Chang Rai

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December 16th 2012
Published: December 19th 2012
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The White TempleThe White TempleThe White Temple

A wacky place but visually stunning.
Day 1

Ignoring the persistent calls of the tuk tuk drivers, Dean dug out the Lonely Planet bible to South East Asia for some advice on where to stay. Along the way we met up with the Swiss couple from the boat and we all headed to a recommended budget hotel. Minimalist in design and style (not Scandanavian funky but more prison block chic), it was clean and cheap. Within a few minutes we had snaffled up the remaining rooms. Phew.

Located nearby, the night market provided us with our first foray into Thai cuisine since 2001. Well, obviously we have eaten Thai food since then (number 19 is Eleanor's favourite meal at Mee Dees in Springvale) but I was so looking forward to the delicious spicy salads and noodles I remembered from our last time here. A sudden downpour interrupted our dinner, although we were able to seek cover and continue our very tasty meal. A break in the rain allowed us to make a dash back to the hotel. However, halfway there the rain increased again, so we sought refuge in front of a massage place. The girls were very friendly and brought out chairs for us.
You can not ignore this witch hatYou can not ignore this witch hatYou can not ignore this witch hat

Just one of the interesting props at the temple.
I half expected them to start a foot massage but we were soon on our way again when the rain eased a little. Walking a la Kath and Kel, we made it back to Cell Block H, aka our room, only slightly drenched.

Day 2

Over bananas on toast for brekkie we discussed our plans for the day. Fairly vague, we thought we'd just go for a walk around town and try and get a hire car for the next day for a bit of touring. Dropping in at a market (just for something different!), I bought some Christmas decorations while Dean purchased his first firecrackers for the holiday. Afterwards, we saw a couple of Wats and the clocktower before returning to the market for a cheap and cheery lunch. For about $4 total we ate like kings. Brilliant. Some deep fried bananas for dessert and we were ready to tackle the rest of the day.

Passing a hairdressing salon on the way back, Dean and Eleanor treated themselves to a haircut, Thai-style. Their stylist for the day was a very 'happy' man with a crazy hairstyle. His dog ruled the salon and spent most of the time sleeping at my feet while I watched the man prance around Dean's head. Eleanor's split ends caused a little consternation with the lady who washed her hair but I wasn't prepared to fork out a thousand baht for a conditioning treatment. I just told her to cut them off. Eleanor thought she was having a centimetre taken off but with all those split ends, the floor sweepings could easily have provided hair extensions for some over-tanned suburban bogan in the outer suburbs of Melbourne. So Eleanor went in with blonde hair and came out with light brown hair.

Spending some quality time in an Internet cafe after lunch, it was all going well until school ended and about 50 boys invaded and proceeded to play war games. The 'fast' internet slowed down a bit so we decided to leave the comfort of the plush chairs and super cool airconditioning to investigate the 'Happy Tourist' sim card scene. For a small fee we were hooked up to Google world - not having to rely on wifi. This could effectively change the way we travel...

Dinner and a show once again at the night market where we ate some deep fried goodness for about $1.20 in total. The prawns, pumpkin, beans and fish were quite delicious. The night market sold the usual arts and crafts so we didn't spend too long there. Back at the cell, we watched a bit of news on the Australia network before lights out.

Day 3

Dean had organised to hire a car through 'Dodgy Bros' car rental (I'm sure that's the English translation of their Thai sign). After an hour or so of stuffing around, we were finally allocated a car. Later we found out it was a Tourist Policeman's wife's car. But that's neither here nor there. It was comfortable, mechanically sound and provided us with the means to have one of the most interesting days of the holiday so far.

First stop was the White Temple. A glistening Cinderella like apparition in the haze, almost like a surreal gingerbread house. Whilst the outside was quite remarkable, the inside was even more bizarre. To get to it, you have to walk past two trees with skulls hanging off the branches. One tree looks like it is warning against the dangers of smoking, the other against the dangers of alcohol. That's my interpretation, anyway. Then you cross a bridge where outstretched arms look like they are reaching for help (people in hell who didn't listen to the warnings???). Once inside, a mural on three of the walls depicts (amongst other things) various aspects and excesses of Western culture and history (eg. Angry Birds, cartoon characters, WW2, collapse of the twin towers etc), but not in a good light. A fourth wall is in the process of being painted. Eleanor declared it to be her favourite temple, mainly because it doesn't involve climbing hundreds of steps. It's my favourite too, purely because it is so unusual and interesting.

Back in the car for the trip to Mae Salong. A slight detour for coffee and cake at the Love Status cafe (quite freaky really!!!) where Eleanor realised a long held dream - to ride a pedal powered swan on a lake. She had first seen these at Sapa four years ago and has yearned to pedal her way around a lake every since. An oreo on top of the cake was almost enough to distract her from the winding mountainous journey ahead.

Upon reaching the village settled by deserting Kuomintang
In the gardensIn the gardensIn the gardens

Getting in touch with our inner Don Burke.
soldiers, we stopped for a Chinese lunch. Walking along the steep slopes of the hillside afterwards, we first heard, then saw, a man slide off his motorbike on one of the steep roads. A nasty looking gravel rash on his face was bleeding and he looked in shock. Moments later he was bundled onto a motorbike and taken off to medical help, we presumed. That's the first accident we have seen on our trip, although we have seen plenty of ambulances.

After the motorbike incident, we decided to pick up some supplies for the next part of the trip. 7/11 is ubiquitous and can be found all over Thailand. Even on top of this mountain. Although we prefer to shop at local stores, we were keen on picking up some music for the rest of the journey. We had given Thai radio a fair crack but Dean's patience for pop music is sorely tested at the best of times, so we thought 7/11 may be able to cater for our English needs. Not really. But it did have a Christmas album with 60 all-time favourites - in English! Our drive now had the necessary musical soundtrack. It reminded us of a few years ago when we were touring around Corryong prior to Christmas. We also had a Christmas CD blasting away, although admittedly the songs were not as cheesy as the 'Countdown Kids' versions. Springsteen, U2, Stevie Nicks etc belt out traditional Christmas tunes more to Dean's liking but beggars can't be choosers.

Our tour through the mountains continued, past tea plantations and precariously placed bamboo huts clinging to the mountainside. Eventually we made it to Mae Fah Luang flower gardens where we wandered through the colourful displays, the Royal Villa and the Hall of Inspiration. Surprisingly, they were all really great places to visit. By the time we left the Royal Villa (where Dean had to return some more appropriate attire for the visit!) it was getting late. Dean believed that we could get back onto the highway without having to go back the way we came. Google Maps didn't agree with him, but Dean was adamant we could do a 'horseshoe type loop'. With memories of scaling the waterfall in Luang Prabang fresh in my mind, I seriously doubted it was possible. The light was fading fast as we climbed higher and higher up the mountains. When Google Maps had us driving along the border I knew we were in trouble. We eventually reached a checkpoint, which confirmed that, yes, we were driving along the Burma/Thai border. In the process of doing a u-turn, some bikies stopped and asked where we were going. They told us we could keep going and tell the border patrol our destination but they highly recommended that we go back the way we came. The road after the border was narrow, steep and had lots of switchbacks. Dean was keen to continue but I felt that the rapidly approaching darkness and his unfamiliarity with the mountains and associated traffic (namely motorbikes with no tail-lights) would not be conducive to a happy journey. Nor would a vomiting daughter in the back. Reluctantly Dean agreed, and after a few happy snaps in bunkers on the border (it was quite chilly by this stage), we drove back down the mountain.

At the bottom, there was yet another market, so we dropped in there for a quick feed. Lots of mouthwatering choices to try - so we gave it our best shot and probably ate way more than was necessary. Steamed, deep fried, grilled
Memories of Andrew & McMahonMemories of Andrew & McMahonMemories of Andrew & McMahon

Is this where the old printing press found a new purpose in life?
- we didn't discriminate. Best to give anything a try is Dean's motto. I don't think it is on the tourist trail yet because we were being stared at like we had just landed from outer space. It felt like China all over again.

Hopping back into the car, we made it safely back to the hotel where Dean returned the car and Eleanor and I dropped off to sleep pretty quickly. We were leaving in the morning but had nothing sorted. It could wait until tomorrow.

Additional photos below
Photos: 10, Displayed: 10


If this doesn't capture your attention, not sure what would.If this doesn't capture your attention, not sure what would.
If this doesn't capture your attention, not sure what would.

A temple near the market had some interesting signs...

20th December 2012

chiang Rai
wow what an interesting and slightly bizarre temple!; Glad you made it down the mountain safely; loving the photos Jane

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