Monday, November 09, 2015
Chiang Mai II: Chiang Rai
Woke up at 6:00 AM... who wakes up at 6:00 AM when on holiday! KH had booked a day trip to Chiang Rai, so we were supposed to be picked up at 7:00 AM. The van came by at Chang Moi Road and we were greeted by a pair of gentlemen who introduced themselves as Steve and Yoat. Steve was the guide and Yoat was the driver. Naturally Steve spoke better English, but he does sound like a Thai Nanny Fine. He has a super slitty-eyed look and a wispy moustache, giving him a super Cina look. When he speaks, he starts each sentence "How do you say..." and ends with "Ahaaaa...". Five stops later we picked up an Indonesian couple, a Vietnamese couple, two Spanish couples and a girl of unknown nationality. The drive to Chiang Rai took 3.5 hours, with a twenty minute stop at a shitty hot spring. Basically a hot spring fountain with a sign surrounded by lots and lots of souvenir shops. And right outside the public toilet (THB5 per use of course), one could soak one's legs in a 'drain' flowing with hot spring water. Neither did we do that nor boil a basket of quail eggs. Just drank coffee and went on our way.
First stop was Wat Rong Khun or the White Temple. It's called the White Temple cause it's white. Haha. The temple is privately-owned by Chalermchai Kositpipat, a local artist who has so far spent THB40 million on it and doesn't charge for admission. And he doesn't accept large donations to avoid undue external interference on his work. Guess it doesn't matter since he believes that his project will grant him immortality. When we arrived, it was bright and sunny. Steve gave us forty minutes to explore the whole place. Everyone starts at the Bridge of the Cycle of Rebirth. The bridge spans a small lake of outstretched hands symbolyzing greed and desire. Ringing the lake are grotesque faces and serpents locked in eternal conflict. Once on the bridge, one can't stop. There are staff with loudhailers on a watchtower instructing tourists to move along. No dawdling for better flow and to avoid overcrowding on the bridge perhaps. Right after that bridge is Gate of Heaven which is flanked by two large statues representing Rahu and Death. Past that, one arrives at the ubosot which contains murals of traditional Thai buddhism with icons of pop culture like Michael Jackson, Neo, Freddy Kruger, Harry Potter and Superman. No photography is allowed so I can't show you the giant skull that has George W. Bush in one eye socket and Osama bin Laden in the other. Outside the ubosot are other lesser buildings. For THB30, one can write a wish on leaf-shaped tin ornament and hang it on wishing trees. So many wishes were made that old wishes are used to decorate the ceiling of the covered walkways. On our way out, we took a quick look at the Golden Toilet. Why make such an ornate toilet you may ask? To teach the lesson of not taking everything at face value.
From there, we continued on to the Golden Triangle, another famous tourist trap. Stopped for a buffet lunch at Golden Iyara Resort. Nothing to shout about. Initially, KH and I didn't want to do the Golden Triangle boat tour, but seeing that there wasn't much to do there, we parted with the THB660. Historically, the Golden Triangle was famous for the trade of opium. The area is a border tripoint between Thailand, Myanmar and Laos with two rivers, Mekong and Sop Ruak. According to the guides, opium used to be traded for gold, hence the name. On the Thai side, a large golden Buddha on a treasure boat was erected. Myanmar and Laos both had casinos by the river. The casino at Laos was called Lao Vegas. Gotta love that name. Nothing much to see other than that. The only interesting thing that was that we landed at the island of Don Xao which belongs to Laos. Steve gave us welcome drinks of whisky with ginseng, gecko, terrapin and tiger penis. Many declined the offer, but KH and I gave the tiger penis whisky a try. A strong drink, but hardly enjoyable. The island was just another tourist trap of souvenir stalls. We just walked around a bit and cooled down with a big can of Beer Lao. On the way back to the Thai border, our guides gave an impromptu karaoke session as a sign of gratitude for coming during the low period.
On our way out, we stopped at Wat Phra That Wai Dao, a Lanna temple that provides a view of Mae Sai and Tachileik (Myanmar). The weird thing about the temple is its giant scorpion statue, which faces Tachileik. The statue symbolizes King Naresuan's victory over the Burmese invaders during the Lanna Kingdom.
Next was the Karen Long Neck Village. Truth be told, it ain't no proper village, more like a tourist showcase. The women don their traditional neck rings and man the stalls, selling souvenirs, weaving scarves and letting tourists take photographs with them. Their smiles seem frozen and the setting seems hardly natural. The supposed Akha and Yao people on the outside were no better than souvenir peddlers in traditional garb. That was the last item on our itinerary. Yoat our driver expertly drove the van in the night, overtaking cars and making good time. We were dropped off at Chang Moi Road at around 9:00 PM.
Our late dinner was at one of the back lanes where the locals eat (another recommendation by Foursquare). Don't even know what its called since its all in Thai. Just look and point. We ended up with a plate of crispy pork and stir-fried kangkung with two bowls of porridge. Although we had been gallivanting about the whole day, we still found the energy to go to the nearby night market where we ate some mini Lanna sausages (on the grill they look like rolls of anal beads) and grilled calamari. Sleep came easily that night...