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Published: November 2nd 2009
Doi Tung is the current King of Thailand's (King Rama IX) mother's summer palace and gardens. She lived from 1900-1995 and was born a commoner who through fortunate circumstances became well educated during her youth, a nurse, and winner of the Queen's scholarship to study in America. She met a Thai young man in Connecticut who cared for the people of Thailand and the environment as much as she. They fell in love and this man decided to marry her. He was Prince Mahidol - the son of the King of Thailand. They married in 1920 and had 3 children (1 daughter, 2 sons). Prince Mahidol's brother became King of Thailand (King Rama VII) and Prince Mahidol and his family lived in Boston and Switzerland and traveled between Thailand & Europe. Prince Mahidol received his doctorate from Harvard Medical School while gravely ill with kidney disease. The family eventually moved back to Thailand and tragically Prince Mahidol died in 1929 from his illness.
In 1932, a revolution ended absolute monarchy and brought democracy and the Princess Srinagarindra, now a single mother, moved her 3 children back to Switzerland. In 1934, King Rama VII abdicated the throne and relinquished his right to
View from the HELIPAD next to the villa.
an heir to the throne. According to Thai succession laws, the eldest son (just 9 yrs old) of Prince Mahidol and the Princess Srinagarindra became King Rama VIII. The family still lived in Switzerland and returned to Thailand occasionally. In 1945, they moved back to Thailand and tragically the King (20 yrs old) died in 1946. Undiscussed by the Thai people is how the King died. According to the internet, we found out he was shot in the forehead while lying in bed and it is currently thought to be murder. The youngest son immediately became King Rama IX (the current King).
Eventually, the King's mother returned to Switzerland to live permanently.
She was a lady very much ahead of her time, she was very environmentally conscience. She is extremely well loved in Thailand and for good reason. In her 80's, she "adopted" the region of northern Thailand that was known for opium production and slash/burn farming and built her summer villa there. She raised awareness of green sustainable farming and set out on a mission to reforest the mountains. It worked because it is serenely beautiful in the northern mountains around Doi Tung. Instead of opium, farmers now do
sustainable farming and are known for their excellent coffee and tea production.
We could not take pictures in the summer palace so you'll have to image a large but simple elegant unassuming teak home styled in a combination of European Swiss Chalet and Traditional Thai built on top of a mountain. It's several stories with balconies overflowing with flower gardens and it's surrounded by an impressively huge display garden containing "rooms" dedicated to different growing conditions.
After visiting the Palace and garden we had a quick lunch of Mama instant noodles and then went to the Hall of Inspiration. This is a museum of sorts that tells the history of the Mahidol family and the King's mother and the King himself. Obviously, from the name of the place, it is supposed to inspire others in not only their King but in the ability to do great things for the people themselves. "It takes but one drop of water to create ripples...". Believe it or not, it works. Very well laid out with excellent displays (Again, sorry. No pics allowed) and quotes from the Princess Mom and the King. It is very clear the Thai people very much love their Royals
for all they have done for their country and peoples.
After enjoying the mountain country of northern Thailand we headed to Mae Sai, Thailand for a border crossing into Tachilek, Burma/Myanmar. Mae Sai is just a tourist town with nothing but vendor after vendor after vendor. After you see 10 booths, you've seen the same ole crappy Chinese made stuff over and over again. The crossing into Burma is a piece of cake compared to Cambodia (or Shambodia as we ended up calling it). Just pay your $10 per person, get your stamp and over you go. Of course, Tachilek is basically Mae Sai's uglier stepsister. Same old crap as in Mae Sai. The first vendors to pounce upon Rick were the guys selling fake American cigarette cartons and Viagra. "You want cigarette? No? Viagra?" Tammy about fell over laughing. This chant was quite common throughout the town. After a long 30 minutes in Burma, we proceeded to make haste back to Thailand. All we got from this trip was basically a stamp in the passport saying we went to Myanmar/Burma.
We called it a day about 3PM and headed back to the guesthouse for a relaxing day of blogging
and looking at pictures. For dinner, we walked downtown (easy walking around Chiang Rai) and enjoyed the festival atmosphere of the weekend. Monday is Loy Krathong or Festival of Lights so the whole weekend was one big party at night downtown with people throwing fireworks on the ground to try to startle people (these are the real ones not the watered down American ones. Remember the old M80s?). Some people were already releasing lit up paper lanterns into the sky. A candle in the center of the lantern heats it and lifts it really really high into the sky. The sky is stunning seeing all these traveling across it. Wait til Monday night and we'll be doing the same thing.
After a great dinner, we received "mints" with our bill. Well, Rick, THOUGHT they were mints and ate one. It was a cough drop. No kidding, tasted just like one. It's supposed to be a Thai candy but let's just say "Hall's Mentholyptus".
On a completely unrelated side note: Let's explain teak floors in Thailand for those who have yet to experience them. One, they are of course beautiful. Two, the wood is sanded till its perfectly smooth. Three,
its then coated with a heavy layer of lacquer. And finally, its polished until its absolutely glass smooth. Since shoes are never worn indoors, its stays smooth. Warning! You walk on these floors at your own peril. Rick about took a nice ride down several steps today. Hanging on to the handrail with kung fu grip is a must. Just some of the little things that make travel a broadening experience. : )
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