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Looking Back at Chiang Rai, July 2003

Exactly three years and four months ago, I went on a trip to visit a friend who lived in a hilltribe village in Wawi Valley, Chiang Rai province. I (of course) took a lot of pictures of the trip, but I posted them to a different website than this one. Today I started combining the two sites by adding these pictures from Chiang Rai here.

On the other website, I wrote a fitting introduction: "The following pictures were taken on a long weekend trip to Chiang Rai provence in northern Thailand, July 11-14, 2003. The goal of the trip was to enjoy the beauty of the mountains, explore hilltribe villages, and visit my friend No. Judging by these pictures I think I accomplished my mission."

The pictures are best seen in the July 2003 Photo Album. If you are interested in reading my posts from that trip, they can be found at:

* VIP Bus to Chiang Rai (July 11, 2003)

* Exploring Rice Fields (July 11, 2003)

* Mountain Hike Through Hilltribe Villages (July 12, 2003)

* Cold and Wet: Khon Korn Waterfall (July 13, 2003)

This short trip was one of my most memorable journeys in Asia, and I definitely had a lot of fun today reliving those memories. It sounded like it was my first real up-close-and-personal experience with rice fields and buffalos. And it sounded like I slept and ate a lot. What a great trip!

And by the way, my friend No is still doing fine as well. He is working in a restaurant in one of Bangkok's fanciest hotels, so he is doing quite well for himself.

Back from Chiang Rai

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I arrived back in Bangkok safely last night after a wonderful weekend in Chiang Rai. I think that Chiang Rai is my favorite province in Thailand. I love the mountains and the waterfalls and the rice fields. Very beautiful.

I didn't take many pictures, but I think a few of them turned out pretty well. I will try to post them here later this week.

My back and shoulders are a bit sore, thanks to our 200 kilometer motorcycle ride today. But boy, was it fun!

We started off by visiting Khon Korn Waterfall near the city of Chiang Rai. The clouds were threatening rain, but we luckily made it to the waterfall's parking lot without getting wet. But abut 300 meters into the 1 kilometer hike to the falls, it started to rain. I ran back to the motorcycle to drop off my camera, and it is a good thing that I did.

It rained lightly all the way to the falls but once we got there, the real soaking began. The falls are quite tall (claimed to be the tallest in Chiang Rai) and pour into a very narrow gorge, which means that in order to see the falls, you have to stand directly in the spray. By the time we made it down to the river in front of the falls we were quite wet and quite cold so when the skies opened up with a drenching rain, we didn't mind at all.

The walk back to the motorcycle was otherworldly. The sky was dark. Tall thin bright green bamboo stalks shot up on our right side. To our left, the rushing red clay colored river tumbled over black rocks. We could hear the rain hitting the top branches of the trees above our head and could hear it splashing in the puddles at our feet and feel it falling like icy cold barbs on our head and shoulders.

When the rain finally stopped, we hopped back on the motorcycle for a very cold ride to the town of Wiang Pa Pao to visit some friends of No. We met them at the local school where they were playing volleyball. We joined, making two sports in two days that I haven't played in years.

I can't believe how perfect this vacation has been so far. I slept 12 hours last night and woke up feeling better than I have in weeks.

After breakfast, No and I drove the motorcycle to a nearby village. From here we hiked along a very muddy trail (it has been raining a lot lately) up into the mountains where we visited a very tall waterfall and two separate Akha villages.

The scenery was breathtaking. I am amazed at all the different shades of green we saw. Along the way we saw fields with corn, orchards of lychee trees, lots of birds and chickens, bamboo forests, and of course the ever present rice fields, many of which were being planted as we passed.

On the way home we stopped by the village school to play basketball with the school kids who were there. Now I have never been any good at basketball and have therefore always avoided it. But I found out tonight that when the competition is 4-foot tall kids, I have a chance!

Exploring Rice Fields

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Today has been as close to perfect as can be. "No" eventually picked me up at the bus stop and drove me 15 kilometers into the mountains to his Karen hilltribe village. His sister and her Swiss husband own a guesthouse here. It's a classic bungalow-style guesthouse with amazing views of the bamboo forest mountains and the narrow rice paddy valleys.

After eating (and discovering that No is a great cook), showering, sleeping and then eating again, No and I walked through his village of Ban Thung Phrao. The village is segregated into three separate areas -- one for each of the Karen, Akha, and Lahu tribes who live there. He pointed out each to me with hints of differences in the peoples' dress and in their homes.

It's planting season now, so as we walked through the terraced fields, we watched villagers in the ankle-deep water planting the young rice seedlings. The terraces run the spectrum now: from dry and unplowed, dry and plowed, full of water, and planted. I have seem many rice fields from the road, but to actually walk through the fields was a new experience for me. We walked single-file on the narrow edge of the terraces, looking into the standing water for bu na and kai gop (field crabs and frog eggs). I even petted a grazing water buffalo for the first time.

After our hike, we needed to get some food to cook for dinner, so we got back on the motorbike and headed through the village and onto the curvy, narrow but paved valley road. We passed through many hilltribe villages: Akha, Lahu, Lisu, and Karen. No would point them out to me as we passed. I tried to learn the subtle differences, but I think I will need more practice to develop that skill.

Now that we are back home, that only means one thing: more food! So I sit here in the open air restaurant of the guesthouse, looking out over the valley as the sun set behind me, drinking a Singha beer, listening to music by the "Buena Vista Social Club" (ok, so it's not Thai, but it fits in with the jungle atmosphere) and eagerly awaiting the dinner that I can smell cooking in the kitchen.

VIP Bus to Chiang Rai

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(Note: On my first trip to Asia two years ago, I took a hardback journal with me to jot down my thoughts. This time around, I have been writing my thoughts on the net, so there is no need for the journal. But this weekend I knew that I would be visiting someplace with no Internet access, so the journal was brought out again. I am transcribing the notes here, on Tuesday, July 15, 2003)

The more I travel in Thailand, the more I realize that no two trips will ever be the same. When you travel in America, you can at least be assured of some level of consistency. Not here.

Case in point: Last night I took the overnight VIP bus to Chiang Rai. I had such a good experience with the VIP bus on my last trip to Nong Khai that I decided to do it again. Last time, the seats were plush, a box dinner and box breakfast were served and I slept peacefully through the night.

This time, however, the seats were only moderately comfortable, I was given a donut in a box for dinner and I tried to find a comfortable sleeping position with an empty stomach.

At 1:00 AM, the lights and the Isaan music came on and we pulled into a rest area where we were fed a buffet dinner consisting of hard-boiled eggs, fried rice, rice porridge, vegetables in sweet sauce, vegetables in spicy sauce, chinese sausage and (I think) pork.

I actually slept OK after the midnight buffet until the sun rose around 5:30 AM. I had made an attempt to tell the bus hostess bai mae suay (I go to Mae Suay) in hopes that we would be passing through the town on the way and I could get out without going all the way to Chiang Rai city.

Around 6:30, the bus hostess tapped me on the shoulder and said "Mae Suay". I got out on the side of the highway, the bus left, and I realized I was in the middle of nowhere. Judging my the group of Thai people who were also there with their luggage, I figured out that they had dropped me off at the turn-off to Mae Suay, and I had to catch another bus from here.

An hour later the bus had still not come, so one of the Thai ladies who was also waiting made an animated phone call. Ten minutes later a truck pulled up, everyone piled in with their luggage, and to my surprise, the passenger seat in the cab was left empty for me.

Twenty kilometers later we were in the small town of Mae Suay, whose downtown consists of 3 blocks of shops on the main road. I was dropped off at the bus stop where I now sit and wait for my friend, "No". Who knows when he will arrive so in the meantime I will sit here and watch the scene around me.

I just uploaded a few more photos from Chiang Rai, including Mae Sai and the Golden Triangle. That brings the total to about 30. Whew.

Chiang Rai Photos

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I am still feeling a little under the weather. In fact, after finishing my medication yeseterday, my sickness started to return today. But now I have had another trip to the doctor, and my supplies are replenished.

Perhaps the highlight of the day was getting a membership at the pool at National Stadium so I can start swimming again. I was only able to manage about 1200 meters before I had to get out, so I have a lot of work ahead of me before the meet in Sydney in November.

I also spent a few hours going through the 150+ digital pics from my trip to Northern Thailand. I was able to post the best 20 or so photos from Chiang Rai and I will try to get to the rest of them soon.

Answering Beth's Questions

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As you might have read, my sister Beth has been asking a lot of questions. Good ones too. So I will take some time here to try to answer some of them.

Why "Golden Triangle"? You were right that the "Triangle" part comes from being the border of three countries: Thailand, Loas, and Myanmar. I have no idea why they call it "Golden" though. Does anyone else know?

Why is the border closed? Well, I am not sure exactly. I believe that it has something to do with fighting that has been going on in Myanmar. There is a group of people who are fighting with the Myanmar goverment, and sometimes that fighting spills over into Thailand. Keeping the border closed is (I think) an attempt to stop that. And yes, the border crossings were defintely illegal. Why would people come over? Perhaps to work (illegally) or to sell goods to the tourists?

Why Myanmar and not Burma? The old name was Burma, but the new government renamed the country Myanmar.

On the Prince's Mother's Gardens: Yes, I visited the gardens that are next to the Royal Villa. Also, after asking a few more people, I think that the correct name is "Grandmother Princess".

How is the north different than the rest of the country? The north of Thailand is very mountainous and more rural. The towns are much smaller and are, for the most part, found in the valleys. It is also much cooler up here, but it's still pretty darn hot!

Time Change

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As you might be able to tell from the entries below (or the fact that I haven't replied to an email you sent a while back! :) we have been staying very busy here in Chiang Rai. Just today I have started going through my backlog of emails, and have been able to enter my journal for the last few days.

I also just changed the official time clock on this site to the correct time zone. All posts before this one have Pacific time. For example, the one right before this was done a half hour ago... in the morning in SF. But it is really night time, as the time stamp on this entry shows. So, from now on, the time stamps will be more accurate. Whew.

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This page is an archive of recent entries in the Chiang Rai category.

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