When my mother comes to visit Chiang Mai, she always asks me to take her to the Rose Garden first. She insists that she knows this enchanted place from a previous life and gets annoyed when I point out that Bhubing Palace (Phuphing Palace) wasn’t constructed until 1961.
Bhubing Palace is the winter residence of the royal family, which has also been used to welcome royal guests or heads of state from other countries. When none of the members of the royal family are in residence, the gardens are open for the public – the buildings remain closed at all times.
Situated at 1400 metres of altitude, the palace enjoys cool climate and lots of moisture all year round. Even when the entire mountain dries up in the worst of the March heat, the palace gardens are in full bloom, with the help of a reservoir that traps and conserves some of the abundant rainfall in the rainy season.
In each season, on every visit, the gardens surprise the visitors with different sparkling colours, new outbursts of grace and beauty.
In the rainy season, you can literally find yourself in the middle of a cloud rolling in and cooling off the air within seconds. This is also a splendid time for hundreds of orchids to shine in all colours of the rainbow.
Around Christmas, the Christmas flowers take over the scenery. In Europe, most often they only survive in pots, here on the upper slopes of Doi Suthep, they grow into huge trees and are a colourful and cheerful substitute for Christmas trees as we originally know them. (I am also trying to grow my own.) You may see them all along the upper reaches of the winding road leading up to the palace as well.
In the hot season, Bhubing Palace is nearest to the city if you are looking for a bit of shade and momentary relief from the stifling heat.
It is difficult to get the time right for the rose garden. For a start, they need special care at this climate. And, of course, their bloom is timed for the royal visits, when visitors are not allowed. We were fortunate enough to see the roses in bloom in November 2003, but at that time, I did not own a camera. On other occasions, it was not nearly that spectacular compared to that first magic, but still amazing for a tropical country.
The official website of Bhubing palace has wonderful photos of the rose garden.
Besides the most spectacular highlights, there are hidden treasures such as this tree, which is claimed to be the tallest bamboo in the country.
Bhubing Palace is 4 kms beyond Wat Phrathat Doi Suthep temple. Taxis collect people moving between the two sights. It is also easily accessible by motorcycle (100cc can carry two people up to both places) or by car. The garden is open every day from 8:30 to 4:30 (there is a lunch break for ticket sales). Tickets are 50 baht for foreigners, 20/10 for Thais. Respectful clothes are required: covering knees and shoulders. Loose trousers and shirts can be rented for a small fee. For elderly visitors or wheelchair users, golf carts are available for 300 baht per car, which can access most of the grounds. Outside the palace, small shops sell souvenirs and food, including hilltribe handicrafts, locally produced coffee, and in the cold season, fresh strawberries.