Royal Flora

Esso has been asking me to take her to the Royal Flora Ratchaphruek, a big attraction just outside of the city. I have been saying yes, but we must go early in the morning. Outdoor activities in the heat of the day do not suit me. So it’s been a question of, can we get up and get started early enough today? And after several misses, we finally clicked. Leaving before 8, stopping for coffee, and arriving about 9. The parking lot is empty when we arrive.

The park is vast, 80 hectares (200 acres). Far too much to cover on foot. Fortunately, they have bikes for rent. We opt for the cheap fixed-gear clunkers. Most of the place is flat, so who needs gears?

Right away, one is compelled to notice the Royal Pavilion at the focus of the vast formal garden. It looks like a traditional Northern Thai (Lanna)-style temple. A pair of ferocious guardian figures flank the entrance.

The guardian on the left is watching vigilantly, as expected. But what’s the one on the right doing, with eyes closed? Not napping, but listening! This is not something I recall seeing at other temples. I like the concept.

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Inside the temple. Now the early arrival pays off. We are the only visitors. The acoustics are wonderful for meditation.

After basking in the serenity of the temple, I’m ready to escape the formality of the central garden, and explore around the edges. A path behind the temple snags my attention, and we set off into the unknown. There’s an uphill stretch, maybe 300-400 meters at a 10%-ish grade. Now the fixed-gear bike is a challenge for my time-worn knees, but I conquer the grade, feeling like a champion.

At the top, the view back toward the broad formal garden around the pavilion is nice (top picture), but on the other side, there is a completely different sensibility: a whimsical sculpture garden:

Of course, I’m always interested in musicians. But here, three members of the band have been captured by ivy, and only the fiddler is free. What does this mean? I flash on Yellow Submarine, where the Pepperland elders play music in the garden but are frozen in place by the Apple Bonkers.
Pepperland (3)

 

 

 

 

But the music is not only depicted in statues. We surrounded by soft melodies issuing from the garden itself. Hidden speakers play a sort of gentle Thai folk/pop instrumental soundtrack, everywhere. I am assuming that the Royal gardeners have determined that the plants like to hear music, and I am pleased. (This is in line with the sensibility of the Listening Guardian).

We continue riding up the path, but it’s getting hot, and it’s easy to get overheated in direct sun, especially when exercising. So a sign for a “shade paradise” attracts me. This turns out to be a multi-acre stretch of jungle-type environment, with a mesh net stretched out high above to simulate the high canopy, and real trees for the lower canopy. A very pleasant break.

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More exploration brings us to the International Garden. This area of the park is divided into a few dozen sections honoring the plant life of different countries, along with bits of associated art and architecture. Our first encounter is with Bhutan. Its mountain-bound identity is honored by the stone wall around it.

IMG_5793 Bhutan

Next door, at Kenya, I’m distracted by a hummingbird, feeding on a flower in front of the entry. (The camera captures it at a moment of stillness, perched on the blossom)

IMG_5795 Hummingbird

This part of the bike ride is easy. Esso says I look happy. “Sure, I’m happy,” I answer. “Riding downhill in the shade, everything is good!”

Our last stop is the renowned Orchid Pavilion. The first thing I notice is that the music is different here. Instead of the formal gentility of the other areas, here we have smooth jazz-y Bossa Nova. Suddenly I have a lot of questions about the music. Do orchids have different taste in music? If so, how was this learned? Or maybe the gardeners in charge of this area have different taste? No answers yet.

In this video, the bossa nova soundtrack mixes with the waterfall.

While most of the garden is open-air, of course, there is also a greenhouse for, I presume, the most delicate specimens. The greenhouse is air-conditioned to a cool (definitely SUB-tropical) 25° or so. Nice place for a break!

By 10:30, busloads of tour groups are pouring in the front gate, and we are exhausted from the heat. Time to go.

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