Text by Maya Shlayen
Photos by Tinnakorn Nukul
An orange penguin and four children sashay with sincere enthusiasm onto a red carpet that has been rolled through the centre of the Central Festival's Sub-Zero Ice Skate Club. Hot on the bladed heels of the cavorting waterfowl comes Spiderman (an accomplished skater – who knew?), a gliding ballerina and a keen young pop performer.
As the only ice rink in Chiang Mai, Sub-Zero is playing host to northern Thailand's first-ever ice skating competition, bringing together skaters from Thailand, Singapore and Hong Kong for a weekend of various competitions.
Following the pantomime performance, Thita "Palmy" Lansam takes to the ice. At just 14 years old, she skates for the Thai national team and is inspiring to watch.
"My goal is to try out for the Olympics when I'm 16 – that's how old you have to be," she explains, breaking into a smile. "I wasn't really nervous about coming here for the opening ceremony – just excited."
Like many professional ice skaters in Thailand, Palmy must train abroad –specifically, in the United States – during her school holidays. "But my classmates don't treat me like a celebrity," she says. "I ask them not to."
The rink itself is shiny, flashy and brand spanking new – and at 20 x 40 metres, it can comfortably accommodate up to 300 skaters (bar the occasional poor steering). Indeed, on a normal day at Sub-Zero, where skates are available to rent hourly or daily, it is immediately evident that the sport is still new to most Thais.
Today, as the individual competitions begin, young girls come onto the ice to perform one by one, and a reporter from the Thai media stands behind the rink, jumping up and down in imitation of the skaters as they jump. Her face breaks out into a goofy grin as she falls down each time.
Anne Hubbard, a former skating coach from London, eyes the young competitors with a mixture of surprise and affection. "I coached kids back home, so it's interesting to see kids competing here," she offers. "The thought of a skating competition in the tropics tickled me."
Palmy concurs, adding, "Ice skating is still new for most Thai people – you can only do it in malls like this. But now it's starting to become more popular."
Indeed, over the past few years several ice rinks have popped up in Bangkok, along with camps and competitions designed to bring Thailand up to speed in a previously untapped arena. And with the opening of Sub-Zero here in Chiang Mai late last year, the chilly trend has officially reached the north. Perhaps it's only a matter of time before Thailand's number of participants in the Winter Olympics expands beyond two. But with skating Spidermen and regular Sub-Zero attractions such as glow in-the-dark sessions and disco days, ice skating in Chiang Mai right now is all about having a good time.
Sub-Zero Ice Skate Club Central Festival Chiang Mai
Open daily, weekends: 10.30am - 10pm, weekdays: 11am - 10pm.
Prices: 160 baht per hour for children, 200 baht for adults, 500 baht for whole day skate weekends and holidays. 140 baht for children, 180 baht for adults, 400 baht for whole day on weekdays. Wednesday Promotion: 90 baht per hour. Skating classes available.
023 542 134