Doi Tung Royal Villa, located in Chiang Rei, Thailand, was built with simplicity in the Lanna and Swiss architectural styles in 1987, as a residence for Her Late Royal Highness Princess Srinakarindra, the Princess Mother.
It's location in the mountains of northern Thailand among the hill tribes was chosen so that the Princess Mother might reforest the area and improve the lives of the local people through education, health care [provided with her own funds] and training. Her goal was to replace the cultivation of opium, which was destroying the social fabric of the local population, with co-op farming and artisan skills.
The plan was successful. Today, members of the hill tribes proudly sustain themselves with small scale farming. On each plot of land homeowners grow at least one of about ten food bearing shrubs, trees and plants and raise several chickens. From each plant, they consume what they require for sustenance and deliver the surplus to a nearby collection center which consolidates the modest harvests and sends it to market. The generated revenue is also supplemented with fine quality handicrafts made from locally woven textiles to be sold at better tourist shops throughout Thailand.
Part of the construction of the villa reflects the Thai tradition of re purposing all plant matter so that nothing grown is discarded. For example, in Thailand’s silk industry, mulberry leaves that are too tough to be ingested by silk worms are pounded into pulp to make a textile used in the manufacture of parasols.
Similarily, at the elephant refuge, located further south in Chiang Mei, dung is mechanically separated. The soft manure is used as compost while the tough indigestible fibres [because elephants don’t discriminate against what part of the plant they eat] are processed into a richly textured linen-like paper used in souvenir shops for gift wrapping, stationary and picture frame covers.
Respecting the tradition of re purposing, the exterior of the Princess Mother's Villa, while built of concrete, was decorated with wood slabs cut from discarded teak trees, which came from forest thinning work by the Forest Industry Organization. The interior of the Royal Villa is paneled with recycled pine wood, from crates used for imported tools and equipment.
The colorful landscape design, that flows downhill from the building, offers a visual balance to the serenity and simplicity of the home’s architecture. Known as The Mae Fah Luang Garden, it is designed with hundreds of different kinds of annual and perennial flowering plants spread over 10 acres of lush, expansive lawns.
Chiang Rei, situated in the mountains of northern Thailand, enjoys a cool climate virtually all year round thus making it possible for the Princess Mother to give the Thai people, who never travelled beyond their tropical country, an opportunity to experience a temperate flower garden.
This tourist destination is a flower gardener’s dream. The enormous amount and varieties of flowering plants, that flow endlessly in front of the visitors’ eyes, create a moving and almost surreal visual experience.
The concept of the garden reinforces the idea that not all landscapes need to be variations on themes of green. Nor must they be designed solely with immaculately trimmed evergreen shrubs. In the appropriate setting, using eye-catching color schemes and climate-friendly plants, a flower garden can be a beautiful attraction.