Many collectors died in process of searching for new species, and despite persistent reports that the men died from drowning, gunshot and knife wounds, snakebite, trampling by cattle, or blows in the head with blunt instruments, it is generally accepted that in each case the primary cause of death was orchid fever. – Eric Hansen.
Queen Sirikit Botanic Garden
Queen Sirikit Botanic Garden (QSBG), located on the outskirts of Chiang Mai, sprawls over 1,000 hectares of landscaped gardens and natural rain forest. The complex is perfectly organised and well-maintained, and makes an ideal day trip out of the city. More than 50,000 species of endemic and exotic plants are on show here, including special collections of ferns, orchids, bromeliads and bamboo. Over four hours, we visited the banana grove and newly opened treetop boardwalk, but spent most of our time exploring the cluster of greenhouses at the Gardens’ peak. My personal favourite is the arid plants greenhouse, which serves as a rather photogenic habitat for cacti and aloes.
We were lucky enough to visit the complex with a small group of friends, one of whom, artist Jessica Chen, is a living reference book of information about Southeast Asian flora. Following Jessica’s lead, I was particularly intrigued by the different colours, textures, forms and patterns on display. As the above passage from author Eric Hansen conveys, there is something particularly romantic about the quest to collect and catalogue native plants from this region, and that feeling of wonder and captivation is palpable at QSBG. This is the first botanic garden in Thailand to meet international standards for collection, education and research, and I certainly gained a lot from my visit.
Queen Sirkit Botanic Garden is located in Mae Rim district, about 30-45 minutes drive from Chiang Mai. To get there, flag down an empty songthaew around Canal Road. The Garden is vast and set on a mountainside, so keep your songthaew for the duration of your visit if you want to get around easily. We paid 600 baht (plus a 100 baht tip) for four people, and kept the car for around five hours. Admission to the Garden costs an additional 100 baht per person.