Tuesday, April 8, 2008

Queen Sirikit Botanical Garden

Northern Thailand has many attractions that would be of interest to horticultural and botanical enthusiasts. Just outside of Chiang Mai, Thailand’s 2nd largest city and the gateway to the northern provinces, are two outstanding botanical gardens - Queen Sirikit Botanical Garden and Bhubing Palace and Garden, one of the estates of the royal family. The best time to go is immediately after the end of the rainy season in early November, when many flowers are in bloom.
Queen Sirikit Botanical Garden
Located in Mae Sa Valley, a popular mountain resort area just 45 minutes - 1 hour drive from Chiang Mai, Queen Sirikit Botanical Garden at 960 hectares (2,372 acres) is by far the largest and most important Botanical Garden in Thailand. If you’re a botanical enthusiast, no trip to Thailand is complete unless you schedule at last a day or two visiting this fascinating facility. As there is so much ground to cover here, I suggest you stay at one of the fine mountain lodges near the Garden in Mae Sa Valley as opposed to staying in Chiang Mai.
Opened in 1993, this garden were created as a botanical research center and for visitors who wanted learn more about the plants and flowers of Thailand. Believe me, QSBG is huge. When I visited these gardens about 2 years ago, I did not have enough time to thoroughly tour the property, maybe next time. There are a number of interesting botanical walking trails that crisscross and circle the hilly property featuring prominent displays of tropical plants and flowers. One route will introduce you to Thai plants and local medicinal herbs, another route features climbers and vines. Or perhaps, you would like to take a hike to a small waterfall, on the way you’ll pass by the Thai Rock garden. This trail ends up at the Thai Orchid Nursery, which is home to over 350 native orchid species. Although, I did not have enough time to explore any of these trails, I am told each trail takes 40-60 minutes to complete.
While I was there, I visited the glasshouse conservatory, which houses the rainforest exhibit. Complete with an electrically powered artificial waterfall, this exhibit features many of the plants that thrive in the rainforest – gingers, anthuriums, ferns, cycads, impatiens, begonias and other species. There are a series of temperature-controlled greenhouses located on the hillside, each featuring a different grouping or category of plants and flowers. One of the greenhouses features an amazing collection of begonias; another one features mostly Thai medicinal plants and herbs. The most unusual and exotic plant that I encountered there was the Bat Plant (Tacca chantrieri), which is indigenous to Southeast Asia. The greenhouse exhibit featuring an eclectic variety of water lilies and lotuses was most impressive. Check out the stark contrast between the very unique and austere marble planters and the large black pots (see picture). Factoid - The water lotus is a sacred plant in the Buddhist religion.
Bhubing Palace and Gardens
Bhubing Palace and Garden is the winter residence for the Royal family. When her Royal Highness, Queen Sirikit, makes her seasonal visits to Northern Thailand to work on any number of community projects, she always returns to Bhubing Place to rest up. In addition, the Royal Family often entertain visiting dignitaries on this huge estate, which is located in very close proximity to the magnificent Doi Suthep Temple and Pagoda.
The Gardens on this estate are absolutely breathtaking and you can tell a lot of attention to minutiae was involved in the overall design and concept. The landscaping and design will definitely knock you out! Queen Sirikit is a real horticultural enthusiast and her favorite flowers are roses; you’ll definitely want to check out the Queen’s Royal Rose Garden, which features many exotic cultivars. In addition, there’s a lovely Fern Garden and a small Water Reservoir, which is surrounded with landscaped beds of temperate flowering plants. I’ll say one thing about the Royal Family (especially the King and the Queen), they truly are very cultured people and have very refined tastes. The traditional architecture and d├ęcor on this royal estate reflects their genuine appreciation of Thai history and culture. Of course, it helps to be very wealthy to be able to build such a beautiful estate as the Bhubing Palace. A wonderful place for photography, Bhubing Palace and Gardens is open to the public from April to December.
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