Bit of history:
When you visit Thailand you always hear a lot about the revered Royal Family and especially the “Princess Mother”. She came from a very ordinary background but she was smart and had parents who educated her. She studied nursing and won a scholarship to study further in the US which is where she met the future King of Thailand. It was turbulent times and they lived outside of the country – various places in Europe – while they bought up their three children. The King died very young leaving her a widow at 29. She stayed in Europe and chose to bring up her children in as ordinary a way as possible while also ensuring they understood their heritage. She became fluent in English and French. Eventually her eldest son became King back in Thailand but he was assassinated so his younger brother became King unexpectedly – he is the one who was on the throne the longest of any royal and who died a couple of years ago. The Princess Mother came back to Thailand and especially focussed on regenerating the area around Chiang Rai (or the Golden Triangle). People there were poverty stricken, the forests were being pulled down and opium was grown for meagrely sums of money while many locals became inadvertently addicted to it as a means of escape from their desperate lives. She initiated many sustainable projects to change the shape of the region, removing opium, encouraging the replanting of trees and ensuring everyone had access to education and medical support.
Last time I was in Chiang Rai I visited the Opium Museum – it is about an hour from Chiang Rai – extraordinarily high tech and shows all the medical benefits as well as harsh realities of opium and how things have been turned around. Some of the docents are former addicts. I strongly recommend it.
This time I visited Dong Toi high up in the hills and at the confluence of Cambodia, Laos and Thailand- the temperature dropped from 34 degrees to a very pleasant 27 from the bottom to the top.
This is where the Princess Mother lived her last twenty years (she’d died aged 94) and includes access to her private villa (a pleasing mix of Lanna and Swiss design) as well as the stunning European style gardens built on a slope (kind of reminded me of Butchart Gardens in Vistoria, BC!) and a museum area called the Hall of Inspiration about the Princess Mother and her immediate family – really remarkably good. I’m a fan of hers. Go see it.
This is her villa and the views from it.
And the stunning park
As it’s a my final day in Chiang Rai need to give a call out to my lovely hotel – Le Meridien. Gorgeous and peaceful location on the river but an easy shuttle ride into the city.
Now heading back to Vietnam in search a local village with murals and a bamboo bridge.