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Published: February 9th 2015
From Chiang Mai I made my way to Chiang rai, which is further north. I found this guesthouse which had a strong, laid back, reggae vibe. My room was little more than a shack indoors with holes between the wooden slats forming the wall. But it was a social place and it was character building. The guesthouse had a bar lounge area and I met several cool people there over drinks which led to a woozy head in the morning and on one occasion bile in the toilet.
My lonely planet guide told me that I shouldn't expect the highest standards of service from the place given its super chilled vibe. Well it could say that again: on my last night a member of staff became embroiled in a brawl with a customer over the bar who had allegedly punched him in the face. For my part I took a few steps back, glugged my Leo beer and looked the other way.
Chiang rai was an intriguing town. Whilst I was there I visited two bizarre temples named the White temple and the black house respectively. These temples are diametrically opposed stylistically, with the White temple boasting thousands of
glittering square mirrors and brilliant white structures bright enough to compel you to whip out your sunglasses, and the black house containing dead animals and animal skins, skeletons and fur pelts. As you might imagine I morally object to the latter temple, but I can't deny that it was as interesting as it was repulsive. I'm glad I didn't have to pay to enter the temple as I wouldn't have wanted to contribute in any way to that art form.
In Chiang rai I also cycled to a couple of caves containing Buddhist shrines a few kilometres out of town. The first cave I visited was pretty eerie. Entering the gloomy darkness on my own with a looming Buddha image in the depths of the cave was a feeling I wouldn't like to experience again too soon. Glad I did it though and I was happy to get back on my bike.
From Chiang rai I crossed the border to Laos and arrived in Huay Xai. Stayed there for a couple of nights and popped over to luang nam tha. Nearby this town is the nam ha protected area, which is a sprawling jungle now subject to a conservation scheme. I just did a trek which I booked yesterday in said jungle and it was fantastic. In the jungle we saw a snake and hundreds of clustered, crawling spiders and we ate tofu and pumpkin and sticky rice on the floor off a broad banana leaf which the guide had hacked away before our eyes.
We also visited a couple of nearby tribal villages in which the members produce vibrant and intricate textile and fabric products to generate an income (particularly in the latter village). Some of the work they do in creating these pieces is incredibly complex. One mistake, as they ply and interweave hundreds of fiddly strings using complicated handmade equipment, could force them to start again, negating hours and hours of hard graft. The money they get for their work is disproportionately low to a shocking degree.
Tomorrow I'm going to cycle to some nearby waterfalls in luang nam tha. Then I will return to Huay Xai where I shall embark on the fabled gibbon experience - a ziplining and trekking adventure lasting for three days.
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