Recently, the New Life Foundation group went on an excursion to the much-loved Princess Mother’ s villa, Doi Tung Palace and its surrounding gardens and the Hall of Inspiration. The villa was built fusing Lanna and Swiss architectural styles and demonstrates superb imagination and workmanship. The Princess Mother, Princess Srinargarindra, was born to a poor family but home schooled and learned to read and write. She continued her studies at a variety of institutions and eventually acquired a nursing degree. Her husband, who required permission to marry a commoner, studied medicine at Harvard but sadly died at an early age. She went on to raise two sons both of whom became Kings. In 1935 His Majesty King Rama VII abdicated from the throne after the revolution in Thailand and his younger brother was urged to take his place at the age of 9. She dedicated her life to raising and educating her sons, insisting her young son be educated in Switzerland and live the life of an ordinary man then predominantly be of service to his country.
The remainder of her life was spent creating a variety of programs to help ethnic minorities in the remote mountain areas of Thailand and gradually across the rest of Thailand. Realizing the precarious nature of the hill’s population, she helped reduce opium cultivation, by ensuring that farmers had alternative farming methods, food and shelter to create alternative sources of income. She also focused on sustainable and organic agricultural practices, such as the reforesting and preservation of the previously destroyed forests, public health, education and the preservation of arts and culture. Her death in 1995, at the age of 95, was a tremendous loss to the Thai people.
The gardens in the surrounding area are stunning, considered to be the most beautiful in all of Thailand. Manicured lawns, flowers, trees, pools and fountains engage and delight those strolling through the landscape. The next stop was the Hall of Inspiration, which allows visitors to learn more about the history of The Princess Mother’s life and family; this was followed by delicious bowls of noodles and curry behind the fruit market.
The next stop was the monkey caves, Tham Phum Tham Pla, located in Pong Ngam in Mae Sai. It’s also known as the Fish Cave as the gorge is supposed to look like the tail of a fish. The chubby macaques monkeys run around free, hand-fed ample amounts of food from visitors and drink from the canal, inhabited by large koi and catfish. For those willing to climb 2,000 steps, (well it felt like it anyway!) are rewarded by entering a huge limestone, cave at the back of which are Buddhas and offerings providing the opportunity for prayer, contemplation leading to inner peace and happiness.
We returned in New Life’s comfortable wagon feeling blessed and grateful to learn a little more about the fascinating history of this beautiful country.