Wearing a colorful hat and an intricately embroidered garb, a kid from Doi Mon Cham playfully posed for our camera. We saw him sitting on a grassy part at the Diamond Mountain Jam viewing deck; everyone immediately forgot about the view and turned their attention to him.
I later learned that he was from the Hmong tribe, one of the six major hill tribes populating the mountainous northern part of Thailand.
For most tourists, stopping by Chiang Mai won’t be complete without visiting its hill tribe people. While there have been debates raging online regarding the ethics of doing such; its authenticity and its cultural effect on the tribes among others, our focus in Chiang Mai, while still part of the hill tribes, is Thailand’s Royal Project.
Located 1,200 meters above sea level in the Mae Rim District, we headed towards the Nong Hoi Royal Development Center from Chiang Mai’s City Center. This started the fourth day of TCEB’s Thailand Connect: Hip & Heritage Business Events familiarization tour.
There was a time when the Thailand’s hill tribes’ main source of livelihood was planting opium. Besides the obvious illegality and harmful effects of this so-called milk of paradise, this also denuded the forest off northern Thailand. King Bhumibol Adulyadej, visiting the land, saw this and thought of a way to remove opium from their lands and at the same time renew forest growth. The Royal Project came into being.
Started in 1969, it aimed to replace the opium poppy fields with vegetable and fruit produce. Although it took time, the project was a big success that gained international acclaim.
Just imagine, lands once filled with opium filled are now one of the main sources of fresh produce in the country.
Decades later, The Royal Project has now 38 initiatives all over the northern parts of Thailand; Mae Hong Son, Chiang Mai, Chiang Rai, Lampoon and Payao. Its impact on the lives of hill tribe people is immeasurable. Under the project, they now earn more not only through their produce, but also from eco-tourism that has now blossomed in the area.
Back at Doi Mon Cham, the kid, finally losing interest in us, bade his farewell and we were left with the view of the Diamond Mountain Jam. From our vantage at one of the open huts that also doubles as a restaurant, I can see tilled fields being enveloped by a blanket of clouds. Fields that once cultivated deadly opium poppies, fields that are now the source of a better future for the kid we just took photos of.
Nong Hoi Royal Development Center
Address: Mae Raem Sub-District, Maer Rim District, Chiang Mai, Thailand
Contact Number: +66 5381 0765-8
Rates and Online Booking: Click Here
GPS Coordinates Map: 18°46'40.9"N 99°02'12.5"E