At the end of my previous post I briefly mentioned that we were going to be heading to Chiang Rai to continue on our little Thai adventure. Chiang Rai can be found a hop, skip and a jump (in other words a boring 3 hour bus ride) northeast from Chiang Mai. With very little in the way of solid plans for our trip to Thailand there was certainly nothing stopping us visiting, so we boarded the bus and headed for Chiang No. 2.
Chiang Rai is famous for a few things, namely the much talked about Hill Tribes, and the stunning White Temple. After a bit of research into the Hill Tribes business, and yes by the sounds of it, it is literally a business now – not necessarily for the tribes, but the for the hoards of tour operators offering budding tourists with the chance to experience the “real life of Thai hill tribe people”. As this turns out, in many cases this is bullshit, with lots of the tribes actually having becoming very tired of having to entertain bushy-tailed tourists, dressing up in their ceremonial gear each day, and not really earning much from their toils. Don’t get me wrong, in some cases I am sure that the Hill Tribe communities are treated exceptionally well, but for these reasons, along with the budget-stretching costs of these experiences, Soph and I unfortunately opted out…
So, what did we do then… Well we went to explore some of the other delights that Chiang Rai had to offer. Food, taking precedence of course, with some rather bizarre experiences (I will expand in a second), and also checking out two of the most captivating spots we have come across so far.
On the edibles side of things, Chiang Rai dished up some oddities and some delights. The most notable experience was when we headed to a little known restaurant towards the east of the city called Lab Sanam Keela, famous for it’s truly authentic Northern Thai food. As it turns out, I don’t think all authentic Northern Thai is quite up our street.
The first thing to arrive on our table was a Laab, of which one was a plate of (incredibly, incredibly, chewy) beef, which comes with a side which can only really be described as half a garden. More leaves than I really new what to do with; I was half tempted to pocket half the shrubbery in-case nature called during our ride through the mountains later that day. The second, a pot-luck number ordered by Soph, was a beef soup – that poor fucking cow. It had been utterly savaged and served up to us in a bowl. The soup was basically blood, containing a variety of organs, tendons, eyeballs (haha, only joking, no eyeballs) and pretty much everything else from a cow that most people don’t want to eat. Safe to say Soph was shocked and appalled… I ate it, well some of it.
Aside from eating, we visited the famous White Temple, the jewel in Chiang Rai’s crown, which is a fairly wacky fusion of ancient Buddhism and modern Popular Culture – a bit odd to say the least… but great nonetheless. From Predator to Spiderman, Ben 10 to Yoda, and of course ruling the roost, overseeing the shenanigans of this motley crew of characters, was Buddha. The architecture was stunning and the sculptures were fascinating. It definitely made a change from what (personally) I have found to be a fairly monotonous “temple scene” here in Thailand – I think religious sights are starting to bore me a bit to be honest… Oh how cultured I am, haha.
Following the White Temple, we visited a place known as the Black House – home to wide variety of strange, dark and slightly twisted structures and sculptures, all seeming to be related to death in some way. Sounds lovely, right? Well actually it was pretty interesting, it was basically a museum of all the works and collections of a very strange man who looked quite uncannily like Mr Miyagi – so this is where the skilful sensei disappeared to after the Karate Kid franchise; to the dark side. Seems plausible. Check out some of the images below and see what you think:
Aaaand then… after two nights in Chiang Rai, we hopped back on the bus back to Chiang Mai. All these Chiangs, I’m getting confused; I may have written Rai instead of Mai, or is it Mai instead of Rai, too many times by this point. Never mind, hopefully they are correct. Onwards…