Phu Phan Rajanives Palace
King Rama IX devoted his reign and his efforts to improving the wellbeing of the people, most of whom were farmers and orchard workers. Their Majesties the King and Queen travelled around the country to visit the people, and initiated various royal projects to improve the people’s livelihoods. His Majesty commissioned the construction of Bhubing Palace in Chiang Mai to use as a base for his visits to the north. He took up residence at Bhubing Palace in 1962, and commissioned the construction of Thaksin Rajanives Palace in Narathiwat Province to use as his base during his visits to the south. The palace was completed in 1973.
Location of Phu Phan Rajanives Palace
Apart from the architecture, the outstanding feature of Phu Phan Rajanives Palace is undoubtedly the landscape which most attracts visitors. The gardens are divided into zones: the palace zone, the guest quarters and the courtiers zone. When taking into consideration the geographical surroundings of the area – on the edge of a hilly slope in the centre of the Phu Phan mountain range made up mostly of sandstone with a covering of biodegraded soil mixed with laterite soil – these five garden styles were most suitable:
- Mixed Garden
- Formal Style
- Informal Style
- Rock Garden
- Stone Garden
These styles were used as suited to each zone, from the exterior of the palace and along the road. The Kham Hom Reservoir which has a capacity of 50,000 cu m, was planted with red, pink and purple lotus were planted, with a stone garden made up of red stones lining the reservoir, alternating with Guava Crepe Myrtle, Burma padauk, flowering plants and cycads.
Caring for the decorative plants
At Phu Phan Rajanives Palace, caring for decorative plants was more difficult than at Bhubing Rajanives Palace, since there was a hot air current flowing into this area faster than in Chiang Mai. Furthermore, the cool temperature was not as constant. So even though the roses here are as large as those at Bhubing Rajanives Palace, they succumbed much faster to the hot air current and the insects. In April-May, only the shrubs were left, while other temperate climate plants were planted in August and cultivated in plastic greenhouses. Then, at the end of September, they would be transplanted in the ground after the rainy season subsided. Special techniques were used to care for these flowering plants, for example, to make them flower quickly, they needed to receive more light. In summer, plants were pruned following royal instructions to help preserve the forests. If plants needed pruning, it was to stimulate new branches, not to remove the entire tree. Constant planting and caring for trees at Phu Phan Rajanives Palace restored the natural forest cover of the land, significantly providing more shade than before.
Royal initiative to restore forest cover
Originally the land at Phu Phan Rajanives Palace was tropical jungle, but due to the way of life of the villagers who depended on the jungle for making coal as a livelihood, the jungle cover gradually became dry evergreen forests, then grasslands. Hardwood trees could not grow or thrive in this environment, as wildfires occurred during every dry season. To bring back the forest cover, trees were planted both inside and outside the palace grounds, with approximately 100,000 rai of land being reforested, with emphasis on economic hardwood trees such as Makha and Iron wood. Fruit trees were allowed to grow naturally, and after 20 years, the land on which Phu Phan Rajanives Palace stands managed to regain its forest cover. Villagers were able forage in the forest, giving them a heightened sense of appreciation for, and a desire to protect, this natural environment.
Royal Reforestation Project
Upon restoring the natural forest environment to the area around Phu Phan Rajanives Palace, Her Majesty Queen Sirikit released deer into an open park area of 50 rai around the palace compound to allow them to adapt to the natural environment before releasing them into Phu Phan National Park. In 1995, Her Majesty brought two royal elephants from Chitralada Villa to Phu Phan Rajanives Palace, allowing them to roam freely in the surrounding open park area. Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Philip, the Duke of Edinburgh, viewed these two elephants in the kraal at Phu Phan Rajanives Palace during their visit to Sakon Nakhon in 1996.
In September 1997, two white elephants were brought to Phu Phan Rajanives Palace, serving to launch the Elephant Reintroduction Project in several other areas such as Ban Khun Huay Mae La and Ban Pang La villages, Ban Huat Sub-district, Ngoa District, Lampang Province, in the area of Wien Phrai Creek that borders Muang District and Kut Bak District, Sakon Nakhon Province.
Royal Concern for the People
As a result of Their Majesties King Bhumibol Adulyadej and Queen Sirikit taking up residence at Phu Phan Rajanives Palace to visit the people and observe their wellbeing, the Phu Phan Royal Development Study Centre was set up at Ban Na Nok Khao village, Huay Yang Sub-district, Muang District, Sakon Nakhon Province. This served as a center for the study and experimentation of every form of development, and to disseminate the knowledge to local villagers to implement in their own communities. This was the start of several royal initiative projects – now numbering over 300 – that were introduced in Sakon Nakhon and other provinces in the northeast of Thailand, with a combined budget of 1.6 billion baht for the purpose of research, experimentation and training, so that farmers can benefit from the knowledge.
During her visits to villages in the northeast, Her Majesty Queen Sirikit would select villagers from the poorest families to receive training in handicrafts from the SUPPORT Foundation Centre. They would go through a screening process at Phu Phan Rajanives Palace to match their skill areas before being sent for training at Chitralada Villa, Dusit Palace, or at nearby SUPPORT training centres as they preferred. When Their Majesties were in residence at Phu Phan Rajanives Palace, they would be accompanied by a team of physicians who would also provide treatment for the people who came to welcome Their Majesties at the palace. Despite the difference in the various royal initiative projects, they all served the same purpose – “to alleviate the suffering of the people”.