Doi Tung is one of the most famous tourist destinations of Chiang Rai Province – A few years after returning to Thailand, the late Princess Mother Srinagarindra, the Mother of the previous Thai King Bumibol Adulyadej, launched a project which became her largest commitment in the last years of her life. Looking at providing economic independence to impoverished communities plagued by social problems such as human trafficking and drugs production, the Princess Mother set up a development project over the Mae Fah Luang and Mae Sai districts in the depth of Chiang Rai jungles around a mountain called Doi Tung. The area is populated mostly from minorities, mostly Akha and Lahu ethnics. Initiated in 1988, the Doi Tung Development Project has seen the transformation of the area into a marvelous fertile garden, providing vegetable and food to villagers but also new sources of income such as coffee, macadamia, handicraft as well as flowers such as orchids.
On the Doi Tung Hill, the Princess Mother constructed a chalet which is now a museum while the garden is opened to the public. A restaurant, a small resort as well as a museum tracing back the history of opium as well as its negative aspects on society and on human health. The development project was recognised in December 2003 by the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) as an exceptional contributor to sustainable alternative development to eradicate drugs. Every year, the Doi Tung foundation receives a million visitors, who mostly stay in nearby Chiang Rai or on their way to Mae Sai, near Myanmar.
The success of Doi Tung however has its limit according to Mr Disnadda Diskul, Chairman of Doi Tung Development Project and a fervent defender of sustainable tourism development. “Our world entered today a vicious cycle of what I would quote as 3G: Greed, growth and global imbalance. Greed is the consequence of an era of radical capitalism with a leniency of getting more, more and more”, he recently said at the recent Mekong Tourism Forum hosted in Chiang Rai last June.
“Growth is the god of the day. This became the benchmark of success especially in the circles of money and political power. But this has nothing to do with a good quality of life for the public. This is where we come to global imbalance. What have we lost in terms of weather pattern, natural and social environment or equality? It means at the end that we are confronted to a loss of happiness”.
Mistakes have been made along the development of Doi Tung. “We enlarged the roads a few years ago to welcome more tourists and I think that it was a mistake,” said Disnadda Diskul. Limiting the total number of tourists should also be a way to preserve the balance of a destination. “We should not look at tourism only as a business opportunity. We should look at it also as a mean of improving living conditions and erasing poverty […] Environment protection and public welfare must be our ultimate goal. To succeed, we then must implicate local communities to solve the problems at roots,” Mr Disnadda Diskul said to the audience. He even admits that if it could be possible, he would raise entrance fees into Doi Tung to limit the total number of travellers.
The Doi Tung Development Project hopes to remain a benchmark in terms of development focusing on available resources and the empowerment of local people. Progressing through the originally 30-year plan at Doi Tung, communities are almost ready to take over the project. “Ultimately by 2017, local communities will be in complete charge of the future management of Doi Tung,” added Mr Disnadda Diskul. Doi Tung might stay for a long time a unique example of sustainable development on a large scale. It makes the place even more necessary to visit…