These gardens are a breath of fresh air in the often busy and smoky streets.
I spend most of my time in Chiang Mai walking around. This is usually because I am hopelessly lost, but I like to think of it as an exploratory exercise. Chiang Mai is a city full of secrets, filled with places that you can’t plan on finding but just have to stumble across. This is exactly how I found the Bang Phor Liang Meun Terracotta Gardens.
Located just behind the Chiang Mai Gate, in the hustle and bustle of the Old City, these gardens are a breath of fresh air in the often busy and smoky streets. Here, you would be forgiven for thinking that you had stumbled back into another time. The garden is home to thousands of terracotta statues and figurines representing a wide array of Southeast Asia’s religious arts. You will spot Hindu Gods, Ganesha and Vishnu, sitting quietly next to Buddha, and many other different Gods. The statues range from huge life size figures, to small sculptures that could easily fit in the palm of your hand.
Across the road from the gardens, in a beautiful old teak house, you will find the sculptors, working away with the skill and precision of a surgeon, and you will also find a showroom that displays the more prominent pieces. All the statues in the garden are for sale, and many of the pieces are purchased by temples and will be used to fill up their grounds with “ancient” statues. The garden is a safe place for the statues to age, and many are covered in moss. It is here that they acquire their ancient feel, even though they may have only been in the garden for a couple of years.
While the grounds are pretty small, it’s very easy to spend a couple of hours wandering around and taking in the finer details of all the different pieces. There is ample shade in the garden, and some trees have started growing into and around some of their statue neighbors. With nature starting to intergrate with the work, the Terracotta Gardens have a similar feeling to Angkor Wat in Cambodia, granted on a much smaller scale.
The owners of the garden have built a 55-acre garden about 45 minutes out of Chiang Mai in the small town of Lamphun, called Suan Mai Thai Pan Phor Liang Meun. The garden is a grander version of the one found in Chiang Mai, and here you can get demonstration lessons if you are interested in learning about the sculpting process.
The gardens offer a place to rest and relax out of the bustling streets. It’s a place to keep cool in the hot season, and catch your breath. The earthy smell and timeworn feel takes you to a different time, if just for a short while.
Admission to the gardens is free, and for more information you can go to their website or call the showroom at +66(0)53 00 0222.
Photos courtesy: Laura Paterson