Categories
Thai Culture

The Royal Park Rajapruek

Royal Pavilion
The Royal Pavilion

I first visited The Royal Park Rajapruek (also transliterated as Ratchaphruek) in December of 2006. It was then popularly known an The Royal Flora Expo and officially known as The International Horticultural Exposition at the Royal Agricultural Research Centre, Chiang Mai.

King's emblem
60th anniversary emblem

It was created by the Department of Agriculture to celebrate the 60th Anniversary of His Majesty King Bhumibol Adulyadej’s accession to the throne and also his 80th birthday (on December 5, 2007). I was one of 3,781,000 visitors that first year.

Later it was retained as a learning centre for botanical agriculture and site for agro-tourism and culture. In 2010 H.M. The King gave it the name “The Royal Park Rajapruek.” Rajapruek is the Thai name of Cassia fistula, commonly known as the Golden Rain Tree. It is the Thai national flower. Its yellow blossoms correspond to Monday, the day H.M. King Rama was born.

Kasma and I revisited the Royal Park this year in its current incarnation.

One of the tourist sites recommends giving “2 to 3 hours.” We spent 6 and didn’t see everything.

Note: The photo above left shows the emblem created for the 60th Anniversary of H.M. King Bhumibol Adulyadej’s reign. The centerpiece is an abbreviation of the king’s name in golden yellow, the color of Monday, his day of birth. The abbreviation is set on a blue background, which is the color of the monarchy. He was born in the Year of the Rabbit, according to the Chinese Zodiac. Above the centerpiece is the number 9 in Thai script – he was King Rama IX.

(Click images to see larger version.)

There’s a slideshow of images at the bottom of the page.

The Ho Kham Luang Royal Pavilion

The Ho Kham Luang Royal Pavilion was and is the architectural highlight of the park, a beautiful pavilion built in the traditional Lanna style. You see it first in the distance as you enter the park located at the end of a wide boulevard-like path lined with statues. The Lanna kingdom was founded 700+ years ago in Northern Thailand and developed its own characteristic style, which is used here.

Walkway to Royal Pavilion
Elegant walkway to the Royal Pavilion
Royal Pavilion details
Royal Pavilion details

I’ll let the photos speak for themselves about the grace and beauty of this magnificent structure. (There are more photos in the slide show.)

Inside the Royal Pavilion
Inside the Royal Pavilion
Front detail
Detail of the inside of the Royal Pavilion

Ceramic sculture
The Progress by Sompetch Manorin (ceramic)
Bas-relief
Goddess of the Earth by Sagon Suthiman

In 2006 the bottom floor of this beautiful structure housed a number of stunning artworks. It now contains exhibitions honoring His Majesty the King under the theme, “The Development King through Six Decades” with information about his life and works and including videos about the beloved monarch. I highly recommend watching the video presentation if you get a chance: I found it inspiring and uplifting.

Park Layout

Royal Villa closer
Walking towards the Royal Pavilion

The park is divided into 9 zones scattered across 200 acres (80 hectares). It consists of numerous outdoor gardens and buildings containing exhibits and indoor gardens. The indoor buildings include The Kingdom of Tropical Dome, Shaded Paradise, Orchid Pavilion, Desert Plants Greenhouse and Bug World. Outdoors you can see the Palm Garden, Sawadee Garden, Flower Garden, Royal Garden, Garden New Theory and Lotus Garden. There are some example hilltribe houses and international gardens as well. The park map (offsite, opens in new window) will give you an idea of the scope of the park.

On this recent visit, we took a leisurely stroll through the entrance area and the lovely initial gardens and then up the broad walkway to the Royal Pavilion. We spent quite a bit of time in and around the upper floor of the Pavilion and then more time with the exhibits and videos about the king on the bottom floor. From there we focused on the Shade Garden, Orchid Pavilion and Bug World. After that, 6 hours later, we were ready for a rest with the remainder, sadly, left unexplored.

Shade Garden

This is a thoroughly enjoyable wander through the pathways of temperate climate plants with many beautiful bromeliads.There are more photos in the slideshow below.

Shade Garden pathway
Meandering path at the Shade Garden
Bromeliads blooming
A row of bromeliads

Orchid Pavilion

This is a fabulous collection of orchids. On the occasion of our visit one the highlights was the many drifts of phalaenopsis orchids – just a stunning display. The exhibit consists of an extensive outdoor area as well as indoor rooms.

Orange orchid
Lovely orange orchid
The author amongst the orchids

There are many more orchids (and shade plants and butterflies) in the slideshow below.

Bug World

I’ve been to many “Butterfly Farms” in the past; Bug World has them all beat. I’ve never seen so many butterflies and so many different kinds of butterflies in one place. We spent over an hour here, either tracking butterflies to photograph or lurking at plants that they seemed to prefer, waiting for a chance to get a photo.

Butterfly feeding
Butterfly feeding
Giant moth
Giant moth

Recommendation

Photo of H.M. King Bhumibol Adulydej

If you are a plant lover visiting Chiang Mai, this is a must-see. It is also an excellent stop for lovers of Thai Culture and an opportunity to learn about the life and works of H.M. King Bhumibol Adulyadej.

My recommendation would be to go in the winter; if possible in December around the time of the King’s Birthday (which is December 5): it’s the season where the gardens appear to be at their most lush, with the most flowers in bloom. We were there on December 18 of last year (2017).

It opens at 8:00 a.m.: get there as soon thereafter as you can; it can get pretty hot there and there’s not always shade along the walkways, though a shuttle service is available. That’s another good reason to visit in December – it’s in the “cool” season. (Though I’ve also heard it said that there are two seasons in Thailand: hot & hotter.)


Royal Project Rajapruek Slideshow

Click on “Play” below to begin a slideshow.

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


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Websites for Further Information and Visit Planning


Written by Michael Babcock, January 2018

Categories
Thai Culture Travel

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 several different occasions I have spent a full day visiting the three main attractions there. I leave each of the three with a peaceful feeling, my heart full.

Doi Tung View
View at Doi Tung

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.

(Click images to see larger version.)

There’s a slideshow of images at the bottom.)

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 Rama VIII and Rama IX and the grandmother of the current 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 her work 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 Doi Tung website – offsite, opens in new window.) 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.

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.

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 – offsite, opens in new window.)

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.

Lady Slipper 3
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

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 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 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 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 . . .


Doi Tung Slideshow

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


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Websites for Further Study – All links open in new window


Written by Michael Babcock, September 2017

Categories
Thai Culture

Examining the Life of H.M. King Bhumibol Adulyadej – Rama IX

Introduction

Introduction by Michael Babcock

As the late King Bhumibol Adulydej’s funeral approaches, Kasma and I have been revisiting his life and feeling anew deep sorrow at the passing of this incredible man. I would have expected time (it’s 11 months since his death) to dull the grief somewhat: that has not been the case.

A friend of Kasma’s recently wondered what the fuss was about, why virtually an entire nation could revere one person so much. She wanted to better understand why Kasma is going to Thailand this year to take part in the ceremonies honoring the King.

Waiting to pay respects
Waiting to pay respects

As of September 4, over 10,000,000 people have come from across the country to pay respects before the Royal Urn at the Grand Palace’s Dusit Maha Prasart Throne Hall – that’s an average of 33,146 per day. On Sunday September 3 – 305 days after his death – a total of 45,125 arrived to pay their respects. The day Kasma and I went together in January we were just 2 out of nearly 60,000 people and waited 9 hours to get into the throne hall. Many people have gone multiple times. Donations from the people have amounted to 754,646,253 baht – around $23,000,000. (Figures from a September 4, 2017 Thai PBS article.)

Kasma put together this list for her friend. We invite you to follow some of the links and learn about this extraordinary being.

– Michael


Resources for the Life of King Rama IX

By Kasma Loha-unchit

Note: All links are offsite & open in a new window.

King Rama IX
King Rama IX

“While I was in Bangkok I became how very aware people felt about your late King. Even then he was not well and there was a palpable feeling of worry and concern for him. That’s wonderful that you are going over early and can truly participate in honouring your finest monarch. Where can we read about his great works Kasma?”

              – Kasma’s friend’s question

Written Word Online

There are tons of books written about the King and his great works and words of wisdom, though the most precious are the books written in the Thai language and published within Thailand. In fact, anything about the King becomes best sellers these days. I recall how sad it was when I arrived in Thailand last November and all magazines on the news racks, local and international, had the King’s picture splashed on the cover in black and white and this continued for three months until the end of the year. The Bangkok Post published a tribute about the King’s life and the Thai Embassy has a page with a few articles about him, if you wish a quick and easy read about him (opening in a new window):

Videos

King at Work
The King at Work

There are also a great number of YouTube videos with very touching images and stories. I particularly love the one put together by a couple of Thailand’s well-known documentary film makers in tribute to him; it’s a composite of flashbacks, images of sorrow, and the preparation and execution of the incredible mass singing of the Royal Anthem in his honor by hundreds of thousands gathered outside the Grand Palace a few weeks following his death. I’m reduced to a puddle of tears every time I see it and hear the King’s voice in an address he gave in 1976:

Here are a few more Youtube videos in English which will tell you the story why Thais love him so much. All links open in a new window.

And if you have time, the BBC filmed an excellent 2–1/2 hour documentary on the royal family in 1979, which you can also watch on YouTube:

Books

Rama IX with his people
Rama IX with his people

The above probably are enough to satisfy your interest, but should you be curious and wish to read more about the life of one of the greatest men to walk on this earth in the 20th century, here are my favorite books in the English language about him (although you may have a hard time finding most of them online):

  • King Bhumibol Adulyadej: A Life’s Work by Nicholas Grossman (Editor-in-Chief); first published 2011; ISBN 978-981-4260-56-5
  • King Bhumibol Adulyadej: Thailand’s Guiding Light (1996 The Post Publishing Public Co.. Ltd.); ISBN: 974-202-040-X
  • The Mahidol Family by Parichat Khumraksa (Translator: M.R. Usnisa Sukhsvasti), 2014; ISBN 978-616-374-073-1
  • King Bhumibol Adulyadej: The New Kingship (A Three-Volume Series: Vol. I : From Prince to King; Vol. II: Strength of the Land; Vol. III: By the Light of Your Wisdom) by Danai Chanchaochai; ISBN:978-974-9977-57-6 (an easy-read set)
  • The Revolutionary King: The True-Life Sequel to ‘The King and I’ by William Stevenson (first published in 1999); ISBN: 1-84119-451-4
  • The King of Thailand in World Focus (Foreign Correspondent’s Club of Thailand, articles from the international press 1946-2006, first published 2007); Editor-in-Chief: Denis D. Gray; ISBN: 978-974-7348-54-5

Songs

There have also been dozens of songs penned and recorded by popular musicians in tribute to the King over his reign and following his death. Of course, they’re all in Thai except for two tributes by the international expat community in Bangkok. Here’s a nice one that I thought you might like (recorded a couple of years before his death):

Postscript

I think I’ve more than overwhelmed you with information about my beloved King. See what a short nine-word question can get you? The King has been the focus of my life this year and it’s been very hard to accept that the hero of my life has left.

King Rama IX
King Rama IX

Written by Kasma Loha-unchit, September 2017

Categories
Buddhism Travel

Doi Suthep – A Personal View

Doi Suthep Scene
Monks at Doi Suthep

Doi Suthep in Chiang Mai is the most important temple in northern Thailand. This blog is a slideshow of images I took when visiting in January 2015. Temples in Thailand can consist of many buildings inside a compound (the wat). There is nearly always a stupa (called chedi in Thai) and a building with the main Buddha image.

The main feature of Doi Suthep is a large chedi in an inner courtyard; a sala around the courtyard contains temple murals and many Buddha statues. In-between the chedi and the sala is an area with many “chapels.” One of the customs at Doi Suthep (indeed, at many temples) is to walk around the main chedi 3 times in a clockwise direction: one time is for the Buddha, one time is for the Dhamma (the teaching of the Buddha) and the third time is for the Sangha (the community supporting the Buddha). Outside the chedi area are many more statues and various buildings.

I love photographing temples in Thailand. Everywhere you look there are arresting visual images and details that are easy to overlook if you focus on seeing just the main attractions. Doi Suthep is particularly rich in photogenic features. I’ve been there many times and each time it is varied and different. This photo essay represents this year only.

Since one picture is allegedly worth 1,000 words, here is my “30,000 word” blog, each picture accompanied by a minimum of words to provide context.

You may want to walk through the photos by clicking on each image so that you can have time to read the accompanying text. Give time for the slides to load. Please enjoy.

Doi Suthep Slideshow

Click on “Play” below to begin a slideshow.

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

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Written & Photographed by Michael Babcock, February 2015

Categories
Thai Culture Travel

Mae Fah Luang Art and Cultural Park in Chiang Rai

One of the highlights when we visited Northen Thailand earlier this year (January 2014) was the Mae Fah Luang Art and Cultural Park in Chiang Rai, Thailand. Hosting the region’s largest collection of folk art and teak artifacts from the Lanna Kingdom, the adjective I would use to describe it is gracious. The highlights, aside from the art, are a beautiful golden pavilion, an elegant peaceful garden and a museum of Lanna art, contemporary and old.

This is a rather long blog with 6 sections:

(Click images to see larger version.)

Haw Kham – The Golden Pavilion

Outside the Cultural Park
Approaching the Cultural Park
Golden Pavilion
The Golden Pavilion

When we came here, I knew nothing about the place at all. As we walked in on foot towards the Cultural Park, we came upon a wooden walkway over a lovely pond, surrounded by natural beauty and peacefulness. In the back we saw the Golden Pavilion: a beautiful teakwood building in the Lanna style of architecture that was presented as a gift to the Princess Mother to celebrate her 84th birthday in 1984. It was constructed by 32 wooden houses given by various people in Chiang Rai out of love for the Princess Mother. The Golden Pavilion reflects the deep love and gratitude towards the Princess Mother and all that she had done for the Northern people.

Covered Walkway
Covered walkway
Pavilion detail
Detail of the Golden Pavilion

The walkway itself is a work of art, with it’s wooden beams and supports. There are lovely details on the sides of the pavilion as well (see upper right).

Elephant Carvings
Elephant carvings on the staircase
Doorway Detail
Detail above the doorway

The stairway and door of the pavilion are rich in detail and beauty, as these two pictures show: a row of elephants walks you up the stairs and on the lintels above the door, celestial beings great you.

At the bottom of the stairs we were met by a young woman in a lovely Thai dress who was our guide into the pavilion.

The Pavilion is not a museum. The idea was to include notable religious and secular objects, many used in Lanna ritual and displayed within context; there are ritual items such as candelabras, wooden standards and containers for floral offerings. The interior is candlelit and there is a feeling of sanctity. One of the more prominent images is a wooden Buddha statue named Pra Pratoh, which, according to inscriptions, was created in 1693.

Pavilion interior
Inside the Golden Pavilion
Central Pillar
Central pillar

Photography is forbidden inside the pavilion. The ritual objects are around a hallway or balcony surrounding the interior of the building overlooking a central courtyard with a white sand floor. A red and gold pillar rises from the center of the floor. It’s a lovely, quiet space.

You can see the inside of the pavilion in this picture (above left) from down below, looking up from the white sand floor. If you click on the (left) picture (to enlarge) you can see part of the walkway with the objects displayed in the back of the photo.

Candelabra #1
One candelabra
Candelabra #2
Another candelabra

Many of the ritual objects displayed in the Pavilion were candelabras that hold 7 candles. The two photos shown above were taken from outside the pavilion where a number of these candelabras were displayed around the building’s base.


Background of the Cultural Park

Princess Mother
The Princess Mother

Mae Fah Luang is one of the titles of Her Royal Highness Princess Srinagarindra, the Princess Mother, who was the mother of the current King of Thailand. It means “Royal Mother from the Sky,” in part a reference to the Princess Mother’s work in bringing medicine to the rural areas of the north by helicopter, often accompanying the medical teams herself. The Foundation grew out of all of her work on behalf of the Thai people. It began life as the Thai Hill Crafts Foundation that the Princess Mother founded in 1972 to offer market access for craft-making villages in Northern Thailand; it was renamed in 1985 to reflect the increasing emphasis on social issues, including education and sustainable development, that were being developed based on the Princess Mother’s philosophy and ideas.

Water Basin
Lanna water container

The Cultural Park was established at what was called the Rai Mae Fah Luang, a center for education and skills training for hill tribe youth in Northern Thailand. It was established to house the Royal Collection of Lanna Art in order to make the art available to the northern people in order to educate them about their cultural heritage. It is the largest collection of Lanna art in the region.

The word Lanna means “a million rice fields” and the Lanna Kingdom was founded in the 13th century AD by King Mengrai. It was basically a federation of smaller princialities in the north, including areas in Burma, Laos, Thailand and southern China. Conquered in the mid-16th century by the Burmese, it became a vassal state of Siam in the late 18th century, remaining a loose federation with up to 57 city states or principalities. In 1892, Siam officially annexed Lanna and it became part of Thailand.

The Garden

From the Golden Pavilion, we spent time wandering around the second main feature of the Park: the garden, a botanical collection with indigenous and rare plants from the northern region.

Air Plants
Giant air plants
Tropical Leaf
Tropical leaf

The garden has some beautiful specimens, such as these giant air plants (above left). Many plants have interesting leaf structures.

Pond
Pond and urns
3 statues
3 garden statues

There are graceful details throughout, such as these urns at the edge of a pond. Statues are nestled in amongst the plants.

Stones #1
Stone garden
Stones #2
Stone garden

There’s a lovely use of rocks and stones to add accents and interest, such as the two photos above.

Carving #1
Garden carving
Spirit House
Spirit house close-up
Carving #2
Carved pillar

These three photos show some of the other features in the garden.

Wall
Wall with carvings
Carving Detail
Carving detail

Even the walls of the building are interesting, with wooden carvings part of the structure.


Haw Kaew – The Museum

The other main part of the Cultural Park is the Haw Kaew. According to the brochure handed out at the Park, “Haw Kaew presents a permanent exhibition based on artifacts and religious items made from teak, as teak was used in people’s everyday lives. In addition there are revolving exhibitions featuring “topics related to the diverse ethic cultures of Lanna.”

Painting
Portrait of the Princess Mother
Museum Entry
Museum entry

One of the first things that you see when you come into the museum is a portrait of the Princess Mother. It is hard to convey the devotion that most northern people feel for this extraordinary woman. She was instrumental in bringing education, skills training, medicine and dental care to the rural northerners. In the west we seem to have a somewhat jaundiced view of royalty. It’s different in Thailand because of the dedication of the current royal family, which began with the Princess Mother. (See the Wikipedia entry on Srinagarindra (the Princess Mother).)

Painting
By Dr. Kamol Tassanaanchalee
Bas Relief
Creation by Jarron Chaijajit
Banner
Modern banner

The museum includes a collection of contemporary art by northern Thai artists. Above left is a painting by Dr. Kamol Tassananchalee based on what the sign calls “Thailand’s most popular love song” – Lovelorn Song, the lyrics by Chalie Intravichit. In the center is a wood carving – “Creation,” by Jarron Chaijajit. To the right is a banner, attributed only to “a Chiangrai artist.”

Modern Sculpture
Modern sculpture
Sculpture Close-up
Close-up of the sculpture
Sculpture Detail
Sculpture detail

I loved this wooden sculpture with all of it’s textures and folds.

Naga Carvings
Lanna temple naga carvings
Enshrined Buddha #1
Enshrined Buddha
Wooden carving
Wooden carving

Still, the bulk of the collection consists of older Lanna art. Above left is a row of nagas (the naga is a mythical dragon) taken from various Lanna temples. The museum includes a number of enshrined Buddhas, such as the one in the center above. There are numerous wooden carvings, such as the one above right, presumably of a celestial being or princess.

Manuscript Chest
Manuscript chest
Enshrined Buddha #2
Another enshrined Buddha

The picture above left shows a manuscript chest that would have been used to store Buddhist scriptures. To the right is a teak carving of the Buddha enclosed by 2 protective nagas; the sign for this piece says “Enshrining an image of the Lord Buddha Shan.

The Slideshow below has further images from the museum.


Note: There’s also a smaller buiding on the grounds called the Haw Kham Noi . It houses mural paintings originally done in tempera painted directly on teak panels in a temple in Phrae province; they were saved from sale as antique by the villagers and sent here for safekeeping. We did not see the murals when we were there.


Location

อุทยานศิลปะวัฒนธรรมแม่ฟ้าหลวง
313 หมู่ 7 บ้านป่างิ้ว ต.รอบเวียง อ.เมือง จ.เชียงราย 57000
โทร. 053 716 605-7, 053 601 013 โทรสาร 053 712 429
อีเมล : rmfl@doitung.org

Mae Fah Luang Art and Cultural Park
313 Moo 7, Baan Pa Ngiew
Tambon Robwiang, Amphoe Muang Chiang Rai,
Chiang Rai 57000 Thailand
Phone: 053 716-605 (to 607), 053-601-013
Fax: 053-712-429
Email: rmfl@doitung.org

Hours 8:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m., closed Monday
Entrance fee: 100 to 200 baht.
Mae Fah Luang Website (offsite, opens in new window)

Explore Further

Information from this blog comes, in part, from the following websites:

See Also


Slideshow

Click on “Play” below to begin a slideshow.

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

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Written by Michael Babcock, October 2015

Categories
Thai Culture

Wat Phumin in Nan – The Murals

Perhaps the most famous temple murals in Thailand are at Wat Phumin in Nan in the North. This is a quick look at the history and at some of the enticing scenes that can be found there, taken on our visit to Nan in January of 2014.

The temple murals were one of the features of Northern Thailand temples that most intrigued me when we visited there this past January. Most temples had murals and some of them were quite fascinating (as were the murals at Wat Phumin).

(Click images to see larger version.)

Mural #1
The artist & his lady

Much of the information in this blog comes from the book Reading Thai Murals by David K. Wyatt; copyright 2004 and published by Silkworm Books in Chiang Mai. (Reading Thai Murals – offsite, opens in new window.) Rather than being comprehensive (you can read Wyatt for that), I’m going to quickly go over some of the history and then include a slideshow of images that caught my eye as I wandered around the interior of the temple (for quite some time).

Seen here, to the left, is, perhaps, the most famous of all the images from Wat Phumin. Anyone who has visited Nan has seen it on any number of souvenirs, t-shirts and posters. Local tradition has it that this image shows the artist, Thit Buaphan, himself with a female companion.

Wat Phumin #1
Wat Phumin exterior
Wat Phumin #2
Wat Phumin exterior

The main building at Wat Phumin is both the “ubosot” (ordination hall) and the “viharn” (meeting hall). (At some temples these will be two separate buildings.) It’s in the shape of a cross (cruciform) built on the back of two giant nagas (the naga is a mythical serpent, much like a water dragon). The main entrance is guarded by two “singh” (mythical lions).

Buddha Image
Main Buddha image

In the center of the building there is a 4-sided Buddha statue, with a Buddha facing in each of the 4 directions (towards the doors). The statue is in a posture known as “Subduing Mara” or “Calling Earth to Witness” and represents the Buddha at the moment of his enlightenment. At that moment, Mara mocks Buddha and asks how he can claim to be enlightened, who is there to witness his enlightenment? The Buddha takes one hand and points to the earth, indicating that the Earth Mother Goddess will bear witness.

Murals
A wall of murals

Really, though, the main attraction in this temple is provided by the murals. The picture to the right shows how entire walls are completely covered with murals. These murals were painted beginning in 1894 by a Thai Lue artist named Thit Buaphan, who was well known for painting the murals at Wat Nong Bua (also in Nan Province). He had many assistants and the work continued into the 20th century.

The main story represented here is a story of one of the Buddha’s past lives – one of the so-called Jâtaka stories. There are roughly 550 “official” stories and, in addition, another 50 or so stories about previous lives that are included in a collection called the Paññâsajâtaka, known mainly in Burma, Northern Thailand & Laos.

Mural #2
Mural of the main story

At the time the murals were painted, Nan was a separate kingdom that was a vassal-state to the Kingdom of Siam. In 1893, Siam made Nan give half of its kingdom to the French to become part of French Indochina, in order to appease the French. One of the reasons that Thailand was never colonized was because, on several occasions, they made gestures such as this to appease the western powers. Obviously, this move was not popular in Nan.

The main story depicted at Wat Phumin is a story that (according to David Wyatt) is found in just a few manuscripts and most likely only published in Laos. Wyatt knows of no other temple where this story is portrayed. The story concerns an orphan, Gaddhana, who went searching for his absent father (said to be the god Indra, disguised at an Elephant). As Wyatt says (on page 21):

. . .The theme of orphanhood thus is repeated, acted out in the panels of the mural at Wat Phumin, though the orphanhood is the condition of lacking a father and not lacking a mother.

The message that viewers were reading off the walls was from a cautionary tale of persistence through adversity, in a world suffused with evil in which virtue was rewarded eventually.

Mural #3
Woman weaving

Wyatt says the story was chosen as a subtle criticism of Siam’s actions in giving Nan’s land away, chosen because more overt criticism was impossible.

Along with another Jâtaka story on the walls, and interwoven as part of the stories, we see the portrayal of ordinary, day-to-day life in the late 19th century; it is these depictions that set the murals apart and account for their fame. Amongst numerous individuals in the midst of daily activities, we also see representations of Europeans, hill tribe people, animals and lovers, both heterosexual and transgender. It is a marvelous celebration of life.

Slideshow – Murals at Wat Phumin in Nan

Rather than point out slides and themes, I’m going to insert below a slideshow of some of the wonderful images that you can see at Wat Phumin. Where I’m able, I will point out what is being portrayed (often relying on David Wyatt); otherwise, I’ll let the slide speak for itself.

Rather than setting the slideshow to run by itself, you may want to simply click on each picture to see the next image, so that you can go as slowly as you might like to enjoy the images.

Click on “Play” below to begin a slideshow.

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

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Written by Michael Babcock, July 2014