After Chiang Mai my visa was up so it was time to do a visa run even though I'd have liked to visit a bit more of the North, Pai in particular sounded like a good laugh but it was in the opposite direction to where I was headed so I decided to stop off at Chiang Rai on the way to the Laos border. Chiang Rai was nothing special. I stayed in quite a nice wee hotel with a luscious courtyard but it was on a street that was just dodgy bars with yet more Western Boys with petite local girls and a load of massage parlours that hounded me every time I walked by since I was on my tod.
In Chiang Rai itself it was not such an interesting town, quite obviously a stop of on the way out so had plenty touristy places. The Wats in the town had more of a Chinese influence as seemingly there was a mass migration into the North of Thailand from the Yunan province so they retained a lot of their identity which became mashed up with the Thai
. Apparently there is even a town in the area that completely kept its identity, refused to take on the Thai element. Little China in Thailand. The highlight for was the hill tribe museum which gave a bit of background on the 950,000 hill tribe people who live in the mountainous regions dotted around Thailand. Many of which don’t even have Thai citizenship regardless of that fact that they’ve lived in the country their whole lives! The government are fearful of granting them full citizenship as since they are all nomadic, they are scared that there will be a mass immigration of the rest of the tribes people over from Burma. Difficult one. But they’re starting to address it now. They live very simple lives as farmers but the slash and burn tactics they use to clear the jungle to farm is ruining areas, then simply move along to the next bit to repeat. Shame as the jungle is so impressive.
There was a quality local market where you ate for next to nothing and got delicious local food. Seems to be the way to go, if you see a bunch of locals getting their eat on, you should join as it’s cheap and usually tasty! So long as you don’t order the Frog on a stick?!?!?! It looked absolutely nasty.
I skipped up to the border on a local bus for local people and left Thailand at the Chang Kong border crossing. 40 baht and a five minute long tail ride across the Mekong River took me into the Peoples Democratic Republic of Laos. I was there with one thing in mind as Hannah had highly recommended the Gibbon Experience to me and despite that relatively massive price tag of 180 euro I recon if it had been one of the highlights for Hannah Banana, then that was good enough for me and I am SO glad I did as it was an epic adventure
. We were colleted from HuayXin and driven about two hours on a ridiculous road that seemed to be sporadially paved for tiny little patches and then revertd to gravel ,so the driver was swerving all over the place trying to stay on the paved bits a much as possible. The Bokeo Natural reserve is an area in the very North West of Laos which is now being preserved thanks to the efforts of the guys at the Gibbon Experience. What was once an area where the Northern Hmong Lao people would poach the local wild life illegally and the farmers used the slash and burn farming tactic, are now employed by the centre to act as guides to us tourist where they earn a much higher wage then they would have otherwise been earning. The centre supports some 34 families attached to it. Guides, cooks, admin and so on. This is eco tourism at its most successful. We spent three days in the Jungle living in tree huts that sit about 20 metres off the ground and are being catered for which all local food (apart from the chips that we got on our second day, but served alongside buffalo, not battered fish). During the day we got to trek through the jungle and were given free reign of the zip lines that ran through the peaks and gullies of the jungle. The zip lines were such a good laugh. They were up to 150m off the ground and the longest one was a massive 450m long!!! Once you got over the paralysing fear of being that high up and putting your faith into a carabineer clip, it was brilliant. We were running around the jungle like kids trying to cram as much in as possible and I’m not ashamed to say that at one point I was playing Nam and pretended that I was flying through the jungle being stalked by Charlie. We also were pretty lucky in that on the morning of day 2 I was woken up at 6am by all these bizarre siren like whooping noises. It was a gaggle of Gibbons playing in the jungle directly opposite our hut. There were a fair distance away but there was a powerful telescope you could use so we were treated to four males rough housing with each other. It was hilarious, they would free fall onto each other and wrestle as they plummeted toward the ground only to release and grab onto some branch then scamper back up and repeat. The picture below was taken through the telescope which is why it’s so blurred. Anyways, it was an amazing experience and anyone passing through that area I’d definitely recommend it.