Some may have read news stories of celebrity chefs pulling out of a Bangkok event at which 50 guests pay US$ 300,000 each to eat a ten-course meal preceded by a trip to a hardscrabble Isan village to witness poverty. Many New Mandala fans will not have had a chance to see the ad for this event which appeared in The Nation last Friday (28 March 2007). The copy reads:

To our society, we’re giving the greatest gift of all – hope.

To our loyal customers, we’re giving the greatest meal in Bangkok

To give back to the community, lebua celebrates its second anniversary with a special emotional tourism trip. To thank those who have contributed to our success, we’re giving back to the community by bringing inspiration to those who have the influence to help the most. Since their opening, lebua and The Dome have become the top names in hospitality by offering the truly exceptional over and over again. Now we’d like to thank both our best customers and the great nation of Thailand with a very special “Emotional Tourism” event. On April 5, 2008, 50 of our top guests will be flown on a private jet to visit the elephant village of Surin, to bear witness to the dignity of their humble lives and inspire future charitable actions. Followed by an elite dinner at Pundarika Grand Hall at lebua, where Michelin-star chefs will prepare a once-in-a-lifetime inspirational dinner.

The principal owner of lebua is the family of Rasi Bualert. She always gets tagged as “arms dealer” which seems a bit unfair. Too narrow. Their real estate empire went spectacularly bankrupt after 1997, but they kept going by refusing to repay their creditors. Last June, the Supreme Court ruled that they had to repay 10 billion baht to Bangkok Bank, but I don’t know whether they complied. Their biggest debt was to Krung Thai. The Bualert acquired the building now housing lebua from the developer and architect Rangsan Torsuwan after he was charged with masterminding the attempted murder of the chief judge of the Supreme Court.