I've had it up to here with people referring to parts of Thailand as 'The Thai Switzerland'; this country is almost pathologically consumed by the apparent allure of the Swiss countryside. Thailand is as much geographically and aesthetically similar to Switzerland as a giraffe is similar to a star fish! Despite this national misapprehension, you can understand why people compare the two. One, it makes them feel proud, and two, there's that land and water thing going on. Looking at the bigger picture, namely the wood and not the trees, you will see that Thailand's forests are nothing like the Swiss countryside; which is nothing to be ashamed of, Thailand has some magnificent scenic spots and loads of them are scattered around Chiang Mai.
Zoom in Sri Lanna National Park . . . through stilly winding roads, quirky houses with faux English gardens, undulating forest (not jungle), until the mountains open out revealing a great reservoir which shivers at the bottom of a dull grey canopy and tufts of hanging clouds. Fishes leap out of the water, birds scream in the sky while the local day trippers scurry around in luminous life jackets weary of the water they'll soon be travelling across.
This is the serenity of Mae Ngad Dam that is situated in the Sri Lanna National Park, only an hour's drive from Chiang Mai. Almost 2 kms long and 59 metres deep, it is a little larger than most of the reservoirs around the north and the most appealing
I have seen. The water is fresh and clean, and while the bugs are a tad irksome, there is a chance to see some interesting specimens that look like they could have landed here from outer space. The reservoir is also a haunt for avid fishermen as I am told there are plenty of kinds of fish in the dam although I didn't see a place where you could rent fishing equipment.
It is possible to stay the night at Mae Ngad as a fifteen minute long tail boat ride will take you to a number of floating houses out on the lake. These houses, more akin to huts, have various facilities; some have kitchens where you can cook your own grub and some have a restaurant nearby that will cook to your every whim depending on supplies. There's also beer, water, ice, soft drinks and snacks available, though it's probably better to buy your own beforehand to save on money, or if you have preferences such as wine and cocktails. Besides fishing, swimming and sailing around in an ancient row boat, some of the floating house outfits supply kayaks. Call first and ask what's available. Note that our floating house told us they had a stereo system, although they omitted to inform us that it would cost, along with karaoke, 150 baht an hour to use it. Bring your own portable if you want to party. You might also want to bring other necessities such as tissue paper, insect repellant, torch etc. Most huts range from 100 - 200 baht a night and a boat ride out will cost a total of 500 baht per boat. The food we ate was above standard, especially the fish dishes, and even though the staff was always around, they weren't in any way obtrusive.
Whether it's peace and serenity or booze and debauchery you're looking for, a weekend at Mae Ngad is a great getaway. The houses can accommodate small groups and up to about thirty people, so you can imagine the opportunities for a good old knees up. Nevertheless, if someone tells you it's comparable to Switzerland, don't listen, but do still visit as it's every much a gorgeous place to chill out.
To get to Sri Lanna National Park use the road number 1001 from Chiang Mai and travel to Mae Taeng and follow the signs for Sri Lanna National Park. From the park entrance the lake is a few minutes away. Once there you can choose a company and arrange a boat house or call one of these numbers below.
We entered the park for free although I have heard of some foreigners (without work permits, residences permits, etc.) being charged 200 baht. Thais pay twenty.
Tom and Kitty's Floating House (farang ownership and probably the best bet, unfortunately closed the week I visited).
Tel.06-1853191 or e-mail: tkhouseboat
Aekchai Floating House 053-857222
Nong Ann Floating House 081-9613369