Thailand – Chang Rai

We fully embraced an app called ‘Klook’ on our travels. It’s an easy way to book discounted tickets for attractions and tours in Asia. We used it to book a tour to the golden triangle, where three countries are divided by the joining of two rivers.

We were the only ones on the tour so we had a whole mini bus to ourselves. It felt a little overkill but also a little exclusive and we didn’t pay anymore than if the bus had been full.

The first stop, on quite a comprehensive trip, was a rest break. It took over two hours to reach our first destination, a pit stop wasn’t necessary but it was clearly a small tourist trap where all guides stopped.

The rest area is built around a natural hot spring. The water in the stone pool bubbles and splatters like a pan that’s boiling over. There is a noticeable odour of sulphur attached, as you might expect. It’s so hot you can purchase little baskets of eggs to hang from a stick to cook.

After some more driving we arrived at The White Temple. It’s privately owned and the product of an artist. It’s quite simply breathtaking and a popular tourist attraction. The whole thing is a mix of religious/philosophical ideas mixed with contemporary pop culture ‘heroes’.

We began by walking through hell, represented by cement sculptures of twisted faces and a pit of open hands. they reach up from below as if calling out for salvation. We then ascended via a bridge into heaven. The White Temple is beautifully painted and inside, where photography is strictly prohibited, we were treated to depictions of people sitting amongst clouds on the walls to each side. Pop culture imsges adorn the eentrance wall. These ‘heroes’ include, but are not limited to: Neo, Predator, Harry Potter, Superman, Naruto, Micheal Jackson, Terminator and several Pokemon. The longer you look, the more you spot. I loved it but then I watch too many films and cartoons. There was very little I didn’t recognise. The far wall was reserved for the more serious business of praying. A statue of Buddha sits with a lifelike visage of a monk, cross legged in front. I had to look twice to be sure it wasn’t a genuine person.

We exited by the back door to find more ornate buildings and bridges in the same style. The place is not finished and is not scheduled to be so for another 70 years. There are donation boxes, each labelled with a different project, that is either in, or proposed for construction.

There are other things for tourists to do here. You can stand on your zodiac animal and throw coins into the wishing well or buy a metal leaf to write your name on that later becomes part of the roof. Don’t forget to get your free postcard, and stamp it before you leave.

There are decorative public toilets to use. They call them ‘the golden toilets’ but sadly, the toilets and urinals inside are normal white porcelain, it’s the walls and doors that are painted gold. They were exceptionally clean and well maintained which is always refreshing. We stopped for a quick photo with Deadpool’s severed head, which hangs from a tree, before leaving for our next destination.

Our next stop left us feeling a little awkward. A local village of the Karen tribe where the women sat with looms making souvenirs and clothes for tourists. It was awkward for us as the women of this tribe wear metal bands around their necks that are worn from an early age and regularly added to. This results in abnormally long necks. Or guide informed us that they do it for protection from both wild animals and bad spirits. The rings give the impression that the neck has been elongated but they showed us an x ray style drawing that depicts the collar bones and ribs slanting downwards in an unnatural fashion. We felt bad taking photos. It’s simply their culture to do this but it felt like we were invading or treating them like a Victorian circus side show. The Chinese tourists had no qualms however and were crowding around the women for selfies and even donned a fake set of neck rings too. Hopefully they bought lots of souvenirs.

The last destination of the day is the golden triangle. A section of the Mekong river where Thailand, Laos and Myanmar all meet. We took a boat along the river to visit an island on the Laos side. You don’t need to clear customs as you leave your passports on the Thai side. On the island we got half an hour to sample some tastes of Laos. They had beer, cigarettes and whiskey (with poppies inside) plus stalls with souvenirs and clothes and lots of fake goods.

Once back in Thailand we headed to the most northern point of the country where the border crossing into Myanmar is situated. The bridge between the two countries is busy with commuting traders. There is a queue of vehicles and plenty of people crossing on foot. We went alongside the immigration building to see the river that divides the two countries. It was so shallow we could cross without getting our shorts wet. Just two guys in army uniforms were visibly guarding it. I had no doubt they were capable of stopping anyone foolish enough to try bypassing the border and had plenty of backup to hand should they need it.

We retired to a pleasant hotel for the night. Including as part of the tour. We got a good night’s sleep and a buffet breakfast in the morning.

First port of call today is the Blue Temple. An beautiful building painted blue and gold. It is surrounded by glass balls of varying size, housed in small wooden pagodas. They reflect parts of the external gold leaf adding new dimensions and photo opportunities.

Inside more gold leaf decorates hand carved doors and walls, leading you to a white Buddha. It’s a stark contrast to the blue and gold pillars that frame it. Outside there are several water features of a similar design that we photo before leaving.

The next visit is the Black House. A large installation by renowned artist, Thawan Duchanee . It consists of many black painted buildings filled with art works and curiosities. There is a large amount of animal skins, notably bears and crocodiles, mixed with skulls and horns from other beasts, laid out on beautiful wooden tables and crafted into the very chairs themselves.

It is also clear the artist had a prediliction for genitals. Large fallouses adorn many of the works and even the toilet sign was a 3D relief of an erect member and a swollen vulva.

On a side note, we befriended a tiny kitten, seemingly searching for either food or it’s mummy cat, probably both.

Next up was specifically for H. She has insisted on this trip that we redress the balance between coffee and tea plantations that has been heavily in favour of coffee until now. I don’t mind, I quite enjoy tea.

The view over the valley is beautiful and the area is peaceful and pleasant to smell.

We tried many teas. As always, each was given as a try before you buy sales pitch. We were not pressured to buy anything, but we did. Selecting some remarkably cheap Jasmine tea and some even more remarkably cheap, tea candies. What we thought was a good price for one bag actually bought us three. So good too.

That concluded the trip aside from the lengthy drive home and a stop off for dinner. Once back in Chiang Mai H gave the driver and our tour guide a good tip. This put me in a sulk. Not that they didn’t deserve it but it consisted of the majority of small notes that I had been strategically amassing. The ATM’s here only give you 1000 baht notes and they can be difficult to break. Good old 7 Eleven came through for us and we bought about 50 baht worth of goods and changed up a 1000 note putting us back in the black, so to speak.

It was also the 5th of November and the one year anniversary of the ATV accident in which I fractured two of my vertebrae. A painful memory, but an important one that we spent at an elephant sanctuary.

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