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Doi Tung

Michael Babcock, September 17th, 2017

(Click images to see larger version.)
(There’s a slideshow of images at the bottom.)

Doi Tung View

View at Doi Tung

One of my favorite places in all of Thailand is Doi Tung, a mountain (doi means mountain) 1,389 meters high located in the Golden Triangle in Chiang Rai province close to the Myanmar border. On Kasma’s Northern Frontiers trip (we have one scheduled for January 2018) we spend a day visiting 3 of the attractions there. I leave each of the three with a peaceful feeling, my heart full.

The area now is a lush, beautiful forested area with prosperous, thriving communities. It has not always been so. Had you gone in the mid-1980s you would have seen a barren, deforested area denuded by slash and burn agriculture. The roughly 11,000 people composed of 6 different ethnic minorities were living in abject poverty without basic infrastructure. People barely survived by cultivating opium, illegal logging and human trafficking.

The story of how its transformation came about is why there is such a special feeling to Doi Tung.

A Brief History of Doi Tung

The Princess Mother

The Princess Mother

Doi Tung was transformed because of projects initiated by an 87-year old woman, Her Royal Highness Princess Srinagarindra, the mother of Kings Rama VIII and Rama IX and the grandmother of the current King Rama X – the Princess Mother (as she was called).

In 1987, at the age of 87, she came to Doi Tung for the first time and said “I will reforest Doi Tung.” Ever since she began hiking in the remote rural areas of northern Thailand in 1964 she had a special interest in the impoverished communities of the north. She encouraged and supported education, promoted traditional crafts as a way of earning a living and had a particular interest in improving medical care. (She had been trained as a nurse and her husband, the late Prince Mahidol Adulyadej, a trained physician, was the father of public health in Thailand.) In 1969 she had established mobile medical units that would bring trained personnel to remote regions, often accompanying them herself and earning the title Mae Fah Luang – “Mother from the Sky.”

Royal Villa 1

The Royal Villa & Garden

The people in Doi Tung were from 6 different ethnic minorities – Akha, Lahu, Tai Lue, Lawa, ethnic Shan and ethnic Chinese – who were not even accorded citizenship. The Royal family made no distinction – their compassion was for all people living in Thailand, whether citizen or not.

The Princess Mother initiated several projects at Doi Tung with the goal of bringing the people of the region out of poverty. The model came to be known as SALD – Sustainable Alternative Livelihood Development – with its stated goal “to transform poor and vulnerable communities from dependency and basic subsistence living, towards full socio-economic sufficiency and independence.” (From About Doi Tung.) The key word was “sustainable.” The Doi Tung Development Project was set up in 1988 to oversee and coordinate the many initiatives.

Doi Tung Coffee

Doi Tung Coffee

To cement her commitment to the transformation of Doi Tung, she built “a home at Doi Tung” – The Doit Tung Royal Villa. She had always traveled back and forth from Thailand to Switzerland, where she had originally moved with her three children in 1933. As she aged, she had been searching for a location to build a home and the northern climate of Doi Tung was a good substitute for Switzerland.

The project used methods first established by her son, H.M. Bhumibol Adulyadej (Rama IX), starting in 1969, when he set up the Ang Khang Royal Agricultural Station, which was the first successful attempt world-wide to transform a poverty-stricken area by replacing opium production with crop substitution.

At Doi Tung, the multi-pronged approach included education, medical care, treatment for addiction and job/skills training. Macadamia nut trees were planted with coffee plants underneath in order to create high-quality, shade-grown coffee for sale. The Doi Tung brand was created, a high-quality brand that had 4 branches – food, handicrafts (including woven clothes and accessories as well as ceramics and pottery), horticulture and tourism. By 2001, Doi Tung was self-sustaining.

Since 2003, the Doi Tung Development Project has been recognized by the United Nations as one of the best examples of alternative development in the world. Communities from Thailand, Myanmar, Afghanistan, Indonesia and Columbia have traveled to Doi Tung to learn how they can implement the principles at their locations. (See How it Spreads: Lessons from Doi Tung.)

Café Doi Tung

Café Doi Tung Treats

Café Doi Tung Treats

Our trips to Doi Tung always begin with a visit to Café Doi Tung. Coffee is one of the premier products of Doi Tung and since it is very tasty, it’s a great way to support the people there. I’ve already written about the Café in a previous blog (you’ll need to scroll about half-way down to the relevant section):

The coffee is delicious and the setting amongst the hills is a great place to enjoy your drink.

You can also purchase two of the signature products of Doi Tung: coffee, both as beans as well as individual cup drip-coffee packets; and macadamia nuts in the form of plain or seasoned nuts, macadamia nut butter (yum!) as well as macadamia nut cookies. The macadamia nuts are some of the best I’ve ever eaten – large and sweet. These products are now availalble all over Thailand – we regularly purchase them at several supermarkets in Bangkok.

The Royal Villa

Royal Villa & Garden

Royal Villa & Garden

The Royal Villa – picture a Thai-style Swiss chalet – was built to be the residence of the Princess Mother. It is a symbol of her commitment to transforming Doi Tung into a prosperous, self-sustaining community.

Because of its location, the climate is much more reminiscent of Switzerland than tropical Thailand. The two times I’ve visited Doi Tung it has been refreshingly cool.

The Princess Mother loved to garden. The villa is surrounded by beautiful flowers, many of them temperate climate plants, and also orchids. The walk up to the villa leads through planted flower beds to the house itself.

Wood carving

The Villa is filled with lovely wood carving

Alas, I’m unable to provide any photos of the interior of the villa where photography is forbidden. It’s a shame but perhaps best because photographs might not be able to adequately portray the peacefulness and beauty of the home. There is a lovely attention to detail throughout that includes beautiful wood carvings. As you go in, you are able to get an audio tour that explains what you are seeing. In the main hall, which would have been a reception area, there are beautiful art works as well as exhibits about the Princess Mother’s activities – including embroidery, reading detective novels and pressing flowers.

Much of the house has not been changed from when she was living there. I mostly was struck by the simplicity and serenity of her living areas.

Outside of the main reception hall is a balcony with a stunning view of the surrounding hills. When the Villa was built the view would have been quite barren. Now you see a thriving forest of green, a tribute to the transformation she inspired.

(See Education Attractions – Doi Tung Royal Villa.)

The Mae Fah Luang Garden

Mae Fah Luang Garden 1

A view at Mae Fah Luang Garden

The second main attraction at Doi Tung is the Mae Fah Luang Garden. The Princess Mother was an avid gardener and this lovely garden is a tribute to her love of plants.

Because of the elevation of Doi Tung (1,389 meters), many of the plants here reflect the Princess Mother’s desire to give the Thai people a chance to enjoy a temperate flower garden without having to travel out of Thailand. It also includes the lovely Lady’s Slipper Garden, containing a large variety of orchids of the genus Paphiopedilum (Lady Slipper). These orchids are also propagated commercially here – another of the projects providing self-sufficiency for the area. (See Doi Tung Development Project – Plants & Orchid.)

Located on 10 acres of land, it was originally an Akha village given to opium cultivation. The villagers were resettled and now local villagers earn a living nurturing and propagating the plants.

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One of the Lady Slipper orchids

There is a fairly steep walk down through a lovely forest setting. On the way you pass by some colorful, whimsical stuffed animal figures that bring a smile to your face.

There are many paths for your wandering enjoyment. Other features include a lake with water birds, some example hill-tribe structures and a grassy area with the statue called “Continuity.”

For garden lovers, it’s worth a couple of hours just for wandering and enjoyment.

Note: This Mae Fah Luang Garden is different from the Mae Fah Luang Arboretum, which is situated in the Chang Moob Area. The arboretum is worth a visit of it its own with its combination of native flora, native orchids and rhododendrons from many countries set in the middle of a pine tree forest

For more information on the garden see Education Attractions – The Mae Fah Luang Garden.

The Hall of Inspiration

Hall of Inspiration

Hall of Inspiration

Is this the most compelling of the things to see at Doi Tung?

As a westerner, I found this exhibit moving and inspiring. I already knew of the dedication and service of King Bhumibol Adulyadej (Rama IX), how his foundations had initiated thousands of projects for the betterment of the Thai people. I loved this exhibit because it placed his service and philosophy in context.

The Hall of Inspiration is a record of the life and works of King Rama IX’s royal family, starting with his father, Prince Mahidol Adulyadej, the husband of the Princess Mother.

Photograph 2

The Royal Family in Switzerland

With historical photographs, videos and quotes I got such a lovely sense of how the family grew and evolved. Prince Mahidol himself inspired the selfless service that became the hallmark characteristic of the Princess Mother as well as King Bhumibol. Prince Mahidol is considered the father of modern medicine in Thailand for the efforts he made from 1920 (when he returned from his studies abroad) until his early death in September 1929.

The Hall documents how his wife, Princess Srinagarindra, carried on his legacy – she was offering scholarships to students as soon as they were back in the country in 1920. After her husband’s death, for the next two decades she raised three children as a single parent and instilled in them the parents’ ideals of selfless services.

Rippling water

Drops rippling in water

Then when her sons became Kings, she worked to improve the lives of both ethnic Thais and hilltribe people, through education, improved medical care and by training (including crafts) to develop economic independence and sufficiency. Even at the age of 87, a time when most people are slowing down to enjoy the fruits of their life, she initiated the Doi Tung Development Project and oversaw it until her death at the age of 91.

The Hall also highlights the history of Doi Tung, including photos and words from the villagers talking about how the project affected and transformed their lives. Quotes from the Royal Family show the compassion and philosophy that drove their service.

Doi Tung itself is the living example of their philosophy:

Great things come from small beginnings
A gentle ripple starts from but a single drop;
That wave ever expanding, with no end in sight
Begins from one small point, our own self . . .

(See Hall of Inspiration.)


Doi Tung Slideshow

Click on “Play” below to begin a slideshow.

Clicking on a slide will take you to the next image.


Princess Mother 2
Princess Mother 2
Doi Tung Signs
Café Doi Tung Sign
Café Doi Tung Treats
Café Doi Tung Sitting Area
Royal Villa 1
Royal Villa 2
Royal Villa 3
Royal Villa 4
Royal Villa 5
Wood carving
Doi Tung View
Royal Villa 6
Whimsical creature 1
Whimsical creature 2
Mae Fah Luang plant 1
Temperate climate foliage
Temperate plant
Rhododendron]
Temperate climate flower
Mae Fah Luang Garden 1
Mae Fah Luang Garden 2
Mae Fah Luang Garden 3
Mae Fah Luang Garden 4
Mae Fah Luang Garden 5
Dahlia bed
A dahlia
Glimmering foliage
Lady Slipper 1
Lady Slipper 2
Lady Slippers 3
Lady Slippers 4
Temperate foliage
Pond with ducks
Drying corn
Leaves and straw
Hall of Inspiration 1
Hall of Inspiration 2
Hall of Inspiration 3
Hall of Inspiration 4
Hall of Inspiration 5
Hall of Inspiration 6
Hall of Inspiration 7
Hall of Inspiration 8
Hall of Inspiration 9
Hall of Inspiration 10
Hall of Inspiration 11
Hall of Inspiration 12
Hall of Inspiration 13
Hall of Inspiration 14
Princess Srinagarindra

Her Royal Highness Princess Srinagarindra

Her Royal Highness Princess Srinagarindra exiting a helicopter at Doi Tung

Signs to the attractions at Doi Tung

The sign for Café Doi Tung

Some of the goodies available at Café Doi Tung

The sitting area at Café Doi Tung

A view of the Royal Villa, home of the Princess Mother

The Royal Villa viewed through one of its garden beds

The Royal Villa seen behind one of its gardens

The Royal Villa at Doi Tung

A view of the Royal Villa

An example of the lovely wood carving found at the Royal Villa

Doi Tung is nestled into the lovely mountains of northern Thailand

One of the orchids found in the gardens surrounding the Royal Villa

Whimsical creatures such as this decorate the trees at the Mae Fah Luang Garden

Another whimsical creature at the Mae Fah Luang Garden

Foliage at the Mae Fah Luang Garden

Temperate climate plants at the Mae Fah Lung Garden

Temperate climate flowers at the Mae Fah Luang Garden

An azalea at the Mae Fah Luang Garden

Another temperate climate plant at the Mae Fah Luang Garden

A view of part of the Mae Fah Luang Garden

Another view of the lovely Mae Fah Luang Garden

Mae Fah Luang Garden view

Flower beds at the Mae Fah Luang Garden

More flower beds at the Mae Fah Luang Garden

Dahlias at the Mae Fah Luang Garden

Close-up of a dahlia at the Mae Fah Luang Garden

Sun-lit foliage at the Mae Fah Luang Garden

Lovely Paphiopedilums (Lady Slippers) at the Mae Fah Luang Garden

More Lady Slippers (Paphiopedilums) at the Mae Fah Luang Garden

Close up of one of the lovely Lady Slipper orchids at the Mae Fah Luang Garden

Another close up of one of a lovely Lady Slipper orchids at the Mae Fah Luang Garden

A garden bed with temperate climate foliage and a statue

A pond with many ducks found in the Mae Fah Luang Garden

The Mae Fah Luang Garden has sample hilltribe buildings

A lovely still life found on one of the buildings

This sign greets you as you enter the Hall of Inspiration

Viewing the exhibits at the Hall of Inspiration

A sign at the Hall of Inspiration about Prince Mahidol

Photo of Prince Mahidol and Princess Srinagarindra

Sign with the words of Princess Srinagarindra

A photograph of the Royal Family in Switzerland

More words by Princess Srinagarindra on how she raised 2 kings

How change occurs from small beginnings

A pond at the Hall of Inspiration with ever-changing patterns

Drops of water expanding

The Hall of Inspiration covers the history of the Doi Tung Development

The guiding principle of Doi Tung

Some words of H.M. King Bhumibol Adulyadej

Great things come from small beginnings

Princess Srinagarindra

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Websites for Further Study

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