We had cancelled our reservation for eight nights in Ngapali, an up-market beach resort in Rakkine State, Myanmar (Burma) because of the troubles and on the advice of the UK Foreign Office. Instead we spent a week in Bangkok, Thailand. We stayed in a comfortable furnished apartment close to the sky-train. We were familiar with Bangkok and did not do too much site-seeing. We took advantage of the sales in the major stores and found some great bargains. It was a lovely week just chilling out and regaining energy, also enjoying Bangkok, its many restaurants and shops. After Bangkok, we returned to Chiang Mai in Northern Thailand. We had planned to base ourselves in Chiang Mai and to do an extended tour of Northern Thailand with Ben, our driver whom we had used on our previous trip to Chiang Mai. The trip included:
Apart from seeing some spectacular countryside and mountain views, we very much enjoyed our overnight stops. Ben was from Northern Thailand, close to the Lao border and seemed to know every inch of the road. The journey seemed shorter with frequent stops at points of interest en route. The first day we stopped at the famous Wat Thayong monastery and the Thanathon Orange Orchard. One farming village that we visited particularly intrigued us, with luxury houses and cars but nobody about and little sign of industry – in this part of the world, we speculated as to the source of their wealth.
Doi Angkhang where we had our first night’s stop is high up in the mountains (1700m), overlooking the border with Myanmar (Burma) [open link for photos]. We visited the Royal Agricultural Station which was interesting and later visited the fortified border post with Myanmar, which had clearly been closed for many decades; however, the many bunkers were still there and fully maintained. After we checked in to our hotel, we walked around the village which was a bit commercialized and then wandered back to our hotel. Overnight it was bitterly cold, with temperatures dropping to 10 degrees Celsius (we were used to temperatures in their mid-thirties Celsius). We were amused at the Thai guests in our hotel photographing each other in their padded coats, clearly a novelty for them. That evening, over dinner, we exchanged travel stories with a nice couple from Chicago.
Our second night we stopped at Mae Salong, a small village high up in the mountains [open link for photos]. We rented a room in a very comfortable guest house and the owners were charming. Earlier we had climbed more than seven hundred steps to see a temple, and walked to two local farming villages populated by the Li Su people who worshiped the spirits. They were very friendly and welcomed us to their picturesque villages, especially the children, who love to say “hello” over and over again. We had dinner in a local, authentic restaurant that was pleasant and very Thai.
The third day, we descended from the high country and headed for the famous Golden Triangle, on the Mekong River, where the borders of four countries meet, including Thailand, Myanmar (Burma), Laos and China. The Golden Triangle historically is important as a global source of drugs. We spent half the morning in the excellent Hall of Opium Museum that was really interesting and was initiated and initially financed by the King of Thailand’s late mother. The idea of the museum was to influence the public to the dangers involved in drug taking. The museum provided a comprehensive and a very insightful history, plus many individual case histories which were quite tragic – families visiting Thailand on holiday should bring their children to this museum, in our view. Later we had lunch in a restaurant overlooking the Mekong River; the view was wonderful but the food was terrible, well you can’t have everything! We took a boat across the Mekong and visited Donsao, Laos, mainly a market for tourists but very cheap prices. Later the boat took us up the Mekong to the centre of the Golden Triangle, where we could see three countries, with China a few miles away. Returning to the Thai side of the Mekong, we walked along its banks, with many other tourists but it was quite lovely.
The third night we spent in the important city of Chiang Rai [open link for photos] . We had a comfortable hotel that had a number of large groups of tourists but we were a short walk from the famous night market which we explored that evening. We also visited the white temple (open link for photos). This was very unusual, in its modern style, with pictures of Batman and other weird and wonderful things hanging off of the walls. Its exterior was covered in crystals so with the sun bouncing off it was a mass of twinkles. Also it was nice to have the comforts of Chiang Rai after two nights in small villages.
TO BE CONTINUED