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The spirits of the ancestors

The stuff of Legends

The spirits of the ancestors

HM the King brings hill tribes into today’s world

Marion Vogt and
Editorial staff
Photos: Michael Vogt

Great leaders, in the history of the world, are those who have seen what has needed to be done to bring their peoples into a current time-frame. Our revered Majesty, King Bhumibol Adulyadej the Great, is one of those leaders.

Makoo Techasopon wears many hats. He is teacher, advisor, helper, policeman, big brother and hotel general manager all in one.

Through his vision, he has brought the hill tribe peoples of the North, from subsistence poppy farming, to true agriculture, and yet at the same time has provided the framework by which they can retain their own ideals, customs and ancestral history.

Makoo Techasopon introduces a fourth grade student from Baan Khob Dong School, our ‘Junior Guide’ of the day.

As the occasional visitor, or tourist, you can be excused from thinking that you are about to experience a vastly different culture when you consider visiting one of the mountain villages. This natural sensitivity, however, is largely misplaced as despite the cultural differences, hill tribe folk are ordinary human beings. Hill tribe mothers have the same worries as you and me as they watch their children grow. However, they have additional burdens. Is there is enough food for everybody and enough money to get through the cold winter months?

A steep pathway leads up the hill to the little elementary school that was built from contributions from tourists and organized by Amari Hotels and Resorts.

And while you might look with pity, have you ever considered that they may also look upon you the same way? I asked one elderly grandma if she would like to move to a big city like Chiang Mai, and she just shook her head and said that she wants to be where her family is and the spirits of her ancestors.

This house serves as the village ‘hospital’ and the caring grandmother is safe with the spirits of her ancestors and her family. She does not care who rules the world, only if there is enough food on the table at night.

We visited a tiny Palong village near the Burmese border and had the honor to meet ‘Mor Chak Moo’, the 76 year old shaman who was a driving force many years ago in the huge efforts by HM King Bhumibol to eradicate opium in Northern Thailand. ‘Mor Chak Moo’ spoke about the dedication of ‘his King’ to give knowledge, health and a better life for the minorities of his country. He even traveled twice to Bangkok as a ‘royal friend’ and was a part of the first Royal Project fairs.

Cleaning up is also part of the daily school life for the children.

He saw the vision of His Majesty the King and helped foster it in the hearts of the people who live within ‘his area’. Even though today the villagers still sacrifice pigs and chickens, construct compasses from bamboo paper and form spirit bridges out of bamboo, the objectives of the Royal Project Foundation are known and understood by the hill tribe peoples.

Education for
a better life without forgetting old traditions. Little Palong girls wear traditional dresses every Friday.

The villagers now produce cash crops for the benefit of not just their own, but the Thai economy as well, they have stopped opium cultivation; they conserve the land, and help the nation by reducing the destruction of natural resources.

This mountain school near the Doi Angkhang Agricultural station was built with the money from a fund called Baht for a Better Life, initiated by the Amari Hotels and Resorts.

After the Royal Angkhang Agricultural Station Project was set up in 1967 as a resource center, there has been a huge development strategy. The local hill tribes surrounding the project are no longer focused on illegal logging and opium growing, their major source of income is now provided by working for the Angkhang station. This involves them in very alternative farming and crops, such as temperature fruits like peaches, pears, persimmons, kiwi fruit or raspberries, and fast growing plants like Chinese tea or bamboo.

12,000 hectares of terracing with a soil conservation system installed by the Royal Project.

Cultivating the crops is now a primary source of income and food, and tending livestock, and weaving cloth are central to their daily activities.

The second and third generations who work for the Royal Project now have the comfort in knowing that their children receive a basic education from teachers provided by the Border Patrol Police and other dedicated people such Makoo Techasopon, general manager of the Angkhang Nature Resort, who visits the schools on a daily basis and implemented, together with local authorities, the Junior Guide Program.

Reminiscing about the old days when ‘his King’ sat with him in this room.

Children from the Baan Khob Dong School are trained to welcome and show guests around who visit their village. The Junior Guide Program has become part of the school curriculum and every day a different child is the ‘guide of the day’. These guides are encouraged to take pride in their heritage and the surrounding natural environment, and communicate this to the visitors. This program is so successful, in only a couple of years over 60 young guides have been trained. It broadens their horizons, said Makoo, especially children who might not want to work as farmers but in the hospitality industry. Already 50 percent of the staff who are employed by the Angkhang Nature Resort come from hill tribes in the surrounding villages.

Through the vision of HM the King, the mountains of Northern Thailand are much safer and healthier places to live, showing that there is life without poppy plants in much better living conditions yet without losing their cultural identity and their pride in the many ancient traditions of the hill tribe peoples.

He still lives ‘the old way’ and is weaving small bracelets which are later sold to tourists.

Local houses are built to last five to seven years. Then they will be torn down and rebuilt in 24 hours, traditionally, without using a single nail. A duty which includes the whole village.

They still call him the ‘witch doctor’ but the trust of the villagers is with him. With the eradication of the poppy fields, education and a healthier future, their children will have a choice in life.

This is where HM King Bhumibol Adulyadej the Great had tea with village shaman Mor Chak Moo.

Basket weaving is done only by the men and this basket is being made to carry firewood.

The stuff of Legends

Miss Terry Diner

Can you become a legend in your own lifetime? One man is certainly trying, and he is Dusit Thammaraks, chairman and CEO of the (almost) completed boutique resort, The Legend Chiang Rai.

There can be no doubting the investment that is going into Chiang Rai these days. The low cost airlines have begun to open up the North, and as long as you are happy to queue to get on to your ‘bus in the skies’, you will find new destinations, with new places to discover, and new venues in which to stay.

Even the entrance to The Legend Chiang Rai is spectacular.

On a recent trip I took the opportunity to call in to The Legend Chiang Rai, at the invitation of both Dusit and his acting GM Marc Dumur, a man very well known in Chiang Mai hotel circles.

The property is certainly spectacular, and built on a different concept. This is not a multi-level monolith, but a collection of buildings nestling along the banks of the Kok River.

This is a beautiful setting for a quiet Thai massage.

There is a central ‘lobby’ building with the most elaborate spirit house in the world standing outside, with paved pathways through the grounds leading to freestanding villas and other buildings housing meeting rooms, a restaurant, spa and massage centers and a swimming pool overlooking the Kok. Many of the units also have their own plunge pools directly outside.

The property is certainly spectacular, and built on a different concept. This is not a multi-level monolith, but a collection of buildings nestling along the banks of the Kok River.

The construction uses natural materials, with wood, clay bricks and stone predominating. While it is a product of today with today’s amenities and facilities, the ambience is of many centuries ago, with romantic four poster beds and artfully draped mosquito nets all adding to the impact. The rooms themselves are quite spacious, with some of the largest shower rooms I have ever seen, a number of them opening out into private courtyards.

CEO Dusit is also a fan of Italian cuisine (he owns the La Casa chain of authentic Italian restaurants), and he has ‘imported’ the La Casa menu to Chiang Rai and has also imported the meats to be used, including the Italian cured and smoked hams. Enthusiasts of the genre will note some of the more interesting menu items such as stuffed pasta with ricotta, spinach and tomato or the rigatoni with pesto basil sauce with asparagus. The blackboard menu also offers desserts, including tiramisu.

Along with the La Casa menu, The Legend Chiang Rai is also stocking a good selection of wines, with the vast majority under B. 1,700, including wines from Australia, Chile, USA, Italy, France, South Africa, New Zealand and Thailand. The Tyrrells Long Flat Shiraz (B. 1,350) being one of my favorites with Italian meals. The Legend Chiang Rai also stocks the Monsoon Valley range of wines, purpose designed for drinking with Thai food, and is another I can recommend.

The restaurant is romantic, large and airy, with open sides looking across the Kok River, and most conducive to long lunches or dinners and dalliance! Unfortunately my air ‘bus’ was waiting and I had to curtail my dinner.

This was not a full review, but I can certainly recommend The Legend Chiang Rai both as a place to stay, as well as a place to dine. 124/15 Kohloy Road, Chiang Rai, telephone 053 910 400, fax 053 719 650, www.thelegend-chiangrai.com