11 July 2024

Pol Sub-Lt Vichai Sureeyut, a former police officer who was affectionately called a “crazy man who loves planting trees” and was responsible for planting more than three million trees since 1988 in his home district of Prang Gu, in the north-eastern province of Si Sa Ket, died last Saturday night at the age of 77.

Vichai began his police career in 1968 in Mueang district of Si Sa Ket, after his graduation from a police academy in Nakhon Ratchasima. Two years later, he was transferred to Prang Ku district, until his retirement in 2006 at the rank of sub-lieutenant.

According to 1997 data from the Ministry of Interior, Si Sa Ket was the poorest province in Thailand and Prang Ku district was the poorest district in Si Sa Ket. It was also the most arid.

In 1997, Vichai started his solo mission to plant trees in earnest. Every morning, before reporting for work at the police station, and in the evening, at the end of his working day, he rode his motorcycle to various areas in Prang Ku district to plant trees. At the time, he was viewed by people in the district as a little weird, but he didn’t pay attention and continued with his endeavours.

Ten years later, the saplings he planted had grown into mature trees, providing shade and fruits and turning some areas into public parks. His mission also resulted in public awareness of the merits of trees, campaigns for the planting of more trees such and the shift from rice farming into mixed cultivation.

Meanwhile, Vichai continued with his tree planting, to the extent that Prang Ku has been transformed from an arid district into one covered with trees, especially palm and resin trees (Dipterocarpus alatus).

Vichai’s famous words during his last days were “Even if I pass way, the trees are still here.”

Phra Paisal Visalo, abbot of Pasukato Temple in Chaiyaphum and a writer on the environment and Buddhism, wrote in his Facebook post expressing condolences for Vichai, saying “a crazy man who loves planting trees until his last second has planted more than three million trees and has inspired several generations of ‘crazy’ people who love planting trees.”