Chiang Rai

4 Nov

We sent our prayers up the evening that we were bussing from Bangkok to Chiang Rai. Even though we splurged for ~*VIP*~ we were wary and we were of course concerned about actually making it to the bus station given our last failed attempt at cabbing there. We hailed a cab driver who luckily spoke decent English and he took us in the direction of the bus station, which we made sure to confirm multiple times was NOT the sky rail. The traffic around the bus station was horrible, and our taxi driver, following the pattern of many others, let us out on the highway so that he wouldn’t have to do the u-turn towards the worst bit of the traffic. We walked over the highway overpass, which we were familiar with from the day before, and made it to the bus station with twenty minutes to spare. We quickly found our bus platform with no issues, and waited for the bus to arrive after a bit of a traffic delay. Now let me tell you, the extra baht for the VIP bus was worth it. The bus had very few seats, granting more leg room and each chair expanded like a recliner. We got neck pillows, clean blankets, water, a snack box of pastries, mini TVs on the seats in front of us and we were serviced by a woman who was basically a flight attendant. We didn’t have a single worry about our stuff being stolen, and sat back enjoying a few movies before falling asleep. The bus had a stop at 1:30 AM, where we were offered a free buffet of pretty terrible looking food. Why these buses think people should be eating in the middle of the night I do not know but it’s certainly a pattern across Asian buses. We arrived in Chiang Rai at about 7:00 AM and hopped in a tuk tuk to get to Mercy Hostel.

When we arrived at the hostel, we were happily surprised to find that they gave us a private room with three beds, although they couldn’t promise that a third person wouldn’t be joining us (spoiler alert, no one did). The beds had big fluffy duvets and the room had an AC that we could control ourselves. Since I hadn’t slept well on the bus we went to bed right away and woke up a few hours later. The hostel itself was one of the nicest I’ve been in. The bathrooms and common areas were perfectly clean, the kitchen had free water and the place had washing machines and driers that you could do your laundry for less than it would cost elsewhere.

After checking out a map and consulting with the helpful man working the front desk, we decided to rent motorbikes and head out to see Wat Rong Khun (the White Temple) and a few attractions around there that our late start allowed for. I know what you’re thinking: Ciara, stay off the fucking motorbikes for Christ’s sake. However, motorbikes (really scooters) are the only way to get around Chiang Rai unless you want to book tours, which we did not. We rented the scooters for two days, knowing very well we would need them the following day as well, and the people brought them right to the hostel for us. I had a yellow bombshell of a bike, that the hostel man told me was one of the nicer bikes he has seen. I laughed and told him I would probably break it. He laughed, very, very nervously saying “remember to stay on the left side of the road…” Well shit, that was something I had totally forgotten about. We took off for town first, slowly getting used to driving on the wrong side of the street and had some breakfast at BBB cafe, which was the best deal we found during our time in Chiang Rai, before heading for the White Temple. I will take this opportunity in the story to express my endless gratitude, love and passion for Maps.Me. I don’t think I would have accomplished anything in Thailand without it, seriously. For those who don’t know it, it’s a map app that works outside of WiFi. You simply download the area you’re in (i.e. Central Thailand, Northern Thailand, etc.) and pin locations that you can then get directions to out of WiFi. I don’t have enough fingers and toes to count the amount of times we stopped while on the way to the white temple and everywhere else during our journey to make sure we were on the right track or to access our next move according to Maps.Me. Maps.Me, thank you, you are the true love of my life and I owe you everything.

After a pretty uninspiring highway drive we arrived at the White Temple, which was designed by Chalermchai Kositpipat, who is apparently a huge character. Angela read that he sometimes randomly shows up at the temple to see people’s reactions and surprise people. There’s a cardboard cut out of him, wearing denim gauchos nonetheless, at the entrance that people can take pictures with. The temple was completely unique compared to temples we had previously seen, which was greatly appreciated since we are sort of templed out at this point. My favorite part of the temple was the skull details, which appeared on the gate surrounding the temple, eerily within pits of hands reaching up through the ground and even on the traffic cones. I was ecstatic that we by chance ended up here on Halloween. I love Halloween and was pretty bummed out that we wouldn’t be partaking this year, so I was happy to see Halloween inspiration all around me. They even had decorations hanging from the trees, all of which were pretty creepy. While walking through the temple we ended up in the pushiest crowd of Asian tourists I have ever encountered. They literally pushed past me while I was trying to take pictures of another couple, blocking the picture to take their own. Nothing works me up more than ignorant and rude people, so I got to enjoying myself by crashing all their pictures and making sure to be in their way whenever possible. I got another shove while in the temple and swung my bag of shoes around to hit the woman who didn’t even seem to notice. Were these the most holy actions in a Buddhist Temple? Probably not. Do I regret it? Hell nah.

After the temple we drove to Kuhn Korn Waterfall, which was luckily a more scenic route than the route to the Temple. We were surrounded by jungle as we drove and the sun was hitting the scenes perfectly. It was one of my favorite drives I have done yet. When we got to the entrance for the waterfall, we saw that it was closing soon, and determined we wouldn’t have enough time to walk all the way up and back. One of the park rangers saw that we were turning around and ran over to tell us he would wait for us to see and return from the waterfall before closing the park. What a dude. The climb to the waterfall was gorgeous, straight through nature and surrounded by massive butterflies and crazy looking caterpillars, but also filled with plenty of head-circling gnats. The waterfall was well worth the journey and the mist coming off of it was welcomed by our sweaty selves. When we returned to our bikes we decided to check out Singha Park, owned by the brewery that makes, of course, Singha Beer. The park has some of the original barley fields of the brewery as well as fruit orchards and tea plantations. we took a slow drive around the park and watched the sunset. It was a spectacular day.

That evening we went to dinner at a place that served up a northern Thai dish, khao soi, which is comprised of a coconut curry soup, rice noodles, crispy noodles and a chicken drumstick. While the concept of a drumstick in soup confuses me, it was one of the best drumsticks I’ve ever had with ridiculously moist meat that almost fell off the bone. I had my khao soi alongside a papaya salad and a cold Chiang and it was exactly what I needed. After dinner we decided to give the Chiang Rai bars a try, which stand in a line along a single street in town. We ended up in Coconut’s Bar, which was having a celebration for the birthday of one of the bar tender’s brothers. A few beers later we were singing happy birthday and taking pictures with the friendliest bar tenders ever. One of them even gave me her pumpkin bucket hat, which made me feel like I nailed Halloween in Thailand. We spent the end of our evening talking to a 61 year old OG Chiang Rai man, a bar regular who brings his own bottle of scotch to the bar. When they see him coming they bring out an ice bucket and a bottle of water to accompany his drink. He was wearing a t-shirt plastered with a loud tiger design, tucked into jeans, with a leather belt equipped with knife and phone holders. He is definitely my favorite Thai person yet.

The following day we got an earlier start to give us time to drive the distance all the way to the north of Thailand. After another breakfast at BBB we hopped on our bikes and drove onto the highway towards the Golden Triangle, which we quite frankly knew nothing about. While Maps.Me said it should take about 45 minutes, we quickly realized this would be a long ass journey since we were going slower than the speed limit used to determine the time of the journey. The drive was kind of my worst nightmare. We were riding down dusty highways, trying to avoid cars for the first quarter of the journey before we finally encountered a shoulder that motorbikes are generally expected to drive in. While the ride was a bit stressful, we actually did incredibly well at driving. My only issue was drivers that would pull into the shoulder and open up their car door without considering that I was driving by. I almost nailed about five car doors that were thrown open just as I was driving by. By the time we arrived at the Golden Triangle, we had been on the road for at least 2 hours. I was exhausted, couldn’t feel my ass, and covered in dirt from the road.

The funniest part was that, after that massive journey, there’s really nothing to do nor much to see at the Golden Triangle, which is the tri-point where the borders of Thailand, Myanmar and Laos meet at the junction of the Ruak and Mekong rivers. A few statues of elephants and Buddhas, a Golden Triangle sign and a really beautiful view of the river where you can see Myanmar and Laos. While it was nothing spectacular it was cool to be all the way at the northern border of the country, as close to Myanmar and Laos as we would get since we weren’t going to be traveling to them.

Afterwards, we visited the nearby House of Opium, which includes the word “Museum” in parentheses next to the title, to avoid any confusion. The dingy museum was sort of informative regarding the role of opium in the golden triangle, but mostly troubling. It provided tales of how the hill tribes believe opium came to them, involving weird stories from opium sprouting from the corpse of a young girl who died shamefully after sleeping with seven different men, to opium sprouting from the grave of a young girl who died lonely because she had body odor and no one would go near her. The shit people come up with. The museum included multiple artifacts of the necessary tools and pipes, and discussed the process for producing opium in intricate detail. I swear the museum was encouraging us to go out and take on the task of harvesting and producing opium. It even discussed the most pleasurable positions to smoke opium, which just so happens to be laying down on a stone pillow with your heels dug into your butt, OF COURSE. Oh and a fun closing fact, the word bong is originally a Thai word.

While we were going to continue the biking journey to a monkey cave and tea plantation, we determined the extra miles would not be worth it considering it would add miles to our long journey home. When we got back to the hostel, we had showers to wash all the dirt off our bodies, collected our laundry that we had done the evening before, and headed out for dinner at a Muslim restaurant. On the bus into Bangkok I had noticed a large mosque and the bus station had a sign for a Muslim prayer room. Here in Chiang Rai, the Muslim restaurant was located next to the mosque in a small area that appeared to be predominantly Muslim. The menu was small, with only four items, and we both ordered beef biryani which was exceptional. Even Angela, who is sick of rice at this point, thoroughly enjoyed the meal. After a filling dinner, we strolled through the massive Night Bazaar, the nightly market with stands selling food, clothing and trinkets. We ended our night with an ice cream cone and crawled back to the hostel to our AC room and comfy beds for one last night before heading to Chiang Mai, a city about a three hour bus ride southwest, the following morning.


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