Mae Wang district of Chiang Mai Province lies around a mere hour’s drive south of the provincial capital and whilst not currently included in any of our North Thai tour itineraries would certainly make for an excellent day out if anyone had a day or so to spare when starting or finishing a trip in the northern capital.
Here’s a selection of photos taken on a recent research trip to Mae Wang on behalf of our mates at Travelfish – an excellent on-line Southeast Asia guide that I know many of you will have already come across.
Some stunning landscapes, tranquil villages, plenty to see and do and yet despite being so close to bustling Chiang Mai relatively few foreign visitors make it out this way. Below is the recently created Mae Wang National Park. A small park sandwiched between the much larger, (and more famous), Doi Inthanon to the south and Ob Khan to the north and whose main feature is the unusual rock formations and cliffs known as Pha Chor.
The spectacular features are created through erosion of the soft sandstone with alternate strata of a hard conglomerate. Ok, it’s not Colorado but pretty good anyway!
In a totally different vein but conveniently placed between Mae Wang National Park and the scenic Mae Wang Valley is the highly unusual Ganesha Himal or Ganesh Museum. Certainly, the only museum in the whole country devoted entirely to the Hindu deity Ganesh, it also includes worshipping halls, shrines, gardens, pools and a waxworks.
The more ‘classic’ museum section is fascinating with a huge collection of Ganesh statues, (he’s the elephant god and son of Shiva in Hindu mythology), from various periods and just about every region in Asia. Ganesh is also popular amongst Thai Buddhists as the god of good fortune, overcoming obstacles and apparently winning the lottery! The rest of the sprawling complex containing an eclectic collection of statues, gaudy, life-size wax figures and piped Indian music was, to say the least, strange. Anyway, certainly not dull and the entrance was free and their coffee shop excellent!
Next up was the picturesque Wang River Valley itself; grilled chicken, sticky rice and a cold beer in local style, bamboo cafes overlooking the river was a perfect way to spend a couple of hours on a hot afternoon. You can also get yourself punted down the scenic stream by Karen boatmen on traditional bamboo rafts or check out the elephants from a local camp splashing around in the river.
Watching these happy pachyderms splashing around in the stream and playing with each other as well as their mahouts put into perspective some of the well-intentioned, but often over-zealous, criticism by Western animal rights organisations. None of the young animals were caught in the jungle, (their parents may have been decades ago) – they were, for better or for worse, born in captivity and closing down such camps, which make their income from offering rides, means broke mahouts and starving elephants. (Domesticated elephants can not be re-introduced into the dwindling forests and there’s only so much cash you can make from charging people for the more PC-perceived activity of bathing with elephants.) Yes badly run camps may well need to be closed but let’s not tar them all with the same brush because of a couple of ageing VDO clips of abhorrent practices.
Anyway, a great day out and, as we said, strongly recommended for anyone with a day on their hands in Chiang Mai.