An "enforced" holiday was just what the doctor ordered for veteran Suphan Buri politician Praphat Phothasuthon, who has spent most of the past four years turning his mind to developing properties and an inspired spell as an educator.
Veteran Suphan Buri politician Praphat Phothasuthon stands beside a sign at the rest stop he is establishing in Chiang Mai. Engraved on the sign is a message encouraging people to love each other. Photos by CHEEWIN SATTHA
The former secretary-general of the dissolved Chart Thai Party, whose five-year ban from politics as a result of electoral fraud will expire at the end of December, keeps himself busy and is having fun with many of his new pet projects.
They include a project to develop land plots in Chiang Mai's Doi Saket district into a new tourist spot, and later as a high-end resort, as well as a plan to encourage and train farmers in the South to go back to planting rice crops.
Many southern farmers abandoned rice for rubber trees, which until now have been a major money-making crop in the region despite a recent decline in rubber prices.
One of the successful projects Mr Praphat has undertaken is the Buffalo Village in Si Prachan district of the central province of Suphan Buri.
Strawberry plants bear fruit which is sold to visitors.
Opened in 2002, the village, which occupies more than 100 rai, aims to preserve all breeds of Thai water buffaloes, whose role in agriculture is increasingly eroded as tractors have taken their place on the farm.
The village highlights the important role which the animal played in rice farming communities for centuries. Visitors can watch the buffaloes perform shows daily.
The traditional rural lifestyles of communities in the Central Plains, where rice farming forms an integral part of the local culture, is also showcased there.
Visitors are given a chance to try their hand at planting and harvesting rice and performing other everyday farming chores.
Mr Praphat uses the Buffalo Village as a centre to train farmers from the South in rice-farming techniques to boost rice output so the southern farmers can apply the new skills they acquire to grow rice on abandoned farmland again.
He insists rice crops, if properly grown, will provide healthy yields and can be as profitable as rubber farming.
Vast rice fields in the South have been left fallow while rubber plantations have made inroads over the years.
Mr Praphat asked local farming communities and organisations in Suphan Buri to train farmers from the South in techniques which will help produce high quality rice, given that rice prices are currently increasing while rubber is falling.
Suphan Buri should be an ideal place for farming training as it is one of the country's major producers of rice crops. The central province is blessed with abundant water thanks to a comprehensive irrigation system, which allows farmers to grow more than one crop a year.
The training project will start this month at the Buffalo Village.
Customers on their way to and from Chiang Mai buy fresh strawberries.
Mr Praphat, a former agriculture minister, says he has a close relationship with and speaks for many farmers in the central region.
"I am the son of farmers. I was born and brought up on the farm. I understand the life and plight of farmers well," Mr Praphat said.
Mr Praphat is now focusing on a project to build a rest stop on a road linking Chiang Mai and Chiang Rai. The project site covers 30 rai in Doi Saket district in Chiang Mai.
He intends to develop the plot into a tourist spot fully equipped with facilities and services where travellers can enjoy a rest during their journey.
Mr Prapat shuttles between Suphan Buri and Chiang Mai to oversee construction at the site. He often rides a motorcycle to inspect the progress of the work.
He said he bought the plot decades ago before deciding to launch the project during his break from politics.
The rest stop is named Phu Phat Chan Pha and derives from his name of Praphat and the name of a tree, Chan Pha (Dracaena loureiri gagnep) which is native to the area.
"The slogan here is 'hao hak kan noh', a northern dialect equivalent to 'let us love each other'," he said.
Mr Praphat said the country and many communities have been plagued with colour-coded political conflicts and divisions and it was time to bridge the gap.
Tents are put up in the green landscape at the rest stop.
"I want this place to be a meeting spot where people come and show goodwill and love towards each other," Mr Praphat said, adding the area will provide space for locals to sell their farm products directly to visitors.
The highlight of the project are Chan Pha trees.
There are also other various rare trees to add more life and colour to the place. Workers and staff are local people who help with the project.
Mr Praphat plans to officially open the place on Feb 14 - Valentine's Day.
He said the project took a long time and a lot of brainstorming from his friends before it could take shape. The place was formerly barren land covered with laterite.
The place will soon become one of the major tourist spots in Chiang Mai.
"I believe this spot will provide the best vantage point to watch sunsets and it's on a par with the famed Promthep Cape in Phuket. Here, there is a cliff where you can enjoy the panorama of mountains and forests and can breathe in the clean and refreshing air of the mountain," he said.
He said two greenhouse complexes are under construction for visitors to view Chan Pha trees. In the future, resorts will also be built in the area.
As the place will open next month, Mr Praphat hoped that it will help boost the income of local people and improve their lives.
In a nearby plot, he plans to develop a resort for the well-heeled. Villas will be put up for sale.
As for his political career Mr Praphat said politics is still in his veins.
"I was born into politics. My life and my career are in politics. I will remain in political circles," he said.
Mr Praphat was embroiled in a controversy a few years back when he took Saudi Arabian businessmen to visit the Buffalo Village and watch the demonstration of rice planting.
He floated the idea to allow Saudi Arabian business interests to rent rice fields to plant rice for export to the Middle East, which stirred controversy in many quarters and was met with such strong public opposition that the idea had to be scrapped.
"Now I buy and grow coffee to export to China," Mr Praphat said of another of his enterprises and his business ties with foreign partners.
Mr Praphat hopes to turn his rest stop in Doi Saket district into a tourist attraction.
Strawberry plantsgrow from bags set out in long rows.
A buffalo statue adorns the rest stop. Praphat draws inspiration from the beast of burden.
A coffee corner at the rest stop.
A sweeping view of the relaxed and serene rest stop.
About the author
- Writer: Cheewin Sattha