John and Tracy of Chateau Carter dropped us off at the Chiang Mai bus terminal mid-morning for our onward journey to Chiang Rai. The 200km journey through almost continuous road-works took a little over three and a half hour but the scenery relatively brown now after a long dry season made up for the bumps.
We had visited this area on our honeymoon 26 years ago (to the week) back then we did a 3 day 2 night trek- hiking through the golden triangle, staying with ethnic hill tribes and rafting down the river. We remember this trip fondly - cooking and laughing with a local family as we helped cook dinner, chatting (more gestures and global words .. football...) to their son about the 15km round walk to the village that had electricity to watch football. We hiked, we rafted and yes we took an elephant through the forrest, it all felt authentic but then wandered into ‘more touristy areas’ where locals had started sell trinkets to tourists. Now, seeing the same treks available today we were in two minds, in the end we felt that 25 years of tourism and technology would not have improved the experience, so we choose to stay in Chiang Rai and explore the changes there.
These changes are pretty cool and include two new, wonderfully contemporary Wats and a Black House.
Chiang Rai is not just about the wats, although reading some guides it may seem to be, it is also a great place to just wander and explore. There are traditional villages within the city fabric, street markets selling fresh local produce, vendors touting local snacks and the central market, home to, the very early morning market, the morning market, the afternoon market, the evening market and the night market. There is also the old City Hall that has a great collection of old black & white photos from the past, it is free and surprisingly interesting documenting Chiang Rai’s early days.
In the evenings the tourist flock to the ‘Night Bazaar’ where they can buy typical Thai souvenirs and eat ‘authentic’ Thai hot pots or fried spring rolls while watching a pretty amateur drag show on stage. Not sure we need to experience that again.
One morning we were feeling guilty from our lack of exercise so, given it was so much cooler and less humid than Bangkok, we took the opportunity to get out and exercise. We embarked on a brisk walk to a riverside community park. Although slightly run down, there were many sporting courts and fields and a 1km running track. The walk was interesting and took us through small villages, where the locals loved to yell out “hello” to you.