Chiang Rai: a whirl of a ride

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After two nights of languishing in our elevated digs we were sad to check out. The huge bathtub was a popular item for my daughter, I think she took three bubble baths. Sometimes one just has to spend a little more to enjoy a bit of the good life. By 11:00 we said a sad farewell, grabbed a tuk tuk and headed for the bus station to purchase tickets to Chiang Rai. We were given the privilege of seats together – at the back of the bus. The trip took at least six hours despite having read, and been told, it would take four. Fortunately there was air conditioning and we did make some stops along the way. Some of view were quite stunning and sneak peeks of temples were always interesting. I could not help but wonder how many months would be needed to travel in northern Thailand to visit all the out of way temples as well as the better known, accessible ones.

Our hotel was not close to the old section despite their advertising. Little to choose from for meals, a small restaurant on the premises or Central Plaza – in all the major cities in Thailand, and always far from the centre. We had dinner at the hotel one night, Japanese another, and a later lunch at a nice place on the river the day before we left. Fortunately breakfast was included in our stay and there was enough of a selection to satisfy anyone. Except the coffee was dreadful. (I will write more about places I stayed at, and what I ate in one of my final blogs)

We booked a tour for the following morning to see as many of the sites as possible while not wearing ourselves out trying to do it all on our own. My daughter had already been to several of them on her previous visit – by morning she just wanted to lounge about in the bathtub (she lucked out as we had been upgraded) – so, with a refund that is what she did. I joined four others for a full day of exploring. Of course we visited the White Temple.

Wat Rong Kuhn is a work in progress, started by the well-known Thai artist Ajarn Chalermchai about twenty years ago, and”…maybe in 60 to 90 years after after [his] death will the project be completed.” (Publication of Wat Rong Kuhn) He has complete control of what will be depicted, takes no funds from government nor large donations that might cause unwanted influence. The entry fee is very low, 50 THB, which means everyone contributes. Nice concept. The booklet I did pick up, free, does say there is no fee, I think if someone said they cannot pay that is also fine as the artist clearly stated he wants everyone to be able to visit.

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From a distance the temple appears to be silver, closer inspection it is the most stunning white I have ever seen. Mirror tiles and silvered edgings create a grandeur beyond ancient temples. Everything is sparkling. The grounds are meticulously kept; even the washrooms are a wonder to behold for the cleanliness and rather overstated beauty.

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The main temple is entered from a rather frightening bridge that crosses over a representation of what I would call the River Styx, seems to be a thing for me, with upraised hands, arms, heads reaching towards visitors. Mere words cannot provide enough of the vision now yet alone what is planned. Even many of the fish in the pond at the temple are white. There was a quiet that seemed to be infused in every person that entered, even without notices to remain quiet and respectful. A sweeping sense of wonder seemed to strike many visitors that slowed them down, made people actually look at the murals, sculptures and architecture and think about what they were seeing. I would have loved to spend more time visiting.

I was not happy to visit the Karen village, refused to even go in so sat with some other people who had gone the day before and some tour guides, rather fun hour that mainly consisted of all of us wondering if we should open a small back pack that had been left behind. One guide played out what if it blew up. We offered to let him do the honours while we moved, he did and we did not move. Rather anti climatic, only some clothes.
Then another place I was not pleased to visit, this time it was a temple teeming with monkeys. I do not like monkeys.

Rather than stay where they, the monkeys, were hanging around I thought I would try the 290 stairs to the cave where there was a Buddha. We were warned about what to do if monkeys attacked although they generally did not go up the stairs – I was fine until about half way when I was suddenly alone and slightly out of breath. My brain was saying, what will you do if a monkey comes now? I certainly could not run up nor down. So I turned around and inched my way to the bottom. The other two in our group who went up said there had been no monkeys.

Black Temple. Another well know artist was invited to build this, he invited the artist of the White Temple to help with some of the planning. Definitely more of a northern Thai influence and I do wonder, as I have with other cultures, how so many similarities in some designs do not prove we are not all united. Totems are what draw my attention. The extremely long, dried snake skins laid out on a table, laden down with coins, as well as the gigantic crocodiles, certainly made my wonder if I could ever go trekking in Thailand. The artist was also a collector. There were gigantic to very small baskets, various types of dugouts, drums, furnishings, many skulls o some horned beast and so much more behind doors of smaller temples we could not enter.

 

The Golden Triangle, despite its extreme tourism, was a highlight for the vista. We were standing in Thailand looking out to Myanmar and Laos. China was just up the river. The Mekong River is an important shipping route, including the drug trafficking trade although there is apparently more cracking down on this unsavoury side of trade.
We were then brought to yet another temple (by this time I was neglecting to take photos of names of each Wat) where there were far too many people, I was beginning to be ‘templed out’ when we went a bit off the beaten track and came across a temple that is falling to ruins but still in use. The shape of an stone elephant carving can still be found, worn steps lead to nowhere and timelessness, with a bit of sorrow shrouding the space. A final stop at Wat Pa Sak, (the Teak Forest Monastery) built around 1300, another temple fallen into ruins, with very little left to see of what must have been quite grand if judged by how vast an area it covered. It is difficult to justify walking the grounds when they should be preserved. However, it is also what could help with the preservation – we were the only ones there and it seemed to not always be on the tour route. A wonderful way to see the walls of the original city also.

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We returned one and a half hours late, I was exhausted. Dinner was at a forgettable Japanese place at the mall. (My indifferent daughter had had reception call the tour guide to find out where we were – she claimed she was getting hungry) I believe she revelled in the tiled tub a couple of times while I was on the tour.

The next day we did venture to the old city and ate lunch at a rather nice place called Melt In Your Mouth, overlooking the river. A bit more on that when I talk about food.

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