This weekend 4 of us U of M students headed back up to northern Thailand to Chiang Rai. Don’t get this mistaken for the previous northern city I went to, Chiang Mai, for it is quite a bit smaller, much less busy, and actually the most northern large city in Thailand. I was excited to visit the north again, but I was very unsure of what Chiang Rai would have to offer that I had not already experienced, or if it was just going to be a relaxing weekend of sitting outside with bug spray on and reading my book (which I recently bought online and put on my Kobo… e-books are an amazing thing in a country where English books are sometimes hard to come by). However, it was under 2000 baht for the round trip flight (which is under $60), and I loved Chiang Mai, so there was no reason not to go!
We embarked on our journey on Friday evening and flew into Chiang Rai. However, unlike any trip we had previously gone on, we did not have any accommodation booked. Since it is the low season for tourist (because it is rainy season… but more about that later), it is never hard to find a place that has a room or two open. Upon arriving we actually first headed out to the night market since we had heard that it was one of the least expensive markets in all of Thailand. After a while though, we realized that we should really go look for a place to sleep, for some places close the check-in counter before midnight, and it was coming up on 10 PM. So, we started our trek around the city to find something that was reasonably priced. First stop, a hostel. They had room, but it was a shared bathroom, the rooms looked a little sketchy, and it was still 150 baht/night/person (about $5). So, we continued on our journey for a place to rest our head. Next stop was Siam Hotel. I had read something about it on trip advisor or lonely planet, so we decided to check it out. We were brought to a room so we could see before we say yes or no, and the door to the room was right next to a parking garage, the light in the room had a orange-ish/red-ish/yellow-ish tinge to it, and there was a massive cockroach scurrying out from under the bed towards the other huge cockroach that was under a chair. Nope… NOT HAPPENING! So, we continued on our way and headed back to the night market to see if anyone there had any recommendations. A tuk-tuk driver showed us a picture of a place that was about a 5-10 minute drive from the market, it looked pretty nice, and it was only supposed to be 400 baht a night for room with 2 beds (so 200 baht/person (about $6.50)). So we hopped in the tuk-tuk and headed to this mystery hotel. Let me tell you, it was worth the drive! The rooms were little bungalows that were just adorable and so clean and they had A/C!
The next morning I had 3 things to do on my list of things to see in Chiang Rai. I really only went to Chiang Rai for these 3 things… The White Temple, The Black House, and The Hill Tribe Museum. So, first up for the day was The White Temple. Something I found really interesting about this temple was that they began construction on it on 1998, so it is a very new temple.
Just as most temples though, it had murals inside that were hand painted. It was forbidden to take pictures in the temple, so I will just have to describe it a little. Since all of the old temples have images and ideas of the time that they were built painted on the interior walls, I guess the designer of The White Temple decided to do the same. Though the mural was not finished, the parts that were had Spiderman, Superman, Ironman, Hello Kitty, the twin towers, spaceships, computers, Michael Jackson, and may other modern things incorporated into it. It was absolutely amazing! The strange part of this temple was that at first it looked absolutely stunning, but as you looked closer at things, it was actually quite dark and strange.
It was a beautifully eerie place! Something that is unlike anything I have ever experienced in my life. Pictured just don’t do justice to how completely amazing and beautiful and strange this place really was. And let me tell you, the day just continued on this way. Next up was the Hill Tribe Museum. Upon entering the building that held the museum, we passed by the very first Cabbages & Condoms restaurant I have experienced in Thailand.
This chain of restaurants is actually pretty neat. They use a part of their profit to help out decrease the spread of AIDS in Thailand by using community awareness, and helping the people that have AIDS and HIV due to the large sex industry here in Thailand. I personally think it is a pretty cool project! Though the restaurant was closed, we were able to see the well known art that is outside every Cabbages & Condoms restaurant…
Anyway… we headed upstairs to the Hill Tribe Museum, which ended up being very informative! I have this phobia of being overly touristy, especially when there are people on the other side of the tourism that are getting ripped off or exploited. I was very weary about going on any of the well known treks in Chiang Rai that bring you through the Hill Tribes, for I find it very tacky to walk through someone’s village or house and look upon them like they are animals in a zoo. This museum brought to light some of the effects that tourism had on the locals, and what was considered to be respectful and okay in terms of what the locals and tribes believed and expected of tourists. We were unable to take pictures in the museum, but I purchased a traditional Thai Hilltribe shirt that maybe you will see someday!
Up next… The Black House. Though at first we thought it may be a temple, we were quickly corrected by one of the travel agents to which we asked for directions that told us it was in fact The Black House, and the word Temple should never be associated with it. This we quickly understood once we arrived there after a 25 minute tuk-tuk ride out of the city. This place was creep-tastic! It was dark, kinda scary, but totally amazing! There were animal skeletons everywhere, some very strange sculptures, and many dark buildings. I researched it a little and it is actually an art museum that some man decided to make. I don’t know if I can really describe it. The pictures don’t quite do it justice… but here are some anyway…
I have loads more pictures of the creepy things, but I think you get the idea! It was a very, very, very strange place to visit. We all left think that there were cannibals hiding somewhere within the grounds of the place and that we shouldn’t have made it out alive.
After a drive back into the city, we headed out for our next adventure… the Akha Hill House! The Akha people are a hill tribe about 45 minutes out of Chiang Rai in the mountains. The hill house is a place where tourists can stay to go on treks through the jungle, or where volunteers can stay to teach the hill tribe children at the local school. This is where we would spend our last night in Chiang Rai… in the jungle! However, we first had to get there. It was quite the adventure. We got picked up by the people that run the hill house with their pick-up truck, but we did not sit in the truck, but rather we stood (yes… stood) on the back of the truck and drove through the mountainous jungle It was quite the experience, and the view was breathtaking!
Upon arriving at the hill house, we grabbed our bags and headed to our shacks to settle in. Though this place was in the thick of the jungle, it was still clean and comfortable.
We headed back to the lobby for some dinner and booked a trek/tour through the mountain for the following day. While we were eating we met some other travellers and sat around and chatted with them for a couple hours. There was a man named Patrick who was from France who was three months into his journey of travelling around the world. It was interesting to hear his stories of India and Cambodia, and some of the other places he had been to on his travels. We also met a man and woman from Denmark (Anika and Bernardo), which proved to be an adventure just trying to figure out what they were saying through their thick accents! It was really nice talking to someone that was not affiliated with Bangkok or Lertlah School for a change! At about 10:30 PM we decided that we should probably head to bed, for the next day was going to be busy! Since we were in the middle of the jungle and our huts were not really closed in completely, we got to sleep under mosquito nets!
Though the room did not have air conditioning it did have a fan, and I actually woke up in the middle of the night quite cold (this is not a common occurrence for me in Thailand). I had to pull the blanket over me, for the top sheet just was not cutting it!
The next morning we woke up and got ready for our trek! I wasn’t sure what to expect, but it was a nice day outside and the mountains were beautiful… so how could I say no?!
We started on the uphill climb up the mountain at about 10 AM. It was nice outside, and being in the mountains brought the temperature down a couple of degrees, which was very refreshing! Once we were sufficiently exhausted from trekking up the mountain, we took at break. At this time we were given the opportunity to take the machetes were had strapped around our waists to use. We were to make a cup out of a piece of bamboo. All I can say is, I have skills when it comes to some things, but using a machete is not my forte. Thankfully, no one got hurt, but there were tears from laughing so hard at my inability to hit the bamboo with the machete at the correct angle with any aimed consistency.
After much help, I did end up with something that kinda resembled a cup, but was nothing near the standards set by our two guides.
Next… we continued our trek for a little longer, going over some interesting terrain that was anything but safe! Though, the view was breathtaking! Our guide would often stop and tell us about the different kinds of bamboo plants, or pick some fruits that we could eat off some trees.
The next stop on the trek… fishing. This was certainly not my favourite part, since I am quite terrified of fish, but it was neat to watch! The guides use the traditional hill tribe method of fishing: by hand! They closed of an area of the stream so it would have still water, and then hopped in and went searching for the fish! It was quite hilarious actually, for the fish that were caught were no longer than a 2 inches long, and they also managed to get some small crabs and a water snake as well.
After the fishing adventure, we headed a tiny bit further to a shelter that had been created for when the treks take place during the rainy season. Us girls took it easy and enjoyed the sights and sounds of the jungle which the two male guides prepared lunch for us!
The meal they created for us was absolutely fantastic! I’m sure that everything about that meal though was completely against everything any doctor’s advice I received before I came to Thailand, but it was sooo yummy! We ate out of the bamboo cups we had created earlier in the day, and I ate my entire meal with chopsticks!
There is fish with vegetables, bamboo soup, and ‘omelette’, which is what Thai’s call any kind of scrambled eggs that are not completely scrambled. The main course is not shown in this picture, bit it was noodle soup… kinda like Mr. Noodle, just much spicier and much more delicious! Just as we were finishing up our lunch, the real extent of what ‘rainy season’ means became quite evident to us. It was pouring!!! After about 30-45 minutes of attempting to ‘wait out the rain’, we decided we better get a move on if we wanted to get back to the village in time. However, Thai people have a belief that the head is the most sacred part of the body, so when it is raining you should do everything you can to at least protect your head. So, the nice guides we had made us all cute hats out of banana leaves!
So, out in the rain we headed. I don’t have any pictures, for my camera is not waterproof, but let me tell you, the ground was so slippery that we could barely walk up the hill, and going downhill was like skiing in shoes. It was actually so much fun since I completely embraced the fact that I was wet and I was going to get dirty! However, there were a few times that I felt like I was certainly not safe, for one slip could have sent me rolling down the side of the mountain. Also, the rain made it impossible for me to see out of my glasses, so I had to take them off, which is kind of counter productive. The next stop on the trek was a beautiful waterfall. I have a video of it which attempt to show the true beauty of it, but you will just have to settle with a picture for now.
The trek back to the village from the waterfall was not too difficult, and the rain had let up a bit so it was a little easier to see and try to keep you footing. Upon arriving back I hopped into the shower: clothes and runners still on. It was absolutely disgusting! My lulu capris will never be the same again (I have sent them through the wash twice since Sunday and there is still ‘jungle’ attached to them). Again, I pity the person that had to sit next to me on the plane home… for I really don’t think I was all that clean.
Before we headed back into the city to catch our flight, our tour guide took as to one of the other attractions that is not far from the hill tribe… the hot springs. I really think Thailand should share these hot springs with Manitoba! It is so hot here I don’t see how anyone would ever want to use the springs to actually warm up.
Overall, it was a very unexpected, but very enjoyable weekend! I just love northern Thailand, and if I ever come back, that is likely where I would spend much of my time. The way of life is much more relaxed than anywhere else in Thailand, and the air is just so much easier to breathe! I’m looking forward to another weekend away this coming weekend in Pattaya, which is a beach city that I visited on my first weekend in Thailand. I only have 3 more weekends to travel Thailand… which is crazy to think! I am excited to come home, but I will miss having my weekends to explore, relax, or really have whatever kind of adventure I want to have! I have really realized what it means to live life to it’s fullest out here, making ever minute count!