Chiang Mai Women Correctional Institution, Northern Thailand, August 2019

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1. The History
Located just north of the old city in the centre of Chiang Mai, there’s not a lot of information on the web (in English) about the former prison. It dates back to the early 1900s (although some other sources refer to the 1920s) when it was originally used to incarcerate men. It was built on the land that had formally housed the palace “Wiang Kaew”, owned by King Mengrai and latterly the Chiangmai provincial governor’s house, which was knocked down in 1902. Sources state that between 1998-1999 it became a female-only institution predominantly for women incarcerated for drug-related offences. All the female inmates were then moved to Chiang Mai’s male prison, away from the centre of the old town and then on to another penitentiary on the outskirts of the city in Mae Rim. The prison operation for over a century and was infamous for being a death row facility, with executions performed within its four walls.

Archive shot of the prison:

48715630682_9463edc0c2_b.jpg Chaing Mai prison by HughieDW, on Flickr

It was finally closed as a penal institution in 2013. In the first week after its closure seven days and nights of Buddhist rituals held by monks between Saturday, January 19th and Sunday, January 27th. It was paid for by the government and included participation by the general public. Thai cultural belief requires such rituals to be held at places with a ‘difficult’ history. Thai culture requires spirits to be treated with respect and vigilance. Appeasing the spirits of those who once dwelled there was thought to stop them from seeking vengeance from future inhabitants. The prison’s reputation wasn’t helped by the discovery of a number of bodies in the prison’s well, who had apparently committed suicide. Official numbers or whether the cause of death was really suicide will never be known.

Shortly after closure:

48715130968_d000c60447_z.jpg Chaing Mai prison 2 by HughieDW, on Flickr

The prison was due to be torn down soon after the date of its closure, given the location is prime real estate and there were plans to develop a commercial complex on the site that included shops, restaurants and office space. However, that project was been put on hold, most likely due to financial reasons rather than issues with planning permission.

Despite its reputation according to according to Chiang Mai City Life the prison was supposed to be one of the best places to do time in Thailand.

2. The Explore
So as mentioned in my previous report, came to Thailand with no specific places in mind having checked 28DL to no avail. There isn’t a massive urbex scene in Thailand to be honest. Managed to find a blog by an expat guy who’d been doing exploring in the country and found out about the prison that way. It’s pretty easy to locate but didn’t have any access info. Did a circuit of the place admiring all the graff on the walls and having gone all the way round and even getting up one of the four corner towers was none the wiser on how to get in. Then a tuk-tuk driver seeing me looking a bit lost pointed out how to get in. The wall by the north-west tower had been breached and the whole barricaded with rubbish so after a bit of a squeeze I was in. And what a sight greeted me. Nothing had prepared me for the amount of undergrowth inside the four walls. There were very few well-trodden paths and I was reticent to trample over the undergrowth due to snakes. After a bit of toing and throwing I managed to make it to the cafeteria hall. Then with more searching found a track to the main entrance building. Next up was getting into one of the cellblocks. There were two large ones and three small ones. Again, after a bit of going around in circles, I managed to get to the large block near the fountain. Having explored that I thought I’d quit while I was ahead so navigated my way back to the breach in the wall, emerging to be greeted by much hilarity from the tuk-tuk drivers.

3. The Pictures

My circuit started (and finished) here:

48708269143_f0f128abde_b.jpg Chiangmai Womens prison 01 by HughieDW, on Flickr

48708595756_3bbe666009_b.jpg Chiangmai Womens prison 23 by HughieDW, on Flickr

The quality of the graph this side is fab:

48708390871_56f43a1a95_b.jpg img2662 by HughieDW, on Flickr

48707178972_9bde6b456a_b.jpg img2603 by HughieDW, on Flickr

48707009366_717748b4d7_b.jpg img2604 by HughieDW, on Flickr

48707007411_1da3189f81_b.jpg img2605 by HughieDW, on Flickr

48707003856_422a3cdf5f_b.jpg img2607 by HughieDW, on Flickr

48708756537_0643ee6568_b.jpg Chiangmai Womens prison 24 by HughieDW, on Flickr

The north-east watchtower:

48708259113_236226504f_b.jpg Chiangmai Womens prison 25 by HughieDW, on Flickr

48706669013_2a98988639_b.jpg img2609 by HughieDW, on Flickr

The main gate is on the south side:

48706667183_56991d44d9_b.jpg img2610 by HughieDW, on Flickr

48707166007_0e57ce30b6_b.jpg img2611 by HughieDW, on Flickr

The south-west tower looked promising:

48707162057_237a598a23_b.jpg img2614 by HughieDW, on Flickr

Got to the top but there was no way in from here:

48707160317_8b59d324e7_b.jpg img2615 by HughieDW, on Flickr

48706989956_a4ac2ebcfa_b.jpg img2616 by HughieDW, on Flickr

But then back round to my start point and I was in:

48706988051_34ff5d7991_b.jpg img2619 by HughieDW, on Flickr

48707153972_13a5fa134e_b.jpg img2620 by HughieDW, on Flickr

First stop the food hall. Buddha would have sat here:

48708267148_0fb117747b_b.jpg Chiangmai Womens prison 06 by HughieDW, on Flickr

But this place was very far from nirvana:
48708764137_5ef7764ae0_b.jpg Chiangmai Womens prison 05 by HughieDW, on Flickr

Then it was past the fountain:

48706980831_7a36f54bc3_b.jpg img2626 by HughieDW, on Flickr

And on to the main entrance:

48708058968_53ce59b7f2_b.jpg img2657 by HughieDW, on Flickr

48706978601_4b9c475322_b.jpg img2627 by HughieDW, on Flickr

48708762267_6f02ba8e83_b.jpg Chiangmai Womens prison 11 by HughieDW, on Flickr

48708594681_cab5296e52_b.jpg Chiangmai Womens prison 26 by HughieDW, on Flickr

48706644388_4afa2a148d_b.jpg img2628 by HughieDW, on Flickr

48707097388_46cc97a33f_b.jpg img2629 by HughieDW, on Flickr

48707430896_28948ae41c_b.jpg img2630 by HughieDW, on Flickr

48708762842_df939dab3d_b.jpg Chiangmai Womens prison 09 by HughieDW, on Flickr

48708265813_b606184eb6_b.jpg Chiangmai Womens prison 10 by HughieDW, on Flickr

48707086233_9d2191f952_b.jpg img2635 by HughieDW, on Flickr

And up-stairs:

48707593712_70eb0e2e41_b.jpg img2631 by HughieDW, on Flickr

Apparently with was the Governors’ quarters:

48708602541_70fb04e2b2_b.jpg Chiangmai Womens prison 07 by HughieDW, on Flickr

48707588277_d026294c0d_b.jpg img2634 by HughieDW, on Flickr

Then it was on to one of the large prison blocks. It was a bit of a struggle getting in:

48708394771_d1afa69601_b.jpg img2659 by HughieDW, on Flickr

48708260958_083cbe02c3_b.jpg Chiangmai Womens prison 21 by HughieDW, on Flickr

The downstairs was grim:

48707675312_7827ebed71_b.jpg img2643 by HughieDW, on Flickr

48708761902_bb1fe464eb_b.jpg Chiangmai Womens prison 12 by HughieDW, on Flickr

This must have been the ‘naughty cell’:

48707172868_59f19de442_b.jpg img2644 by HughieDW, on Flickr

Prisoner details board:

48707506066_46b74cf068_b.jpg img2645 by HughieDW, on Flickr

The obligatory picture of the now deceased King still hangs on the wall:

48707504086_cd55879995_b.jpg img2647 by HughieDW, on Flickr

Alfresco toilet facilities:

48707666582_c6c83af320_b.jpg img2648 by HughieDW, on Flickr

48708264748_b5a6109107_b.jpg Chiangmai Womens prison 13 by HughieDW, on Flickr

48708263803_3ee55f287f_b.jpg Chiangmai Womens prison 15 by HughieDW, on Flickr

48708760052_2fe09280d2_b.jpg Chiangmai Womens prison 16 by HughieDW, on Flickr

Up-stairs at least was a little lighter:

48708759692_a6bd6ff2ab_b.jpg Chiangmai Womens prison 17 by HughieDW, on Flickr

48708597276_5f787b2d92_b.jpg Chiangmai Womens prison 20 by HughieDW, on Flickr

48708401056_2ef69ee059_b.jpg img2653bw by HughieDW, on Flickr

View across the courtyard to the sister block:

48708758962_af67b64b86_b.jpg Chiangmai Womens prison 19 by HughieDW, on Flickr

And northwards to one of the three smaller cellblocks:

48708065723_bd3cbc60f9_b.jpg img2652 by HughieDW, on Flickr

Finally, over the food hall:

48708562047_d1e4eaa3e2_b.jpg img2654 by HughieDW, on Flickr

And another shot of that fountain:

48708062168_5cc98c5886_b.jpg img2655 by HughieDW, on Flickr

48708554902_32e19ab732_b.jpg img2660 by HughieDW, on Flickr

And finally, this is a photo taken by Mark and Kirsty Bennetts just over a year ago (in July 2018) that shows you just how much the vegetation has taken over the prison recently:

48719220707_6d011d7c3e_b.jpg (c) Mark and Kirsty Bennetts by HughieDW, on Flickr