Queen Sirikit Botanical Gardens
Situated atop the lush Doi Suthep mountains, on the Mae Rim Samoeng Road, the spectacular Queen Sirikit Botanical Gardens opened in 1993 and are a must-see for nature lovers. One of the best times to visit is the morning when the surrounding hills are often shrouded in mist—keeping the temperature perfect for strolling around and marvelling at the spectacular flora and fauna while enjoying superb mountain views (mist permitting, of course).
The gardens are not just for show though, and are used for both the conservation and study of plants. There’s a Glasshouse Complex and eight display greenhouses where visitors can learn—among many other interesting facts—that there are 900 genera of orchids, with 25,000 species worldwide (of which Thailand can lay claim to 177 genera, and 150 endemic species). And don’t miss the deadly beautiful carnivorous plants with their fabulous shapes and names such as Bladderworts, Butterworts, and of course the (in)famous Venus Fly Trap.
The gardens also have numerous walking trails, a floral clock, several streams, and a fountain. But perhaps the most spectacular highlight is the recently opened Forest Canopy Walkway, which is 400m long and 20m high (and cost 50 million baht to build). Up among the trees you are witness to a truly birds-eye view of the forest and the surrounding hills. Sections of the walkway have a glass floor and if you’re really lucky you may catch a glimpse of a flying lizard. These reptiles don’t actually “fly” but glide—for up to nine metres allegedly—but they are not very big so your chances of seeing one are slim. However, the walkway is still an incredible attraction, and even if the swaying is a little off-putting for the more faint-hearted, it’s still an experience well worth having.
MAIIAM Museum of Contemporary Art
Chiang Mai has long been renowned for its skilled artisans and craftsmen and is a city that deeply cares about, and fosters culture and the arts. And while it may not be the country’s capital of culture, it’s definitely the culture capital of the North. This status was confirmed to an even greater degree last year with the opening of the MAIIAM Museum of Contemporary Art, located 20 minutes from the centre of Chiang Mai in the Sankamphaneg district. What was once an industrial site was transformed into a 3000 sq.m modern, state-of-the-art facility by the Bangkok-based architectural team All(zone). It’s a truly fascinating addition to the Northern arts scene, and was opened in memory of founder Eric Bunnag Booth’s great, great aunt Chao Chom Iam—a royal consort to King Rama V—and is a direct result of the family’s desire to share their private art collection with the general public. Showcasing both temporary and long-term exhibitions of visual art, design, and fashion, the facility also stages performances, film screenings, lectures, and workshops. There’s also a shop offering a wide array of books, shirts, bag, souvenirs, and limited edition art works, and a restaurant for hungry “culture vultures”.
Dining in Style
Chiang Mai has long been home to exclusive hotels and restaurants and one prime example is the captivating Dhara Dhevi. Set within a beautiful 60 acres of greenery—complete with jogging paths throughout the extensive grounds, as well as an 18-suite spa and numerous private villas—dining (or staying) here is a truly exceptional and authentic ‘old’ Northern Thai experience. The resort’s Le Grand Lanna Thai restaurant is just one of the property’s several luxury dining options. Housed in traditional raised wooden pavilions, festooned with art and antiques illustrating the region’s unique Lanna cultural heritage, guests are invited to feast on an array of regional specialties, including: fish patties with cucumber relish; spicy river prawn soup with straw mushrooms served in young coconut; deep fried sea bass fillet with sweet and sour sauce; and a dessert of mango with sticky rice and a variety of seasonal tropical fruits. In addition, during the course of the meal diners are royally entertained by a traditional dance show, expertly performed by smiling members of the hotel’s cultural team. The hotel also offers cooking lessons, while the arts and crafts village has daily activities and demonstrations.
By Gary Anthony Rutland