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  • Writer's pictureLukas Kroulik

Northern Thailand

On our return from Bhutan we passed through Thailand and made a stop in the North where we visited two refugee communities near Chiang Mai.

This was in the Golden Triangle area, with refugees from the Chinese revolution, the Vietnam war and most recently from Myanmar.

These communities had been famous for opium cultivation which the Thai government has been able to stamp out. We visited the Queen’s Museum of Opium which featured the horrors of the trade but opium was the cash crop for these people.

The horrors of the opium trade, Museum of Opium, photo by Lukas Kroulik.


The Thai government encouraged alternatives. We found one community’s new work inspirational. In a high mountain Acah tribe village, we were hosted by the community leader who is developing a range of sustainable enterprises, some but not all related to ecotourism.

High mountain Acah tribe village, photo by Lukas Kroulik. (With the consent of the father and community leader.)

High mountain Acah tribe village, photo by Lukas Kroulik. (With the consent of the father and community leader.)

  • Writer's pictureLukas Kroulik

"This year, Royal Academicians Rana Begum and Níall McLaughlin have worked collaboratively and curated architecture across two galleries, alongside artworks. They have worked closely with invited architects including Boonserm Premthada, who has innovated the use of elephant dung to make bricks and is displaying a custom-designed and fabricated structure using elephant dung bricks made in the UK."

The Guardian ‘We wanted to offer a sense of hope’: architects build on the climate crisis'

Architects' Journal 'RA Summer Exhibition architecture room mixes it up – from Tracey Emin to elephant dung'

Níall McLaughlin curated architecture, including architects Boonserm Premthada, alongside artworks.

This work was on display in the Summer Exhibition 2022 in the Large Weston Room


Chiang Mai, Northern Thailand

I was curious to see for myself the sculpture called 'Elephant Power' number 313 at the same room as my artwork 'Left Behind' in the Large Weston Room

Inspired by my RA Summer Exhibition artist/architect friend I decided to take this great opportunity and make my own paper from the elephant dung.

Golden elephants in Chiang Mai, photo by Lukas Kroulik.

Smiling elephants in Chiang Mai, photo by Lukas Kroulik.

This experience supported World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF). WWF aims to "stop the degradation of the planet's natural environment and to build a future in which humans live in harmony with nature."

  • Writer's pictureLukas Kroulik

The Kingdom of Bhutan

The Bhutanese ideal of gross national happiness leads immediately to concern for climate change. Here we were ever so lucky to be given insights from a great new friend. This is Tashi, who took part in the international snowman trail race in September, organised by the King to add a new voice to the demands for action on climate risk.

The snowman trail is one of the toughest treks in the high mountains of the Himalayas in Bhutan, typically taking more than 20 days at a walking pace. Tashi and her fellow Bhutanese athletes ran it alongside international champions. Most of the foreigners fell by the wayside; the Bhutanese won and Tashi was one of the first women to complete.

Here is a little teaser from my interview with Tashi about her Snowman Race experience in September 2022.

As the name suggests, the snowman trail typically ran through snow. There is none left.

Snow?, photo by Lukas Kroulik.

But aren't these the Bhutan Himalayas capped with snow, which extends down valleys in long glacier tongues? No, this is a plastic mountain hand collected by the Bhutanese female runners on their daily training route.

Tashi adores the beautiful, unspoiled environment of Bhutan and she awakened in us a love of the surroundings.

Trees, lichen, leaves and flowers, photos by Lukas Kroulik.

She encouraged us to stay close to nature – here is my partner enjoying a traditional hot stone bath in a mountain meadow. Stones are heated until they are red-hot in the ashes of a fire and then plunged into the bath water. Please do not try this one at home!

We were struck by the harmony in which Bhutanese people live. But it could also be seen as conformity. Men and women are required to wear a set form of national dress, with that rule recently relaxed for leisure time.

It struck us as a very controlled society. The fortresses through which the country was and remains directed are places of power and spirituality combined: there are monasteries within them.

Fortresses (dzongs), photo by Lukas Kroulik.

We learnt that in the 1990s and early 2000’s many immigrants from Nepal and Assam who did not integrate with Bhutanese culture were expelled and are still refugees.

Does national happiness depend on everyone being the same? And does it require tough leadership?

Police officer controlling the traffic, photo by Lukas Kroulik.

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