Gulping down the last of my English Breakfast tea, I scoop up my bag from the tiled floor and head out to meet my driver and guide for the day. He checks that I have my passport (required as we’re venturing close to the border today) and I hop in. Already seated inside the minivan is a Vietnamese woman named Hoi (Hoy), also travelling solo. Her English is limited but enough for the standard “Where are you from? How long are you travelling for?”
– familiar words wearily tumble through each travellers lips,
their eyes disinterested,
We make a stop and are joined by two American women (a mother and daughter from North Carolina), a Chinese family of three, and a young couple from northern Italy (are you getting the north vibe yet?). I, too, am from the north west of England, and since we’re heading to the most northern province of Thailand, Chiang Rai, ‘A Day of Norths’ seemed like an apt title for a blog post.
[Please note: This blog post is a continuation of an earlier post I wrote entitled ‘A Day of Norths’]
Our first stop (an hour’s drive away) is simply a pit stop for us to stretch our legs and grab some breakfast if we haven’t had any already. I have trouble ordering again as there’s no English menu, but I end up with boiled rice with an omlette on top (which is sufficiently better than a spicy fish curry with large bones I’d – unknowingly – ordered at a roadside stop on a bus journey from Bangkok to Sukhothai a few days previous). I ignore the abundance of clothing and souvenir stalls and instead enjoy a sight for free; in the middle of the tarmacked car park, there’s a hot spring spurting out water hot enough (I am told) to boil eggs. After twenty minutes we all pile back into the minivan and we’re off again; our next stop, the White Temple.
Visiting The White Temple in Chiang Rai
I’m sorry to say it, but I wasn’t as impressed as I’d hoped I would be with Wat Rong Khun, though I seem to be one of few people on the internet who’s willing to admit it. It’s a beautiful – dazzling even – temple from a distance, allowing for a few decent photographs, but honestly, I don’t think it’s an absolute must-see in Chiang Rai.
Perhaps it was the near-unbearable heat, my plain ignorance or my too-high expectations that day, but this temple/art exhibit constructed from mere plaster and mirrors didn’t intrigue me as I’d hoped it would – the (unexpected) severed heads hung from trees in the opposite direction however, did.
I’m not sure what this says about my character exactly, but I guess I’m just not one for chocolate box art (either that, or I’m drawn to the horrific). To be fair to the artist, a Mr Chalermchai Kositpipat, it is a spectacular art project, and one that’s on a scale most artists could only dream of.
The White Temple was also free to enter, so perhaps I’m just being ungrateful. I read somewhere that, although donations are accepted to support the art project (it isn’t completed yet), the artist won’t accept anything over ten thousand Thai Baht – just over two hundred quid – because he refuses to be influenced by wealthy individuals. If that’s true, then fair play to him.
After about an hour at the temple, we continue on; since this is just a day trip we’re on a very tight schedule. The day also includes a visit to the Golden Triangle, a stop at the border between Thailand and Myanmar (previously Burma), and a visit to a hill tribe. I’m not especially interested in these places, but they come as part of the White Temple package, so I’m in it for the ride.
Getting Lucky At The Golden Triangle
The Golden Triangle (where Thailand, Laos and Myanmar meet) is notorious worldwide for its opium production and drugs trade, which although is now illegal, is reportedly an ongoing problem for the authorities.
When we get there, we are given the option to take a boat ride along the Mekong for an additional fee, but I decide to stick around and have a wander. There’s not that much to see aside from the Hall of Opium Museum, but I’m thankful to escape from the group and have a coffee by myself.
To pass some time I receive a ‘good luck’ blessing from a monk beside a gigantic golden Buddha. While I’m not superstitious in the slightest, it’s a blessing I don’t think anyone would get their hopes up for after they saw a woman, immediately after receiving her blessing, drop and smash her phone. Clearly the irony of it was lost on her, as judging by her expression, I don’t think she was overly impressed.
I don’t have much to say about the Thai – Burmese (Myanmar) border gate; it’s just there. Even so, here’s a photograph with my face on it!
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To end our day we visited a very controversial hill tribe, but I’m going to write about that in my next post since I’m still not sure how I feel about it yet. If you enjoyed reading this blog post, please let me know with a thumbs up or a follow! You can also find me on Twitter @ksfahey. Thanks for reading.