Thailand Travel Journal: Chiang Rai Province

This travel journal is part of a series of journals, which are all written during a long trip between november 2007 and may 2009.

> Back to Thailand

24-01-2008 Cramp! That's what wakes Yvonne this morning. Such a bad cramp in het neck muscles that even moving a little bit is impossible. Eventually we succeed in getting up, with a lot of effort and a little help from Peter, but we expect to be condemned to the plastic "mini chairs" in the bus now, as we're so late.
Bus in LaosWhen our tuktuk driver reaches the bus station and points out the right bus we ask for a second time, just to be sure: that beautiful, large, shiny bus... without little stools... our bus? For real?! We're even more surprised after an hour of crusing on the new, smooth, Chinese made asphalt: we're nearly floating. As the route is getting more mountainous and the Lao are getting more pale, we start to understand that the little plastic bags , provided earlier, are not small garbage bags. Gurgling and spitting stomachs are being emptied in the bags. Fortunately some of the sounds are drowning in the crackling loud Lao music, blaring through the bus, but still we feel happy to arrive at the bus station.
A tuktuk takes us to the border at the Mekong, where we quickly receive the necessary stamps in our passport, to cross into Thailand by boat. The Thai colleagues are even more relaxed in giving us an entry stamp; they barely glance at us.
As soon as we're in the Thai village of Chiang Khong, we feel like entering Thai BBQparadise: they have everything here! Even more than 1 supermarket, where they sell stuff which is not expired or sold out. And all the food in the streets is amazing: food stalls are just everywhere, with enough food to feed an entire orphanage. We're completely happy, especially that night, when we're enjoying a Thai bbq: all you can eat for the ridiculous sum of 79 Baht.

25-01-2008 Except finding a better place to sleep, with pillows instead of stones, and updating the website, we don't do muh today.

> Chiang Saen

26-01-2008 We find a songthaew in the direction of Chiang Saen, a bit further down the Mekong river. We're almost halfway when a motorbike is lifted in the back: a case of serious breakdown. The original plan of the driver seems to change in the next village, as the motorbike stays where it is and we are being requested to change to another form of transport. An hour later we do arrive at our destination and as soon as we found a nice room we go out to have lunch. By chance we repeatedly meet a Thai couple and eventually they invite us to join them in their car to visit a temple in the outskirts of town. Au and Faay (these are their true names) are living in Chiang Rai and we visit some old temples and the museum together, before they need to return home.

> The Golden Triangle

27-01-2008 On a motorbike we head out to the "Golden Triangle", once the opiumparadise of Asia, now a giant tourist fair where kids in costumes beg us to take their photo for 5 Baht. From a high hill we view over the surrounding landscape, where the Mekong obviously separates Laos from Burma and Thailand, to continue our trip to Mae Sai. Doi TungWe skip a visit to this border town, where many tourists cross into Burma for a day to get a new Thai visa, as we would like to climb Doi Tung mountain on our motorbikes.
Mount Doi Tung is a mountain with a history. On the border with Burma more than one drugs war has taken place here, but nowadays it's a peaceful oasis. King Bhumibol's mother once had her villa here and she founded several projects to help locals to use the land in a responsible and sustainable way, instead of their old methods of slash-and-burn to grow opium. Through multicolored landscapes, often thick with various kinds of trees, we arribe atDoi Tung Wat Phra That Doi Tung an elevation of over 1300 metres. The last part of the trip we follow a path with hundreds of bells to end up in the temple gardens, where we are treated on a spectacular view over a large part of Northern Thailand.
After our visit to the temple we literally follow the border with Burma, over an elevated road. The views are amazing, but the road has many curves and, at some parts, is much steeper than Peter would have wished for. Some parts of the descend have a gradient you must see to believe. We pass villages of the Yai, Lahu andAkha and arrive back down safely by the end of the afternoon. We enjoy the red sunset over the Mekong from the viewpoint at the "Golden Triangle".

> Rain in Chiang Rai

28-01-2008 Rain! It's pouring with it, since early in the morning. We seriously doubt to comfortably stay in our room all day, but eventually we decide to put our bags on our backs to check out the weather in Chiang Lai.
To no purpose, as it's raining as well in theis town, accidentally called Chiang Rai by us, Western people. Fortunately we know how to enjoy ourselves in the Hilltribe museum, where we find out all kind of things about costumes, customs and lifestyle of the minorities of Northern Thailand. We also see a movie showing the Phadaung, the part of the Karen people whose women traditionally wear rings around their necks and THE tribe for whom busloads of tourists travel to zoo-like villages, getting extremely exploited. They are forced to wear the rings and show themselves to the tourists, meaning they are payd 180 Baht (just over 3 Euros) a month when they don't wear the rings and 1500 (30 euros) when they do wear them. They are not allowed to work in Thailand and can't return to Burma, where they originally come from.
At night we have dinner with Au en Faay, whom we met before in Chiang Saen.

> Wat Rong Khun Chiang Rai

Rong Khun Temple29-01-2008 In the museum we got curious to go see some more hilltribe villages, which is possible in the beautiful environments of Mae Salong. As we don't feel like being taken to the VERY touristy villages for TOO much money we decadently rent a car with driver for tomorrow. We are now able to decide how long we'd like to stay where and in the end it turns out to be even cheaper than a daytour.
We even hop on a bus to the brand new Wat Rong Khun, a fairytale-like temple, completely in white. The complex has not yet been completed and accomplishment will last at least another 60 years. The designer would probably have loved to meet Antoni Gaudi.
Back in town we pay a quick visit to Wat Phra Kaeo and from Mount Doi Tung we have marvellous vistas over Chiang Lai. (no, you're wrong, it really isn't Chiang Rai!)

> Mae Salong and around

30-01-2008 At 8 o'clock Asian time (almost 8 thirty), we hop in our taxi with the young driver Bee. He seems to be a nice guy and we enjoy ourselves on the backseat. In an hour we drive to Akha womanthe Akha museum villageBan Lorcha, the last part over a winding, but wonderful road.
Ban Lorcha is a village where, with the help of an organisation, the Akha people show how they live and do their rituals. As soon as we passed the village gate we're treated with a welcome dance (click for sound) and while walking through the village we find out some stuff about this tribe we didn't know yet. Meanwhile the real Akha village life continues, as we find out when a screaming pig (click for sound) is carried down the mountain by two men. Legs and snout are tied together and apparently they are going to slaughter the scared animal, but we're not going to wait for that.
We continue to the area where the Kuomintang, banned from their home country China by the communists, have been producing opium and heroin for years. Nowadays peace has returned in Mae Salong and the surrounding villages at the border with Burma and opium has been replaced by tea and other products. The road is steep and winding and we're glad we don't have to drive ourselves, especially while we have to drive on the lefthand side, an extra challenge. The vistas Princess Mother Pagoda, Mae Salongover the slopes full of tea plants and lychee trees are grandiose and overwhelming. Our camera has no time to rest here.
Once in Mae Salong we first pass the village to drive almost straight up to the fairly new Princess Mother Pagoda. When the only touristst here decide to move on the silence is serene and the only sound we hear is the rustling of the trees in the wind. We can see for kilometres in every direction over the surrounding landscapes of Thailand and Burma, as today it's extremely clear again. How wonderful!
When we had lunch in Mae Salong we inform at one of the Chinese guesthouses to visit some villages in the neighbourhood on horseback. In no time there's a cup of Chinese tea on the table, but unfortunately horseriding is not possible right now. The horses have already left to graze and it's timeconsuming to go find them, so we decide to visit a tea plantation instead. We do walk to a Lisu-village as well, one of the minorities here in the North. It's obvious modern society is now present here as well. Tea plantationOnly granny walks around in traditional costume, young people are hanging around in jeans and the satelite dish of the neighbours is even bigger than te one here. Still there are little traditional things done, as drying soya products on the roof and the sausages hanging next to it.
The afternoon is almost over when we return through the wonderful landscape to Chiang Lai. The light is gorgeous in the lowering sun and ninety minutes later we're back in the guesthouse.

> On to Chiang Mai

31-01-2008 It's still very early when we arrive with all our luggage at the busstation, to catch a bus to Chiang Mai. Tickets for the next two busses are sold out yet, so we can only leave an hour later. Good, now we have some time left to get us a nice little breakfast.
The busride is a quick one, and after the stop halfway it's even quicker. Our driver apparently swallowed some pills or had a Redbull or something, as we rage the road like a mad bull. He keeps overtaking and the smell of burned rubber from the tires says enough. We're descending many bends on two wheels only and we feel like asking to be let out. But... how are we going to cover the last 40 kilometres?! So we quietly sit this one out and fortunately the last part of the road is flat and straight, but still we're glad when we're there.
It takes us a while to find a decent room for a good price, but an hour later we crash, once again, on new bed. The rest of the day we don't do much, just lazing around.

> More Info

Also check our Thailand info page, where you can find a lot of information about Thailand and come see our Chiang Rai photos.