Thursday, February 21, 2013

Chiang Rai Tour

On our third day in Thailand we went on the Chiang Rai van tour that we had booked only the day before. This trip began at about 7 or 8 I can't quite remember. After about an hour and a half we stopped at some hot springs which while unimpressive did give everyone a chance to go to the bathroom, buy some delicious corn on the cob and recover from their motion sickness.

Our next stop was the White Temple or Wat Rong Khun, which was actually built only 15 years ago for around 400 million baht. While there was no charge you have to get in line as the masses move across the bridge and inside the temple. If you dally too long there are a few staff members with a loud speaker to yell at you to keep moving.

While the temple is intricately carved and truly white it seems to have been made for tourists with modern images painted inside the main room. Inside you will see Star Wars characters, Nero from the Matrix and other movie characters. I was very upset that pictures were not allowed to be taken inside so I was unable to capture these impressive and unique images, blah. Outside the temple you will even come across a Predator seeming to crawl out of the ground.

After the White Temple we headed towards the Mekong Delta for a boat ride and a brief jaunt to Laos. This area is known as the Golden Triangle and is where the borders of Thailand, Laos, and Burma meet. The boat ride will bring you by an island where opium dealers trade at night and you will see several large casinos on the far banks. This is because casinos are illegal in Thailand. The quick stop to Laos offered no sights or cultural interactions but was simply a large shopping area. It was still interesting as you could try a sample of snake whiskey if you are brave enough!

After the Golden Triangle we headed towards the northern most point of Thailand, with some more shopping opportunities :-{. Finally, our last stop was at the Karen tribe or long neck tribe. This was very interesting and, you guessed it, you will have plenty of chances to buy products made by the Karen Tribe. As xmas was coming up we bought 2 wall hangings, a scroll, small wood carving, bracelet, 3 scarfs, a small snake whiskey bottle and souvenirs patches for about 1,400 baht.

All in all this was a long, exhausting trip that was mediocre. From here on out we made it a point to do things on our own which was quite easy and much more fun and relaxing.  

Monday, February 11, 2013

Chiang Mai time!

Johanna, Krystal and I took the sleeper bus from the Mo Chit station overnight from Bangkok to Chiang Mai for 657B apiece and arrived at our first hostel, Mountain View, at about 6am. Our a/c room was ready for us as soon as we arrived and we settled right in. FYI, there are sometimes bathrooms on the buses sometimes not, the individual bus stations have bathrooms but they usually charge about 3B to use.

Mountain View Room, the mountain view
was actually to the left...and far in the distance
The first thing that we did after getting settled is go out and get some Thai coffee. This will quickly become routine. A simple hot coffee was 25B and ice was 35B. We got it from a very basic stand on the side of the road but it was excellent, no need to go to some fancy cafe for a good cup of joe. The woman who owned it was very friendly and as we got to know her over the next several days we got to practice our Thai with her.
Three Kings

One of many Wats
While we drank our coffee we simply walked around old walled in city. It was very easy to navigate around and you would have to actively try and avoid wats not to simply stumble into them. We ran into a very friendly local man who suggested that we stop in at the Tourism Authority of Thailand (TAT) to book any tours that we wanted. We were already on edge about possible scams and when he said that he would guide us to one we were worried that he would charge us for his, "help". Short story short, he didn't.

 We had already checked out numerous options online and had pretty good idea about prices so we thought we would check it out. Turns out the prices we close or even better and we booked a tour up to Chiang Rai and a tour to the Baan Chang Elephant Park which was highlighted by our lonely planet book for its humane treatment and care of their elephants. The Chaing Rai trip was 1,600B per person and the elephant park was 2,400B per person.

Wat Chedi Luang
After setting up our tours for the next two days we continued to wander around the city. We got lunch for 200B for three people, including drinks. Afterwards we went to Wat Chedi Luang which was very impressive and was celebrating its 615 year anniversary. Free soup was being given out which was quite tasty even with its cooked blood chunks in it.

One of the most fun parts of wandering around the city is simply stumbling across places to eat. So, as we did for lunch, we simply came across a place for dinner which was fabulous. You will not come across a region that has such great food! and with a dinner price of 260B for three people it will be difficult to find someplace that rivals the quality of food for such a price. One trick to eating out in Chiang Mai is avoiding the west wall strip which caters to tourists and is thus more expensive. Trust me, you can find restaurants that are just are delicious only a few streets to the east. This applies to the pensions and hotels as well. Mountain View was probably a fifteen minute walk from the central tourist area and was half the price as MD House which was less than a 5 minute walk from the tourist area.