Chiang Rai

Trip Start Oct 18, 2006
Trip End Oct 19, 2007

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Sunday, December 21, 2008

I have landed in Thailand a country rightfully translated as the 'land of smiles.' Having stayed overnight in Bangkok l awoke early to take my flight to Chiang Rai, Thailand's most north city right near the border of Laos and Burma, making the famous Golden Triangle.

Thailand is known for many things, but it is most commonly known for its friendly inhabitants and their beautiful smiles. I am very glad that l choose to travel the North of Thailand first before heading towards the tourist populated frenzy of the south. The people in Chiang Rai have lost alot of their tourism to Laos who have recently opened its borders to tourists. I have found the people very friendly and this little city the perfect start to my adventure in Thailand.

The morning l landed in Chiang Rai l was picked up by Bec who volunteers at the orphanage l was to be visiting for the day. I had expected the orphanage to be in pretty grungy conditions and was pleasantly surprised when Bec showed me around its beautiful property and very impressive facilities. I had heard alot about the orphanage and particularly wanted to visit it as it cares specifically for children with HIV or who's parents cannot look after them because of the virus. I also loved the fact that the orphanage has facilities to house families so that they do not have to be separated and there were two mothers and their children living at the time in their own houses. I briefly met one of the mothers and her beautiful daughter came rushing up to me instantly to give me a huge hug and she started pulling my hand and saying 'house house.' She was so proud of her home on the property that she wanted to show me a visitor. I then went to the little kindergarten and hanged out with Stephanie the volunteer teacher from Idaho, USA and hanged out with the kinder children for the rest of the day. I had a lot of fun with these beautiful children, flying kites with them, playing in the sand pit and just hanging out with them laughing and enjoying each others company. I was amazed how bilingual the children were especially Josiah who spoke more than any three year old l have ever met and he spoke both Thai and English beautifully. Stephanie took me down the dirt road outside the orphanage where we passed the most beautiful Northern Thai architecture on our way to a little outdoor restaurant on the side of the road. The lady who owned the restaurant spoke very funny English and put me and Stephanie to work cooking our own food as she was still setting up for the day! I had not expected to be cooking my first Thai meal on the side of a dirt road with a funny little Thai lady yelling instructions to me in a mixture of Thai and English. Non the less the meal tasted pretty good...the staple rice and vegetables that l am getting used to over here!

After saying goodbye's to the beautiful children and friendly staff l went and met my friend Jo at the airport and we took our taxi to the city to check into our hotel The North Hotel. From the moment we entered the Taxi and met our funny drivers we had a series of random events for the rest of the evening. Including our driver who would not stop ringing the bell at reception and trying to convince us to go on his tour to the moment we went up to the top balcony and we were asked if we could inject a rather sickly looking cat! For some reason Dr Jo said she would inject the cat for the tourists who had taken pitty on it and bought the injection from a local chemist. I didn't really want to watch the poor creature being injected to l went down to our rooms leaving very loud meowing noises coming from above. By this stage Jo and l were tired and hungry so we headed out to book ourself on a tour for the next day and to get some dinner. We had dinner at a lovely little Italian restaurant called Il Pirate where we were enjoying relaxing and conversation whilst waiting for our pizza until a middle-aged American retiree decided to annoy us by telling his over exaggerated stories of his life...including the many places he has lived with his many girlfriends and wives! We tried to drown him out by eating our yummy pizza and afagato. We soon crashed on our bed and watched a scary X-files episode about head transplants before heading off to a much needed sleep.

The next morning we ate breakfast at our hotel before starting our tour of the countryside surrounding Chiang Rai. Our tour was ALOT of fun and we did quite a few things that neither me or Jo had ever done before. We rode a long tail boat for an hour past beautiful forested limestone cliffs before we arrived at the Elephant camp. Here we rode a very friendly Elephant around a traditional Karen village where we observed the daily life of its occupants who seemed to sit and weave beautiful fabrics on their thatched balconies. The Elephant ride was alot of fun, we even got to sit on its head like the driver and then got to go in the river back to the beginning of the camp.

We then headed to have lunch at another more traditional village which l was really glad that we saw. We got to observe daily life in the village and no other tourists where around. The children were very cute as the played naked in the river flowing beside the town. The conditions of the village were very third world and l am glad that l have seen the conditions that the hill-tribe people are living in.

After our lunch stop at the village, we drove to a beautiful waterfall enclosed between two large boulders which Jo and l excitedly went swimming beneath. Neither of us had ever swam before a waterfall of that size and force before and were amazed at how hard it was to swim to get underneath it as the force below the water was hard to swim against. It was definitely one of the highlights of the day! After our waterfall swim we traveled up the mountain past numerous hill tribes to get to the hot springs. We had to laugh when we got there as the hot spring was this tiny round bath in an old tiled bathroom. Jo and l squeezed into the tiny round bath and enjoyed our half an hour soak as we inhaled the smell of what Jo described as 'curried-egg sandwiches.' Got to love the smell of sulfur! We came out of it so relaxed but smelling like rotten eggs. We really enjoyed our tour and had a local and very cheap meal in town where we were rather overcome with how spicy the food was. Thai's certainly love their chilli's but l wasn't going to complain when l had a delicious Pad Thai for under 50c! We then enjoyed a fantastic banana pancake and the company of the owner of the restaurant who entertained us with interesting stories before me headed back to the hotel and watched the English channel and The Flinstones Scrooge.

Today has been a very relaxing Sunday where Jo and l have simply walked the streets of Chiang Rai mapless enjoying the shops, markets, clock towers and temples we have visited along the way. The only temple we visited all day (Wat Phra Kaew) was luckily the most famous in Chiang Rai as it houses the famous Emerald Buddha. Jo and l enjoyed chatting to one of the friendly monks and the peace and serenity the gardens provided...maybe the sun baking turtles surrounding the temples helped with that! We then got a terrific iced coffee and lunch and intended to pamper ourselves by getting a Thai massage. Torture-relaxation is what l would now like to call Thai massages!! We were stretched, cracked and pulled in every direction for a full hour....but l did feel good after wards....still not sure if it was worth the hour of torture though!! We are about to head off to the night market with Jo's brothers Thai girlfriend who we are hoping is going to help us bargain down the price of some of the fisherman pants and DVD's we have been eyeing all day. Tomorrow morning we leave bright and early at 6.30am on the three hour bus ride to Chiang Mai.

I have really enjoyed Chiang Rai, its friendly people and the fun and random experiences we have had in the past three days.  

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