Oh, bloody hell, I have gone and done something irretrievably silly again. I looked at the news.
For the three glorious days that were Songkran last month everything was right, happy, and just as it should be in my little world. But now it’s back to the reality of watching a bunch of ‘dinosaurs’ strip away all the progress made with human rights, the environment, education, immigration, you name it.
And now some of these dinosaurs seem hell-bent on obliterating the planet — Syria, Afghanistan, North Korea, Mexico — flipping a coin seems to be the best way of deciding just how the end will come. Yep, these insane dinosaurs appear to be propelling us all on a meteoric path that could send us all, well, the way of the dinosaurs.
All of which rather beautifully crowbars me into this month’s topic — were there ever dinosaurs in Chiang Mai?
Last month, as one or two of you may recall, I asked a bunch of questions about flying bugs, but failed to make it to the Museum of World Insects and Natural Wonders (MWINW) where it probably wouldn’t have been too difficult to acquire the answers. This month however, in search of slightly more useful intelligence on your behalf, dear reader, I put my investigative trousers on and actually did head out to the MWINW to look at what promised to be Chiang Mai’s preeminent collection of dinosaur remains to find out whether ‘terrifying lizards’ once wandered around what is now Loi Kroh and if it is possible that huge, lumbering creatures with brains the size of golf balls ever dawdled down Tha Pae Road.
The Natural History Museum it is not, but the MWINW does live up to its name and features a decent collection of insects pinned up in display cabinets and a number of ‘Natural Wonders’, including the remains of a seven-fingered chicken who apparently lived a free and happy life until the grand old age of eight. But I wasn’t here for the chickens; I was here for their ancestors! Although there are some small fossils on display, they appear to have originated in Europe, China, Mongolia and Australia. There is an enormous dinosaur egg, but according to the blurb underneath, its mother resides in London. Another colossal egg, claiming to be the incubatory vessel of a lizard known to grow to 27 metres in length is also on display, but was discovered in the Gobi Desert, so lacked the local touch and flavour I was searching for.
I am sad to report that it was all a bit disappointing in terms of terrible lizards, and there was little evidence to prove that anything prehistoric came from Chiang Mai. What was impressive though was that the building houses 460 species of mosquitos, one of the largest single collections of the planet…if tiny blood sucking insects skewered onto a board by a pin are your thing.
Now, I’ve seen Jurassic Park and I know how dinosaurs are made, so it was all a tad terrifying to see mosquitos so close to a collection of dinosaur eggs. Admittedly, these miniscule specimens probably weren’t around when Tyrannosaurus Rex was terrorising herds of Diplodocus, and harvesting their DNA would probably result in something slightly less impressive than a Triceratops — the best one could probably hope for would be a gecko.
At present it remains inconclusive as to whether Chiang Mai was once the stomping ground of massive Mesozoic monsters. However, although Thailand may not have the abundance and diversity of dinosaur remains that the deserts of North America, China and Argentina throw up, there are plenty of signs that a few million years ago carnivorous and herbivorous reptiles roamed around what is now Isaan, looking for a tasty treat.
In the 1970s a mineral drilling project in Phu Wiang in Khon Kaen province accidentally unearthed part of a dinosaur leg. This was the first official discovery of a dinosaur fossil in Thailand, and as you can imagine caused quite a bit of excitement. The Phu Wiang Mountains have ever since been the focus of expeditions and research, and are now popular tourist draw. A dinosaur museum has been open to the public since 2001.
And the discoveries have kept on coming. At the beginning of last year an unknown species of Iguanodon (that species of giant lizard often portrayed in children’s picture books as having pointy thumbs) was unearthed in north eastern Thailand proving that at least some of the big boys did roam the country, as it was, 120 million years ago. Standing at around six metres, the new discovery was named ‘Sirindhorna Khoratensis’ after Princess Sirindhorn. Unfortunately for us it was discovered by a Japanese team of scientists and was therefore promptly whisked off for display at the Fukui Prefectural Dinosaur Museum.
Yes, yes, yes, I hear you say, but what about those big old meat-eaters. The Jurassic Park movie would have been a bit disappointing without that toothy T. Rex and those cheeky, door-opening velociraptors. Well, fear not, in late December 2007 a team of scientists discovered the fossil of a massive Allosaurus in Nakhon Ratchasima. Affectionately known as the ‘Lion of the Jurassic’, this monster grew to more than eight metres in length and possessed an angry set of teeth just as intimidating as any of its tyrannosaur relatives.
So, what’s my point? Simply this – there is so much in the world left to wonder at, and it is definitely not the few backward thinking dinosaurs we watch on the news who seem intent on annihilating it. The family of fantastic creatures that went about their business on the planet for 160 million years had no choice about their catastrophic demise, and perhaps we don’t either. So, before the proverbial hits the fan, I suggest packing a picnic, scooping up the kids and taking a trip to the newly opened Chiang Mai Dinosaur Village. Just like Songkran, dinosaurs make anyone’s little world a happier place.