The Mae Fah Luang Foundation is under Thai royal patronage and aims to bring development and better educational opportunities to the many Hill Tribes around Chiang Ria who constitute almost 25% of Chiang Rai’s population. The Mae Fah Luang Art & Cultural Park – originally as the Thai Hill Crafts Foundation was one of the first steps and was the centre of the foundation’s activities for many years, however the plan to move the workings closer to the Hill Tribe villages, led to other initiatives further north near the so called “Golden Triangle”. The Mae Luang Art & Cultural Park includes a wonderful landscaped garden with lakes in which there are examples of modern Thai Art. Two very different buildings form the museum.
The Haw Kham or Golden Pavillion is a huge wooden structure that includes architectural features from the Lanna (or Lan Na) culture that flourished in this area of Thailand as well as bordering regions of Myanmar, Laos and even Southern China between the 13th and 17th centuries AD. Some of the carved panels were from old wooden houses in Chiang Rai. It was built in 1984 and presented to the Princess Mother Srinnagarindra. Within this structure are wonderful wooden carvings, especially candelabras rescued from buildings throughout the region and from several cultural periods. At the centre of the structure is a wooden Buddha image called Pra Pratoh which according to historic inscriptions was created in 1693 by local villages. Wooden artefacts are also stored under the Haw Kham, including a striking large wooden boat with the entire keel carved out of one large teak trunk.
A modern structure called the Haw Kaew is a museum with a permanent exhibition of religious and domestic artefacts made from Teak. Exhibitions of modern art are also held in the Haw Kaew.
Both the Haw Kham as a teak structure and the contents of the Haw Kaew are a reminder of the time when the entire region was covered in dense forests with useful trees and an array of wildlife including Asian Elephants and Tigers. Sadly “development” of the region was spearheaded by Logging Corporations who have decimated the forests of Thailand and are now repeating the process in Myanmar and other regions of Southeast Asia. Most trekking in the region is now in secondary Bamboo forests that lack the diversity of flora and fauna that once was an integral part of everyday life. Logging was banned in Thailand in 1989 by which time it was too late for much of the wildlife. Many major Southeast Asian rivers start or flow through the Lanna region and the forest destruction is a major cause of severe flooding downstream at coastal cities such as Bangkok and Ho Chi Minh.
The best way to reach the Mae Fah Luang Art & Cultural Park from the centre of Chiang Rai is by private transport or taxi. Some of the better hotels do have special free passes to the park who are compensated by hotel donations and the tourist tax.Museum Information: Tel +66 53 716 605-7