After a horrible and very hairy 4 hour bus journey from Chiang Mai to Chiang Rai, we felt like we hadn’t got off to a good start, but as we only had 3 days in Chiang Rai we felt like we had to make the most of it.
Our opinions quickly changed as we went to the local night market, and were the only westerners there, so the market was actually pretty good, not just the same stuff being sold over and over (and over!) again. We had the cheapest massage we had ever had (and that’s saying something), ate an amazing soup and then got to pick what we wanted in our ice cream and watch it be made. There were other things to buy there too, but we were far too focused on the food!
The next day we decided to fit in as much as possible as there is so much to do here, but it is all very spread out. So we popped into a tour guide and she gave us some great advice, which we were surprised about as we didn’t book any of her tours, and that is generally how it works. They will give you advice, on what they are selling, but will not help you if it doesn’t make them money. But this lady gave us loads of advice, and like I just said, it didn’t include getting any of her tours.
It’s not that we didn’t want to but they are very expensive and all the tours offered things we had already done, so why pay more money to repeat them, when you can do something that you haven’t done before?
And that’s exactly what we did, we hired a tuk tuk to take us around for the day. The first place he took us to was Wat Rong Khun, or the White Temple which was only built in 1996 by an artist and is still in the process of being built now. This place was mind-blowing. We stepped out of the tuk tuk and just stood and stared, a “wow” was all we could muster.
This gleaming white temple stands out like a beacon, and the closer you get to it, the better it gets as well. I do not have the best vocabulary to explain this temple in the detail it deserves, but I can try! The detail is immense and the white mosaic tiles makes the whole modern temple glisten. As you walk over the bridge, hands thrust out of the ‘sea’ all individually designed and all slightly different. Snakes, skulls and heads intertwine to enclose the hands, and then you walk inside the temple…
No cameras are allowed inside the modest sized temple and there are men still painting away inside. On 2 out of the 4 walls there are more traditional paintings, one of buddha himself and on the other there seems to be families on clouds being taken to Nirvana, all carrying lotus flowers between their hands. On the third completed wall is something completely different; modern art mixed with traditional art, as there were traditional Thai images and then there were very dramatic and controversial pictures of the Twin Towers with a snake wrapped around them made of oil or images of a grim underworld. But then there were more lighthearted images of Angry Birds, Spiderman and many other modern things that everyone relates to. Very interesting and thought provoking mix, which I guess was the artists idea.
We carried on walking around and saw the buildings which were still being built and we also got to make a wish to hang up along with hundreds of thousands of other peoples wishes, which made for a beautiful image of these silver hanging discs all hung together to make trees.
We then got back into the tuk tuk and off we went to our next destination: the hot springs. When we got there the place was deserted and we wondered if we were in the right place! But we got shown to a room with a plunge pool which was tapped in to the hot springs (you could smell it) and you could decide how hot you wanted it. They also had little extras you could get like exfoliaters, loofahs and eggs to boil in there with you…?! We just went for the exfoliater and we left with the smoothest skin we have ever had, it was lovely. No exfoliater you can buy from boots or superdrug can match how baby soft our skin felt from using their homemade one! It turns out this place is very popular with the locals too, as when we were leaving, hordes of families were coming in to use the hot springs. We came at a good time, otherwise I don’t think we would have got a room!
After being so lovely and clean, we got back into the tuk tuk for a dusty and dirty ride to our next destination; The Black House. This place was…interesting… it is a place designed by an artist with clusters of black houses and buildings on some land. The houses boast the artists personal collection of animal hides, skulls, bones and horns as well as art and sculptures dating back to different periods and different countries. This place is not for the squeamish or animal rights activists, and if we had known what we were getting ourselves into, we possibly wouldn’t have gone, but it was interesting none the less.
Back into the tuk tuk for what we thought was our ride home. 20 minutes into the ride we were both nearly dozing off when the driver pulls over, we thought so he could pick up some dinner or cigarettes but instead he comes back with 2 water bottles for each of us! Again, we were shocked and surprised by his thoughtfulness and very grateful as it gets very dry, dusty and hot in the back of a tuk tuk. He then did an impromptu stop at the Gardens, which Chiang Rai is very proud of, as it is known as the ‘Flower City’, we took a look around and the most impressive things we saw were the Orchids. We have never seen so many different types, and growing outside, not in pots like we see back home.
The next day we decided to go to the Golden Triangle which is where you can see 3 countries from one area; Thailand, Laos and Burma. We took the hour long bus to get there and were instantly disappointed. You couldn’t seen anything for all the touristy crap. We got a few pictures by some signs and we walked up a hill to get a better vantage point, but it was all spoilt by tat. One positive was a beautiful old temple that we found which it seems not many people come across as we had it pretty much to ourselves. We spent most our time here before heading back down to get our bus.
One memorable thing from the day; it was the first time we had seen rain since we left the UK, and boy did it chuck it down! And what happened next?…Our bus broke down…