15th Feb 2017 - 9th Mar 2017
Thailand makes you realise just how incredibly shitty India really is. It’s cleaner, the people smile, you’re not greeted in the mornings by the hordes defecating in the fields, people queue nicely, everything works and is maintained, the traffic is gentle, quiet and isn’t out to kill you.
Our hotel in Bangkok was excellent with probably one of the biggest beds we’ve ever had. The view from the 6th floor wasn’t exciting but at least we can have the huge balcony door open without anybody peering in at us.
We came to Bangkok to apply for our visa to enter China on March 24th. China is extremely pernickety about having things all confirmed. We needed to provide copies of passport, our old visa from 4 years ago, the immigration stamp for our entry into Thailand, confirmation of flights in and out of China, hotels all booked for our month long visit, explanations for this, explanations for that, what colour underwear we’ll have on when we arrive, when is our next haircut due….you name it, they want it. Anyway, with just one abortive journey, partly our fault and partly an extra item they demanded, we finally got it!
We’ve also been catching up on our ‘business’ things at home like pensions and properties plus final plans for our remaining 3 weeks in Thailand, our week in Laos and cancelling lots of the plans for China and made new ones that fitted our requirements better. One of the advantages of Booking.com is that you can cancel with impunity so once we had the visa granted all the ‘hoop jumping’ was cancelled! Of course, we also did a bit of sightseeing, shopping and generally enjoying the much more relaxed vibe of Thailand. We took our usual trip on the river ferry which, for about £1.20 is a fantastic way to see the city on a 2hr return ticket.
Next stop was to pastures new, Chiang Rai in Northern Thailand. We really liked it, our room was excellent albeit a 40 minute walk to town and it had a much more relaxed feel than Bangkok. The night market was a wonderful experience. As well as many colourful stalls selling clothes and trinkets there was a huge food court. It had about 250 tables surrounded by vendors offering all sorts of food and drinks and a stage that offered free and sometimes dubious entertainment. The show we really liked was the collection of lady boys dressed like Shirley Bassey prancing around the stage and miming to ‘boy band’ music……we just cracked up! Outside of the city was the White Temple, a bizarre place which may have been influenced by Gaudi. Chalermchai Kositpipat was the architect and builder and he opened it to visitors in 1997. It’s now one of the most visited temples in Thailand and the site also boasts a gallery of some of his paintings………even Neil enjoyed that!
We decided to take a bit of a tour to visit some places that are slightly less travelled. Firstly, it was off to Chiang Saen which was once in the centre of the world’s production of opium. It was as little as 20 years ago that the drug baron Kun Sa Mong surrendered. He controlled the area known as The Golden Triangle with his private army of 20,000 armed men making this part of Thailand an absolute ‘no go area’. The triangle is at the confluence of the Mekong and Ruak Rivers where Thailand meets Myanmar and Laos. The CIA were here helping remove the drug barons and now it’s a major tourist attraction. With the help of lots of money from the rest of the world the 3 nations have now turned this area into a kitschy photo opportunity with a few attractions that include a couple of Opium Museums.
We spent 6 blissful nights here with a super room giving us the view to die for across the mighty Mekong River to Laos. Please watch the video, it shows the sunrise that we were privileged to see every morning…….absolutely breath-taking. Watching people meditating first thing in the morning with the sun rising made this place feel very spiritual…….even Neil felt it! The river is the life blood for so many people by providing work transporting goods, ferries and food. The river is home to many varieties of fish including The Giant Mekong Catfish, sadly endangered, which can grow to almost 9 feet and weigh over 600lbs.
Next we decided to head to the hills…….Mae Salong in fact. It’s about 1300m above sea level and it’s renowned for its Oolong tea plantations. Mae Salong is not easy to get to unless you pay buckets of money for a taxi. It was time for a bit of proper travelling, and we are flashpackers so we decided to use local transport, which we quite enjoy as it gives you a slice of local life. It took us around 4hrs to do using a rickshaw, minibus and a songthaew to cover about 40 miles and cost us 230TBH (about £5.50). We hadn’t expected the journey to take so long, but the local songthaew went the longest way possible round to Mae Salong, and included a 30 minute break halfway.
We had yet another room with a stunning view and four nights just enjoying the cooler air and the ‘Chinese Vibe’ that it has. About 50/60 years ago the defeated Chinese army that had been fighting the Communists fled and settled in Thailand, Laos and Myanmar. Mae Salong was one of the places that they settled in and Thailand granted them land and a right to settle. The Chinese influence in the food, ambience and features of the people is extremely strong. In fact, the place where we stayed was owned by a Chinese family who also owned tea estates and the very quirky giant tea pots and Mongolian Dogs that you can see in the photos.
We walked through the village, the plantations and also up some long winding lanes, followed by more than 700 steps, to the temple that sits on top of the hill and at night you can gaze up several hundred meters to the beautifully illuminated pagoda. Inside the pagoda roof is a small shrine and it had lots of coins standing on their edges at the base. We decided that we should join with this tradition and when we succeeded a local told us with delight that ‘this good luck’! It wasn’t until next day that we realised just how right he was! The day after we placed our coins on the shrine and got our ‘good karma’ we were told by Yee our hotel owner that her brother was going to be going to Mae Chan to make a tea delivery on the day we were leaving. Mae Chan is a transport hub where we could get a bus back to Chiang Saen. He took us the short way in his very comfortable pick up, dropped us at the bus stop and 10 minutes later a bus arrived which meant that we got back to Chiang Saen in just 2hrs and at a cost of 100TBH (about £2.50)…….result!
We’re now back in Chiang Saen with the beautiful view across The Mekong enjoying lush Thai food, cold beer and making our final plans to get to Laos and to get back to Thailand for our flight to China…….that’s coming up next!
Sunrise over The Mighty Mekong River
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