Aug 09 2011
Mae Fah Luang Botanical Gardens are located in Chiang Rai’s Doi Tung district, close to the Burmese border town of Mae Sai. Now some 20 years old, the superb gardens were created in the early 1990s when the particularly troublesome Akha village of Pa Kluay was relocated by the royal-backed Doi Tung Development Project. The village was, in those days, a major opium transporting hub, though government agencies also point out that Pa Kluay, wedged into a narrow gorge, was insalubrious and cramped, so relocation to a site some 500m distant with a sealed road and electricity was judged the best solution.
Apparently the Queen Mother herself took a particular interest in the area and as well as having a nearby country palace constructed she had the idea of creating some mountain-top gardens to allow local people to see at firsthand temperate climate plants. Today the extensive and impeccably maintained gardens incorporate tropical, temperate and even desert plants, (with their cactus house). Rock gardens, a night garden and a fern house can be found among, what for Thais, are exotic species: roses, tulips and chrysanthemums.
There’s also a nice balance between the formal, manicured areas and some wilder, more ‘jungly’ sections …
… with the formal European-style flowerbeds being popular among local visitors and the more tropical sections favourites with Western tourists.
Just getting up the mountain is almost worth the trip with some fantastic views back down into the valley and towards Mae Sai.
If you’re travelling under your own steam look out for a well signposted route on your left just short of Mae Sai on the main Chiang Rai highway — otherwise all Chiang Rai guesthouses or travel agents will be able to organise tours up there. Allow a couple of hours to visit the gardens and there’s the nearby palace, formerly naughty Akha village, an arboretum and coffee plantations to visit. (The now opium-less Doi Tung is famous for the excellent locally brewed substitution crop, coffee.)
Mae Fah Luang Botanical Gardens
Entrance fee 80 baht
Open daily 06:30 to 18:00
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