Friday, November 20, 2009
We've been in Thailand for a week now. We spent several days in Chiang Rai, which is a fairly large city in the northern part of the country. It was kind of strange to be in a city after spending time in Laos. They actually have real stores (including a Boots drugstore) and traffic! We visited the most important temple, Wat Phra Kaew, while we were there- the grounds are beautiful and calm. Colin agreed and commented that becoming a monk might not be too bad if he could hang out there for his three-month stint. We also went to the Hill Tribe Museum, which had rather interesting exhibits on the opium trade in the Golden Triangle and also on the infinite uses for bamboo. I want to grow a bamboo forest when we get home- it's so pretty growing in the wild, and it makes really nice walls and drinkware!
At the museum, we read about the hill tribe village where they allow visitors to watch what they do but without the rampant commercialism of so many villages in the region. It sounded like a good place to go, so we rented a motorbike the following day and headed north out of town. The ride was spectacular, passing pineapple plantations (the smelled sooooo good!!!!), rice paddies, waterfalls, and beautiful, lush mountains. The village, when we arrived, was, well... a disappointment (an understatement). The point of the village was to give tourists an opportunity to see a traditional village where people actually live and work, not simply selling handicrafts to busloads of tourists. Unfortunately, within moments of our arrival, five jeeps pulled up and disgorged their tourist contents. They were the worst kind of tourists- the literature at the entrance all said to be respectful of the people, not to give candy to the children, not to be loud, to ask before taking photos, and on and on. We apparently missed the message that it was opposite day, so we left in disgust and rode to see one of the large waterfalls in the area. The waterfall was supposed to be a good spot to admire the sunset, and we got to the parking lot at around 4 o'clock. A sign said the waterfall was 1400 metres away, and we thought, "not a problem," for the first 200 metres. Then, we crossed the woven bamboo bridge over the river and started to gain elevation. The path was packed, slick mud steps, up and around tree roots, under toppled stands of bamboo, and through REAL JUNGLE. It started getting dark before we got to the "waterfall 800 metres" sign, so we (the royal version) figured we needed to pick up the pace a bit. Colin started panting too hard to whistle the "Bridge on the River Kwai" theme, but we made it to the waterfall in time to see it before the sun set. It really was a gorgeous sight and definitely worth the trip.
We're now in Chiang Mai until tomorrow morning, when we rent a big motorcycle and head out for four days of riding in the countryside. Chiang Mai is the second biggest city in Thailand, with nearly as many temples as Bangkok. Cities here seem much more relaxed than in Vietnam- they're much quieter (no blaring horns, no crowing chickens) and more orderly. The people are very polite, and all the women want to give Colin a massage...hmm... .
Although we enjoy our time in cities, we really want to get out and see more of the country on our own schedule. We will be out of web range for the next few days, so look for the next adventure post in about a week. Colin has uploaded a bunch more photos to smugmug, finishing the images from Luang Prabang, our Mekong boat trip, and has started adding images from Chiang Rai. Later taters, until next time!