Thus, having the chance to intimately get to know this region, we take as much advantage as possible. Last weekend was no exception. We had been encouraged by several people recently to check out a place known as Doi Tung. But a quick search on Google showed that there is a large garden there and that's pretty much it. Not that I am against gardens or anything, but I have to say I wasn't terribly psyched to sit in the Soluna for oven an hour to look at a couple of flowers, especially since I know my kids are not going to be excited either. In other words, they're going to be bored as hell and cause us all kinds of grief because there aren't any "kids activities" anywhere even remotely close to where we are going. No thanks - I'll sit in front of the fan with a home-made juice pop and try to remember what the other non-summer seasons are like. But fortunately for me, we were out of juice pops, so off to Doi Tung!
It turns out, the only thing on top of this mountain is the garden itself, the Queens villa, a lodge and a couple of coffee shop/restaurants - Google was pretty much right on. Regardless, after a quick bathroom break, we got a cappuccino, a cup of tea and our tickets to the garden and villa. It should be noted that Doi Tung is situated in such a way that even when you pull into the center of these buildings, you still can't really see much. The villa and gardens lay hidden behind tall and dense jungle foliage, so we weren't really sure what we were getting into yet. But as we descended some wide wooden stairs behind the ticket office, parts of the garden came into view, and I realized quickly that this place was special.
From the natural topography of the mountain, the garden was built to include orchid houses, small ponds, fountains, sculptures, a maze, and even the obligatory coffee stand. What immediately leaped to mind was the amount of design work, physical labor and love that went into the construction of this garden. Each rock, tree, flower, blade of grass seemed placed to evoke an emotion, to please the spirit, to pet the soul and make it purr. As a testament to this, I submit the following evidence: even the kids were impressed. They walked around each corner with appreciation, curiosity, and a smile. There was just something that held our attention and wouldn't let go. Of course, kids are slippery little suckers, so they were able to finally escape from its mesmerizing charm and wanted to move on to the villa, a corner of which is visible from part of the garden.
We walked up and around a winding path, following signs for the villa until we came to another sign that showed (through pictures) that wearing shorts into the building was a no-no. I stopped at the gate and was given a large pair of denim pants to wear over my clothes. These pants were a definite fashion statement, one that I was not sure I wanted to make at first. They were huge, both in the waste and along the legs. The female attendant fitted the chords around my hips and tied them gently and with great care. When I walked away, I felt like I was wearing traditional Northern Thai bell bottoms. But by the time I gave them back, I was wondering where I could purchase a pair for myself.
Afterwards, we marched on, up to the house past a brick wall with cascading tropical flowers, perfectly manicured trees with orchids blossoming along their trucks, and tourists wearing traditional Northern Thai bell bottoms. When we reached the front door, we were each given a self-guided tour headset and pointed in the right direction; then we were off. From the first fact, we were engrossed in our audio tour guide's description of the house, it's materials and purposes, its artifacts and history until the end of the tour on the far end of the house. The kids listened intently as they learned about the Queen mother and this unique villa that blends lanna style architecture with Swiss accents. One thing I thought was especially cool was the materials that were used. The outer siding was of split teak, but the inner walls were done in pine planks that were recycled from old shipping crates. A royal palace whose main interior feature was reused pine? Instant respect from me.
On we walked, again taking note of each amazing corner and artifact, appreciating what were were hearing about this remarkable woman whose efforts resulted in replanting whole forests, supplanting poppy production with tea and coffee farming, as well as inspiring the local people to further their education. She spoke Thai, French and English equally well, which is to say native-like. And she started life as a "commoner," but married a prince - a story not unlike my own wife's, by the way. Be that as it may (or may not), we came to the end of the house and the end of the tour when we were confronted by an unexpected view. The clouds had cleared somewhat while we were inside and left us with an scene out of Lord of the Rings. There were small farms below us in the valley, with tiny houses clustered close together where the hills descended out of the mist. It is no wonder the Queen mother chose this for her villa and development project. The scene was utterly inspirational, to say the least.
After the tour, I regretfully returned my pants and felt naked without them. We walked slowly toward the car, but made a brief detour at "the bazaar." This was basically just a few tables set up to sell local handicrafts and produce. We bought a few plums and a pomegranate for the ride home and said goodbye to this truly spiritual place. Everyone in the family felt happy to have come and experience something so outside of our normal routine and "Western" lives. We will come back, more than once probably, to wander the mountain and absorb the tranquility, beauty and soul of Doi Tung.