I didn’t sleep much last night and woke up before the cock would crow this morning. We had a daytrip to Chiang Rai planned. Before 7:00 AM, we were downstairs ready to be picked up for the day.
The leaders in our tour group were Banana (our rather easygoing tour guide, aptly named cos in Thailand, people who like bananas like to take it easy) and (Captain) Jack Sparrow (our driver, who was also Derek’s driver on his tour a couple days ago). Including the two of us and our leaders, there fifteen people in the mini-bus, represented by Brazil, Romania, France, Germany, and Thailand (Bangkok).
After picking up all the tourists, we were off on the highway north to Chaing Rai, through some beautiful country. As is usually the case when I am not driving, I soon fell asleep.
In an hour, we soon arrived at our first destination – The Hot Springs. Two different spots had the hot steam from the geyser shooting up, filling the air with a pungent sulphur smell. Markets selling wares, trinkets, coffee and food surrounded the springs. We found several spots to stick our feet into the water collected from the springs underneath. There was an almost dreamlike quality watching the steam evaporate into the air against a short mountain (or perhaps a very large hill) below the blue grey sky. After twenty minutes or so, we were off and back on the road, as the woman selling me a small elephant statue quickly reduced her price from 500 baht to 200 as I walked away to our ride.
The sky was now bright blue; the clouds, though sparse, white and puffy. Of course, rich green trees dominated the landscape. Depending upon where we were, small, thatch roofed houses dotted the landscape or slightly larger houses with clay or metal rooftops were situated closer than each other. Mountains loomed in the distance, as Banana told his stories. And then I fell asleep.
We arrived at White Temple (Wat La Peung) by 11:00 AM. Walking onto its grounds immediately brought to mind (to me) in a much smaller scale what it may have been like for a foreigner coming to The White City in 1892 for the World’s Fair. The White Temple itself was brilliant, and obviously very white. Surrounded by coy ponds, statues and tight green grass, the White Temple was built by a wealthy entrepreneur to symbolize the battle between good and evil. Central to that battle for the forces of good was the Thai Buddha, his statue housed inside and a holy place. Also inside were paintings of pop stars (like Elvis and Michael Jackson), superheroes (Superman, Batman, Spider-Man), movie heroes & villains (the Terminator, the Predator, the Minions), etc. The struggle between Good vs Evil manifested itself in many forms and stories.
In a couple hours, we sat to eat at the Thailand/Myanmar/Laos border at a wonderful restaurant The Golden Iyara Resort, serving a buffet of food representing all three countries. In addition to the (self administered spicy) Thai herb soup (like we had prepared last night), I served myself Myanmar chicken (going in for seconds),married wontons, sweet & sour fish, atop Myanmar rice and white rice. The restaurant was open air with thick tree trunks supporting bamboo and metal ceilings. Our view was the Mekong River, the mountains and beautiful countryside.
After lunch, we boarded a longboat where the massive thirty-foot gold Buddha statue sat atop the pier. Soon we were off along the Mekong River, much more a dirty brown it was from our previous vantage point of the restaurant. We rode the waters thru the intersection where the three countries met. We stopped at a tiny port in Laos to let us into a market (not unlike the markets we’d become accustomed to since arriving in Thailand), 261 km away from China. Unfortunately, my passport would not be stamped accordingly. However, we did stop at the whiskey table where each bottle housed a different “item” – king cobra, small turtle & scorpion, tiger penis, and other things you’d find at the local grocery store. We opted for the shot of whiskey with the tiger penis. Smelled like Sex Panther. “60% of the time, it worked every time.” Quite frankly, it “smelled like pure gasoline.”
Our next stop took us to the Thailand/Myanmar border where once again, all sorts of shops were alive on the streets, even selling iPhone 6 (which have got to be a knock-off, but frankly am still not sure). An interesting point at the border – Thai’s drive on the left side of the street and the Burmese drive in the right, so at the border that difference is carefully reconciled, as well as a thirty minute time difference at the spot between the two countries.
We drove to a hilltop village to visit people who had only been minimally touched by time. For sustenance, they sold trinkets, scarves, ornaments, etc. off the paths from their straw-thatched roofed “houses”. It was the cute little kids who did the selling, with their mothers a safe distance behind. The girls were dressed in beautiful black dresses over black leggings, the stitching at the joints and ends of each in bright colouring. They wore ornate hats that draped their faces with strings like a necklace. Little boys played, while dogs laid on the mud floor looking in. Chicken were herded by the roosters, waiting their turn someday to be someone’s meal.
Further along and up the path was the longneck village where women were outfitted with circular gold bands around their necks to elongate it, essentially breaking it from their torso. I didn’t go.
By 5:45 PM, we were back on the road, a long day where we saw a lot. And I thought a lot. Everyone else in the van was asleep. A stark cry from yesterday, we got to know no one on the ride, though both Banana and Jack Sparrow were extremely affable.
It’s 9:30 PM now and I’ve decided to leave to walk the Sunday Night Market, with still a ton of people and a lot of vendors, but not as insane as Saturday night. By the time I get back to the hotel room, it’s 11:00 PM. It’s been a long day. Tomorrow we leave for Bangkok by train with the following day catching the flight home. It’s been a great ride so far… More to come…
Go Adventure. Go Travel. Go Live
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