Yes, I’m out to confuse people. Chiang Rai is another city in northern Thailand, a few hours away from Chiang Mai. I headed out that way to meet my Thai friends that I met at the wedding of the tour guide operators in Xishuangbanna that I found in Lonely Planet. I certainly do not seem to meet people the same way twice.
There are some similarities between Chiang Rai and Chiang Mai. One unfortunate one is the touristy night market/bazaar that was again full of terrible food. I seriously don’t need this much westernized fried things, thanks. I did manage to locate an awesome roti cart a few blocks west of the clock tower in front of a 7-11 before an abyss of darkness. The guy sells griddled to order fresh roti slathered in condensed milk for 5 baht. That’s about 16 cents. All things will now be compared in “number of roti that could buy”. Mango sticky rice? I don’t know, that’s like, eight roti! Sorry dollar tacos, you’ve been replaced. There are some differences too. Chiang Rai does not have the hundreds of guesthouses that Chiang Mai does, as evident by the handful that were even on hostelworld.com.
I only stayed one night in Chiang Rai proper before I headed some kilometers out of town to the hill overlooking a beautiful river that my friends live on. I’m still unfortunately quite the city slicker so it was nice to get out of town and be in the middle of nowhere for a bit. I could use a few hundred less bugs though.
I stayed almost a week absorbing the sounds of the hill. The crackling burning lighting up the night sky with acrid gray smoke that the locals do to their crops yearly. The buzz of insects like a buzz saw, getting louder as the rains neared. The proud braying of geckos, each to tell the other how big they are. The scattered motorbikes that pierced the long periods of only nature sounds.
It was a week that passed quickly as I lounged on a rattan lounge chair reading and sweating. Foreigners often seem surprised that the locals do not think I am Thai. They often also mistakenly think that means I get ripped off less because I must look local. Unfortunate for me fact: every Asian person can tell I’m a tourist and disregarding that there are so many Asian tourists who get ripped off too. Here’s an easy way for foreigners to tell that I’m not Thai if you can’t tell by my clothing: I’m the one sweating gallons of water just like you. The locals always look so much less sweaty than foreigners.
It was a pleasant week exploring the quiet town of Chiang Rai. I enjoyed the walks around the hill to see all the fruit. I really enjoyed just stopping for a week and getting a few home cooked meals. I got the learning how to cook local food in an expensive course bug out of me in Laos. However I did pick up a few tips hanging out in the kitchen watching my friends cook. I did more touristy things than usual but at so slow a pace it didn’t feel overwhelming at all.
We went to the White temple, which is made by the same artist that made that clock tower I saw in town. This is a crazy modern temple with skulls and pop culture references everywhere.
The murals inside include everything from Doraemon to Ben 10 to burning world trade towers. Well, I have to hand it to the artist. This certainly isn’t every other temple I’ve seen. I saw some more traditional temples in town as well. There is an even weirder and more morbid collection of modern art at a complex known at the Black House. This seemed to make the friends I was staying with and bringing me around uncomfortable though, so I passed on going.
I finally got to see some elephants as well. I haven’t signed up for any of the expensive mahout (elephant driver) or gibbon treks. We ended the week with a delicious Thai bbq attended by a few hundred of our bug friends. A good, relaxing time before I head back to Bangkok and then to the bustle of Hanoi.