Day 2 of our Amazing Thailand discovery with the TATNewsroom team started very early at 05.00 from Novotel Sukhumvit 20 Hotel where we had all spent the night. I do not think any of us got much sleep as we were all excited and impatient for the action-packed itinerary to follow. We had a nice breakfast box ready for each of us from the hotel as we waited for our transfer to Suvarnabhumi International Airport for the Thai Smile flight to Chiang Rai. After a quick check-in, we were waiting for the first flight out.
The flight was pleasant, lasting about 1 hour 10 minutes with a beautiful landscape of rolling hills, lush valleys and green rice fields to greet us as we approached Mae Fah Luang Chiang Rai International Airport. We were entertained by a school traditional music band in the arrival hall as we waited for our luggage.
Once we gathered all our luggage, we were met by the designated tour guide who would be explaining about all the sites we are visiting for the day. Our first stop for the day was the Doi Tung Royal Villa also known as Phra Tamnak Doi Tung in the Thai languange.
This exquisite Lanna-Swiss designed manor was the formal residence of the late Princess Mother HRH Princess Srinakarindra, the Mother of Thailand’s present King Bhumibol Adulyadej. She spent a great deal of time at the Royal Villa with her daughter, the late Her Royal Highness Princess Galyani Vadhana in various projects at Doi Tung and the surrounding areas. Both late Royal Highness were passionately involved in the Royal Projects to re-cultivate hill and farmlands formerly used in the opium trade and to divert opium growing to more sustainable cash crops among the hill tribe communities.
The Doi Tung Royal Villa, built on the top of the Doi Tung mountain gives a commanding and exquisite view of the surrounding valleys. Simplistic in design, yet exuding delicate taste of interior elegance from the recycled teak woods to a panoramic constellation map on the ceiling speaks much of the refined yet humble taste of such a wonderful Sovereign family that makes them much loved by the people of Thailand.
The vast garden of the villa offers a wonderful respite from the short climb up to the villa and one can wander for hours admiring the view and variety of beautifully selected flora which adorn the gardens. Do follow the blogs at my site to read more in detail about the Doi Tung Royal Villa and other places that we have had the opportunity to visit in this trip by the TATNewsroom Blogger team!
After the visit to Doi Tung Royal Villa, the team made their way down the hill to the Doi Tung Palace Tourist Service Center where there are souvenir shops, a restaurant and one of the most popular coffee shops that serves delectably aromatic macadamia nut coffee grown on the hills of Doi Tung! If you did not know, Doi Tung is famous for growing macadamia nuts on the hills formerly laid barren by opium growing and on Doi Tung, you can get fresh macadamia nut coffee, shakes and even macadamia nuts in Thai dishes at the restaurant. So if you are a great fan of this wonderful nutty nut, you simply must come to Doi Tung.
After the short break of drinks and snacks at the cafe, we made our way to another must-visit attraction on Doi Tung, the Mae Fah Luang Garden. This botanical garden occupies the hill just below the Royal Villa and was formerly part of the Akha Pa Kluay village. The Akha are a sect of indigenous hill tribe that prefer to live in places of higher elevations around the lower provinces of Yunnan in China, Myanmar, Laos and Thailand.
The Akha was relocated to a much better piece of property a little further up that had more open space with better road system, proper sanitation with utilities and fertile land to grow crops which was a big change from their formerly dense and cramped settlement.
The idea of Mae Fah Luang Garden was to develop a temperate climate garden in the 10 acres of property, therefore offering a place for visitors and locals alike to be able to visit and admire a well as experience the colder climate of Doi Tung in the winter months. The project was carried out by Royal decree of the Princess Mother as part of the development and change from the opium trade to more sustainable incomes for the peoples of the area.
The Mae Fah Luang Garden won and was awarded the Tourist Site Development Award by PATA in 1993. The garden provided work for the local villagers who were tasked with growing and maintaining the garden, therefore providing long-term sustainable income and job prospects for them and their families.
The monumental icon of Mae Fah Luang Garden is a sculpture commissioned by the Princess Mother and crafted by the late artist Misiem Yip-In-Soi. The bronze sculpture in the middle of the garden with images of people reaching heavenwards on the shoulders of one another was named “Continuity” to symbolize that in order to succeed at any endeavor, one must have continuity and togetherness.
Other attractions at the garden are a tree canopy sky-walk, an old Lanna-styled wooden swing crafted from solid poles of teak trunk, various Lanna and tribal styled wooden houses, a fountain, several open green house areas and many viewpoints for a great view of this expanse of garden. It is also possible for people needing wheelchairs to access this garden so it is enjoyable for everyone.
You can visit the Mae Fah Luang Garden any time of the year but popular times are in November to January when the climate changes to the much colder season and tourist flock to Chiang Rai to enjoy the cold climate.
After exploring the Mae Fah Luang Garden, the team was ready for lunch. We walked back up to the little shopping area where the cafe and the Krua Tamnak Restaurant is located. The specialty of this restaurant is the use of Macadamia nuts in the dishes. I just so love Macadamia nuts and really had my fill in this place! We had typical Northern Thai cuisine of curry dishes with chicken, minced pork with chilies and condiments of vegetables and crispy pork rind, fried fresh mushrooms and more but most of the dishes had fried Macadamia nuts in them and all vegetables grown in the area. We all enjoyed the scrumptious lunch down to the last bit.
Our group photo session at Krua Tamnak Restaurant with the spread of food. For most of us this was the first time we have tried Northern Thai food cooked in this style with Macadamia nuts and you really should come and try this restaurant when you are in Chiang Rai.
Just a little note to explain to you what “Mae Fah Luang” means so that you can understand how the name was derived for these places. Mae Fah Luang is a Northern Thai word for Mother of the King Bhumibol Adulyadej (different provinces in Thailand have a slightly different Thai intonation and way of speaking).
According to the records at Mae Fah Luang Organization, it also translates into the term “Royal Mother from the Sky” as the hill tribe people used to see her coming often in a helicopter which brought supplies such as food, medical aids, clothing when she visited. The Princess Mother was much loved by the hill tribes and people of Thailand for her dedication and hard work in helping them to change their lives from poverty and the ruinous opium trade into more sustainable incomes and better living conditions and quality of life. Her selfless endeavors were a shinning example of a Monarchy that placed the people first and followed by many after.
Do visit the link to know more about the Doi Tung foundation, its history and the work of the late HRH Princess Srinakarindra and Princess Galyani in Doi Tung and be inspired by their dedication that has made Thailand and the Northern provinces such an amazing place to visit in Thailand.
Writing about Doi Tung has made me realize how much there is to learn, see and understand about the Thai culture and why the people of Thailand love and respect their Monarchy so much. The beauty of Thailand is not just in the sights you see but in the people and in the efforts that has been invested into making this country and nation into such a beautiful and amazing land.
*** All photos courtesy of TATNewsroom