5. Swapping Mai for Rai – Chaing Rai

20/11/14 – 22/11/14

From Chiang Mai I headed north to my next stop – Chiang Rai. Maybe only letter differentiate the two places, nonetheless I needed to get to the bus station – again. For sure you get to know a few when travelling overland. There are a few stations in Chiang Mai, so it is important to get to the Arcadia bus station, where all the long distance buses leave from.

I read somewhere you should buy the ticket in advance, but the person who I am ignored such advise. Well, it seems there was no space left for the pricier VIP bus, so I settled for the 1st class bus. The buses to Chiang Rai leave on a regular basis, with a mix of VIP, 1st and 2nd class buses. So if you prefer taking the VIP bus, either get to the bus station the day before and buy the ticket for 248 Baht, or get it from a travel agent for 400 Baht. The 1st class bus costs 184, and the 2nd class bus 148. Overall buses leave on a regular basis

I took the bus at 10:30, a VIP one leaves at 10:15. If you prefer an earlier bus, a 1st class bus leaves at 9:00, and a 2nd class one at 9:30. There are a few buses before 9am as well, including one VIP one.

I realised I got a an aisle seat for a change, and as the bus was full I didn’t had a spare seat next to me. Thankfully this time you were able to squeeze a backpack over your seat. I was not so thankful when my seat neighbour was a soldier who tried to get as much leg space as possible. Not sure if I get arrested for fighting a soldier for more space, so I just used the space in the aisle. The ‘bus steward’ checked where is everyone heading, and asked all farangs if they want to get to the new or old station in Chiang Rai. The response from everyone was a surprised shrug…there were two bus station there? Who knew…
Patiently he explained the difference and all agreed to leave at the hopefully correct station. The journey was only 3-4 hours, with a short stop to get some fresh air and food, and we arrived on time.

The Old bus station is in the middle of the centre of Chiang Rai – a nice change from all other places where a Tuk Tuk ride is required

I fought off all advances from the various drivers, found a big map of the city, and just walked towards the main hoping to find a guesthouse (not booked anything again…).

After finding nothing on the main road I just turned into a side street, and was instantly asked if I need a room. But this time it was not a Thai accent I heard, but a Swiss one, who had a room available at the Chill Out Homestay. Just happy to find a room I inspected it, and it looked ok for 200 Baht. Two single bed, a noisy ceiling fan, a small balcony and shared bathroom. Despite the stone hard mattress I thought it was good enough for two nights (first night was a bit rough, but second night I got used to the hardest bed I have ever slept on..). Thomas, who partial owns the guesthouse is a nice guy, offering a lot of advise. Very easy to have a good conversation with him.

After being refreshed, I started a nice walk to explore the area. A pleasant surprise was that it was cooler here than in Chiang Mai, which was a nice change. Chiang Rai is also a rather compact city, and after finding the fresh food market I settled down for a quick drink in a café, and met a couple from Wales to share some advise and stories.

Not having a map, I just followed a road to a beautiful temple, and as the road looked interesting, and continued following it.

 

In addition to some nice old buildings I also found some lovely parks, more places to eat (for a change I didn’t stop..) and suddenly arrived in front of a little park in the middle of a busy crossing. The main part was the monument for King Mengrai, and was surrounded by a park full of flowers, and a few hedges cut in shape of elephants. Great place to sit down and relax a bit from all the walking, and watch the busy traffic.

Time to head back, I just found another road to follow. Once again I passed a nice area with a park, a statue and some food stalls. The park was full of locals sitting down, and kids playing around. Despite being on one of the main road, it felt like being a world away from a town.

I suddenly realised that I arrived back at the market, and there were a few more stalls open. Not having any lunch earlier I walked along the stalls, and tried some of the food on offer (and there was a lot of different types). Started with a kind of a pancake that was filled with egg and minced pork. No idea what to expect – but it was very tasty. The owner even gave me one of the smaller sweet ones for free so I can try it. I remembered that place for tomorrow. Next stop was the grilled meat section. Never had the spicy sausage, which is a speciality in the north of Thailand. Encouraged by an Austrian tourist seeing my indecisive face, I tried it. Not too spicy, but still leaving a nice taste in your mouth, definetely worth trying. I was then pointed to a stall selling Dim Sum, half open dumplings filled with pork. Well – why not. Packed in a little plactic bag, covered in sauce, onions and chilli, I went off and tried them on my way back to the guesthouse. After the first one I already regretted that I only bought the small potion.
D-E-L-I-C-I-O-U-S!!!

 

After a wee break and in need of a shower, it was time to head to the night market, which is next to the bus station, and 2 minutes away from my guesthouse. Similar to the other markets you can buy a variety of items like cloth and souvenirs. You can also find a food market there for dinner. The main food offered there is Hotpot. You will get a pot filled with soup brought to your table, plus a variety of vegetables and meat. You then just add the ingredients into the soup, and cook it yourself. It is a nice way to eat when travelling in a group. You also can buy the usual Thai food, or getting fresh seafood grilled. Not that hungry, and have missed it in Chaing Mai I tried a whole squid. Well – I was not impressed. In my view that market cannot compare to the other places I have visited so far….

Not quite happy with the food, I stopped at a stall that was covered in newspaper article about it. Intrigued I had a look – it was coconut milk and coconut with either coconut ice cream, jelly or fruit. Unfortunately they had no ice cream left, so I got a mix of fruits in it. Well – this was actually pretty good. It is the first stall on the left when entering the market – though it wasn’t there the following night. So if you seee the stall, try it. I am sure you won’t be disappointed.

Heading back to my room to get some money I was actually planning getting to a pub. But on my way I met one of the other guests, a guy from California, and we started to have a chat. An hour later Thomas came back as well, and we had some beer there. it was actually a nice relaxing evening, talking about the various places to visit, and getting advise about Vietnam. I even got a late snack, as someone brought back some black sticky rice cakes filled with coconut. As usual, it went down well with a beer.

After two late arrivals joined us I was actually considering hiring a scooter for the day to explore the area – though I was still unsure as I have no license, and the traffic still looked busy in Chiang Rai. Besides, just at the start of my holiday I didn’t want to take any risk or loosing my insurance cover if I have an accident.
In the end I chickened out, and decided not to do it. The two American girls in the GH did it, and said they had a great time.

 

Well, instead of hiring a bike I decided to get a bus the next day  to visit the two highlights of Chiang Rai – the White Temple and the Black House

With the information given by Thomas I headed off, and surprisingly was approached by a number of Tuk Tuk driver. The common price was 600 baht to get to both places (one is 15km south of Chiang Rai, the other one 10km north). But you would have only 30 minutes time at the White Temple and 1 hour at the Black House. No chance. It also turned out one was actually not a Tuk Tuk driver, but tried to get a number of people onto his songthraew for a tour. That would have been a rip off for that price (you pay 1000 Baht for a full day tour through the whole area in a minibus + lunch).

Instead I got onto a bus on platform 7 (or 8), paid 20 Baht. The bus dropped me off opposite the White Temple, though you have to cross a rather busy road. No issues in the end.

What can I say – the White Temple, also known as Wat Rong Koom is something different. I have never seen anything like that before. The main temple and the surrounding were completely white (yes – this is where the names come from!!!), and it looks amazing. Unlike other attractions you pay NO entrance, and you can freely walk around. However, they have a one-way system to get into the temple (there were still quite a few tourist who clearly didn’t get that concept, and were surprised when being advised to go out again). In front of the temple you have two little water areas, full of rather big fishes. Also, the temple is famous for the rather interesting carvings. You can either see skulls, or something that looks like from a Dante drawing, hands coming out of the earth / water, grabbing or holding a skull. Not something you would expect to see in a temple – but this makes it such an interesting place. Apparently these rather macabre bits represent the struggle between Buddha and Mara (demons)

The inside of the temple is actually not that impressive, but the rest of the complex makes more than up for that. It is actually very nice to just walk around, and taking your time (I would never managed to stay here only for 30 minutes). There are also some touristy bits, i.e. You can by a aluminium plate and write your name on it, and hang it on a bell. I am pretty sure they get removed every evening to make space for the next day. Someone mentioned something like bringing luck – not sure if this is correct though.

One other strange thing is that there are several skulls hanging on trees, some of them looking very familiar (not referring to my dear family), but you can spot Batman, Freddi Krueger and Hellboy. Strangely enough you can also spot a sculpture of a Predator from the same named movie coming out of the ground.


In addition to the temple you can find a little museum with artwork from Chalermchai Kositpipat, who has designed it and is still working on it to complete it (apparently it will take a few more decades until it is done. I have seen many tourist just passing by (it is situated behind the entrance of the temple, on the left hand side). His art work is very impressive, and would highly recommend spend at least some time there. I loved the painting that shows both Mr Bush Junior and Osama Bin Laden – a clear critism of the development over the last decade.On my way back to the bus station I took the chance to make me look stupid once again (haven’t done that for a while). I was just taking a picture of a dragon statue in front of the temple, when I suddenly saw something coming out of the mouth of the dragon and jumped back. Well, it seems I was startled by a water fountain that the statue actually was. One or two people behind me very chuckling quietly. Well, it was time to leave I guess.

To get the local bus back you just get back to the main crossing, and on the right hand side you see a bench where you can wait for the bus. But pay attention, the bus doesn’t stop unless you wave him down or walk towards it – it doesn’t stop just because people are sitting there.
Interestingly, I met the same two French girls who were on the same bus when I arrived (and helping each other taking pictures around the temple). Well, during our conversation it turned out that they had the same plan – taking the slow boat to Luang Prabang. This was not the last time we will have met over the next week….

Arriving back in Chiang Rai I decided to visit the Black House, another attraction in the area. And it seems you can now take the public bus as well there. The bus leaves from platform 5 & 6, and cost 20 Baht. As usual I was told when to get out of the bus, and I was, well, in the middle of nowhere, next to a very busy dual carriageway

There was a little sign for Baan Dam, pointing to a little path next to a fence. So I headed that path. After waling on a self made wooden ‘bridge’ I was able to see the first of the few houses.

The Black House is a number of, surprise surprise, black houses, with interesting carvings and various numbers of animal bones, skulls and older instruments. It was very pleasant to walk around thanks to the shades the trees have provided, and the buildings looked very interesting.

In addition I saw some art students trying to take some artistic photos. One of them was dressed in a white robe (not as impressive as Gandalf) and one wearing a black robe, with some kind of mask. Looked a bit like an attempt to show the fight between the light and dark side of the force….

After walking around the complex it was time for another ice coffee, and I walked slowly back to the exit. I then saw some cages with an owl and a bird, and saw some movement in the larger cage – and found two rather large anacondas there. They looked like they had recently dinner, and was wondering if I saw some cloth around the cage – just in case. Wouldn’t like to end up as breakfast there. I have to admit though I found it very funny when a woman passed by, saw the sudden movement in the cage and screamed like there is no tomorrow and jumped away from the cage

Polite as I am, I was chuckling rather loudly, joined by her boyfriend. I got an angry stare as a return.

To avoid a scene I quickly headed back to the main street, where I found a slight challenge – I had to cross the street, which was easier said than done as the kind of dual carriageway was rather busy. Thankfully you could cross one side, stop safely in the middle, and then cross the second section. One thing I learned during my travel in SEA you just have to cross the street and never stop – cars and scooters usually drive around here. So I tried it here when the traffic was less tense. Except of hearing one or two horns I survived crossing the street – and able to tell the tale. This time there were no seats, so I just waited next to the street, ‘enjoying’ the heat from the sun as there was no shade. I saw a bus coming my way and hoped it will stop – thankfully it did. 20 Baht again, and after 30 or 40 minutes I was back in town. I am sure it is easier getting a Tuk Tuk, or join one of the many tours offered, but I loved the flexibility you have by using public transport and save some money in the process.

As I enjoyed it last night I went back to the fresh food market in town, and bought the same dishes like the day before. But this time I decided that I didn’t want to miss one of the attractions of Chiang Rai

 In the middle of a roundabout is a beautiful clock tower, designed by the same artist who worked on the White Temple. During the evening every full hour the clock tower plays few melodies, and also lightens up in different coloured lights. I made myself comfortable in of the cafes around the tower, and watched the spectacle. I would highly recommend to watch it, some might call it a bit cheesy, but it is still very nice, and worth a short stay in the evening.

 

Feeling a bit tired I thought another massage would be in place, and found a good place in front of the entrance to the night market. It was slightly more painful this time, but for some reason still kind of relaxing. 200 Baht for 1 hour well spent…

It was then time for my last dinner in Thailand of this trip, and returned to the night market to have one of the simple but still delicious Thai dishes. This time I was very happy with my food at the night market. In addition I was able to watch a short traditional Thai dancing performance. They actually did the same performance on both stages at the night market (one in front of the restaurant, and one at the stage with the various food stalls).


I then headed to the ‘pub’ area nearby (consisting of a few bars), had two beers in a interesting looking place called Chook Dee. It is a very laid back place with some interesting bright graffiti, and a good place to meet some other travellers. A good way to finish the night and my stay in Chiang Rai.
Overall, Chiang Rai is an interesting little place. Smaller and more relaxed than Chiang Mai, but still offering some good activities. I focused on those I could reach by public transport, but you can easily visit a Minority Village or the infamous Golden Triangle where Thailand, Myanmar and Laos share a border by booking a full day tour. Alternative it is a great place it hire a motorbike to explore the area, which Thomas from the guesthouse has pointed out to me. I think I would love to come back when I have a licence and can get a good bike there, and exploring the whole area by bike.
But if you are in this area, spending a few nights there would not a bad choice

Accommodation:
Chill Out Homestay offers basic rooms with ceiling fan and shared bathroom (not sure if it is one or two). Double room was very spacious and had a little balcony, though very hard matrass. They also offer one en-suite bathroom. For 200 Baht it is a good choice, and Thomas is a good guy to talk to.

Recommendation:
Highly recommend eating at the market near the clock tower. Great little snacks on offer. The night market is more expensive than other markets, but they offer hot pots – which is a nice way to share a meal.
And do not miss the White Temple – an absolute highlight when you are there.

(stayed in Chiang Rai November 2014)

Previous Entry: Chiang Mai
Blog Overview
Next Entry: Journey into Laos

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s