Somewhere between Phayao and Nan is a tiny little town called Chiang Muan. It’s not much more than a pretty four-way intersection; two of the streets peter out into nothing, one winds for half a kilometre and exhibits a wat, a couple of mechanics, a small selection of food places and a few residential houses, and the fourth is the highway. At the intersection, directly opposite a 7 Eleven, stands a statue of a Brontosaurus. This is the Chiang Muan Dinosaur.
From there, if you follow the highway towards Nan for about four kilometres, there is another Brontosaurus pointing its head towards a side road on the right. About ten kilometres later, through a couple of little villages and some shrubby wilderness, is a big sign at a T-intersection. This is the Dinosaur Kangluang Forest Park. If you turn left, you will go to the main attraction. If you turn right, you will arrive at a river – although there are no signs in English to clarify any of this.
Unknowingly, we turned right towards the river. There was a path running alongside it which we followed if for a few minutes thinking it might lead to something dinosaur-like. We were wrong. After ducking under webs and snapping photos of a colourful crab spider, we decided that we had no idea where we were going. This overgrown bush track was probably not leading towards some sort of dinosaur discovery area. We turned back.
After our short walk, we decided to see what else there was at Dinosaur Kangluang Forest Park and took the other direction at the T-intersection. The small paved road trailed past four lazy dogs who huffed as they rose to get out of the way. Clearly they hadn’t learned anything from Thai town dogs, who sleep in the middle of the road and expect traffic to drive around them.
Several Brontosaurus statues looming in the distance confirmed that we were now in the right place. Two men in full camo-gear smiled and waved as we turned into a car park, and then they went back to doing whatever it was they were doing before we pulled up – presumably sleeping, but possibly designing rockets or quizzing each other on European trade policies (I don’t want to rule anything out). The carpark was completely deserted, and it looked as though it had been that way for a long time. Statues of Brontosauruses (Brontosauri?) were erected in various states of dinosaur-like behaviour, and stood guard over a small, white warehouse. We approached the warehouse and peered inside.
“Hello?” called a woman’s voice behind us, followed by a string of Thai.
We quickly figured out that we had to buy tickets. The price, as is occasionally the case in this part of the world, was a lot higher for foreigners than locals, but the woman was evidently happy that we were even there at all, and said she would only charge us the Thai price (plus the ‘having a motorcycle fee’, which must go towards replacing the small patch of concrete in the carpark that motorbikes apparently destoy every time they use it). We paid 60 baht total for our tickets, instead of the listed foreign price of 220 baht.
The woman, who was wearing a camo shirt and camo pants already, stood up from her seat and added a camo jacket and a camo hat to her ensemble. It seemed that she was also going to be our guide. She called over one of the camo-men who’d waved at us earlier, rattled off some instructions to him, and then handed him her phone. For the duration of our tour, the man followed us around snapping photos. I had a feeling we might be appearing in some promotional Thai material for the dinosaur museum in the near future so I made a point of looking far more interested than I actually was.
We entered the museum and took the entire thing in one small scan; a life-sized model of a dinosaur, a couple of plastic display boxes, and some faded information about dinosaurs on the walls. This, we learned, was the site of the first dinosaur discovered in the north of Thailand. At the far end of the shed beyond the huge model was a pit that contained what looked like a rock, but was actually the vertibrae of a Sauropod discovered in 2002. A plastic display case contained several joints and other not-easily-recognisable-to-normal-people bones. Brontosaurus is in the Sauropod infraorder, but there weren’t enough bones found to classify down to the genus level. Therefore, all those statues that I thought were Brontosauruses (Brontonsauri?) could have easily been one of 28 other dinosaurs.
Because there wasn’t much to the museum, the tour ended after about five minutes. Our guide told us that our tickets would be valid for several other exciting sites in the area; a 100-year-old tree and a place with lots of peacocks. She was absolutely lovely, and tried very hard to speak to us in English. It was clear that we were the first foreign visitors in quite some time, and signs of underfunding and neglect at the site were painfully obvious. A little kiosk marked ‘Souvenir’ was utterly empty.
If you are ever passing through Chiang Muan, you should definitely visit Dinosaur Kangluang Forest Park – if not for your sake, then for theirs.