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Success story of former poppy sowers who now reap big rewards

Chiang Dao Caves

Success story of former poppy sowers who now reap big rewards

Nopniwat Krailerg

Once they survived by cultivating opium. Now most of the hill tribes who did so are supporting their families by growing other crops through the Nong Hoi Royal Project.

Examining for chemical contamination in vegetables, part of the control measures for Good Agricultural Practice (GAP) standard.

It is quite an achievement that 25 percent of Doi Kham crops are produced by the project in Chiang Mai’s Mae Rim district. The former hill tribe poppy farmers are now employed by the Royal Project, and have turned it into a new agro-tourism and eco-tourism site.

A vegetable plantation in the highland development project.

Situated in Nong Hoi Kao village in tambon Mae Raem, it takes about 45 minutes via the Chiang Mai-Fang Highway (Highway107). After 17 km, turn left onto the Mae Rim-Samoeng (Highway1096) and continue for 15 km. Then take the paved road on the right (between km 14-15) and continue for 7 km.

In the terrace farming, some areas are covered with plastic.

The project encompasses seven villages, 358 households and 2,883 inhabitants - mostly Hmong, Lisu, Chinese Haw and local people.

The Nong Hoi Royal Project was initiated by HM the King in 1969 when he visited the area. He thought of establishing a program to create sustainable occupations for the villagers who mostly conducted slash-and-burn farming and cultivated opium. In 1974, His Serene Highness Prince Bhisadej Rajani, chairman of the Royal Project Foundation, received a royal dictate to establish a center at Nong Hoi village to replace opium with cash crops.

Farmers of the Hmong hill tribes who have joined the project will bring their own produce to sell to the Royal Project, which will market it further.

The Royal Project has planted 53 strains of vegetable, of which sweet cabbage, cabbage, Petsai Chinese cabbage, and spinach are the best-sellers, as well as fruit.

Agro-chemicals for farmers

The project has 170 members, who last year received 19.5 million baht from a total revenue of 22.7 million baht raised by the sale of 1.74 million kg of crops.

From this royally initiated project, each member family can earn about 125,000 baht a year, and it aims to increase their annual income to 200,000 baht by 2006.

The staff of the Royal Project, Nong Hoi station, selecting top grade cabbages.

At present, the project is running a demonstration plantation of Chinese tea, kiwi, plums, persimmon, strawberries and cab gooseberries as well as various herbs like rosemary, mint, lemon balm, chamomile, lavender and peppermint.

All the produce passes the Good Agricultural Practice (GAP) standard to be promoted as organic crops.

Hmong hill tribes in the Nong Hoi development project.

The project does not restrict itself to farming: community groups to manage water distribution within communities, an anti-drugs group for youth that provides recreation, sport and jobs (like the local young guides project), a housewives’ group to produce handicrafts, a cooperative to sell fertilizer to community members are other examples of the Royal Project’s support network for surrounding communities.

Farmers working in the Chinese kale garden.

A school providing education up to Pathos 6 (Grade 6) and a public primary health service are also provided.

At the project site, there are also four interesting eco-tourism routes that lead visitors to experience the Hmong lifestyle. These routes are “Mon Long” situated 1,450 meters above sea level and 3 km from the center, “Mon Doi” situated on High Mountain near the Nong Hoi Mai village and 3 km from the center. Along the way, terrace farming can be observed and the scenery is very attractive during the winter and raining seasons. “Ban Sam Lung” is the third route, just 1 km from the center; along this route, the scenery of the Ban Mae SA Mai, a botanic garden and Pong Yang can be seen. Mae Chi-Pang Hay route is the fourth, lying in the south of tambon Mae Raem, and 9 km from the center. Along this route, the local lifestyle, a nursery plantation, the Wang Hang waterfall and Tad Mock waterfall can be experienced. The most interesting part on this route is the New Year celebrations of the Hmong. Accommodation and camping at reasonable prices for large groups and families are available.

Vegetables grown using hydroponics, which is now a popular agricultural method.

If interested, please contact the Tourism Activity Department of the Nong Hoi Royal Project at 0-5328-1238-40 ext 105 or visit www.rpfdoin honghoi.co.th

Chiang Dao Caves

Speleology made easy just outside Chiang Mai

Sandy Clark

72 km from Chiang Mai, behind Mae Rim on the way to Fang, you will reach the Chiang Dao Mountains and the Chiang Dao Caves.

According to the ancient legend, for many thousands of years the Tham Chiang Dao Caves have been the home of a ‘reu-sii’ (wise hermit). This sage was in tune with the spirit world and it is said that he convinced them to create seven wonders inside the caverns: a mystical lake, a city of nagas (snakes), a sacred immortal elephant, a storehouse of heavenly textiles, the hermit’s own tomb and a stream flowing from the pedestal of a solid gold Buddha. Until this day it is believed that these wonders can be found deep inside the mountain, where no light will ever reach but the legend also says that whoever removes even one single small piece of rock from the caves of Chiang Dao will be lost forever.

The staircase leading up to the caves. 10 baht electricity donation is expected before you walk up.

However, despite legends, you can explore the caves, and to date, nobody has become totally lost! Wear comfortable shoes, light clothes and take a camera. At the entrance, a 10 baht donation towards electricity is expected, with the two main caves, Tham Phra Nawn (360 m) and Tham Seua Dao (540 m), being illuminated. They have sacred Buddha images before which visitors can make merit. If you are adventurous, and fit enough, and want to walk on to another three caves, you must hire a guide and his lantern, which costs 100 baht. Believe me, you need him as you need your hands free for walking and ‘crawling’. Tham Naam (660 m more), Tham Maa (736 m) and Tham Kaew (477 m) are well worth it if you are athletic and fit.

A small lake with small chedis and huge fish for those not fit enough to explore the caves.

After re-emerging into the sunlight, you will have worked up a good appetite which can be assuaged 1.5 km up the road at the ‘Chiang Dao Nest 2’.

The view the terrace of Chiang Dao Nest 2.

There are many ways of getting to this picturesque area so near Chiang Mai. By car, or by bus trekking tour which leaves every 30 minutes from Chang Puak Bus Station in Chiang Mai to Fang and you tell the driver you want to get off in Chiang Dao. From there you take a taxi to the caves. Or what about a cycle tour? Currently the weather is cool and dry. Take highway 107 north, from Chiang Mai towards Fang and take a left when you reach Chiang Dao village. Five kilometers more and you have reached the cave entrance.

For the ‘not so fit’ family members, it is still an enjoyable mountain view, savor the fresh air and see the many different flowers and butterflies which inhabit the Chiang Dao area.

Cave number 3 gets tighter and more slippery. Now you need free hands and good shoes.

Lanterns waiting to be used.

A staircase leading down to another cave.

This wonder of nature was named ‘the sleeping elephant’ and is one of almost 100 ‘picture stones’.

Wonders of nature

‘Chiang Dao Nest 2’ terrace from a different perspective.