102-105 Houei Xai – Chiang Khong – Chiang Rai – Chiang Mai

See trip index here, Northern Thailand index here and more photos from Northern Thailand here

We awoke our last morning in Laos with slight trepidation, as we loved our earlier time in Thailand and we didn’t know if we would think the same now we are a bit more experienced.  Leaving Houei Xai turned out to be quite simple, just go to the immigration hut and “check out” – the only problem is being forceful in your place in the queue…  Then a 10,000kip (80p) boat across the river to the Thailand immigration.  A simple case of filling in a form and handing it in with your passport and then getting it back, though you still need to be forceful to prevent local queue jumpers.  We already had a visa so we didn’t need to get a VOA.

From the immigration, a tuk-tuk is 30 bhat (60p) for 3km to Chiang Khong (as opposed to 80p for 1km in Laos).  We were going to get the bus direct to Chiang Rai, and the tuk tuk took us directly to the bus, showed us the conductor, and very quickly we got on and left 5 mins later with the conductor charging the correct amount.  So nice to be back to fair people and honest pricing, though we know it isn’t always that way in Thailand!

The 2 hour slow local bus was quite fun with interesting views, and on arrival in Chiang Ra it was a simple walk to our guesthouse which was perfect for a few days.  For a nice change we got some decent free town maps and a 2 hour walk that took in most of the sites, temples and the impressive clock tower which is golden but changes colour at night. 

On our walk we headed into the Hilltribe museum which is an informative place, and almost certainly worth a visit if you are considering visiting the ethnic tribes.  It did underline our views on visiting some villages, and also mentioned that the Long-neck Karen tribe are actually not indigenous to Thailand, but imported by a businessman ONLY for the viewing by tourists – so in effect it is a human Zoo!  Sadly, we then crossed a visit here off our list.

The evening market and night bazaar was also great – loads of nice and different food, and amazingly all priced even though the market was mainly locals.  Food seems to be a lot cheaper than Laos, but beer is a lot more.  Going to miss Laos beer!

 We decided to do a biking tour with 50km of cycling and a few miles walk which took in the White Temple (Wat Rong Khun) and another waterfall.  We were promised decent bikes, and indeed they were.  Trek brand and perfectly maintained making the 50km as easy as possible.  The tour was just the two of us (plus guide), and even so we had the support truck following just in case we ran out of steam – which we almost did as the last 4km or so was up hill. But we made it!

The White Temple really is a “wow” and a “must see” which incidentally was designed by the same artist as the colourful clock tower.  Yes, we’ve seen loads of temples, but this was hugely impressive despite being modern and not yet complete.  Our bike guide explained the meaning of various bits, but even without this the artistic elements are astounding.  Outside it is all white, with heaven and hell depicted, and inside (no photos allowed) is some amazing art work – and this is untypically modern.  For instance, the back wall shows events and things in the current time, so pictures of Angry Birds, Terminator and even George Bush and Bin Laden.  When it is all explained to you it tells a story, and with other bits pointed out it is most impressive and it must be unique in the world – no idea where else an Angry Bird is inside a religious building – especially as it was flying towards the twin towers…  More pictures are in our album (linked at start of post) – but none of the impressive interior that makes it worth a visit alone.

Finally, at the White Temple there is an exhibition of the artists impressive works.

The waterfall at the end of our trip was reasonably impressive, 70m drop, but we are now waterfalled out and have no intention of seeing any more waterfalls for the rest of the trip.

Chiang Rai did have a nice homely and comfortable feel about it, so we’re pleased we still like Thailand, and waved a fond goodbye as we headed on our 3 hours bus ride to the old walled city of Chaing Mai.  We arrived safely (though feeling a bit sick as the driver wasn’t the smoothest on the mountainous twisties) – and got to our guesthouse.  All the top recommended guesthouses were booked up well in advance so we had to resort to an OK one – still – glad we booked ahead as most seemed to have “full” signs up when we arrived – including ours….

See next installment here

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