After a few days in Chiang Mai and a couple of activity filled excursions around the area (Elephant Nature Park and Thai Farm Cookery School) we made our way to the bus station to get the coach to our next destination: Chiang Rai. By now we really have got used to Chiang Mai – it seems that on our travels so far we always stay for long enough to learn our way through a town or city and navigate quite easily, but just as it gets easy and effortless it is time to move on… It would be nice to be able to stay in one place for longer than a week, I wonder when that time will come for us on our travels. For now there is too many places to go to, too much to see, no time to stop.
We decided to put Chiang Rai on our itinerary as it is the last big city in Northern Thailand before reaching the Thai-Lao border. Originally we thought that if we didn’t have time to visit a hill tribe from Chiang Mai then we would still have the opportunity in Chiang Rai. However while researching the different tours in Chiang Mai we decided that visiting a hill tribe may not be for us. I know that this is on most backpackers’ list if things to see, but I personally got slightly put off by the commercialisation of the experience. It all seemed too touristy, not at all authentic and I didn’t like the idea of going into a village with the sole purpose of gawking at people and taking their picture, etc. something about that doesn’t feel right to me. I might be a little too idealistic and have too romanticised view of the world, but if I see a hill tribe I want to see one because we happened upon them and not because we paid to be taken there as part of a tourist group. This might give them an income, etc. as tourist tend to buy their handicrafts, but in my eye this also destroys their way of life. So for now we were happy with the decision we made of not seeing these tribes. If you have visited these tribes, do share your experience, I’d love to know what you thought, maybe I got it completely wrong.
To get to Chiang Rai from Chiang Mai we decided to get on a so called Green VIP bus.
Luckily for a small commission the tickets could be bought in a ticket office in the old town of Chiang Mai, otherwise the bus station is quite a way out if the old city. In total it cost us 600 Bahts (£12.50) for the two of us for the 3 hours bus journey. The next day we arrived at the bus station, found our bus, got on, took the seats allocated to us on the tickets, rejoiced at the large size of the seats, were handed snacks and drinks and were thankful for getting on the VIP bus rather than just a normal bus.
That was until the bus pulled out of the bus station and the steward decided to switch the overhead televisions on and play ‘Guardians of the Galaxy’ dubbed in Thai and blaring at about 2million decibels…! The sound was so ridiculously loud for about 2 hours out of the 3 hour journey that I could still hear the movie through my earphones in my ear on top volume! Conversation was out of the question, so was snoozing. None of our fellow passengers said a word about the loudness though and we couldn’t decide if it was blaring just above our heads and wasn’t bothering anyone else, so we just put up with it as part of the experience. The ride was quite nice though along roads curving round hills for most of the way.
A lot of the landscape was charred from the slash and burn farming, ie. the ground having been cleared by burning and the air was hazy with the remnant if smoke, but this is something we had got used to in this part of Thailand.
As the bus approached Chiang Rai centre we had a moment of doubt about the place as it didn’t look very promising… Should we have stayed in Chiang Mai as that is such a lovely town and skip Chiang Rai altogether? It was too late to have doubts about that now – so we made our way with some trepidation from the bus station to our guesthouse.
Luckily that evening we ventured out into town and found it to be perfectly pleasant. We had our favourite dinner by the roadside: cheap and delicious pad thai! I also had a taste of a weird orange concoction that was thick with sweetener, and turned out to be cold thick milky tea… Not my favourite… We sat by Chiang Rai town’s biggest landmark: an ornate golden clock-tower which entertained us on the hour with a light show 🙂
After dinner we discovered the local Walking Market, where we found the handy craft to be much influenced by Burmese traditions as the town is so close to the border of Myanmar and was actually part of then Burma for several hundreds of years. It only officially became a part of Thailand in 1933.
We sat down for drinks and was entertained by traditional dance and music. By the end of the day we were quite happy to be in Chiang Rai and looked forward to what excitements the following day would bring!