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Published: January 14th 2017
It was raining when we left Chiang Mai. It rained heavily throughout the near four hour bus ride to Chiang Rai. It then rained almost non-stop during our 2 day stay, not that we let it affect our enjoyment. Indeed, we loved it there so much that we are considering returning for a longer stay in years to come.
First though, the bus. It wasnt too bad, although still not nothing compared to the VIP buses we have seen. What was remarkable was the way we bought our tickets. When you visit the Green Bus
website look for the English option then select your route. In Chiang Rai you need to select Terminal 1 as, despite the bus stopping there, Terminal 2 produces no bookable option. Make sure you put something in the comments box otherwise it won't let you proceed for some bizarre reason. On the payment page choose 7 Eleven and you will be given a booking code. Within 2 hours go to any 7 Eleven store and give your code at the checkout where they will print out a ticket for you. That's it! Remarkably simple eh?
A tuk tuk took us to our hotel, Ban Pin Kaew
which proved to be a lovely place to relax (listening to the rain hammering down on nearby tin roofs) and despite its location a little way out from the centre we highly recommend it. You can pick up local transport at the main road or the landlady will call a tuk tuk for you. There's no breakfast but with a fridge in the room and plenty of fresh fruit for sale it's easy to be healthy for a few days!
On our first evening the rain stopped allowing us to explore the area around the magnificent golden clock tower. There we dined in style at the Barrab
restaurant which was unsurprisingly packed given the quality of food we ate. The Northern Thai sausages were particularly scrumptious bursting with the flavours of lemongrass and a multitude of herbs and spices.
From there we walked over to the night market. Far less frantic than the ones in Chiang Mai, it was actually a pleasure wandering around and browsing. We had already eaten so the lack of food stalls want a problem. They had been replaced with sit down restaurants and entertainment such as traditional Thai dancing. The fruit and flower
stalls illuminated in the dark evening gave a beautiful splash of colour to the scene.
It started raining again at some stage during the night. Serious, brutal, heavy rain that caused primeval howls to echo in the distance. We're sure that wasn't just in our dreams! No matter how patient we were in the morning despite itching to go exploring, the rain refused to stop. Raincoats on and umbrellas unfurled, we waited by the main road where a human cattle truck, blue in Chiang Rai, stopped and agreed to take us 11km down the road to the White Temple. At least that's what we thought we had agreed. When he went to the bus station instead a period of renegotiation ensued with complete success this time.
Wat Rong Khan, as it is really called, is a labour of love by one of Chiang Rai's artists cum architect, Ajarn Chalermchai Kositpipat. It is a stunning complex predominately white in colour. When the sun shines it is gleaming but even on a wet day with a thousand umbrellas on display, it is a magnificent temple. Sadly with wet conditions comes a closure of the bridge which allows entry to the
inner sanctum. Slippery when wet, but dangerously so. Instead we took our time in the exhibition hall marvelling at the artists stunning interpretation of various Buddhist scenes.
After a quick coffee we found a tuk tuk driver who was prepared to take us back into town and on a further 13km to Baan Dam, or the Black Temple as it is colloquially known. Another local artist cum architect, Thawan Duchane, has built a complex of very dark buildings including a massive temple. Dark both in appearance and what lies inside. Long horned skulls adorn many walls while animal skins, especially crocodiles create a rather sinister ambience. Add to that some of the smaller rather stranger buildings, one like a dog's head with mouth agape, another a series of white domes, and you have quite an eclectic mix!
We managed to pick up a cattle truck back into town where we visited the Hilltribe Museum
. Set inside the headquarters of the NGO PDA, it gives a fascinating insight into the different hilltribes, their history, culture and costumes. Seeing the weaver creating intricate textiles on her loom was amazing. It takes 2 days for her to create 2 metres of cloth.
Later that day we succumbed to the lure of Western food for the first time on this trip. The burgers were to die for in Hungry Wolfs
. We missed a trick though. We could have had what is surely the world's largest commercially produced pizza. Mind you, we'd have been eating it cold for lunch for days to come!
On the morning of our departure guess what happened. Yes, it finally stopped raining!!
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