The Royal Projects in Chiang Mai are just part of the legacy of King Rama IX
Visiting the booming northern metropolis of Chiang Mai is always an entertaining experience, but it can also be an educational journey. For those interested in seeing first-hand the lasting legacy of King Bhumibol Adulyadej’s Royal Projects, a good place to start is the Royal Agricultural Station Inthanon, established in 1979 and located in Khun Klang village (a 2.5 hour drive from the city). It’s one of four such stations in Thailand, and was part of His Majesty’s vision to promote farming sustainably as well as diminish poverty and deforestation in Thailand by giving the hilltribes living in these Northern regions knowledge of farming and sharing the latest innovations and technologies with these farmers.
The station now consists of gardens, ponds, nurseries, greenhouses, all of which are places of work as well as a busy tourist attraction. The focus here is on growing mainly temperate vegetables, ornamental flowers, and fruits, as well as farming fish. For the most part the farmers working at the station are members of hilltribe communities, either of Hmong or White Karen ethnicity. Prior to the introduction of alternative crops, such as coffee, one of the main sources of income for these hilltribe people was the production of opium. For some ethnic groups the consumption of opium was also a part of their culture, something the Thai government wanted to change.
It took some years to convince farmers that indeed sustainable, and profitable farming was possible outside of farming opium. Under the advice of the King, who visited the hilltribes all over the north on many occasions, this did eventually change. Hilltribes now practice sustainable methods of farming, as well as learning about post-production issues such as marketing and price fluctuation.
The Royal Agricultural Station Inthanon project is home to many people whose entire families live here, and in return for work they are paid a wage and are given free accommodation and meals. At the moment the project is full, and there is a waiting list to get in.
Tourism and work activity at the park are not exclusive—tourists and workers mingle—so it’s a great chance to see agricultural life in action. At the same time, a stay in the park offers far more than the experience many tourists have, which is often just driving up
the hill, taking a selfie at the ‘Thailand’s Highest Mountain’ sign, and driving back down again. In addition to the educational value, the park itself is gloriously eye-catching, decorated by the work itself—hillsides festooned with flowers and ponds home to swans languorously paddling about. There are also a number of nature trails starting from the project, perfect for daytime hikes.
By James Austin Farrell