Welcome to the weird and wacky side of Thailand…
Coming to Thailand means different things to different people. For some, it’s an opportunity to delve deep into Bangkok’s emerging food scene. For others, it’s a chance to break away from the crowds and hit up some of southern Thailand’s still gorgeous beaches.
For my wife and I, our last two years in Thailand have been filled with the offbeat and bizarre destinations. These are our five favorites amongst a 100 plus destinations explored – many of which require your own wheels or a negotiated tuk tuk ride.
Home to the most skulls and horns in northern Thailand
About three hours northeast of the better- known Chiang Mai, Chiang Rai features two must-see destinations: the popular ‘White Temple’ replete with sparkles, and the Black House, a collection of skulls and horns worked into artistic forms. There’s little question to the skulls’ authenticity, and it almost feels like a collection somehow smuggled out of the Game of Thrones props department.
Called Baan Dam in Thai, it’s a destination that has managed to go from a private artist’s house to a can’t-miss stop in northern Thailand. First used as Thawan Duchanee’s private home, it become a private museum in 1986 and was later opened to the public. Beyond the skulls and bones, meander the grounds and take in a building that looks like a UFO from one angle and a dolphin’s open mouth from another.
While there’s no guided tour available, some staff are around to ensure tourists don’t get into private buildings. The souvenir shop by the parking lot is worth a short visit.
If you go:
From Chiang Rai’s Central Plaza or the Princess Mother’s Garden, head north on route 1 (Phaholyothin Road). After crossing the Kok River (just north of the Princess Mother’s Garden), go 8.4 kilometers – you’re looking for a brown wooden sign and a brown wooden awning on the left. This will have three lines of Thai text and the number 13 (for Moo 13, the side street number). Take the left just before the sign, then go about 450 meters – you’re looking for the first left turn that isn’t someone’s driveway. Next, go 300 meters – you’ll see some of the sights on the left and a parking lot on the right.
GPS: 19.992088, 99.860255
Puek Tian beach
A naked ascetic, a dragon ridden like a horse, and a six-meter she-demon in the sea
Out of a Thai fairy tale rise these three characters. The six-meter tall she-demon is Pee Seua Samut (picture above), the giant that turned into a woman and bore a child with Aphai Mani, a flute-playing prince.
The man to thank is Phra Sunthorn Vohara (1786–1855), Thailand’s most famous poet. His famous epic poem, Phra Aphai Mani (Prince Aphai Mani) runs 30,000 lines long. It follows Prince Aphai Mani, who plays a magic flute that causes people to sleep and eventually die. Aphai was later kidnapped by a giant that transformed himself into a beautiful girl… then the plot gets weird and long-winded. The statues date back to 1982, a few years before UNESCO honored him as a great poet on the 200th anniversary of his birthday.
Today, a giant turtle sits on the beach; ready to be climbed, while the she-demon is somewhat further out – best photographed from the shore. Look also for a statue of the author, who looks as though he was sitting on something sharp as he was being sculpted, and a family of mermaids. Make a daytrip of it from Hua Hin by visiting the peaceful Cha- am beach (20 kilometers north of Hua Hin) and Puek Tian beach (46 kilometers north of Hua Hin).
If you go:
From the Cha-am beach area in south- central Thailand, head north on route 4033 for about 20 kilometers. Follow the signs to Hat Puek Tian. From Hua Hin’s beach area, head north on route 4 (which turns into route 4033) for about 46 kilometers.
GPS: 12.946533, 100.034058
Siriraj Medical Museum
Some awesome gruesomeness
Few trips to Bangkok are truly complete without a requisite stop here. Sometimes called the Museum of Death, what’s called the Siriraj Medical Museum is actually the amalgamation of six permanent exhibitions. The exhibitions are organized into several rooms across a single floor, which often includes a temporary exhibition.
After the unfortunate cases have passed from the land of the living, the more unusual cases get dissected and preserved for their eventual museum exhibition. Look for the slices from different hearts – more than a few of the exhibitions serve as warnings to turn your unhealthy habits around. Seeing an alcoholic’s liver, or what happens to your heart when you have high cholesterol might just do the trick. While they’re not always explained, it becomes a game to figure out what body part it is and what the person might have died from.
The most famous resident here is Si Ouey Sae Urng. Convicted and executed for cannibalizing and eating children during the 1950s, his withered mummified remains are perhaps the most gruesome thing here. The story’s scarier than what you see – especially when there are a lot of other seriously odd things around. While here, ask around for Congdon’s Anatomical Museum. First established in 1947, it’s an old-school look at how specimens were preserved for further study.
If you go:
Jump on one of the ferries that traverses the Chao Phraya River in western Bangkok. The easiest way to arrive is to get to the Saphan Taksin BTS station – it’s a short walk from subway to ferry. Get off at Wang Lang pier, and then walk west on Thanon Wang Lang (away from the river) for about 250 meters. Turn right, then walk about 300 meters and look for the Adulyadejvikrom Building on your right.
GPS: 13.758956, 100.485031
Swiss sheep farm
Complete with country music and a Hulk
This kid-friendly sheep farm is a bit of a journey, but upon arrival the journey is soon forgotten. Admission comes with a complimentary handful of grass to feed the sheep, but some milk is available as well. The sheep may be the first tourist attraction, but there are also dozens of opportunities for selfies amongst the facades and backdrops.
It has the look and feel of a place thrown together for the local hi-sos, yet works nicely for the foreign tourists that venture to these parts.
Other sheep farms in Thailand are worthy visits as well: the Hug You Sheep Farm (Lampang, northern Thailand), the Dairy Hut Sheep Farm (Phang Nga, southern Thailand), and the Chokchai farm (a daytrip from Bangkok). This ‘Swiss’ sheep farm takes the cake for being the weirdest of them, however – the larger-than-life Hulk made of mechanical parts is but one visible piece. Some graffiti decorating a facade and a mechanical bull help to complete the ensemble of oddities.
If you go:
Rent a scooter or car in Cha-am, then make your way northwest on route 4 until you see the signs for Prachuap Khiri Khan. Get in the left lane and follow the sharp curve around the left to eventually head north on the expressway. Go about 700 meters and you’ll see the Swiss Sheep Farm on the right – take the next U-turn and double back to it.
GPS: 8.421917, 98.532750
Wat Mae Kaet Noi
The creepiest, scariest Buddhist hell temple around
There’s little sign of what’s to come from the outside – in fact, it’s far too easy to pass it and assume there’s nothing unusual about the place. Walk by some bowling chairs cast off from the Western world while approaching the inner circle of hell – each person suffering from the fate of their karma being worked out in naraka, a sort of purgatory or hell.
Hell temples, by the way, are Thailand’s truly unseen gems – dozens are scattered throughout the country, but all aim to show Buddhists what awaits them in the afterlife. Failing to make merit or not heeding to Buddhism’s precepts all result in punishments, often graphically portrayed with gallons of red paint. Here (and elsewhere), punishments are shown to fit the crimes – a thief gets his hands cut off, an alcoholic is forced to drink boiling oil, and the unfaithful are forced to climb a spiky tree while nude. Some temples (like this one) go beyond concrete statues – insert a 10 baht coin into the metal box and watch the scene come to life. They’re not for kids or the squeamish, but for anyone seeking an otherworldly scare, it’s worth the trip.
If you go:
From the northern part of the Chiang Mai-Lamphang super highway, head north onto route 1001. This is about 800 meters from where you cross the Ping River. Once on 1001, go 9.3 kilometers to an intersection (Maejo University is across the street). Take the sharp right, go 3.3 kilometers, and look left for the temple.
GPS: 18.877943, 99.03681
Bio: Chris Backe is the author of Thailand: a One Weird Globe guide, a guidebook to over 100 of Thailand’s bizarre and off-the-path destinations. It’s available on Amazon as a print and e-book, or as a PDF for any device. He blogs about the world’s weirder destinations at www.oneweirdglobe.com.