A “must see” for anybody visiting the north of Thailand is Doi Tao Lake. As can be seen from Google Maps it is a huge expanse of water, 4.2 kilometers across and four times as long. It is off the old road from Bangkok to Chiang Mai and is clearly sign-posted with one of those Blue Government tourist attraction signs. Take the turning and you will come to an ample car park surrounded by stalls for vendors to sell the fresh fish caught in the lake. This is the best viewing place for this unique lake. Its unique because there is no water in it, and there hasn't been any for more than two years. None at all, not a drop.
As was going down to Phrae,
I passed a lake that wasn't there.
It wasn't there again today,
I wonder why it went away
They love Buddhas in Thailand and usually the bigger the better. Unfortunately, they are subject to the depredations of torrential rain during the monsoon. The people of Ban Hong, a small town on the old road from Chiang Mai to Bangkok, have come up with a solution. The Buddha at Wat Huai Pangka has been dressed in a plastic rain cape.
We all know that the people of Chiang Mai are the happiest in the world. They never stop smiling and they only stop dancing in order to prepare gourmet meals for foreign tourists. But did you know that the toilets in Chiang Mai are also happy, and that there is an award for the happiest one? This toilet is so clean that it seem sacrilegious to do you business there. So, where is it? A restaurant? No. A hotel? No. A municipal building? No. Its in a temple. Yes, you guessed it, it is at Wat Tha Mai I. As the French say vive la difference.
Gated communities are popular with the middle class in Chiang Mai. They offer a haven where children can play free from thieves and monsters. Unfortunately, for the residents of this quiet community near canal road, a five meter tall Godzilla has taken up permanent residence. Apparently a mad Japanese householder thinks this makes an attractive ornament in his garden. Still, what can you expect from the people who invented karaoke?
On the outskirts of Chiang Mai you will see something which, at first glance, looks like an alien spacecraft. Closer inspection reveals that it is a building shaped like a grand piano. So, what is it for? A concert hall? No. A music academy? No. A restaurant with a piano bar? Again, no.
It is, in fact, the Rajanagarinda Institute, Department of Mental Health. The institute specialises in the mental health problems of children. Its services include Electroencephalograms and Chromosome analysis. That's fine, but why is the building shaped like a giant grand piano? My best guess is that the architect was one of the patients.
A Thai Wat is normally set in a spacious compound, usually with a conservative bit of lawn and a few trees. At Wat Tha Mai I there is a garden that appears to have been laid out by somebody on Mescaline. Grinning, rotund, homunculi sit among artificial tulips; soft toys and wooden birds hang from trees; and Ganesh presides over this arcadian extravaganza.
The first thing you notice about Wat Tha Mai I (pronounced “ta mai ei”) is the gate. Instead of being guarded by the normal pair of lions, the gate to this temple is guarded by two giant fighting cocks. The reason is that the temple compound contains a statue of king Naresuan who, legend has it, was very fond of cock-fighting. The local villagers appear to treat this statue as a shrine that will give them good luck with their cock fights. This is important because cock fighting is a big gambling business in Thailand (but illegal, of course). Donations to the temple are put on money trees. As can be seen from the photos there is a lot of money on these trees so, obviously, an offering at the shrine will help you win!
Visitors to Thailand naturally have a problem with the language which has its own unique script based on Sanskrit. Fortunately a lot of signs are now written in Roman symbols. The signs in the photo shows the way to Chiang Mai's biggest hospital. So, if you are tourist in need of urgent medical attention because you fell on a Russels Viper when you were knocked off your bicycle by an elephant, you should have no problem getting to Maharach (first sign). Or is it Maharaj (second sign)? Actually, its pronounced Mah-hah-rrat, but this doesn't matter because the locals do not call it that. (If you ask a taxi driver to take you to Maharach or Maharaj he will not have a clue what you are talking about) They call it Rahmpreeabahn Suandoc, which is much easier, isn't it. Rahmpreeabahn Suandoc means “flower garden hospital” which is nice, but the hospital does not actually have a flower garden and never had one. It is called flower garden hospital because it is opposite Wat Suandoc, which means Flower Garden Temple. Of course, the temple does not actually have much of a flower garden…
Along one of the side roads on the way to Ban Kat you pass a house which seems belongs to a member of the rural "nouveau riche". Nobody, including the local police, seem to know who owns it. What is going on? Is it the start of a new terracotta army to rival that of Qin Shi Huang? Or English garden gnomes gone mad?
The road to Ban Kat goes through deserted national forest. Then suddenly, round a bend, you find a family of concrete elephants bathing in a concrete pond. Then you are back in the forest again. This bit of Disneyland forms the entrance to a resort hotel, but there no elephants (or animals of any kind) at the resort. The area is famous for elephant rides but not here, the real elephants are 10 kilometres away.