After two weeks in Chiang Mai getting to know the city, visiting wats, searching for our favorite bowl of khao soi, Chris and I decided we were due for a change of scenery. We took a 3-hour bus ride north to Chiang Rai, a town often referred to as a smaller version of Chiang Mai (similar to how Portland gets slapped with the unwelcome label of being Seattle’s smaller, more hipster, younger PNW brother).
Chiang Rai is in fact smaller than Chiang Mai, and there are a lot of similarities between the two in terms of types of local shops, restaurants, wats and even a night bazaar. But, with fewer tourists and sandal-wearing backpackers crowding the streets, there’s less clamor to attract foreigners – a welcome escape after the frenzy of Chiang Mai. Fewer tuk-tuks and song thaews, a quieter night life, less traffic to dodge and push through – a more laid back atmosphere in general.
In Chiang Rai, many of the notable things to see and do require travel outside of Chiang Rai proper. On Saturday, we hired a private driver to take us on a journey out of town, winding our way through mountainous roads to see Mae Salong, a town in northern Thailand founded by Chinese soldiers of the Kuomintang, refugees from Burma, who settled in northern Thailand in the 1950s and preserved the Yunnan culture and way of life. We visited Doi Mae Salong Nok Tea plantation, even though we missed harvesting by two weeks. We stopped in an Akha hill tribe village, a collection of huts balancing upon steep, mountainous hills with dirt roads cutting through, chickens, cats and dogs scattered throughout welcoming us in.
We spent a few days navigating the local buses, which I was surprised to learn are independently owned. There is no organized city or provincial transportation system here, per se. Independent owners, often families, can own and maintain a bus, bribe their way into spots at the bus station, recruit passengers, get paid and make trips back and forth to set destinations. Husbands drive while their wives, fanny packs slung across their chest and their kids close by on a nearby bench, stand at the front of the bus to enlist new passengers. They shout to passerby the name of their destination city, ushering with their arms and hands, “Get on, get on. Get on this bus.” Imagine wanting to catch a bus north from downtown Seattle to your home in Northgate and having to elbow through aggressive sales pitches that insist you travel south on their bus to Federal Way. It’s nonsensical; but, it’s what works here – a bidding war for passengers, a destination auction for travelers.
Thanks to blogs with helpful instruction, we had no problem catching the local buses. One day we traveled south to Wat Rong Khun, the White Temple; the next day we traveled north to Baan Dam, the Black House. Easy breezy! And for the low, low price of 20 baht each way.
Both the White Temple and Black House are impressive masterpieces of art dreamed up and constructed by two Thai national artists, Chalermchai Kositpipat and Thawan Duchanee, respectively. Although neither project has the ancient history that makes so many of the wats here strikingly impressive, the projects themselves are fascinating, unique sights to see.
Take a look!
|15.05.14_Chiang Rai – She Said|