CHIANG RAI – Coffee for the people of Doi Pha Mee village in northern Thailand means much more than being a vital staple. For them, the coffee they produce is a symbol of love from the late King Rama IX who helped transform the community from an opium plantation to an example of community-based tourism.
Pha Mee, which literally means “Bear Mountain,” is a community located in the nothern Thai province of Chiang Rai where the Akha tribe continous to observe its long-standing tradition of coffee production, farming, and cotton weaving.
Its homegrown Arabica coffee, however, was King Rama IX’s contribution almost five decades ago for the Akha tribe to turn their backs against planting opium, a substance derived from the poppy plant used to produce illegal drugs.
“Our King liked this community to do farming, to avoid all the illegal things. In the old days, they don’t have much choice. They grew opium which is wrong. What our king planned for his people is that he wanted them to have a better life,” the community’s Polwang, or local leader, said as translated in English.
Polwang said this royal heritage is one of the key highlights Pha Mee wants visitors to learn more. “This to promote the community so that people would know more about Pha Mee and the relationship between the people and how they respect our King Rama IX.”
He added that King Rama IX thought of coffee production as the solution for the community’s livelihood woes following his two visits to Pha Mee, the last of which was in the 1970s.
Tourists can also experience how the Akha tribe produces the Arabica coffee in Pha Mee, from how they sort the seed of the coffee cherry to roasting the beans in a clay pot until the beans are crushed to make the coffee powder.
Other activities available in Pha Mee is cotton weaving which makes the traditional Akha clothes, visit the Busaw Homestay for a picturesque view of the Chiang Rai highlands, and ride the Akha Swing – a giant swing made of wood and bamboo where you can shout your heart out.
Visitors, however, are encouraged to contact Local Alike, a social enterprise that provides tours to local communities, first before scheduling their trip to Pha Mee.
Local Alike is a partner of Thai AirAsia’s Journey D program which aims to improve the tour programs, accommodation and quality of services, and English communication skills of local communities.
The White Temple
After visiting the peaceful community Pha Mee, tourists can also drop by the Wat Rong Khun or The White Temple which became popular for the contemporary artworks of Thai artist Chaloemchai Kositpipat.
The main assembly hall and its adjacent buildings have been carved in white, representing the purity of the Lord Buddha, with glass mosaics. Construction at Wat Rong Khun started in 1997 but Kositpipat has yet to finish his masterpiece at the whole compound.
Upon entering the main hall, visitors can see the familiar faces of Asian and Western superheroes such as Spiderman, Sailor Moon, the Autobots, and even Doraemon in the mural.
Look closely at the eyes of the demon in the center and you will see the faces of former US President George W. Bush and former Al-Qaeda leader Osama Bin Laden; the artist was painting the mural on September 11 when the terrorist attacks happened.
Ever wondered where the oolong flavor of your favorite milk tea comes from? Singha Park boasts hectares of oolong trees as far as the eye could see.
While enjoying the view, gorge into a wide arraw of a slew of northern Thai cousines at the park’s Phu Phi Lom Restaurant. Tourists can also rent a bike to roam around the park, which also has a zipline, a mini zoo, and a sports and recreation center.