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.
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 seems sacrilegious to do your 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.
About 10 kilometres from Country House on the outskirts of Ban Kat is a monument to Japanese soldiers that died during the Second World War. On the road there is a sign in English, but to get to the monument you have pass through the compound of a Thai school, there is no other way in. The school compound has a security guard on a traffic barrier. He demands that anybody entering the compound hand over their Thai I.D. which is returned when they leave. This is very strange because it appears to be just an ordinary Thai primary school for the children of farmers. In my experience this makes it unique, I have never seen a public provincial primary school which a professional security guard anywhere else in Thailand.The inscriptions on the monuments themselves are in Japanese and ambiguous Thai. The Thai inscriptions do little to explain:
a) Why there is a monument at all (the official story is that Thailand was occupied by the Japanese by force).
b) Why is located in Ban Kat (a small town that nobody except locals have ever heard of).
c) Why is it hidden behind a school with professional security.
About five kilometres along the road from Country House to Ban Kat, you will find a large golden rabbit about 3 metres high. The rabbit dominates a spacious well manicured garden. Nobody seems to know where it came from or what it is doing there. Rumour is, that it is a Chinese Buddhist place; but there are no inscriptions in Chinese. Also, as far as I know, rabbit worship is not part of Buddhism, Chinese or otherwise.