summit at Mount Kilimanjaro.

Together through the Zy Foundation that Walter created, they have helped thousands of children in Asia through efforts that improve “the quality of life of children with physical disabilities in the areas of locomotion. And bringing better awareness and understanding to the public towards a barrier-free society, physically, environmentally, mentally, and spiritually in Thailand and South East Asia.”

After listening to what Zy has already accomplished in his short life, I thought, “stop making lame excuses for the things I think I can’t accomplish.” 

Zy is currently training to be a competitive swimmer.

Anything is possible.

TEDx Chiang Mai was a day of inspiring ideas. I am glad I got chance to experience one of these events for the first time in a city that I hold close to my heart.