Chiang Rai – Northern Thailand

.

Chiang Rai

Our last days of touring in northern Thailand took us to Chaing Rai and the famous (infamous?) Golden Triangle.

Chiang Rai is the northernmost large city (200,000) in Thailand. It was established as a ‘capital city’ in the reign of King Mangrai, back in 1262.  Legend has it that the King founded Chiang Rai because his elephant liked the place!   The seal of the province still sports an image of a white elephant, the Thai royal symbol.

.

 

Old stupa on the way to Golden Triangle

on the way to Golden Triangle we stop at an ancient “chedi” that sports a new top, the result of a recent earthquake in the region.

.

Children's Day in Thailand --we saw these Children events happening everywhere along the drive from Chiang Rai to Golden Triangle

Today was “Children’s Day” in Thailand –we saw many children events everywhere along the drive from Chiang Rai to the Golden Triangle.  This is a very important Holiday in Thailand!

.

Golden Triangle

It is a couple of hours drive from Chiang Rai to the Golden Triangle,  the geographic location where Thailand, Laos and Burma all meet at the junction of two rivers.  One can almost see the mountains of China in the distance.   Once a place of vast opium smuggling, now there are buildings devoted to a different drug: Gambling.  Several new casinos are in evidence up here – a large one in Laos, owned by the Chinese, and smaller ones over in Burma/Myanmar.   They bring in a great number of tourists (and $$$), both from SE Asian countries and from across the seas.  Interestingly, we found that the large casino complex across the Mekong River in Laos, the one owned/operated by the Chinese, has actually been granted a ‘Chinese Special Administrative District’ status, that allows it to operate under Chinese law, even though in Laos!!  Fascinating– and adds fuel to that theory that Laos is rapidly becoming a political province of China.

Here we visited the Hall of Opium Museum, a fascinating set of exhibits that chronicle the devastating impact this dangerous product has associated with its culture in the past few centuries.  The Queen of Thailand had it built about ten years ago to stand as a testament to the absolute horror of the drug/plants misuse.  Not for the fainthearted, the museum was created to help reduce the demands of drug abuse through knowledge and education.

The exhibition  conveys the history of opium, its trade across the globe, and provides a comprehensive background on opium, opiates, and other narcotics. It does a more than credible job of  presenting current issues regarding the efforts to control drugs and drug abuse, with the belief that education is a link that will help provide answers . . .

It is quite an education,  and school children from all over Thailand are brought here to learn about the dangers associated with the drug.

They don’t allow you cameras inside the museum, thus no pictures here.  But truth-be-told, after spending several hours viewing all the graphics and reading all the material, you wouldn’t want to look at any images . . .    We both will never forget much of what we have seen here.  It was haunting.

.

Golden Triangle -- Burma, Laos, and Thailand

Infamous Golden TriangleBurma, Laos, and Thailand  (red roof on the left in distance is new casino in Burma)  (big complex on the right across the Mekong R. is new Chinese casino in Laos.   Thailand is at the bottom of the picture.

.

Golden Triangle

“sun and fun” in the Golden Triangle

.

Chinese Casino in Laos

Chinese Casino  on the banks of the Mekong R. in Laos

.

Bandaam Museum   ‘the Black House’

Our guide really wanted us to see these next two creations.

The black temple is on the private property of a Thai artist, Thawan Duchanee, located just to the north of Chiang Rai. It consists of nearly 40 small black houses made of wood, glass, concrete, bricks, or terracotta in very unique styles and design.  The cluster of buildings house Thawan’s eclectic collection of paintings, sculptures, animal bones, skins, horns, and silver and gold items from around the world. Several of the houses exhibit Balinese and Burmese architecture and art dating back to the Ayutthaya Period. The artist seems to love the remains of large animals and uses their bones as a source of inspiration for his art.

He has developed this unique assemblage of buildings and art forms over a number of decades, and invites the public to view it free (although it isn’t easy to find).  He has made his personal fortune on the sale of his artwork: oil paintings sculptures, carvings, woodworks, etc.  It is truly an amazing place, and a feast for the eyes, just considering the scope and sheer number of structures and what’s in them, their size, along with all the unique carvings and historical artifacts on display over.  There are 40 different galleries inside these buildings,  spread out amongst a peaceful set of gardens.  Inside each building is a unique display of his art – sculptures, woodcarvings, and furniture created by him, along side things he has collected in his journeys around the world.  This has been his life’s vision,  and is an ongoing project.  One could spend several days taking in all the details around this property.   It was unlike anything else we have ever seen.

.

Black House

the large Black House at the entrance to the property.

.

xx

the hand-carved wood detailing is most impressive.

.

Amazing large buildings, furniture

Amazing large buildings and furniture.  The size of his doors alone is impressive.

.

Chair

Chair and table for giants — could easily seat 100 folk around this table

.

chair

and get a load of this chair — doesn’t look very comfortable

.

detail

exquisite wood detail and joinery

.

another craving

another intricate carved panel

.

Such detail

…and another…  these are all Siamese icons

.

smaller building

smaller structure

.

Another large door

Did we mention he was infatuated by LARGE doors?

.

inside

inside a different structure: a large meeting room

.

Some of his collections

This building housed a bit of his international collections

.

.

Wat at Rong Khun – the White Temple

Another well-known Thai artist, Ajarn Chalermchai Kositpipat, has created an amazing “White Temple”, also in Chaing Rai.  Some have called the Bandaam Complex a vision of hell. (just cause its all black?).   Then the White Temple could be called an artist’s  vision of heaven.  It is located south of Chiang Rai.

The artist began this project in 1997.  His life vision is to build the most beautiful temple in the world(!) and show the glory of modern Thai-Buddhist arts while honoring his country and his religion.  He has 80 devout followers who volunteer their time to making his vision translate into a world wonder.  He anticipates it will take 60-90 years to complete what he now has in his head, and is training others to carry on the work after he is gone.

There are many buildings now completed, with many planned. The white buildings are, by design, a representation of heaven on earth.   The main temple symbolizes a passage through “hell” and the struggle between the Lord Buddha and the demon.  It represents the final conflict before Buddha ‘obtained enlightenment’.  There is a painting of the demon on one wall, with George Bush and Bin Laden painted in each eye.  THAT will jar you!  Ajarn claims his purpose in doing so was to let everyone know “that our world is being destroyed by those who crave to build weapons that kill, thereby ruining the environment because nothing is ever enough.”  His painting, completed at the time these particular events were in the world’s eye, was to caution George Bush and Bin Laden so that “they could instead look toward a peaceful and happy world”.  He also painted Superman and Ultraman in one of these scenes, “to let people know that there are no heroes in our world”  that would arrive to help “the havoc of the Twin Towers”.  

Work on the temple continues, and it is anticipated that it won’t be finished for  the next few decades.  In all, the structures look fairy-like, with white frosting on top.

.

A fairy temple

A fairy temple

.

The path to the temple

The path to the main temple

.

One of many projects

One of many projects

.

Workmen craving decorations and then others glue mirror pieces on

Workmen craving decorations which others will then glue various pieces of mirror on.    The artist was present while i was there: a very exuberant man, barking intricate instructions to his devotee/workers!

.

.

Alas,

. . . we are now headed home, a little earlier than planned. Three weeks earlier than our schedule directed, to be exact.  Gary has contracted a rather nasty infection that became evident as we returned from our excursion to the Golden Triangle.  By the time we got back to Chaing Rai late that afternoon, it necessitated a trip to the emergency room at Overland Park Hospital, where it was correctly diagnosed, and he was sent back to our hotel with armloads of prescriptions and suggestions to NOT get back in a car or airplane for a number of days!  For him, this was a very tough call; it meant canceling out of our trip to Burma, which was perhaps the highest on his agenda.

But we have already determined to go back there!  Maybe NEXT winter!  and see more of the special places we  sampled on this journey.

We did get to four of the five countries we had set out to visit.   Our ten weeks traveling on the S.E.Asian Road was truly a ‘trip-of-a-lifetime’.  It was all we expected and much more.  

Thanks for traveling along with us.

We’ll keep you posted on the time-table for the next one!

.

.

.

.

Posted in Northern Thailand | Leave a comment

Mae Hong Son to Pai to Chiang Rai

On the road from Mae Hong Son to Pai

The      traditional dress.  Going over the mountain road from Mae Hong Son to Pai

Members of the Lisu Tribe at the summit on route 1085,  from Mae Hong Son to Pai

.

.

View from the road

the mountains of NW Thailand on the way to the town of Pai

.

.

Views from loop road

Views from the Pai-Mae Hong Son-Chaing Mai loop road

.

.

Tham Pla (fish cave),  Phaseau National Park

Blind Carp -- live mostly in a cave

Tham Pla (fish cave) at Phaseau National Park with blind Plapung fish, who mostly live in the underground caves that supply this stream.

.

This little guy was having a blast feeding the fish

This little guy was having a blast feeding the fish.

.

“THAM LOD”  (Lod Cave)

We took a short 10 km detour off the main road, near Pang Mapha, to visit a well-known cave in this part of Thailand: the Tham Lod.  The Nam Lang River Runs clear through this mountain.  As this part of thailand is rife with Karst topography, there are a lot of unusual caverns to be explored.  The length of the Tham Lot is about 1666 meters; not long, but with wonderful rooms inside.  The cave is also home to large numbers of bats and swifts. There were hundreds of fish in the river’s water and it was very shallow.  We took along some fish-food.

We walked down the ½ mile path to where the Nam Lang River flows into the mouth of the Tham Lod.  Guides take both native and foreign visitors alike on narrow rafts made of bamboo and illuminated only by small lanterns, into the five-story opening of this lofty cavern.  In fact you MUST hire a local tribal guide with a lantern to take you through the cave. 

The interior of Tham Lod was over 100 feet wide in some places, its ceiling covered in long stalactites mottled by the reflections of the water below.  In the middle of the cave, we pulled up to a gravelly beach and set off on foot.  We walked up the slippery path (by the  light of the gas lantern—not very good for walking behind, and definitely not good for the health of the formations!) to view geologic formations sprouting from the floor and ceiling, and forming majestic flowstone columns where stalactites and stalagmites have grown together. Delighted the cockles of Gary’s heart, the ole’ geomorphologist!

After getting back on the raft, we made one another stop that was habituated by bats in the day, and swifts at night.  We climbed up very steep wood stairs to view ancient log coffins; carved teakwood coffins which are thought to have been carved by the Lawa tribes people a thousand or so years ago.  These type of coffins have been found elsewhere in Thailand, but usually only a dozen or so in a single cave, leading archeologists to believe that it was only the upper echelon of their culture who were buried there.  

Rafts to travel in the cave

Rafts to travel into the Nam Lod cave

.

inside

Just beyond the entrance of the cave.

.

Crap in cave

Lots of blind fish in the cave.  We caused a feeding-frenzy when we threw some fish-food over the side.

.

Grave landing where we walked up to view the

Gravel landing area where we got to explore the many rooms filled with stalagmites and stalactites

.

Beginning of the stalagmites

The beginning of new stalagmites: just a few more 100,000 years!

.

larger

larger stalagmites forming

.

Even larger

Even larger stalagmite — pretty impressive size

.

Our lantern guide for the cave

Our lantern guide for the cave – didn’t need flashlights,  although the fumes are not good for the cave formations.  You could see soot and oil everywhere.

.

Other visitors on a raft

Other visitors on their way inside.

.

Amazing cave

Amazing cave.  This was looking back at the entrance.

.

View to get out

View of cave’s exit

.

xxx

Exit of cave for us , but the entrance to thousands of bats and swifts.

.

1,000 to 1,500 year old wood coffins

1,000 to 1,500 year old teakwood coffins.  People place coins to assist “the spirits of those departed”.

.

xxx

Washing my hands after climbing the steep stairs in the bat cave!

.

She was curious about our age -- said we were "Strong"

Our intrepid  guide through Tham Lod.  She was curious about our age — said we were “Very Strong” — I guess cause we could climb all the stairs in the cave and keep up with her ?

.

.

Pai

Pai, a small town in northern Thailand’s Mae Hong Son Province near the Myanmar border. It is predominantly tourism-oriented and supports a large a vibrant backpacker scene.  The resident/tourist mix here is that of Western hippies, Thai rastas, and even Muslims ( there is a large Mosque in the center of town).   After settling into our hotel (a couple of miles out of town), we went into Pai for dinner and a walked around the town’s night market.  It was a different atmosphere than other night markets, although similar tourist items for sale.  We did find a very western bakery and coffee shop and we had a piece of “ribbon cake” and “chocolate tort” with a great cappuccino! What an unexpected treat.  We didn’t feel like we were in SE Asia at all.

.

Evening Pia river scene in town

Evening river scene inPai

.

Early a.m. I  went to the produce market with our guide to buy food for the monks for early morning alms.  This was different from the one I experienced in Luang Prabang, as monks came by individually, and would offer a blessing to each person who gave them some food.  The alms here were more than just sticky rice –it  included normal breakfast from the market and some locals also gave them money.

.

Morning alms

Morning alms

.

.

Black LaHu Village

Later that day we travelled up the side of a hill to visit another tribe we had not seen before: that of the Black LaHu.   Their traditional dress is black and white, although like other villages, they wear a lot of western clothes since cheap goods from China are easy to get ahold of.  It was evident that this was a much poorer village than any other we had been in, and we also understand it was one that  tourists don’t visit.

Our guide was familiar with them and we stopped at a market in town to buy cookies, thread and needles to give them.  This was not the village on the Kok River that we were scheduled to stop at which in fact does see a lot of tourists.  We were grateful to have this opportunity to interact.

The women villagers came out quickly to get the thread and needles and we were saddened  when we ran out of thread to give everyone.  The cookies were a big hit with both the children and women.  Since they are primarily a village of farmers, the men were out in the fields down the valley at this time.  They had clean fresh water and a great working rice separator that was used by all the farmers to shell their harvest.   We visited the school grounds and chatted with the teacher, who is Thai, and we gave her the rest of the cookies to give out later.  Only really young, non-school age children were in evidence in the village while we were there.  There was a big Buddhist celebration down in the valley, and the kids were working with that village’s kids to get ready for the festivities.  The interesting thing for us?  The Black LaHu people are animist!  But they all get along and help each other out in a myriad of ways . . .

.

The village

The Black LaHu village

.

Women on their way to another village

Women on their way to another village.

.

Anxious to get the needle and thread

Anxious to get the needle and thread gifts, even right out from under the water pipe shower!

.

lunch time

lunch time — She also has dyed grass that they make bracelets out of.  (I bought a number of these)

.

faces

Years of beetle-nut crewing.  The betel nut is actually a nut from the areca palm tree.  When chewed with the leaves, it provides a mild stimulus that causes a warming sensation in the body.  It is addictive and does cause cancer.  But is an OLD habit throughout S.E.Asia.

.

xxx

Many women did the weaving as they walked and talked

.

cc

More beetle nut evidence.  It’s mixed with tobacco leaves when chewed sometimes.  Makes it more additive though.

.

xxx

Wished we knew more about these people.

.

Loved his cookie

Loved his cookies

.

Just heard there were foreigners with cookies

Just heard there were foreigners with cookies!

.

Main path through village

Main path paved through village. Thai govt paved this, though the improved water supply and other improvements were provided by NGO’s from overseas.

.

.

Long Tailed Boat Trip on the Nam Kok River   (from Thaton to Chiang Rai)

Now it was time to sit back and take in the scenery in a more relaxing position!  We were treated to a lengthy “long-tailed boat” ride from Tha Ton to Chaing Rai on a splendid river, with clear blue skies and a fresh breeze.  It was a beautiful ride.

We were late getting to our embarkation point, ’cause as usual, we always seem to be behind schedule: there is SO MUCH to see and do here, its hard to keep up!  We made a few more stops  on the way, so it would be early evening when we finally arrived in Chiang Rai.  Being the dry season the water was low and the boat driver had to be careful to pick the channels that were deep enough for the boat.   We enjoyed the scenes along the way of rice fields, banana fields, pineapple fields, sugar cane.  To our surprise, many of these fields had automatic sprinkling systems for irrigation.

We had just enough time and light left to make one more stop, at a hot spring along the river, which seemed so out of place with all the banana trees around it.

.

Catching our long tail boat

Catching our long-tail boat

.

The hot springs

The hot springs at Lam Nam Kok National Park

.

on the way to Chiang Rai

on the way to Chiang Rai, guess what, another buddhist temple!

.

Just before pulling into Chiang Rai

WOW!  Sunset just as we were pulling into Chiang Rai

.

.

Posted in Northern Thailand | 2 Comments