Areeya Chumsai or Pop breaks all the stereotypical images of a beauty queen. In addition to her stunning good looks, she also writes books, had military training, teaches and made a documentary film, Innocent, about children in the hilltribe village Baan Mae To in Chiang Mai. Hers was the first Thai documentary to win awards overseas, including the Spirit Award in South Korea.

Someone offered me B300,000 to enter my first pageant—not to win, just to enter. What would you say?

In the US, people who win pageants get a little blurb on the back page of a newspaper. Thailand is a small country—you don’t get a blurb, you get a front page, and not for a day, but for a week.

Winning the Miss Thailand beauty pageant in 1994 was the most tiring experience of my life. You think you win cash and prizes, right? Ha! That prize is your payment for the whole year for traveling across the country, going to events and smiling all day. In a month, I probably had one or two days off.

Sometimes, I don’t understand being kraeng jai. I understand the concept that you have to be compassionate and understanding, but there are other connotations which dictate that you don’t say what you mean, or you don’t mean what you say.

I’m not a professional beauty queen who would do it for the rest of my life. Miss Thailand is like a job for me, and the job is to represent Thailand and Thai womanhood. When I’m on the job, I do the best I can.

Every time I hear someone say that dara is a public property, I always think that a toilet is public property, too.

I want people to judge me from my work, not from my personal life.

I always wanted to be a journalist. After graduating from university, I worked for many newspapers.

My goal when I’m older is to touch my toes. Seriously. I want to have
a strong body and a disciplined mind.

The movie Innocent is my dream project. I always wanted to write a good story.

Kids are excited by nature. As we grow older, we see the ocean and say, “OK,” then go to the hotel and play cards. We aren’t fascinated by it anymore.

I’m like water. You put me in a cup, I’m a cup; you put me in a fish tank, and I’m a fish tank. When people ask me, “Are you Miss Thailand, a writer, a director?” That’s just an external form. I’m still water. I know who I am.

If I stay in the city too long, my water gets cloudy and muddy. While I did Innocent, my water became clear.

The DVD is being sold now for the Baan Mae To Scholarship Fund. We have a hundred kids and the money is going to them.

When this film about the lives of children in a hilltribe village was shown in Korea, France and Macau, the kids asked me, “Is that far from Bangkok?” That’s their perception—Bangkok is the farthest thing to them.

Sound and light are important things in movie making. We got a karaoke microphone, which we used to record sound. For light, we brought clip lights like the ones on your bed. It worked.

We won awards at a film festival in Cambodia, representing Thailand for the first time. Innocent is going to France to the film festival there, competing against films from Africa, the Middle East and Asia. A small movie made with a karaoke microphone is going to the competition.

Sometimes I wake up in the morning and I’m shocked by how far I’ve come in my life.