Al-Ahram Weekly Online   17 - 23 April 2008
Issue No. 893
Published in Cairo by AL-AHRAM established in 1875

Dig Days:

Zahi Hawass

Princess of Thailand

By Zahi Hawass

I have met many distinguished people in my time, but princesses always capture my heart. The two most remarkable princesses I met were Princess Diana and Princess Maha Chakri Sirindhorn of Thailand. Princess Maha Chakri is an amazing lady. She is intelligent, genuine, and unpretentious; her people look at her as if she is a goddess. When I was in Thailand, at the house of Ambassador Ashraf El-Khouli, I noticed how the cook, maid and all the guests were looking at Princess Maha. They had so much love in their eyes, they looked at her as if she were sacred and I could tell that they felt blessed to be in her presence.

This story began two years ago when Princess Maha visited Cairo. I was asked by the Thai Embassy to meet the princess and accompany her to the Pyramids. It was an extraordinary day. When I first met the princess, I was awed by the kindness in her eyes and when we started talking I realised that she was intelligent and I felt very lucky to be in the company of such a pleasant lady. I have to admit that before I met her I did not do my homework to learn about her background and personality. But, immediately I learnt that she was different from many of the people I had previously taken on tours of the Pyramids. Before I met Princess Maha I used to say that my favourite princess was Princess Diana. However, there was something captivating about Princess Maha that I could not quite understand, and I did not find the answer until I visited Thailand.

During the tour Princess Maha held a notebook and wrote down almost every word I said about the building of the Pyramids. I also told her about the secret doors inside the Great Pyramid. As I spoke, she was silently contemplating everything and looked like a person deep in thought. It was as if she didn't want to miss a word; she wanted to absorb everything. I was sure she felt the magic and mystery of the site. When we went into the Sphinx sanctuary and she looked up at the Sphinx she was mesmerised. I felt that the princess could only see one thing -- the Sphinx.

A year later, Noppadol Theppitak, Thailand's ambassador to Egypt, came to see me. He is a very likeable man, and I felt we were friends from the start. He invited me to visit his country and meet the princess again, and give her a private lecture about our recent discoveries. I was filled with happiness because I would meet Princess Maha again. I agreed immediately, and took this opportunity to ask the ambassador to support Egypt's campaign of to promote Farouk Hosni, the minister of culture, as the next director- general of UNESCO. Ambassador Theppitak is an active man. He contacted his government and wrote to them about our wish. At the same time, we set a date for my visit to Thailand and he decided to travel with me -- now the Pharaohs will be in Thailand.

I spoke to Egypt's ambassador in Thailand, Ashraf El-Khouli. He wanted to make the most of my trip and asked if I could help him get hold of a copy of Mysteries of Egypt, the famous I-Max film that was produced by National Geographic and narrated by Omar Sharif. El-Khouli also arranged for me to give a public lecture that would be followed by the I-Max film. I was very happy to hear his plan because I used to give lectures all over America before the showing of this film and I always joked about my good friend Omar Sharif. I would joke that Sharif is overrated in this film and that the young lady Kate did not act at all -- Egypt is the only star in the film.

As I waited to travel to Thailand I was looking forward to seeing Princess Maha, and I was thinking of the lecture I once gave to the king of Sweden at his palace. Kings, queens, princes and princesses are enchanting.

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