Royal Beauty At Doi Angkhang

One of the coldest places in Thailand, Doi Angkhang in Chiang Mai, is renowned as a scenic wonderland of orchards, flowers and forests. The area attracts tourists to enjoy the chilly beauty of this picture-perfect valley in the mountains 1,400 metres above sea-level. Here, the ever-present influence of His Majesty King Bhumibol Adulyadej, Rama IX, can be sensed at the Royal Agricultural Station Angkhang which has done so much to effect the greening of the valley, bringing agricultural affluence and a better quality of life to the ethnic people there.

Royal InterventionIt was not always such an attractive place to live. In the 1960s, Doi Angkhang was remote, isolated, with no roads and off limits to outsiders. Its occupants — refugees from Yunnan in China and Black Musers — grew opium, peaches and rice, living in poverty with no proper access to education or medical treatment.
King Bhumibol learnt about Doi Angkhang while travelling nearby in 1969. “As we had a helicopter, the King decided to fly to the top of the mountain to see for himself,” explained His Serene Highness Prince Bhisadej Rajani, Chairman and Director of the Royal Project Foundation. “There were poppies and peach trees, but the hillsides were extensively deforested through slash and burn cultivation.”
It was time for intervention. The King purchased land to set up the first research station for temperate fruit, vegetables, trees and flowers. According to Prince Bhisadej, “His Majesty asked us to find temperate fruit to grow on Angkhang, because he thought that income from the fruit would be higher than from poppies.”
It was. The Royal Project persuaded two or three families to grow some fruit. “We helped them cultivate the fruit, harvest and sell it. They earned a lot of money. Once word got around about the income coupled with the King’s influence, everyone wanted to grow fruit,” recalls Prince Bhisadej. “After that it was easy.”
Today, the Royal Agricultural Station Angkhang is the flagship for the Royal Projects, and the premier research station in Thailand for temperate fruits, testing new strains and cultivating fruit saplings for extension throughout the Royal Projects.
Other goals set by King Bhumibol are also evident. The hillsides are covered in new forests and agricultural plots that have helped eliminate poppy cultivation; four schools provide education for children; a small medical centre keeps everyone healthy; and there are now good roads to the outside world.
Flower GardensTourists love to visit Doi Angkhang to experience the cold weather (it can dip below zero in December and January), and to enjoy the scenery and burgeoning plant life. The Royal Agricultural Station Angkhang is actually a research station for temperate climate fruit. During the winter, temperate fruit trees shed their leaves and plants do not bloom. “Visitors used to complain that the trees were dying and there was nothing to see,” says Prince Bhisadej, who decided to introduce something for tourists “to see.”The result is a number of beautiful flower and plant gardens at the Royal Station that are cultivated to provide blooms throughout the year:

Garden 80 — named for Prince Bhisadej’s age (which is now 86) is decorated with short lived plants

Scented Garden — aromatic plants and herbs

Rhododendron and Azalea Garden — beautiful temperate plants

English Roses — half-bred roses from England, best seen in March-April

Temperate Flower House — a beautifully decorated greenhouse rich in plants with a coffee corner for visitors

Bonsai Garden — award-winning, long-lived bonsai plants and rock garden

Plus many demonstration plots for flowers and vegetables, as well as a small tea house where visitors can taste the oolong and green teas grown on Doi Angkhang
Military BaseA small military base right on the border with Burma next to Nor Lae village provides security for Doi Angkhang, and is also a popular scenic spot. The soldiers are friendly, welcoming visitors and providing insights into the tough life of being a Thai soldier on border patrol.
Ethnic Villages Khob Dong village is home to the Black Muser community, originally from Tibet, who have abandoned their opium-growing ways in favour of better incomes from fruit, flowers and vegetables. Visitors can see how the Musers live, and purchase gifts like grass bracelets and musical instruments from the village handicraft centre.
Nor Lae village is home to the Palong from Burma, who walked for seven days to Doi Angkhang when they first heard about the Royal Project. The tribal head met and petitioned King Bhumibol to be allowed to stay, and a place was duly set aside for them at Nor Lae.
“They used to grow tea and opium,” says Prince Bhisadej. “Now they grow tea and organic vegetables. The Palong have never grown vegetables before, so they follow everything we tell them about organic farming.”

EducationFollowing King Bhumibol’s wish to provide education, there are now four schools on Doi Angkhang teaching Muser, Palong and Yunnanese children from kindergarten to secondary level. A senior teacher at Khob Dong primary school, Kru Riem, epitomizes the educational commitment required. The first time she met King Bhumibol, he told her that he was too far away and asked her to teach the children on his behalf. Originally from Bangkok, she has been at the school for 24 years, refusing to leave since receiving the royal request.
Junior GuidesNine years ago, Kru Riem started the Junior Guide Programme, training school children to show tourists around their villages at weekends and holidays. It was a popular special activity that helped the children gain confidence to talk to adults, and to develop interpersonal skills.
When the Ministry of Education introduced curriculum changes to include one local subject for upcountry schools, Kru Riem proposed the Junior Guide Programme. It was accepted as a compulsory subject in the new curriculum. Makoo Techasophon of Angkhang Nature Resort and Royal Project staff were roped in as part-time teachers.
Today, Junior Guides are stationed at their villages every weekend, ready and eager to show tourists about life in the village. However, tourists are not allowed to take children outside the villages in their cars. There is no charge for the service, but donations can be placed in a special box to be split up every month — 60 per cent shared among the Junior Guides, 40 per cent going to the schools to fund summer camps and field trips.
Reforestation Restoring forests to denuded hills is an important goal of the Royal Project. Doi Angkhang’s reforestation programme began in 1982, in a cooperative effort between Thailand’s agricultural university, Kasetsart, and the Taiwan government, with technical support from National Taiwan University. Various temperate tree types were tried until five fast-growing species were found to respond well to the Angkhang climate — Taiwan acacia, Griffith’s ash, Camphor tree, Fragrant maple, and Paulonia.
To date, 681 rai of land is under new forest cover, with a further 118 rai extended as community forest to be looked after by the villagers, who can cut down and utilize the wood, provided they replant the trees. Visitors can discover the beauty of the forested slopes with treks along ten marked nature trails, all just over a kilometre long.
The wood processing plant is a tribute to sustainability, one of King Bhumibol’s most popular themes. Pieces of wood from trimming the trees, dead wood and branches are converted into charcoal in the factory kiln. Smoke from the kiln is cooled to collect the condensate, which is later distilled into wood vinegar that is used to protect trees and plants from insects and to reduce farm smells among other uses.
Good wood, including wood purchased from the community forest, is dried and shaved into straight pieces used to make outdoor furniture, boxes, baskets and other items that are in the process of development. Shavings from the wood processing are mixed with leaves and vegetation to make compost for the organic farms. Visitors are welcome to see the production process, or purchase wooden items from the Royal Project shop in the Flower Garden.
Buffaloes EverywhereSmiling buffaloes seem to be everywhere. Initially King Bhumibol donated two pairs of buffaloes to the Musers to help in their rice cultivation. However, they earned so much money from temperate climate produce, they stopped growing rice and buy it instead. Now the buffaloes having nothing to do but eat and multiply. The Musers refuse to sell or even eat them “because they are a gift from the King,” as one Muser farmer explained.ProduceA variety of temperate produce is currently grown on Doi Angkhang:

Fruit — strawberries, kiwi, peaches, apricots, raspberries, pears, plums and persimmons
Vegetables — butterhead, red coral lettuce, radishes, rhubarb, artichokes, kale and chayote
Herbs — chamomile, lavender, lemon thyme, oregano, parsley
Beverages — oolong and green tea, arabica coffee
Flora — roses, chrysanthemums
MarketingThe agricultural development of Doi Angkhang succeeds because the Royal Project guarantees to purchase all fruit, vegetables and flowers at good prices, provided they meet set standards of quality. Agricultural areas, especially the organic farms, are inspected by Royal Project staff prior to harvest. Then the produce is taken to the pre-cooling factory in the Royal Station, where it is checked, graded, packed, and stored in a cooler ready to transport to the Royal Project production plant in Chiang Mai.
Currently, Royal Project produce is sold under the Doi Kham brand to leading hotels in Chiang Mai and Bangkok, restaurants, and to corporate entities like Thai Airways International. The airline is a strategic partner of the Royal Project and its largest customer, using fruit and vegetables in its inflight menus, airport restaurants and outside catering. The general public can also buy through supermarkets like Tesco Lotus, Tops, Big C, Carrefour, Golden Place as well as Doi Kham shops.
However, as of December 2007, this produce will be sold under the Royal Project brand and through Royal Project shops, replacing the Doi Kham brand. A launch of the new branding will take place during the Royal Project Festival at Chiang Mai University, 13-16 December 2007.
In Father’s FootstepsMakoo Techasophon has spent over ten years on Doi Angkhang as general manager of Angkhang Nature Resort, learning much about the lives of people inhabiting the mountain and the important role King Bhumibol has played in improving those lives. To give visitors a better understanding of life on Doi Angkhang, two years ago Makoo launched his “To Follow Father’s Footsteps” programme, which he conducts himself with support from staff at the Royal Station.
Taking groups for two days and a night, the programme is basically a walking tour through villages and agricultural areas, ending at the Royal Station, and talking with people along the way about their lives and how they met King Bhumibol. “I tell my groups that the King has walked everywhere on Doi Angkhang. We are merely following in his footsteps,” explains Makoo.
The tour begins at Khob Dong school, where Kru Riem introduces her children who accept donations from the visitors and then perform some ethnic dances. It then heads to Khob Dong to meet Ja Mor, the Muser witchdoctor, who has drunk tea with King Bhumibol and is one of his most ardent supporters.
Occasionally quite strenuous, the walk continues through the development areas of strawberries and organic vegetables to Nor Lae village, and a possible meeting with the headman who originally petitioned King Bhumibol for the Palong tribe to stay on Angkhang. Following a picnic lunch of northern Thai food, the walk continues through tea plantations and forests, ending at the Royal Station. Not everything is done at once, but planned in advance depending on how much the group wants to see.
Makoo does not charge for the tour. It is his personal tribute to the work of King Bhumibol. Although aimed primarily at groups, during the December and January high season the tour is run regularly for individual visitors who really want to know more about the King Bhumibol’s work and are prepared to follow in his footsteps.
In-Flight MealsTo celebrate King Bhumibol’s 80th birthday on 5 December 2007, Thai Airways International has created special onboard menus using Royal Project produce to be served on all international flights departing from Bangkok in the 4-6 December period. Passengers in all classes will be able to enjoy such dishes as grilled prawn with apple and orange salad, marinated tabtim fish with spicy lemongrass, carrots and French beans, and Royal Project chayote gateau.
Royal Project Festival13-16 December 2007 At the Chiang Mai University Convention HallFruit, vegetables and a variety of other produce grown at Royal Project centres throughout northern Thailand will be on sale at the Royal Project Festival 2007 to be held at Chiang Mai University Convention Hall, 13-16 December. An extensive exhibition of King Bhumibol’s work in the Royal Project will also be on view.
Angkhang Gourmet TourTo promote visits by tourists to Doi Angkhang during the warm season, the Royal Project plans two gourmet tours — at the end of both February and March 2008. Each tour for up to 80 persons will be three days, two nights and feature a special gourmet meal prepared by a guest chef, a briefing on the work of the Royal Agricultural Station Angkhang and a guided tour organized by Royal Project staff.
The cost is 14,000 baht inclusive of return airfare, accommodation, and gourmet meal. Norbert Kostner, Executive Chef of The Oriental Bangkok, will create a special meal for the February tour. Interested persons should call the Royal Project’s public relations office tel: +66 (0) 53 810 765-9 ext. 104.
Web site: http://www.angkhang.com/ (Thai only)
Accommodation on Doi Angkhang
The Royal Agricultural Station Angkhang offers accommodation in hillside bungalows — 12 bungalows for two persons, six bungalows for six persons, and a large bungalow for 47. Two restaurants serve food grown within the Royal Project.
Accommodation enquiries: Tel: +66 (0) 53 450 107-9 ext. 113/114
Angkhang Nature Resort, operated by Amari Hotels & Resorts, provides three-star accommodation, with 72 rooms in bungalows affording either garden views or mountain views. Located next to Angkhang Station, the resort was voted Best Eco Resort in Asia in 2000 by Travel Asia magazine. With the cool climate, the rooms have no need of air-conditioning, instead offering electric blankets to keep guests warm.
Accommodation enquiries: Tel: +66 (0) 53 450 110E-mail: reservations@ankhang.amari.com
Getting There
Doi Angkhang is located on the Thai-Burma border, 160 kms north of Chiang Mai city in Fang District. This involves a three-hour drive with very steep roads up the mountain that cannot accommodate large tour buses.
On request, Angkhang Nature Resort offers a pick-up service by van from Amari Rincome Hotel or Chiang Mai airport, at a cost of 5,000 baht for the return journey.Alternatively, visitors can make arrangements with various travel agencies in Thailand that offer guided Doi Angkhang tours:
Local Agents: Asian Trails, Diethelm Travel, Destination Asia, Asian Horizons
Domestic Agents: NS Travel, Proud Holidays, Nice Spot Holidays, Baan Tour, Blue Sky Travel, Travel Smart

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