Nestled in 40 rai of undulating land on the lower slopes of Khao Hin Lek Fai National Park is Chom Dong Villa. Its unique setting, with its spectacular backdrop of the hill to the north and northwest, provides the garden with its own microclimate quite different from Hua Hin town, two kilometres to the east and 200 kilometres south of Bangkok on Petchkasem Highway.
Throughout the year, the garden at Chom Dong presents the visitor with an ever-changing kaleidoscope of flowering shrubs and trees, some of which are native to the original forest that existed. These latter include ‘Sarapee’ Mammea siamensis, ‘Ked’ Mimusops hexandra Roxb., Angsana ‘Pradu Baan’ Pterocarpus macrocarpus, several species of Fig (Ficus), Elephant Apple 'Ma’tard' Dillenia indica, Siamese Neem Tree ‘Sadao’ Azadirachta indica A., Singapore Almond ‘Hoo Kwang’ Terminalia catappa, 'Oy Chang' Lannea coromandelica Merr., 'Sark' Erythrophleum succirubrum Gagnep., Tamarind ‘Makaam’ Tamarindus indica, and various Lagerstroemia. Some have been planted since the main Villa was built, including fruit trees such as the mango, coconut, and star fruit, the large Teak Tectona grandis behind Chom Dong Villa, Rain Tree ‘Jarm-Juri’ Samanea saman, Song of India Dracaena reflexa, and the yellow-flowering Copper Pod ‘Nonsri’ Peltophorum pterocarpum Back ex Heyne.
Over the years, more plants, shrubs and trees have been added. Many of these have been chosen to withstand the sometimes long dry spells, and include bougainvillea ‘Feung Fa’, various species of frangipani ('Lantom’), Desert Rose 'Chuan Chom' Adenium obesum and Lantana ‘Paka-krong’ Viburnum lantana. Also thriving are Leadwort ‘Payapmork’ Plumbago, yellow ‘Barnburi’ Allamanda cathartica, Purple Bignonia ‘Muang Maneerat’ Saritaea magnifica, various cassias, Purple Orchid Tree ‘Chong-Koh See Muang’ Bauhinia variegata, Barometer Bush ‘Neon’ Leucophyllum frutescens (Berland) I. M. Johnst. with magenta flowers, different types of palm trees and Dragon Tree ‘Chan Par’ Dracaena loureire Gagnep.
There are currently over 300 different plant species in the garden at Chom Dong, and the online plant index continues to grow.
November to February
During the cool, dry season from November to February, the bougainvillea are at their peak flowering time and the garden is a mass of colours ranging from white, through to pale pink, yellow, orange and magenta. The blue-grey and darker blue of the Plumbago is also prominent at this time, although, together with the Adenium, they flower throughout the year.
From October to December the two reservoirs of water, which form the central spine of the property, are full to the brim and the lotus and water lilies are at their best. A walk from the main Villa down towards the dam separating the two bodies of water will bring the visitor to the topiary garden of strange animals including a giraffe, Tyrannosaurus rex, a couple of dragons and a buffalo. The Toothbrush Tree ‘Koy’ Streblus asper Lour. is used extensively as topiary. Along the dam one passes under arches of flowering creepers such as the white Herald’s Trumpet ‘Hiranyika’ Beaumontia murtonii Craib, Rangoon Creeper ‘Leb Mue Nang’ Quisqualis indica L., Afgekia ‘Kanpai Mahidol’ Afgekia mahidolae and Purple Bignonia ‘Muang Maneerat’ Saritaea magnifica. From the south end of the dam, one can sit in the jasmine-covered gazebo and see the herd of life-sized topiary elephants on the other side.
March to June
March to April is the flowering peak of the Plumeria and the perfume of the flowers fills the air at this time. Hua Hin is specially noted for its mangoes. This is the time, too, when the monkeys come down from the hill to savour the Chom Dong mangoes and leave a trail of seeds in their wake.
As the weather gradually changes and temperatures start to soar, the brilliant red of Monkey Flower Tree 'Pradu Daeng' Phyllocarpus septentrionalis Donn. Smith predominates the garden. This is followed by the mauves and purples of the Lagerstroemia, in particular the large, showy blooms of Pride of India ‘Salao’ Lagerstroemia loudonii Teijsm. & Binn. which cover the whole tree. There are several of these trees throughout the garden.
From April to May and into June, the cassias start to flower. First Horse Cassia ‘Kaalapruek’ Cassia grandis provides the visitor with a spectacular view of salmon-pink sprays, followed by the yellow of Indian Laburnum ‘Ratchapruek’ Cassia fistula, also known in Thailand as the flower associated with HM King Bhumibol Adulyadej. Next, one is rewarded with the sight of the Pink and White Shower ‘Kalapapruek’ Cassia bakeriana Craib at the entrance to the Villa. The final one to bloom, in late June, is Apple Blossom Cassia ‘Chaiya-pruek’ Cassia javanica, with its lovely pale pink flowers. Also at this time Flame of the Forest ‘Haang Nok Yoong’ Delonix regia with its deep orange and red flowers, and the yellow of Copper Pod ‘Nonsri’ Peltophorum pterocarpus can be seen. If one is lucky, one can also come upon the large scarlet blooms of the Rose of Venezuela 'Asoke Sapun' Brownea grandiceps.
July to October
During the rainy season, from July to October, the garden is at its greenest, and one can admire the many native trees dotted about the garden. Keepers are experimenting with several imported trees which seem to be doing well so far, and the rain would be vital to their growth. These include African Baobab Adansonia digitata, Queensland Bottle Tree Brachychition rupestris, Hawaiian Blue Latania Palm Latania sp., Edible Fig Ficus carica from the Mediterranean, and a row of Cannon Ball Trees Couroupita guianensis originating from South America. Gardeners are also experimenting with a small grove of golden bamboo and forming a hedge of the native bamboo, all of which welcome the rain.
The garden has several unusual plants of local origin. These are the purple-flowered ‘Plong Gin-Look’ Memecylon ovatum, the red 'Kluay Musang' Uvaria cordata Alston, pale lilac flowers of 'Krapee Chan' Milletia brandisiana Kurz, white blossoms of ‘Moek Luang’ Holarrhena pubescans Wall ex G Don, and the creamy blooms of Alexandrian Laurel ‘Krating’ Calophyllum inophyllum. A stroll through the garden will reveal other features, including the great boulder area with Ficus trees atop the giant rocks, held on tightly by their roots; the ornamental waterfall; the par-3 golf course; and the bougainvillea tunnel.
In the rainy season, bird life is most abundant. The Red-wattled Lapwing can be heard with its distinctive cry which has given rise to its Thai name ‘kratae-tae-waed’, and Hoopoe, even the occasional kingfisher or egret frequent the water’s edge. Wild fowl comes down from the hill. More common are magpies and turtle doves. Owls and nightjars can be heard in the evenings.
The lower reservoir in particular is a breeding ground for species of frogs and toads and after a rainfall their noise reaches symphonic level. They also attract snakes. Other garden residents include cicadas, species of butterflies and other insects, such as emerald jewel beetles, while the Villa is home to geckos which are found in all parts of Thailand.
Keeping a watchful eye on all this are the Villa’s Thai dogs, adopted when they were abandoned at a nearby Wat. When the mango trees are laden with fruits, around March, they are joined by a troop of macaques who make their home in a cave on Khao Hin Lek Fai.
The grounds consist of three adjacent properties: the main part is Chom Dong Villa, with the later addition of Nornnon Villa to the southeast and Cherngkhao Villa to the northeast. Khao Hin Lek Fai National Park forms the north and northwestern boundary.
The main Villa is a long, simple two storey structure facing east towards the sea which can be seen on a clear day. The upper storey is surrounded by a wide veranda typical of old Hua Hin seaside residences. The other two villas, Nornnon and Cherngkao, are single storey bungalows. There is also a children’s treehouse on a tamarind tree near Nornnon.
History of the Villa
On November 30, 1975, the foundation stone was laid for a 'Pra Tamnak' or royal villa, named 'Chom Dong' (Woodland Vista) by HM Queen Ramphaiphanni, queen of HM King Rama VII. This became her country retreat for the last years of her life. Here she spent many relaxed and contented days in relative privacy, for several months at a time. There were visits by members of the royal family from Klai Kangwol Palace in Hua Hin. Old friends often came to stay. Whilst here, she regularly played a few holes of golf at the nearby Royal Hua Hin Golf Course.
Over the past two decades, the Villa and garden were lovingly cared for by Pochana and Vilai Snitwongse, and later, by their son and daughter-in-law.
Sports and leisure
In recent months a 9-hole 735 yard par-3 golf course and an archery range have been added to Chom Dong. Hua Hin is famous for its golf courses; there is a full-size golf course next door, Royal Hua Hin Golf Course, a mature links style course from the 1920s. It is Thailand's oldest golf course and still one of the best. Nearby are a dozen international standard golf courses, such as Palm Hills, Black Mountain, and Majestic Creek. All are open to the public.
There are numerous leisure activities at Chom Dong, both within the Villa and in the garden. In addition, Hua Hin beach, with its long stretches of golden sand, is only a few minutes’ drive away. Within the main Villa is a billiards room and a table football table for eight players. The wooden players have been customised to wear the colours of two of Bangkok’s top universities. There is an extensive library in Chom Dong Villa and also in Baan Cherngkao. Hua Hin is 10 degrees north of the Equator and despite the worsening light pollution in recent years, it is still possible to enjoy stargazing at night. A large collection of toys have accumulated over the past three generations, including steam engines and electric trains.
Of culinary interest at Chom Dong is a brick-surfaced open space for cooking ‘gai-ob-fang’ (chicken baked in straw), a specialty of the house. Bales of rice straw are kept handy for this purpose as well as stacks of seasoned firewood for the pizza oven.
Hua Hin town has a selection of restaurants, both local and international. Hua Hin is famous for its traditional Thai desserts such as mango with glutinous rice and sweets made from palm sugar, rice flour and coconut cream. Many expats have settled there, and many more comes regularly as tourists, especially from the United Kingdom, Scandinavia and other parts of Western Europe. An Italian factory makes mozzarella cheese in town, and there are places run by expats that make German sausages and bread, English pies and Italian ice cream. There is also a vineyard called Hua Hin Hills about 40 minutes away which resembles Tuscany, and which produces a variety of wine mainly from Shiraz grapes but also from Chenin Blanc, Colombard, Brunello, Trempanillo and Black Muscat.
The Villa stood in peaceful isolation during its first two decades, but lately houses and residential communities began to spring up nearby as Hua Hin expanded. The road to the Villa has been widened and extended up Khao Hin Lek Fai where a public garden and several viewpoints have been built. All these developments change the ambience of the garden somewhat but the grounds are extensive enough to maintain privacy and continue to be a sanctuary for plants and wildlife.
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