We rode uphill towards the mountains, onto winding roads until our vehicle finally reached our destination. What welcomed us took our breath away: passing clouds that envelop that upland portion give way to a scenery of greens. Children garbed in their patterned traditional hilltribe wear were playing at a small clearing. They stopped as they saw us got off our van and they performed the wai, with hands in a prayer-like position. This was the Doi Mon Chaem at the Mae Rim District in Chiang Mai, Thailand.
Cotteges overlooking the valley are lined up at one side of the hill. A cafe sits in the middle of the clearing. The area is surrounded by vegetable plantations that form part of the Royal Project. The project was started by His Majesty the late King Bhumibol Adulyadej in 1969. Prior to our visit to Doi Mon Chaem, we spent some time at the Nong Hoi Royal Development Center where we learned more about the Royal Project.
At a time when the area was besought by environmental and social problems like deforestation and opium production, the late King Bhumibol helped transformed the communities by introducing an alternative way of tilling their land where the locals learned to plant and nurture vegetables and fruits, which are now produced as chips, snacks, candies and infusions. In fact, we were munching most of the products that the people have made through the Royal Project as we headed to Nong Hoi Royal Development Center and the Doi Mon Cham.
The project has created a great impact to the people living there and to Thailand, as a whole. Now, other countries look into this project as inspiration and learning as they try to address similar issues in their respective territories.
But what is even more interesting is that groups, particularly companies, can spend a few days in these communities through their homestay program. It was a great way to interact with the locals, to learn from their success stories and to adapt their way of life to other areas.
As we bid adieu to Doi Mon Chaem, we looked back to the children playing. A mother carrying her baby on her back passed by and waved at us. You can see the smile and contentment in their faces. This is a different face of Thailand that I have seen. It has opened a new shade to how I see life. The Royal Project is a testament of the legacy of the late King Bhumibol and the hope that he has brought to his people.