I’m starting to feel like Monica Geller. My hair is getting bigger by the day and not even leave-in conditioner is helping me. It spends most of its time in a big volumous bun on the top of my head.
We had a lovely extra two nights in Chiang Mai. We went to Wat Chedi, which we hadn’t got round to before we went to Pai, and we also went back to the Night Bizarre for dinner. Aside from that, we spent most of our time leisurely wandering the streets of Chiang Mai and stopping at every lovely café that we saw.
We got the bus to Chiang Rai yesterday, which was a much smoother journey than that to Pai. Unfortunately Elliot’s seat was broken so he couldn’t lean back the entire journey; I did offer to swap with him but apparently I didn’t sound sincere enough. He slept (upright) most of the way anyway so it didn’t really matter.
Chiang Rai, although much smaller than Chiang Mai, has more of a busy city vibe. We went to The Hilltribe Museum today, which was fascinating. It’s strange to think these huge tribes of up to 440,000 people migrated over to Thailand less than 200 years ago; the contrast between such traditional tribes and the modern cities in Northern Thailand is immense.
We went on a sightseeing tour today; we originally had it booked for yesterday but both contracted some sort of stomach bug (again UGH). We generally don’t like tours because they’re always super touristy, but since we found out we can’t rent a scooter, a tour seemed our only option to get around the sights of Chiang Rai. It also turned out that we had unknowingly booked a private tour, so we were driven around all day by Tony, in a nice air-conditioned pick-up (Lanna Cultural Tours, would highly recommend), so it was ideal really. So I’m sorry if you’re not interested in every place I went to, but we had an amazing day, and I’d like to be able to read all about this in the future, so I’m going to go though them all.
1. The White Temple (Wat Rong Khun) – a modern, unconventional art exhibit / Buddhist temple, opened in 1997 by artist Chalermchai Kositpipat. The bridge leading to the temple is surrounded by menacing outreaching hands, symbolising unrestrained desire; the bridge proclaims that the way to happiness is by foregoing temptation, greed, and desire. The ubosut (principal building) itself is all-white, and patterned with fragments of mirrored glass. But it’s the inside I found particularly fascinating; images of nuclear warfare, oil pumps and terrorist attacks admonish us of the destructive impact that humans have on earth. It was an eery reality check, and felt like an acceptance that the Buddha cannot save everyone. The artist is clearly incredibly intelligent.
2. The Black House (Baandam Museum) – In contrast to the White Temple, artist Thawan Duchanee refused to give meaning to any of his creations. The Baandam Museum consists of 40 buildings, which house the artists vast collection of paintings, sculptures, animal bones, skins, horns, and many unique items from around the world.
3. Choui Fong Tea Plantation – The biggest tea plantation in Thailand; it really was huge, and we got to taste-test their teas. I wanted to buy some Matcha Powder to bring home but Elliot had his sensible pants on and said it’d be silly because I’d have to carry it everywhere.
4. Mae Sai and Scorpion Temple Viewpoint – Mae Sai is the most northern town in Thailand, and legal border crossing into Myanmar, thus a busy trading post for gems, jewellery, cashews and lacquerware. The viewpoint looks out on a half Thailand, half Myanmar landscape, separated by the River Ruak.
5. Golden Triangle and Opium Museum – The three-country border between Thailand, Myanmar and Laos; once a mountainous haven for the cultivation of opium by ethnic minorities. Production was stamped out by Thai authorities, however the easily permeable borders and lawless regions surrounding it have only encouraged the production of more modern drugs.
6. Chiang Sae, The Ancient Town – We were visiting the largest temple in the town, and Tony asked if we wanted to take part in a blessing that was taking place. It was absolutely fascinating to observe and join in with the proceedings of chanting and bowing to the Buddha. I didn’t take many photos here because I didn’t feel it appropriate, but it really was lovely to be involved.
7. Blue Temple – This wasn’t on our itinerary, but we were driving past on the way back to our hotel and Tony offered to stop. Built by a student of the creator of the White Temple, this art exhibit is so intricately designed and painted. We did start to wonder if the Buddha would have approved of all of these extravagant, modern, artsy temples, given that the Buddhist way of life is partially built around the negation of material greed.
All in all, it was a fabulous day.
In other news, IT RAINED. Haleelulah.
Our last day in Chiang Rai didn’t go as planned. We hired bikes to cycle to some caves. Although Elliot had warned me that he couldn’t ride a bike, I thought he was just being pessimistic and would actually be fine. It really did surprise me how bad he was to begin with, but after a (very) shakey start, he was happy(ish) to set off. Our wiser judgement kicked in, and we bailed when we reached a bridge that would have required us to cycle up a very steep dual carriageway, but we found a nice cafe, so who needs caves when you have cocktails.
We left the hotel at 6 this morning to begin the two-day trip across to Laos. We’re currently waiting at the border, and we’re not sure what for. The trip has been interesting so far to say the least.