We debated renting a car or hiring a driver to do a day trip out of Chiang Rai to the Myanmar border to see the Princess Mother’s swiss-style villa and garden and the “Yunnanese” village of Mae Salong. But, the more we read about these destinations, the more they sounded like a long drive for not much that appealed to us. We were loving our hotel (Maryo Resort), enjoying the leisurely pace, and decided to stick closer to home. As I mentioned before, there’s not tons of must-see sights in Chiang Rai. It’s in the far north of Thailand and tourists tend to come for the White Temple and to explore the region’s parks and villages. We’d seen the White Temple and our share of villages, so what about Chiang Rai itself? I came across mention of the Mae Fah Luang Art & Cultural Park. “Mae Fah Luang” refers to the recently-deceased king’s deceased mother, known as the “Princess Mother.” The park contained a Lanna-style wooden “pagoda” or temple made of wood from 32 traditional homes and gifted to the Princess Mother on her 82nd birthday. The park also contained other structures and exhibits relating to Lanna culture. This sounded like the perfect, easy destination.
[Note: The Mae Fah Luang Art & Cultural Park should not be confused with the Mae Fah Luang Villa and Garden near the Myanmar border.]
The hotel happily informed us that they could book the same tuk tuk driver for 300 baht ($8.57) to take us to the park and wait a couple of hours, then take us to somewhere for lunch. Somehow David missed the identity of the driver and his face fell when he saw the speed demon in the ear-splitting tuk tuk from the day before. Oh well, in we climbed…only to discover that, while the tuk tuk was just as loud, our driver seemed much more mellow than on the previous day. We speculated whether he might have skipped his morning coffee…or taken his meds, but the ride out to the cultural park through bright green rice fields turned out to be more relaxing than we initially feared.
We pulled to a stop at the ticket booth where we paid a steep-for-these-parts 200 baht ($5.71) apiece before motoring past an empty parking lot to be dropped off at a pretty covered bridge over a lake. The setting was gorgeous, but the place was entirely empty of visitors save for us. Across the zigzag bridge, we came to another booth where a young woman came out to escort us into the huge wooden “Golden Pavilion” that lay just ahead. Although we could see that the building was large, the beauty and lofty size of the softly-lit interior still took my breath away. Beautiful!
The young woman walked us around a wide raised walkway that circled the open center of the soaring building. She explained the origin and meaning of the various carved religious items that lined the walls in a soft accent that substituted “th” for “de” so that “wood” became “wooth.” Photos weren’t allowed, although David snapped one that hardly does the place justice. After we finished our little tour, the young woman turned off the interior lights then directed us on to wander the other buildings and plant-filled large grounds on our own. Most of the wooden, Lanna-style buildings seemed to be potential meeting and social sites, now empty.
The only “museum” housed a tribute to the Princess Mother, all in Thai, and a bilingual exhibit of teak items, their place in Lanna culture, and related information about teak in general. The deceased Princess Mother is a revered figure in northern Thailand where she worked extensively to help the local people and steer them away from the opium trade.
In the museum, we finally came across two other visitors. The Mae Fah Luang Art & Cultural Park merits more interest, and I hope it gets it as the city moves from this shoulder season into high season.