Escape to Chiang Rai

Chiang Rai in the far North West of Thailand was the capital of the Lanna culture from 1262 and called ‘the million rice fields’. It is also the gateway town to the ‘Golden Triangle’, a phrase coined by the CIA as it was the epicentre of opium production in the 1920’s a lot of it bought and traded by the British!! This is where the Mekong and Ruak rivers converge at a point with Myanmar, Laos and Thailand. The Thai government had banned the cultivation of poppies in 1959 to try and counteract the drug trade and encouraged farmers to grow other crops; coffee, macadamia nuts, cabbages, avocados, assorted veggies, and latterly strawberries and oranges.

This region abounds with fruit production and supplies the whole of Thailand. Having said that they say the production of opium is on the rise again in the lawless and mostly impenetrable border regions in Myanmar and Laos.

Chang Rai itself is a sleepy town on the Kok river close to the verdant lush jungle and untouched, peaceful mountainous landscape, dotted with many different hill tribes. I couldn’t resist having a picture with this very elegant man……

A bus ticket for the 4 hour drive for 2 of us was £9, a bargain! It was an easy journey.

There is a vibrant night market selling many of the local products. Close by is a vast seating area for hundreds of people with maybe 50 stalls selling seafood, noodley things, pad Thai and many many different dishes. Cheap as chips, most dishes £1 or less and delicious.

At one end is a big stage with all sorts of stuff going on. It was a really good spot for watching the world go by. I don’t think I have been anywhere with such a diverse range of people and cultures, interesting faces and friendly smiles. We are smitten with this area and may come back here next year to explore it some more. This is the one of the statues at the gate of the blue temple In Chiang Rai.

We hired a brand new bike in Chiang Rai and next day set off for Mai Sai which is about 45 miles towards the Myanmar border. We arrived at our new guesthouse to a warm welcome and a fantastic big stylish room, lush gardens and a pool. Tony our host from Norwich and Thip his wife run the place.

It is the most stylish, well appointed place we have stayed in Thailand and all for £18 a night. We immediately extended our stay. Thip’s food is delicious too.

We had to renew our visa for the final month so decided rather than doing it in CM in the immigration office we would take a trip to Myanmar. When we originally got our visa they mistakenly gave us 6 extra days. Unheard of !!! We wanted to stay for the flower festival and then renew. When we got to the border the stern looking immigration official started counting on the calendar and said you have overstayed and wanted to fine us. We said no look at the date stamp in our passport, another official was called and we were asked to wait. This went on for 45 minutes and eventually they came back and we went back to the desk. Mrs grumpy was still there and filled in a form for our fine, again we objected and she was having a proper hissyfit with a large queue forming behind us. Eventually her boss came and gave her a proper dressing down and when she stamped our passports she nearly broke the desk. I looked at her and said sweetly ‘is there a problem? which I knew would make it worse but couldn’t help myself. She apparently had to pay our fine, whoops. We weren’t sure if we could get back in.

Tachilek in Myanmar is like a wild west frontier town. As soon as we got over the bridge there were hundreds of stalls selling every brand of counterfeit goods, food, clothing you name it. Lots of people everywhere, it was an interesting place. We found a bar ordered a beer and watched the world go by for an hour or two. When we did cross back into Thailand we got our 30 day visa extension, whew.

Only 3 km’s from where we were staying in Mai Sai is the Tham Luang cave where the football team were rescued. From being a very sleepy nothing happening place it is now heaving with tourists who were 99% Thai. I have never seen so many people. There is a statue, a shrine, school trips and lots of photos in a newly built hall and a host of stalls on the road. It’s now a booming tourist destination.

From the cave we followed a ridge between Thailand and Myanmar which runs right along the border for about 35 miles on windy roads over 1200m high. There are 3 army checkpoints along the ridge and at the second one we spoke to a very chatty soldier who asked where we were from, ‘Manchester’ we replied ‘City or United’ he said and on it went. We found out he supported Liverpool and had a long footbally chat.

There was a tribal village with a great view so stopped and had coffee

It had been a long day so we decided to head back to the guesthouse and jump in the pool, lovely. We are off to the ‘Golden Triangle’ tomorrow, exciting.

5 thoughts on “Escape to Chiang Rai

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