Samoeng loop- Queen Sirikit Botanical Gardens
January 21, 2017
What week in Chiang Mai would be complete without a road trip out to the jungle and an opportunity to sing to honor the Late King of Thailand. We travelled around the Samoeng Loop with a wonderful stop at the Queen Sirikit Botanical Gardens. We finished the week singing at a “We Love the King” event that I will share in another post.
The Samoeng loop is a 100 km road trip that starts in Chiang Mai, then heads north towards the little town of Mae Sa. The loop turns to the west into the mountains and loops through the Samoeng forest which is also fertile agricultural land. At the town of Samoeng it turns back to the east and ends up back in Chiang Mai. It’s the things to see and do along the way that turned a “short” drive into a full day. We rented a car for the day and upgraded to a mid size Suzuki to easily take 3 of us for the trip. Our new friend Jeanne (Leaving Eastern North Carolina) had taken a quick trip through this area and wanted to come along to see the Botanical Garden
Mae Sa Waterfall
We headed about 7:30 on a Monday morning and left Chiang Mai easily as most of the traffic was heading into the city. We turned off the highway at Mae Sa and arrived at the waterfall around 8:15 am. The man at the ticket booth didn’t have enough change for our entrance fee so he said just pay when we came out. He had no change because we were the only people in the whole park! There are 10 waterfalls along the Sa, (Mae is the word for river) that drains the mountain area and eventually flows into Mae Ping that flows through Chiang Mai. If it had been later in the day and hot, we could have swum at level 5. It was a large pool and had a nice sandy bottom. Thank you to Theblondtravels.com for the parking suggestion.
The park was quite well-developed. There were lots of picnic tables and cement paths. A wooden bridge allowed you to cross over the water to explore both sides with a large gazebo along waterfall 6. It was not what you would call accessible though because there were many large steps that would not accommodate strollers or wheelchairs, or even walkers. We heard lots of birds and found a couple of large spiders in their webs.
The quietness after the energy of the city was a much appreciated change of pace. It was cool and shady with just the sound of the water pouring over the falls. We only saw the first 6 waterfalls as we wanted to stop at a few other places along the route. There was another car entering the park as we left but we were able to put together our 330 baht fee ($13.00 for 3 of us) so we didn’t need change.
Queen Sirikit Botanical Garden
We carried on down the twisty roads past several elephant camps and tourist resorts, snake farms, insect displays and an orchid farm. The road itself was pretty quiet but the most tour vans were at the zip line place. I have ridden a zip line once as part of a tour in Mexico, but I wouldn’t spend a day in Thailand doing that when there is so many other things to explore. Each traveller has their own goals though.
Our destination was the Queen Sirikit Botanical Garden where it cost another 300 baht for the 3 of us as farangs, which was well worth it. Jeanne is over 60 so she was free. It was an unexpected treasure as it is a very large park with several sections to visit. The Botanical Garden opened in 1992 to protect and preserve natural Thai plants and named after Her Majesty the Queen Sirikit in 1994. I copied from the website the purpose of the Gardens.
The aim of QSBG and its satellite gardens are:
- to gather fundamental knowledge of Thai plants
- to conserve their genetic diversity, and
- to strengthen studies and research on Thai flora.
Canopy Walk and Greenhouses
We spent about 2 hours there but could easily have taken all day if I had been able to read every plant label as well as visit the Natural History Museum. We did spend time on the Canopy Walk. It is a walkway that’s built above the top of the trees for about 400 m through the forest and is an opportunity to look down on the trees and butterflies from above to get a sense of the canopy ecosystem. There were a few sections with glass floors and walls and the rest was metal mesh. It also provided for wonderful views of the mountains in the distance.
Our next stop were the greenhouses where I was very impressed by my restraint in not spending all day photographing every interesting plant. I really enjoyed the carnivorous plants building where there were so many pitcher plants. The orchid building had such vivid colors and the jungle plants were impressive. Many had labels to help identify those we actually see growing here. There were also buildings of arid plants and medicinal herbs with all the displays so tastefully done. It surprises me when we find such world-class facilities in a developing country.
It was about 11:30 when we left. Instead of continuing on the main loop, we decided to extend our trip by heading north after the gardens. The road was slightly narrower but paved and in good condition. There were less resorts and more agriculture. We saw coffee and tea growing as well a hydroponic lettuce growing without a greenhouse. Terraced fields were on every hillside filled with a large variety of vegetables and some corn. We didn’t see much rice growing as we moved higher up into the hills.
The first place we tried for lunch had a killer view, but was not open. It had tables and hot sauce bottles but when we found someone who knew a little English, it seemed there was no coffee or food.
It was located next to a campground. We saw several other places with small dome tents set up on a flat space as well as small raised platforms and small camping cabins. The trouble with car trips is the difficulty in snapping everything that captures your attention like you can when you are walking.
Lunch with a View
We drove on about 5 more minutes and found more views in a little eating place on the side of the road. The food was delicious, the people were kind and the menu descriptions were in English and Thai. They served the soup from the kitchen where we were, but the other meals were prepared in a bigger building about 200 m away and carried over to us.
Jeanne had pork and noodle soup where you had a choice of 6 different kinds of noodles. I had pork and shittake mushrooms with thai basil served with rice. Peter had fried rice with chicken. We shared spring rolls and 2 large beer (620 ml). Everything was delicious and we paid 300 baht which is less than $12.
Most Thai restaurants have a container of condiments on the table. There is sugar for sweet, chili infused vinegar for sour, fish sauce for salty and chili powder or flakes for spicy. This place had chili that was almost like a chipotle with a nice smokiness to it. You are given a fork and spoon but almost never a knife. You use the fork to push the food onto the spoon so I spill so much less on myself here. Chopsticks are only used for noodle dishes like Khao Soi, noodle soup, or Pad Thai.
Views on the way home
It was a direct ride home back through Sareong. The amount of food grown here in small-scale farming is impressive especially as farmers do most of the work by hand without machinery. Farm houses are small and on stilts for the rainy season. We saw some small pickups for hauling produce but the roads were very quiet on this day.
We took advantage of the rental car to pick up a few groceries on our way home. Since our comfy plastic lawn chair needed replacing, it was much easier to bring it back in a car than a songtaew.
The sing for the king event was an amazing honour and will be the topic of a post of its own.