Orchids of Thailand – Insect and Orchid Farms

This post is about the second half of the cultural excursions on my first day in Thailand.  🙂

Sunday 13th March 

Insect Farm

We returned to Chiang Mai where we got a quick bite to eat in a local restaurant then set off in the minibus again to an insect then an orchid farm, both on the outskirts of Chiang Mai. The insect farm had a huge array of dead butterflies, beetles, spiders, etcetera displayed in glass cabinets.

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Me with a new friend!

The real joy was seeing live butterflies floating round a small enclosed garden and handling stick insects, iguanas, beetle larvae and a scorpion! The latter had had its sting removed so was safe to handle.

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Handling a scorpion

Orchid Farm

We spent an hour there then moved onto the orchid farm. It was a display nursery only, it doesn’t sell stock to the public. It was a sea of colour, there were vandas in every colour imaginable covering two areas of the garden (as well as the odd Cattleya). I’m not a particularly huge fan of this genera, they’re a tad too garish for my liking but I couldn’t help but be impressed with the display.

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Vanda display

I found some smaller species mixed in with the real showy ones which was more to my taste! As well as the orchids there was also several beautiful orchid trees, Bauhinia, in flower – this was the first time I had seen them in bloom; it was a memorable moment as I had always wanted to see this species flowering.

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Vanda close-up

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Bauhinia sp.

Torch gingers (Etlingera elatior), Heliconia, various palms and bamboos were all in the tropical planting too. I bought some excellent souvenirs from the orchid farms’shop, earrings and some scarves, which were all orchid related of course!

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Etlingera elatior

The drive to and from our days’ destinations were almost as interesting as the destinations themselves; I loved witnessing massive red and pink Bougainvillea en masse along the roadsides, as prolific as brambles are back home in the UK. Frangipani (Plumeria) trees were also aplenty, it was the first time I had seen them growing outside in a tropical climate.

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Cattleya close-up

We met with Peter on our return to the hotel in the evening, who explained we would be doing a short trek tomorrow near the famous mountain an hours drive away. Our first day of hunting orchids in the wild – I couldn’t wait!

Orchids of Thailand – Wat Phra That Doi Suthep

This post is about the first few days I spent in Thailand, in diary format. Enjoy! 🙂

Saturday 12th March

I arrived in Chiang Mai safely, if a little behind schedule – 45 minutes late. I was greeted by Peter’s girlfriend, Ping, as Peter himself wasn’t very well. I also met one of the other tour members, Phil, who also arrived on a late flight – we were the last ones to arrive.

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View of Chiang Mai from the Duangtawan Hotel

We got a taxi to the Duangtawan Hotel and met Peter briefly who explained about the activities which would be happening tomorrow – a visit to a temple and orchid farm. I face planted the bed as soon as I entered my room – jet lagged after a long journey!

Sunday 13th March

Weather: Sunny, 39 °C

Our first day got off to a casual start, as Peter explained he always makes the first few days more relaxed as everyone is usually tired from travelling. Once we are more accustomed to the weather and time difference the more serious treks into the jungle begin.

For the first week as there are so many of us – 40 in total – Peter is splitting us into groups, so the people from the Singapore botanical orchid society are in one group and we, individuals from all over the world, are in the second group. We all do the same activities in the day, just separately.

Wat Phra That Doi Suthep

The morning was spent at the most popular temple in Chiang Mai, Wat Phra That Doi Suthep; it is Chiang Mai’s most important and visible landmark. A local guide, Ning, showed us round and told us about the history of the temple then left us for an hour to explore on our own.

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Me in Wat Phra That Doi Suthep

The monastery was established in 1383 by King Keu Naone to enshrine a piece of bone, said to be from the shoulder of the historical Buddha. The bone shard was brought to Lanna by a wandering monk from Sukhothai and it broke into two pieces at the base of the mountain, with one piece being enshrined at Wat Suan Dok.

The second fragment was mounted onto a sacred white elephant who wandered the jungle until it died, in the process selecting the spot where the monastery was later founded.

The 306 step staircase is flanked by mosaic serpents; the climb is intended to help devotees accrue Buddhist merit, but less energetic pilgrims can take a funicular-style lift! The terrace at the top of the steps displays a statue of the white elephant that carried the Buddha relic to its current resting place.

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One of the pagodas

The temple had an impressive ornate golden pagoda which contained holy Buddha relics, it was a very striking piece of architecture; it was literally gleaming in the bright sunlight.

It felt very strange being able to take photos in a sacred place of worship with people praying, Ning said it was absolutely fine and expected from tourists to do so. Even though I knew it was ok it still felt wrong using my camera!

There are supposedly glorious views of the city of Chiang Mai from the temple compound but the view was hidden underneath a haze of forest fire smoke. It’s a good excuse to return again!

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Buddhas inside the temple

I enjoyed looking round my first Thai temple yet I got just as excited by the Ficus trees which were covered in jackfruits as I did looking round the temple! The fruits of Artocarpus heterophylla were bigger than my head, it was an obligatory selfie moment!

I also saw a cannonball tree, Couroupita guianensis, which was displaying its distinctive large round fruits. Things really hotted up when we spotted Dendrobium capillipes flowering on another tree in the temple compound as well as D. polyanthum and D. lindleyi on other trees by the staircase leading up to the temple.

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Jackfruits!

They were high up in the trees but a German member was well prepared and had binoculars with him – it was sensational seeing my first orchids on the trip, even though they weren’t technically in the wild!

Orchids of Thailand

In March I went to Thailand for a couple of weeks to see orchids growing in their natural habitat. It was an absolutely mind-blowing trip, I would go back there tomorrow if I could.

This is the first of a series of posts about my Thai adventures; below are a few paragraphs about the tour itself, if you would like to know more details please visit the tour organisers’ website:

http://www.theorchidman.com/#/page/home/

Orchids of Thailand

The aim of the Orchids of Thailand tour is to take tour members to a range of different orchid habitats and enable them to actually see orchids growing in their natural wild state, at a time when many of the plants are in flower. This makes it possible to compare the climatic conditions and observe the different orchid species growing in each habitat.

The organiser, leader and guide for the whole tour is Peter Williams, who owns a nursery in Thailand and runs all aspects of Mae Tang Orchids. He has lived in Thailand since 1990, prior to this he was the manager of a large garden centre in England. Peter spends around four months a year in the UK, promoting the orchid tours and selling his orchids. The rest of the year he is in Thailand, supervising the growing of orchids at his nursery and undertaking exploratory trips to various wild habitats.

During the tour there are several treks into special orchid-rich areas that Peter has discovered over several years. These treks are exclusive to the tour as the areas visited are in remote places, which are not promoted. This is why the orchid flora is so great, as in the well known trails around national parks the orchids within reach have been removed by the locals to sell.

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The first orchid I saw growing in the wild – Dendrobium infundibulum

For this reason Peter is also accompanied by local guides, who live and work in the forests and have a wealth of knowledge; they know the areas visited like the back of their hands. As the guides are regulars on Peter’s tour they know exactly what needs to be found and often know of new orchid-rich areas they have discovered since the previous years tour.

Whilst on the tour there is also the opportunity to visit orchid farms, local plant markets, botanical gardens and some of the many cultural attractions of northern Thailand. This enables tour members to not only witness the truly spectacular orchid flora but also to become completely immersed in the surrounding culture, gaining a rounded experience on a personal as well as a botanical level.

The tour is aimed to coincide with the end of the cold season and start of the hot season which is when a large number of orchids stimulated by the rise in temperature after winter dormancy start to flower – hence this is the best time of year to see a wide range of different orchid species in flower.