Chiang Mai, aka the "Rose of the North", has been popular among Thai and foreign tourists for decades due to the beauty of its nature, art and culture. So has Mae Rim, one of its districts, due to its numerous natural attractions. However, several interesting attractions and activities are lesser known and sometimes overlooked.
According to the official website of this district, Mae Rim district is widely known as "a town with the beauty of natural attractions". Its slogan mentions Mae Sa waterfall, orchids, Phra Phutthabat Seeroi, mountains, elephants, flora and the late Princess Dararasmi.
Covering 555km², Mae Rim district consists of 11 tambons. Four of these tambons -- Mae Raem, Pong Yaeng, Saluang and Huai Sai -- are forest land in Doi Suthep National Park. The forest land in Mae Rim totals 319km². The rest of the land is a plain sloping down from west to east. The west side is surrounded by mountains while the east side is a low-lying area. The Ping and Rim rivers and Mae Sa stream run through this district.
The district office is located about 8km north of the Chiang Mai Provincial Hall and 16km from Muang district of Chiang Mai on Highway 107.
Mae Rim had been a tambon called Kwaeng with the centre at the remote Ban Saluang Nok. After the relocation of the community centre to Ban Khuang Pao in tambon Rim Tai, it continually grew. In 1914, it was upgraded to be a district named Mae Rim because the district office is located on a low lying area by the Rim River which flows from Mae Taeng district to the Ping River at Ban Sob Rim in tambon Rim Tai.
When it comes to Mae Rim, many people think about the beautiful scenery of Mae Sa waterfall, Doi Mon Chaem and Huai Tueng Thao Reservoir or want to have fun at an elephant camp.
As a matter of fact, several other places are awaiting to be explored by everyone. Among them are Darabhirom Royal Mansion Museum, Wat Pa Darabhirom, Wat Phra Phutthabat Seeroi and the Queen Sirikit Botanic Garden (QSBG).
Piyakaset Suksathan, head of the QSBG's Garden Department, said that the question of "where to visit depends on the visitors' interest. A highlight is the Glasshouse Complex which has aquatic plants, lotuses, water lilies, orchids, tropical rainforest plants, cacti and carnivorous plants. Also, the Natural Science Museum tells visitors about forests in Thailand and botanical explorations and has eight 3D paintings. You can spend a whole day there. Each year, about 200,000 tourists visit the QSBG".
He hopes for more arrivals of tourists and says more local students should be brought here by their teachers to study nature. The newest attraction is the Canopy Walkway.
If you have free time, a visit to a Hmong village in tambon Mae Raem, a hot-air balloon ride over the nearby Doi Saket district or a visit to the privately-owned Tweechol Botanic Garden is a plus. In all, Mae Rim is a perfect getaway for both nature lovers and culture vultures.
Hot-air balloon rides are popular among tourists, especially couples. Each hot-air balloon takes off from the Balloon Adventure Thailand’s launch pad at the Horizon Village & Resort in Doi Saket district on the Chiang Mai- Doi Saket Highway, about 10km from downtown Chiang Mai. Passengers will fly over the treetops and the countryside above the ground at a height of between 150-450m. Each ride takes just over an hour in the morning. The price is 8,800 baht per person per flight.
Located on a mountain in Mae Rim’s tambon Saluang, Wat Phra Phutthabat Seeroi enshrines the footprints of the three previous Lord Buddhas and the current Lord Buddha. They are Kakusantho Buddha’s footprint measuring 12 sok, Konakamano Buddha’s and Kasapo Buddha’s footprints measuring 9 sok each and Gautama Buddha’s footprint measuring 4 sok. According to a legend, the Lord Buddha (Gautama) once made a pilgrimage to Pajjantaprathet, or the present-day Thailand. He along with his 500 followers stopped and had a meal on Veparabanpot Mountain. He learned from his meditative absorption that there were footprints of three previous Buddhas on this mountain. He later left his footprint here and predicted that Sri Ariyametrai Buddha, the future Lord Buddha, would visit this mountain and leave his footprint which would erase those of the other four Lord Buddhas.
The Queen Sirikit Botanic Garden (QSBG) is the first international standard botanical garden in Thailand. Situated on the foothills of Doi Suthep Mountain in Tambon Mae Raem, the QSBG has curated gardens and glasshouses showcasing the richness of Thai and other plants. Highlights include the Glasshouse Complex, the Natural Science Museum and the newly-opened Canopy Walkway. The Glass House Complex consists of four exhibition conservatories and eight glasshouses with themed plant collections. The QSBG is open daily from 8.30am-5pm. Visit www.qsbg.org or call 053-841-234.
The newest attraction is the 35m-high Canopy Walkway. According to Methee Wongnak, head of the QSBG’s Centre for Conservation Native Tropical Highland Plans, this suspended walkway is Thailand’s longest with a total length of 504m. It snakes its way along the treetops in 500 rai of forest area in the 7,285 rai botanical garden. The iron grating walkway has steps at some points, two observation buildings with glass floors, four gazebos on the ground as well as restrooms. Since its opening on Dec 1 last year, it has so far attracted 130,000 visitors. The aim is to educate visitors, especially students, about the variety of plants in this reclaimed forest. This place is also good for bird watchers. The QSBG plans to add a suspension bridge and will open a ginger garden in the future.
Wat Pa Darabhirom is located in Mae Rim’s tambon Rim Tai, about 1km from the district office and Dararasmi Military Barrack. Covering 26 rai of land, this temple was established in 1938 by a group of Buddhists for a number of pilgrim monks. Those monks followed the highly revered Phra Acharn Mun Phurithatto’s suit in using this deserted cemetery for meditation in 1930. Phra Acharn Mun Phurithatto was an expert in Vipassana meditation and pilgrimages. In 1941, the heirs of Princess Dararasmi presented the temple with the late princess’ Chao Sabai Garden covering 6 rai next to the cemetery-turned-temple. Thus, Wat Pa Wiwek Jittaram, or Wat Pa Mae Rim, was renamed Wat Pa Darabhirom in honour of the pilgrim monks and the late princess. A highlight is Phra Vihara Luang, inspired by the former Chiang Mai kings’ Lanna-style royal mansion, or Hor Kham. This hall is decorated with northern-style wood carvings, sculptures and motifs. The principle Buddha statue in the royally dressed style is enshrined in a small pavilion along with the Lord Buddha’s relics. Visit www.watphadarabhirom.com or call 053-862-722.
At 822m above sea level in tambon Mae Raem, several Hmong communities stand. One of them is that of the Mae Khi Village where visitors can see a few remaining old-style tribal huts and the local way of life. A number of Hmong villagers from Mae Khi showcase Hmong culture through songs, dances and rituals at the nearby Hmong Hilltribe Lodge resort every evening. This show gives a small glimpse into the lives and traditions of the Hmong people. To name but a few of these traditions, there is a flute song, a marriage proposal ritual and a ball-throwing game for dating. Also at this resort, visitors can observe the techniques of traditional Hmong embroidery, weaving and batik.
The Tweechol Botanic Garden is located in the same compound as Horizon Village & Resort in Doi Saket. The garden consists of areas called the Labyrinth, Lanna Way of Life, Rock Garden, Mahogany Park, Playground, Herb Garden, Palm Garden, Crawling Tree Garden, Petting Zoo, Garden Plant and Leaf Tree Garden, Rose Garden, Fragrant and Auspicious Tree Garden, Thai Deer Zone, Nursery, Cycad Garden, Cacti and Succulent Garden, Phra Mahajanaka Circle, the Jurassic Park and the Topiary of Dolphins where bushes have been trimmed in the shapes of dinosaurs and dolphins. This garden is open daily during 8.30am-5pm. The fee per head is 86 baht for adults and 43 baht for children. Visit www. tweecholbotanicgarden.com