Tucked into a lush sea of rippling green rice paddies of north Mae Rim is a teahouse. Made from a converted barn and surrounded by a walled garden, it may at first appear like any other teahouse. That is, until you notice the umbrella stands. And the columns holding up the antique sala. Are those…? Yes, folks, those are penises. Welcome to the brand new Erotic Garden and Teahouse of Mae Rim!
As my colleagues and I pile out of the car (this was, for some reason, a very popular assignment), we are greeted by a slim, elegant Thai lady, middle-aged and dressed in a colourful wrap skirt. This is Katai Kamminga, queen and creator of the Erotic Garden and visionary of all things erogenous. After a warm welcome and introductions to her Australian archaeologist husband Dr. Jo Kamminga and their 21-year-old son Kris (who seems to handle his parents’ erotic fancies with admirable grace), it’s time for a tour.
Katai leads us past a trio of large, golden-headed shlongs spewing water into a blue tiled pool, and through an archway guarded by a wooden frieze of topless Lanna ladies playing lutes in the moonlight.
Inside the garden, it’s a regular weenie party – short and squat, tall and thin, popping up amidst the rose bushes and between the frangipani trees.
Dragonflies circle overhead as we advance toward three large wooden wieners, arranged in a trifecta and rising heroically against a stunning backdrop of mountains and paddy fields. Not to be outdone, two breast-shaped mountains stand tall and plump in the foreground, crowned with bubblegum pink nipples shaped like small Mexican hats. “Those nipples might need to be replaced,” says Jo. “They’re not exactly realistic.”
Steps away, gleaming proud in the midday sun, towers what is probably the largest golden peen in Thailand, although a measuring tape and a trip to Krabi’s cave of fertility may be required before any hard and fast (heh heh) promises are made.
“Everything is erotic!” crows Katai. “Not just the statues, but all the flowers.” And indeed, what are flowers but plant vaginas? And why not celebrate that fact? Katai’s garden contains 20 different species of what she and her husband call “erotic plants” – rom the vulva flower to the penis pepper (also known as the peter pepper, which brings new meaning to that old nursery rhyme which involved a whole peck of them).
Katai’s interest in the erotic started years ago when she was given a book about erotic art around the world. Not something she had been taught in school, the work struck her as new, surprising, and a bit edgy. She was immediately intrigued, and began exploring erotic art traditions around the world, which traced back to ancient times, even here in Thailand. Her fascination coincided nicely with her husband’s fieldwork in places like Bhutan, where phallic imagery is widely celebrated.
The garden itself may be the first of its kind in Southeast Asia. Built in just six months, and opened to the public in January, it is still a work in progress, with statuary coming exclusively from local artists and trees and flowers designed by the famous landscape artists from Pattaya’s Nong Nooch Tropical Gardens. Any local artists interested in showcasing their own erotic art are welcome to contact Katai directly.
“I tell people, this garden is special, so take your time,” Katai says as we continue our tour. “Don’t rush, go slow, look and laugh. Maybe you’ll find something that gives you a big surprise!”
She gestures toward a pink blossom, its bud protruding from its centre in no subtle terms: “Look, touch this!” I comply, as my photographers giggle awkwardly behind me. “It’s sticky!” she cackles. “Sexyyy!”
Then I spy something gleaming, nestled deep into a small hillock.
“Is that a golden butt?”
This is shaping up to be my favourite interview of all time.
Scattered around the garden is a series of oversized fruit and vegetable sculptures, reproduced in bright colours and evocative shapes: a pair of pears, a strawberry, an onion. “Onion! Can be sexy…maybe for some people,” says Katai. “Mmmm, sexy plums.” The plums would be the clear winners were this a sexy contest, their deep purple skins split down the side with lurid pink.
“Erotica is not pornography,” says Katai. “I don’t put man and woman together because that is something else.” As such, most of the garden’s statuary represents either one gender or the other, alone, though I can’t help but notice a rather large white statue near the far end of the garden, featuring a nude female embracing a human-sized penis (and by human-sized penis I mean the penis is the size of an actual human) sculpted in fine detail.
Katai, who hails from Ubon Ratchatani but has spent most of her adulthood in Australia, speaks Thai, Lao, Isaan and English, and has a deep love for art and design, flower gardens, business, Thai cuisine, and of course, erotica. At the teahouse she serves a variety of loose leaf teas imported from Australia as well as a small menu of tasty Thai cuisine, from saffron coconut rice to tender hung-lay curry.
Jo says he and Katai are entering the market slowly, trying to avoid controversy by starting off with these “suggestive fruits and veggies” and going from there. If all goes well, the couple plan to eventually expand their garden into a full-blown erotic art museum that will put Barcelona’s Museu De L’Erotica and maybe even South Korea’s famous Love Land to shame.
So far so good; while there has been a mild amount of griping from some local killjoys, the Erotic Garden’s reception has been overall quite positive. Even the local military dropped by, and Jo says they “went away very positive and happy.” As it turns out, even soldiers like sexy plums.
The Erotic Garden and Teahouse is open for tours and available for hosting private parties and events.
Open daily, 10am – 5pm (Closed Mondays)
Huay Sai, Soi 5
083 318 4855
Originally published in the Feb 2015 issue of Chiang Mai Citylife.