We finally got around to checking out Dokmai Garden, a privately-run botanic garden near Chiang Mai, and have to say we wished we’d been earlier. It was a great afternoon out and can’t recommend it enough! Now it’s not a park — Mae Fah Luang it does not try to be — and don’t expect nicely laid-out beds of brightly coloured flowers. Dokmai Garden is a highly eclectic and personal collection of plants, flowers, trees, fruit, vegetables and herbs grown by genial host and panama-hat clad, Swedish botanical professor Eric.
It goes without saying that Eric is extremely knowledgeable but is also very passionate about his subject, and if you think you’re not really interested in botany or horticulture, we reckon 10 minutes into Eric’s guided tour of the gardens will have you converted. Now you do need Eric to talk you through it as wandering around on your own will have you thinking, ‘Ah yes, brown twig. Green leaves! So what?’. Once you’ve had the plants’ properties or life cycle explained, felt a leaf’s texture, smelt a flower’s crushed petals, tasted some berries and learned that that particular species is now extinct in the wild, the whole place comes to life.
As we said, it’s nothing if not eclectic and you’ll find South American and African plant varieties at Dokmai too plus even a fragrant Mediterranean herb garden to amuse the local visitors. There are also plenty of orchids and areas laid out with traditional Thai garden plants and modern Thai garden favourites, as well as wild Thai plants from all corners of the kingdom, several of which are very rare.
The garden’s (or gardener’s) motivations are multi-fold: some rare species are cultivated with eventual hopes to re-introduce them into the wild, there are scientific/research elements (Eric is in regular touch with places like Kew Gardens), there’s the pedagogic aspect of teaching visitors about some of this weird and wonderful flora and last but not least, the gardens provide a fun and entertaining visit. Eric’s not your typical stuffy and serious botany professor and after our lengthy, though absorbing, guided tour he declared, “Right guys, time for a cold beer now eh!?”
Indeed this botanical garden comes with a cocktail bar and there are conveniently placed tables at strategic points around the garden to place your glass of crisp white wine on. (That’s our kind of garden!) Interestingly cocktails use frozen teak wood chunks instead of ice cubes, which is nothing if not original, and there’s also a restaurant on site (in fact Eric’s wife Ketsanee offers Thai cookery lessons). So if you do get botanical burn out, go and sit in the charming cafe with an ice cold beer or cocktail and watch the butterflies flit by.
Find all details, further info and facilities offered at their site here or contact them via Facebook. Detailed directions are also included but roughly speaking it’s around a 20-30 minute drive from downtown and located past Hang Dong on the side road to Ob Khan National Park. It’s well signposted and easy to find if you’re travelling under your own steam or we paid a 500 baht round trip including waiting time for a songthaew. Strongly recommend calling in advance to check timing and they will willingly arrange cheap transport for you themselves.
No chemical fertilisers or insecticides are used and there’s plenty of bird and butterfly life around too. (Below are some baby ‘fertilisers’).
This is a great half-day out or include the nearby Ob Khan National park or Ban Tawai handicraft market and make a day of it? We’ll leave you with a few more flora pics. Looking forward to our next visit!
By Mark Ord
Last updated on 21st September, 2013.