We headed over to Chiang Mai again to source some things we can’t get in Chiang Rai. We spent most of a week here eating at restaurants that have different food from Luang Namtha and our usual Japanese places in Chiang Rai. One of our favourites was African food from an awesome place called Sahara.
We didn’t do much sightseeing this time, just going around seeing shops and finding materials for Project Laos part 2.
We have spent the past 2 weeks in Chiang Rai, recovering from second degree burns and associated tendon, muscle and movement problems resulting from a motorbike collision we were involved in about a month ago.
After Karen had not been able to stand up, walk, or leave the house for 10 days we decided it was time to go and get some proper medical attention which is not available in Laos.
We rented a nice apartment in Chiang Rai near the hospital and pretty much just spent the entire 2 weeks resting and recuperating.
It was only in the lasts 2 days there that we were able to actually go out and do something other than visit the hospital or eat, so we spent the time at the river and at the park, and the final day we even used the execise equipment at the park (Karen was able to use 3 pieces of equipment with no resistance).
Now we’re back in Laos and Karen still seems to have a fairly long road ahead to walk again. We are both confident that her positive attitude will help the healing process along and we are looking forward to being able to go out and do stuff again! You can read about our journey so far with our burns here.
We left Chiang Mai and decided that instead of going via the 4 lane highway to get to Doi Inthanon we’d take some smaller roads. The first hour or so we were all surprised by how built up these roads were, but after that we started to get into open spaces and some lovely scenery. Even in the first hour, there were beautiful tall trees lining the road for most of the way.
Eventually we stopped for lunch at a place that turned out to be so nice that we all agreed that if the accommodation inside the National Park wasn’t great, we’d come back and stay there.
There was a lake and huge trees and hundreds of birds all around with houses to rent by the night, and it was just a few minutes before the turn off to the Park.
After entry to the park we drove up and up and decided to stop and see a really cool waterfall. We walked up for half an hour or so and got to a beautiful big waterfall. We clambered over the rocks to stand in the spray of the water. After considering drinking some, because it looked so clear and nice, reality kicked in and we all decided it probably wasn’t the best idea in the world. Surprisingly, there were many kinds of plants that grow in New Zealand here, with the cold and wet climate around the waterfall (at this point we were about 1500m above sea level so it was quite temperate). There were fushias, ponga-like trees, ferns similar to what you see in NZ, and many flowers that definitely grow in NZ like hydrangeas and agapanthus.
Next stop was the two stupas overlooking extensive mountains, the view was stunningly beautiful and the stupas themselves were dedicated to the King and Queen of Thailand and only built about 10 years ago so they were very pristine with extensive and colourful gardens. We saw lots of birds there too and behind the stupas was just forest and in front was forest covered mountains stretching off into the distance.
Then the summit was our mission, so we drove through all the huge old trees, and finally about 45km after entering the park we made it. We walked up another 100m or so and stood on the bit that was supposedly the top but there was a government “Neuron Monitor” on the top part! At the top it was about 2500m above sea level and really, really cold.
After freezing up there for a while we drove back down (wearing many more clothes) to find a place to stay the night. We ended up finding a small Karen ethnic minority village that offered bungalows overlooking either the river, mountains or rice fields. So we spent the night in the National Park and woke to the sounds of birds and insects. Dre and Tim took the bikes to the market and bought us a feast of fruit for breakfast.
Today after sitting around for a while admiring the view and chatting, we returned to our respective huts to pack our stuff and leave for another day on the bikes, but we all decided at the last minute to stay here another day. It’s so peaceful and beautiful and there’s still loads of the park to explore so we decided chill out here for the day.
We didn’t do much, other than discover that the Honda CB’s have a beer opener built in (perhaps not quite what it was built for… but perfect!), saw some cool birds while lazing on the riverbank and our balconies, and found an amazing caterpillar-type thing in the dark that was glowing. We found it because the glow was so bright that when walking across the lawn from Tim’s hut to ours we stopped to see what the lights were. We found that it could turn it’s glow on and off at will, and watched it for quite a while. Definitely a good choice to stay here another day!
We decided to spend a day riding to Chiang Saen and seeing the ruins and surrounds there. We’ve been thinking of going to Chiang Saen for probably the last year but hadn’t got around to it until now. We allowed ourselves quite a few days to chill out in Chiang Rai before heading to NZ, so although our timing wasn’t fantastic to see a new place (because of all the fires in northern Thailand at the moment there is smoke everywhere) we decided that we’d already delayed enough; now was the time to take the journey to Chiang Saen.
Our visions of quaint country back roads similar to those we drove on in southern Thailand when driving from Koh Lanta to Malaysia were quickly dashed when we realised that the road was pretty much a highway, in preparation for the expected traffic increase when the bridge to Laos goes in later this year. And, after we’d been on that big, wide road for probably 45 minutes, it turned into a really long stretch of dusty, not-yet-complete road with muddy patches as well. At one point we considered turning around, because the dust really was thick and combined with the smoke it wasn’t the most pleasant way to spend a day, but thankfully we decided ‘just 10 more minutes’ and after about 5 minutes we arrived in Chiang Saen.
The town itself was pretty much non-existent, the view of Laos across the Mekong looked like it would have been really lovely on a clear day but was quite hazy when we saw it.
The main attraction was meant to be a lake (which we didn’t find) and lots of archaeological ruins and a few temples. The main temple turned out to be really cool, up there with one of the coolest we’ve seen in Asia; partly because it was surrounded by loads of trees filled with loud cicadas and partly because it was half ruins and half open air, giving it a really unique feel.
We spent some time sitting in the grounds just soaking up the awesome atmosphere and then decided to head off to see the other ruins, which were also quite nice. We found some trees covered with huge amazing flowers that smelled really nice too!
By the time we got back to Chiang Rai we were both orangey-brown, covered in dust, and still both thought we’d had a pretty good day out. We decided that was enough energetic sight seeing for this time, so decided to spend the rest of our days chilling in Chiang Rai before heading to NZ. Our photos of are here.
You may or may not recall, a couple of months back we went up a temple on a hill in Chiang Rai and far in the distance we could see another cool looking temple. We mentioned on this blog that we hoped to find it at some point in the future, so this time when we were in Chiang Rai Dre accepted the challenge of picking the right road to find this temple. And succeeded!
From the hill we first viewed it on, it looked almost like an Aztec structure but when we got up close it turned out to be a fairly new, very well maintained Chinese temple. We arrived with perfect timing – we got to see the sunset behind the temple and when we walked right up to the top inside the views from every side were amazing. Inside the smell was so good – all of the Buddha’s and other statues were carved from Sandalwood so the entire temple was filled with the awesome scent of the wood.
Thong came to meet us to take everything back to Luang Namtha for the shop, and so we took him to try his first ever pizza. He went into the kitchen and convinced the staff to let him try olives, capers, and anchovies for the first time also – they thought it was hilarious for a sheltered jungle boy from Laos to come to the big city in Chiang Rai and try so many ‘firsts’.
Now we are about to board a night bus for 15 hours to get to Vientiane – it’s much quicker to go this way than to travel down Laos and unfortunately we have to return to our least-favourite part of Laos to get our new visas. Our photos from Chiang Rai are here.
We were thinking of going to Myanmar for a couple of days for Karen’s birthday, but after all the work we both did in Luang Namtha neither of us could really be bothered. So we just spent a couple of days relaxing in Chiang Rai, riding around on a motorbike and visiting the White Temple again and also going to the Buddha cave, which we haven’t seen before.
Visiting the White Temple again was well worth it – last time the front section was still being completed and also the mindblowing artwork inside was less finished. There is still one entire wall inside to be completed – we can’t wait to visit again because it is the coolest artwork in the coolest building we have ever seen. We spent days across the road from the White Temple last time we were in Chiang Rai, but actually visiting again and going inside and walking around the grounds was way cooler than we thought it would be, just because it is such a unique and fabulous building.
Visiting the Buddha Cave involved lots of riding on country roads that we haven’t been on before, which was very beautiful. The cave itself was on the river’s edge, opposite Chiang Rai beach. It is a very serene location. We met a monk there who had lived at the temple for just a few months and was eager to practise his English. After talking to him for a while and seeing the cave we wandered around the grounds and then started being attacked by a swarm of mosquitos so high-tailed it back onto the roads.
Although we didn’t make it to Burma, it was a nice relaxing way to spend a couple of days and much needed after Luang Namtha and before the 3 day journey to NZ. Myanmar (Burma) will still be there when we get back :-). Our photos are here.
We arrived in Chiang Rai after swapping buses from Pai in Chiang Mai and headed straight to our favourite hotel. We laughed about how cool it is that we now have ‘regular’ hotels in Chiang Rai, Chiang Mai, KL, Lanta, Luang Prabang and Luang Namtha, and know our way well around these places. Kinda of a nice feeling to arrive and know exactly where we are and where to find everything we need in town! We were going to stay just 2 nights before heading to the border, but we enjoyed our chill time here so much that we stretched it out to the max of 4 nights, leaving it until the day our visa ran out to actually leave.
Pretty much the most exciting thing we did here was get haircuts! Dre is super excited because for the first time since he was 14, he got a ‘real’ haircut. And then subsequently posed for heaps of photos with his new do.
When we arrived here, we found out that a huge new mall has opened in Chiang Rai since last time we were here so we headed there to check it out. We found an amazing hairdresser who trained in Berlin, and won, yes WON the world championship for some hairdressing competition in Berlin before coming back to Chiang Rai and setting up shop. Lucky us! The new mall also has movie theatres! So after our almost-year-long movie drought, apart from KL, we now have a movie theatre in northern Thailand which shows one English movie a day. (one is better than none!)
Also the temple that they have been building the past few times we’ve been here was finished so we went to see that too. All in all a really nice catch up time before heading back to our Asian homeland, Luang Namtha :-)
After 33 hours in transit, (9 of which were on the most awesome bus so far – think air hostess with private screen and in-flight (ride?) movies) we made it to Chiang Mai where we spent a couple of days at our usual Chiang Mai bungalow to recover. We also spent an evening on the sunday walking street which still never fails to impress us with the awesome stuff you can get there.
Then we took the bus to Pai, a hippie mountain town that we’d heard a lot of people talking about since we’ve been in Asia. Chiang Mai to Pai is apparently something like 762 corners through the mountains and the drive was really beautiful.
On arrival our friend Luke from Koh Lanta met us at the bus station and took us to our little bungalow on the river and we then set about exploring the town and the abundance of awesome vegetarian restaurants there. We were really impressed by the selection and quality of western and thai food. We also spent some time riding around to see some cool views and temples, one of which had a huge 1.5m swarm of giant bees on the front.
Basically though, the town is filled with 18 year olds getting drunk and then crashing their scooters, every 4th person you meet has motorbike injuries and the bars pumping until 4am every day was not our idea of fun. (Being able to party when you want is fun but being forced to listen to loud music all night every night is not so cool.) In fact there were so many ‘alternative’ looking people in the town that we thought our photos would probably be far more entertaining if we took photos of every person we met in town… but we never got around to it.
We always have said that we never want to travel so much that a place doesn’t impress us, but also sometimes it’s hard not to compare. In a nutshell, the scenery at Luang Namtha is way more pristine and beautiful than Pai, there aren’t drunken idiots everywhere and the vibe in Pai just wasn’t for us. So although it was quite pretty and the drive to and from there was awesome, we left after the 3rd night to get some sleep! One cool bonus of leaving Pai when we did was that we got to experience our first bus breakdown. What was cool about it was that it broke down going past a huge national park where we got to hang out looking at the mountains and trees for an hour or so and saw heaps of different kinds of huge moths. It was so nice there that we considered getting our stuff and staying there a few nights, and if our Thai visa wasn’t about to run out in a few days we would have… at least now we’ve just found another awesome destination in Thailand that we can’t wait to visit properly next time. Our photos of Pai are here.
We arrived in Chiang Rai after a long haul – we arrived at the Sukhothai bus station at 8.30am only to be told that the 9am bus was already fully booked since the trains weren’t running. So we managed to get on a 9.30am bus to Lampang (the only city in Thailand that still used horse-drawn carriages) and then another bus to Chiang Rai and didn’t get here until about 6pm.
Since arriving in Chiang Rai we’ve done quite a few things; visited the largest waterfall in Chiang Rai, the White Temple – the inside is the coolest we have ever seen and Dre even asked the artist if he would paint one of our houses – the painting is so intricate and fantastic. It is a new temple that isn’t actually finished yet and so we weren’t really expecting too much, so it was nice to be blown away with it’s coolness.
Our first 2 nights we stayed in less-than-fantastic guesthouses, (a different one each night in an attempt to move to a nicer place) so we were really glad to move into the house with Ben and Christerine when they arrived here. The house is 12 kms out of town so we have a couple of motorbikes to get around. It is on quite a large piece of land, with it’s own pond and views of the mountains, it’s really beautiful and quiet.
We also decided to celebrate Guy Fawkes and bought heaps of fireworks and made a bonfire at the house. It was such a fun night which ended in us all releasing a huge lantern (which is part of the festival that is currently taking place in Thailand and Laos and everyone is releasing lanterns every day at the moment). It has taken us by surprise how freezing cold Chiang Rai is – our winter clothes have come out and the evenings are very chilly. It is the first time we’ve had blankets on the bed, and it’s 3 blankets, not one! It’s a welcome change from being hot all the time though and we’re quite enjoying it.
Our plans for the following couple of weeks have taken a slightly unexpected turn (again!) as we have to go to the Laos border to renew our visa’s today, and also we were going to spend the next couple of weeks staying in Chiang Rai town instead of the house because Christerine’s mum is coming to stay at the house… so this was fine and then everyone we met in Chiang Rai were on their way to Laos and we spent the week telling everyone how amazing northern Lao is… then it dawned on us – we could go back! Why not? We are going to be at the border anyway and all we have to do is cross the border and get the bus for 4 more hours to our beloved Luang Namtha. Ever since we left Luang Namtha and northern Laos we have been searching for the peace and beauty that we found there, and haven’t quite found it…so Laos take #3, here we come! Woohoo!!! Our photos are here.