The cheerful lady taking her ease below is Thailand's Royal Highness, Princess Panthip Chumbhot of Nagar Svarga, a zealous hobbyist. "One of my hobbies," she says, "is collecting beautiful places." Another, apparently, is putting them to joyous use. Shown on these pages is what happened when the ebullient princess brought 100 or more old inner tubes to her estate in the Chong Lom valley and invited the neighbors in to ride them down the river.
There is only one drawback to the joys of tubing on Princess Chumbhot's estate. A murderous bandit chieftain named Tiger Sangat has set up headquarters in a far corner of her acres, which makes it necessary for two armed guards to keep the princess company wherever she goes. For them it is often a pleasantly cool duty.
At first the tubing princess (shown at right bubbling through a brisk rapids) thought only a few friends, such as the slim beauty above, would want to join her sport. But when news of the fun got out in a Siamese TV show, people began flocking to southern Nakhon Nayok province by the hundreds, hoping to join in. The shrewd little princess, whose late husband was third in line to the throne, charges them five baht (25¢) to enter the estate and another five to rent a tube, but the profits are more than consumed by the millions she has given to Bangkok's Chulalongkorn Hospital.
Like the vacationing schoolchildren who are their principal companions, the strong, gentle water buffalo who help till Thailand's fields get a recess between the plowing and the harvest, They are set free to cool themselves in local rivers and streams. Though they are a bit too large to climb aboard an old inner tube, the amiable beasts are the tubers' constant playmates, and they may be the only ones who do not respond instantly to the occasional brisk commands of their hostess—a stern and bustling committeewoman whenever she's in town.