Perhaps you have not noticed this sign. Well if you hop on your bike and cross to the East of the Ping River at Kad Luang (the main market) and head on within ten minutes, traffic lights permitting, You will see it. A hundred metres or so past the Super Highway the road to the left leads to one of Chiang Mai’s quiet and special places: the banks of the Mae Khao.
The Mae Khao is a stream which runs for 35 kilometres roughly parallel to the Ping River. Common with most streams in Thailand it has had the dredging and concrete dumping treatment along its banks. The great shady trees here are all the exotic Rain Tree (Samanea saman) from tropical America.
But at Bahn Mae Khao, in its small park by the river we see that the natural diversity is making a come back.
In the year 2004, five species of trees native to the Chiang Mai flood plain were planted at Bahn Mae Khao. Now despite general neglect apart from some unwelcome lopping of some trees the natives are flourishing.
By the time has come for the Rain Trees to go, as must we all, the native trees Toona cilliata and Adenathera pavonia which are already taller than the tree they were planted beneath will be dominant and providing great shade.
Now let’s look at what is happening along the river bank. The view down stream shows in the distance an old stone wall protecting private land. Next to this is a concrete retaining wall at the entrance to the park. Formerly there was a gentle slope here down to the river as appears in the foreground.
The concrete wall and sturdy steel fence at the top might be justified in order to prevent reckless drivers careering into the stream and drowning.
However there are plans afoot to extend this structure which so far has cost 1 million Baht further upstream. This is not necessary for public safety and will further impede access to the water and threaten the destruction of trees along the river.
The upstream view shows another problem. Here concrete slabs have been dumped on the bank, again making the water unapproachable.
So we can see this park has a great potential to become one of Chiang Mai’s beauty spots. But to achieve this the local government needs to revise its plans and adopt a more environment friendly approach. This would include dropping plans for extending the concrete wall, planting along the bank with local trees and likewise removing concrete dumped upstream and planting there.
The Mae Khao needs a successful riparian restoration project as a model to convince the authorities along the stream to restore its once abundant bio-diversity.
Ban Mae Khao can lead the way.