From Chiang Mai to Chiang Rai

Burma Border Guard
Burma Border Guard

After looking through several travel books and brochures at Panda House I concluded there was not much to do at Chiang Rai if you aren’t a trekker or a white water rafter, or a zip line enthusiast. So instead of spending a couple of days there, I booked a single day trip there and back to Chiang Mai. I think the cost of a ticket was 900 baht (about $26.00 USD).

We were scheduled to be picked up at Panda House at 07:00. Sea and I were on the patio a few minutes before 07:00 having coffee and juice. By 07:45 no one had showed up. I decided to wait until 08:00 then start calling. Right at 08:00 a new, empty van pulled up. We got on and were taken to another van that was full of people and waiting on the side of the road. We got in, making a total of 14 people in the van. It was very full and felt crowded.

Then we were off. After about 2 hours we made our first stop. It was at a hot spring. The spring constantly blew a hot stream of hot sulfur smelling water into the air.

There were cement and concrete “foot baths” all around it. And all around the spring and baths were souvenir stands. There was also a toilet which Sea ran to. The souvenir stands had the usual tourist junk I had seen 100 times in Thailand. There was nothing special or unusual there, just more of it than usual.

There were a few interesting displays like a giant swing made from a hollowed out log, so we had a few things to take pictures of while we waited.

We had 30 minutes at the spring. Sea and I walked around taking a few pics, then back on the van to the next attraction which was the White Temple. I have forgotten the name of the place it is located, but it is somewhere between the hot spring and Chiang Rai.

The White Temple was impressive. It was brilliantly white and consisted of a temple and several out buildings and structures. The grounds were green and the grass and shrubbery were perfectly maintained. Sea was in Buddhist heaven. We walked around and through the temple, praying and taking pictures. Sea was loaned a white skirt and shawl to cover herself

when she entered the temple to pray. There were no pictures allowed inside the temple, but we got plenty outside. I think we spent about 45 minutes there.

Then, after a toilet break and a bottle of water we re-boarded the van and headed to Chiang Rai. Before entering the town we stopped at the “Golden Triangle” where Laos, Burma and Thailand come together. It is also an area where opium poppies were once grown, but now have been eradicated.

We stopped on the bank of the Mekong River and for 300 baht (about $9.00 USD) each we could take a boat ride to the Burma border and into Laos. Everyone in the van took the ride. After all, what would they do otherwise? Stand around in the sun for 2 hours?

We climbed down the bank and into the boat. The first thing we saw was a giant gold Buddha in a giant boat on the Thai shore. It was impressive in its size and in the stark contrast to everything around it.

Then we went by a giant, new casino on the bank of the Mekong in Burma, but we didn’t stop there. Somehow

if I wanted to gamble, going to Burma would not come to my mind. I hope they do well with it.

The boat docked in Laos and we got off and walked into a different country. Of course there were souvenir stands selling the same things as all souvenir stands in Thailand. And the souvenir stands took Thai money only. One thing that was different was they sold bottles of whiskey with cobras, lizards, frogs, etc. inside them. I had seen bottles with various reptiles in them all over SE Asia, but it was supposed to originate from this area of Laos.

They offered free samples. I tasted the spider whiskey. Sea tasted the cobra. The sample was thimble size, but Sea couldn’t get it down and poured most hers on the ground. I drank mine and thought it tasted like chicken. We didn’t buy any.

I had noticed fields of tobacco growing around the area, and they had bundles of Laotian cigars for sale. There must have been 50 or 60 in a bundle for 80 baht (slightly more than $2.00 USD), so I bought a bundle. They were slightly larger in diameter than a cigarette

and twice as long. I got the clerk to fire me up. It tasted like a mattress and burned like a fuse. Why can’t the world come up with a good 2c cigar?

Sea found some necklaces to take to her kids. They were 50 baht each (about $1.40 USD). They appeared to be made of a dark stone of some kind. They were surprisingly heavy and appeared to be well made, especially for a 50 baht item. Before leaving we had our passports stamped for entering and exiting Laos, and took some pictures.

Then back on the boat and back to Thailand. We got on the van and were driven a short distance to a place for a buffet lunch. The lunch was good and they offered a nice variety of northern Thai and Laotian foods. I ate with a young Australian couple that were in our group. The price of the meal was included with the ticket.

After 45 minutes or so, our guide gathered us up and herded us back on the van. We went into Chiang Rai and got out to walk around for an hour. The town was on the Burma border.

There was a gate saying it was “The Northern Most of Thailand.” There was an unsmiling Burmese soldier with a rifle guarding the border crossing.

We walked around in the town looking at the souvenirs. There were a lot of gold sellers and sellers of precious and semi-precious stones. There were antique stores which I looked in. I have heard this was a good place to buy these things, but I’m sure you have to know what you are doing. And of course there were hundreds of stalls selling the same junk that is sold everywhere else.

Sea saw the necklaces she bought in a half a dozen places. They were priced between 250 and 150 baht, but when she passed at the price, the shop keepers asked how much she wanted to pay. I found my bundle of Laotian cigars for 150 baht. I still don’t think I got a bargain at 80 baht.

We wandered back to the meeting place, made a toilet stop, then climbed back on the van for the long ride home. We drove about 2 hours over some very twisting and high mountain roads. Finally we came to a “native” village.

I forgot the name. But for an additional 300 baht we could walk over a small hill to the village of Karen where the “long necks” lived. The “long necks” stretch their necks by wearing tight gold rings around their necks in ever increasing numbers. It is thought to be beautiful.

By this time everyone in the group was ready to get home. Only two people went to see the “long necks” and they had prepaid for the experience. The rest of the group was left to shop in the native village where beetle nut chewing women tended their souvenir stands and called out “Hello” whenever someone got too close.

Sea and I walked around looking at stuff. She found a little cloth pocket like thing that fit her calculator perfectly. The price was 150 baht. I offered 25 baht. Eventually I got it for 40 baht (a little more than $1.00 USD). This was the first time Sea realized it was acceptable to bargain for things. I didn’t realize it at the time, but I had created a monster.

Finally the group got back from the “long neck” village and we climbed back on the van for the 4 hour ride home. 

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About Charles Kirtley

Have been living in SE Asia and China since 2007. I have an opinion on most every subject, and don't mind sharing them. Lover and collector of worthless facts.
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