Tue 16th – Fri 19th Oct
I left Pai and headed straight to Chiang Mai – it made sense to have 2 days if travel than 3. It’s hot back in Chiang Mai and so I treat myself to a pool day at the Orchid Hotel for only 300b (discounted from the usual 400). It’s a beautiful terrace pool with comfy sun loungers
but food and drinks are expensive. Although not allowed, they don’t say anything when I bring in my contraband from the supermarket just up the road!
After a chilled day yesterday, I’m ready to hit the road again for the 3 hours to Chiang Raí. A bit of advice here – book your bus ticket in advance. People turning up at 10am we’re being told the next bus wasn’t until 4pm and with limited space. Best way to book tickets is through the Green Bus app. My first ride in a tuk tuk in Asia to the bus station – they charge almost as much as the bus fair to Pai and Chiang Raí!
Chiang Raí is a small little town and it’s a day to walk to most hostels from the bus station. I’m staying at Connect Hostel and it’s a great little place. Good WiFi, comfy beds, air con and great communal areas and Jasmine on reception is so friendly and helpful.
Much smaller than its sister city of Chiang Mai, tourism is starting to develop here and every evening the focus is around the night market where u can find an array of touristy goods and street food at cheap prices. There are also Saturday and Sunday markets but I’m not here in those days.
Thursday and I’ve decided to do a tour. It covers all the things I want to do in one go and includes the Golden Triangle which I wdnt go to by scooter so it makes sense to tick everything off in one go.
Our first stop is probably the most famous tourist attraction in Chiang Raí and I’m excited to go see it. The White Temple or Wat Rong Kun is simply stunning.
By the end of the 20th century, the original Wat Rong Khun was in a bad state of repair. As money was not available for renovation, Chalermchai Kositpipat, a local artist from Chiang Rai, decided to completely rebuild the temple and fund the project himself. He considers the temple to be an offering to Buddha and believes the project will give him immortal life.
In front of the bridge are hundreds of outreaching hands that symbolize unrestrained desire.
The bridge proclaims that the way to happiness is by foregoing temptation, greed, and desire. After crossing the bridge, the visitor arrives at the “gate of heaven”, guarded by two creatures representing Death and Rahu – who decides the fate of the dead.
The white represents the cleanliness of Buddha whilst the mirrors that shine brightly in today’s glorious sunshine represent the knowledge of Buddha.
Inside, the art takes on a whole different style with bright fluorescent colours. Most of the mural dealt with death and destruction, and appearing in the scenes were famous movie characters like Michael Jackson, Neo from The Matrix, Superman, Freddie Kruger. Images of nuclear warfare, terrorist attacks etc drive home the impact that humans are having on earth. Tours can often be a bit rushed but we had a good 30 mins or so to walk around and take in this magnificent sight.
From here it’s on to the Blue Temple or locally known as Wat Rong Seua Ten. It is named after the tigers that once roamed here. The temple was designed by Phuttha Kabkaew, a protégé of Chalermchai Kositpipat of The White Temple.
It’s a new addition to the things to do here with work only having begun in 2005 but it is a beautiful temple and a must see when in the area.
On to The Black House which is sometimes referred to as the Black Temple due to its temple-like appearance.
It doesn’t however have any religious significance and is in fact the creation of local artist Thawan Duchanee and houses his exotic art! Once inside, you quickly realise this – it’s nothing like a temple. The centrepiece is a huge wooden table, surrounded by massive black chairs with legs made from buffalo horns and laid with snake and crocodile skins as table decorations!
The rest of his work is made up of the same things….skulls, horns, skins etc. The whole complex is made up of over 40 buildings, only a few of which are open to the public – although you can peer in and see the work in some of the others. The whole place has a very macabre feeling to it and despite many people absolutely living this venue, it didn’t do much for me…and it cost an additional 80b to enter! I did enjoy the baby pineapples I bought outside for 20b thou!
Back on the bus and out of the blazing sunshine it’s off to our next point of call where you can visit Long Neck community or by their proper name – The Karen Tribe. These people escaped the war, poverty and violence in their neighbouring homeland of Burma (now Myanmar). Thailand allowed them to enter and live in refugee camps. These women wear gold rings around their neck from a young age. The more they have, the more beautiful they are deemed to be. Although nicknamed ‘king necks’, the neck doesn’t grow longer but the weight of the rings pushes the shoulders down….and they are bloody heavy. Much controversy surrounds these visits. Is it exploitation by Thailand purely for tourism? They aren’t allowed to move anywhere else except the land that has been granted and they are not citizens either meaning they have no access to any benefits. I chose not to visit because I felt it to be a bit too zoo like mentality. However, on further reading, posing for photos with tourists is one of their major sources of income and goes to provide houses and some forms of social infrastructure. If that is all they get and a pittance from farming – is it really all that bad…?
About 40 mins from here lies the Choui Fong tea plantation. This didn’t really do it for me and the 3 teas we drank were im sorry, disgusting – I just like a good cup of Yorkshire Tea!
We wander around briefly but hunger is getting all of us and so we’re desperate to get to our lunch stop which is just 10 mins away. It’s a bountiful buffet style lunch of Thai food to which we all fill the hump and eat very well!
It’s onto Monkey Cave/Temple. The Monkey Temple gets it’s name from the large number of macaque monkeys which wander the grounds. For the most part they are harmless but visitors are advised to keep their distance, just in case. The cave is up 300 steps but we were told not to go up as the monkeys can be quite vicious. There are however loads of them down on lower ground.
All accustomed to tourists and their gifts of bananas. We’re all given a bamboo cane on entry thou to ward off any unwanted interest. This is also home to Wat Tham and some weird artwork on the beliefs of what happens to people if you break Buddhist rules and believes.
We make a quick stop at Scorpion Temple where there is a viewpoint out to the border with Myanmar.
That’s as I close as I’m going to get after my previous f**k ups! This place with all its temples etc is beautiful but this is the one time by being on a tour we don’t have any time to look around or explore which is a bit disappointing.
For some reason, I really wanted to go to the Golden Triangle. The point where the borders of Thailand, Myanmar and Laos meet. We get there and see the the Y shape of where the 3 countries meet divided by the river.
There’s a concrete arch telling us where we’re at but apart from that, it’s a bit something and nothing apart from a very old temple. Not an anti climax as such…just didn’t know what to expect. I did however learn that it got it’s name due to trading opium in gold as it was difficult to do so with each countries own currency. This area is rebound for opium and only this week there was a massive drug bust on a lorry wagon containing billions of dollars worth of drugs.
Near the Opium Museum you can take a walk down to the Mekong River and visit the temple overlooking it.
You can get boat journeys but not on this tour. With going to Laos in a few days, I’m not missing out on anything. Most of us don’t bother with the museum. I thought it wd be interesting but I read what it covered and decided against it. It’s also been a full on bloody hot day and we’re all knackered!
It’s onto our last stop, the ancient city of Chiang Saem. It isn’t much but it’s history is deep, believed to date back to the 7th century and was one of the main cities of the Lanna Kingdom. It was captured and remained under Burmese rule for over 200 years hence why it has gone to ruin. Over the city you can find over 77 ruins. We stop at one of the oldest chedi’s still standing to watch the sunset.
It would have been good to see and learn a bit more about here but after 9 stops we are all well and truly exhausted.
It was a long old day but we covered a lot of things and a lot of ground for only about £20. Apart from 2 grumpy French men, I also met some lovely people – Rob from Oz, Apple from Bangkok and a nice couple from Canada. A day full of laughter and take sharing.
Im knackered on return to the hostel and pretty much call it a night. The following day I opt for another pool day. The Pinmann does passes for only 150b! There were a few things I still wanted to do but it was just so hot a chill out day won in the end. I meet Rob from yesterday’s tour for dinner and go in search of a good Thai curry as it’s to be my last meal in Thailand. It didn’t disappoint
Chiang Raí is often massively overlooked with people just visiting the White Temple in the shuttle from Pai & Chiang Mai but it definitely deserves more time and appreciation. A great little gem of a place and wish I could have stayed longer. Connect is also a great hostel and perfect for meeting people…and I did meet some lovely people there too. One of the best I’ve stayed in in 9 months!