There is no shortage of things to see and do in Chiang Mai – famous and impressive temples and busy street markets (see below), numerous museums, dinner cruises on the Ping river, a popular modern zoo complete with pandas and another, nocturnal zoo called the Night Safari, (which was subject to an international controversy when it opened boasting that every species seen in the park was available to eat at its restaurant . This policy was quickly rescinded after the ensuing outcry from conservationists.)
But as happens so often, it was the quirky less-publicised attractions that I enjoyed the most.
In a shady shed-like building in the gardens of Wat Ket Karam, Daisuke and I found ourselves the sole visitors to a dusty museum collection of elephant bones, swords, tattered old Thai flags and – most surprisingly – photographs of old time executions in Chiang Mai’s city square. I had read there was also a cabinet labelled simply ‘magical objects’ but this we could not find – although we did stumble on a cache of more than a dozen dusty word processors. The temple itself was lovely with ornately carved, glass covered facades and yet unlike the more publicised attractions, there was hardly anyone there.
We also stumbled on this incredible collection of insects and geological samples, displayed alongside hippyish brightly coloured artwords of humans and insects (and elephants and dinosaurs) all living together in harmony. Placards expained the founder’s fascination with insects – especially mosquitoes – since contracting malaria as a child and pleaded for human respect and sympathy for our six-legged companions on the planet.
My favourite piece was a piece of wood which has been carved by termites (a sign claimed) into a replica of Van Gogh’s ‘Sunflowers’.