Thailand: Chiang Rai

After a chilled out Christmas in Luang Prabang, I embarked on what was to be quite a long and painful journey to my first stop in Thailand. Twenty-two hours, one late pick-up, two missed buses, a three-hour stranding, several mimed conversations, one irritable Lao woman, two passport stamps and one very bumpy public bus later, I arrived in Chiang Rai. It was a lot cheaper than flying so for me it was just about worth it, but the Laos sleeper buses are definitely the worst ones I’ve been on. The bunks are just flat plastic booths, not long enough for even me (at 5’6”) to lie down in, and about 1.5m wide for two people. The ‘pillow’ was basically a hard plastic block. We were also treated to interludes of pumping techno music when the driver seemed to be getting tired… There were only 3 tourists on my bus, so be ready to get up close and personal with a local! There’s also the 2-day slowboat option, if you have the time and the bus doesn’t tickle your fancy after this glowing review…

Luckily, despite the beast of a journey, I arrived to a lovely hostel, Norn Nun Leng, which is also a cool little café. I headed straight for the showers to scrape off the journey grime – and then got far too comfortable on a bean bag in the chill-out mezzanine area. I’d meant to go to a museum, but instead, had some great coffee and made a good bum dent in the bean bag, spending the rest of the afternoon reading.

The tasty Norn Nun Leng coffee

I did manage to lever myself off the bean bag early evening to wander round the night bazaar and go for some dinner. I walked round the corner and perused the usual stalls of handmade clothes, scarves, jewellery and miscellaneous wooden ornaments – and came across a piece of tat that I felt I needed in my life: a lucky owl. I’m hoping he fends off parasites. If not, he’s cute. And he was only 22p.

A lucky owl: market tat you never knew you needed

I then ate some dinner in the middle of the night bazaar, enjoying my first Pad Thai by candlelight, surrounded by the buzz of the market and some traditional music being played on a small stage at the end of the courtyard. I wandered back after dinner, watched an episode of The Crown, and I estimate that it took under 17 seconds for me to fall asleep when my head hit the pillow.

This video doesn’t exist

In the morning, I got chatting to a British guy and girl and we teamed up to do a spot of temple exploration, probably the top attraction in Chiang Rai. We started at Wat Rong Suea Ten, or the blue temple. It’s a very elaborate blue and gold temple, which they haven’t actually fully finished building yet. It’s quite small, but very impressive in its decoration – with a few fountains and pieces surrounding the main building. It’s quite a weird one to approach though, as it’s been built more or less in a car park…

Inside the blue temple

From the blue temple we headed to Wat Huay Plakang, where there’s a huge Buddha and two smaller temples in quite different styles; one very colourful and Chinese in its influence, with 9 tiers, and one all white and also mid-construction. They’re quite weird places in that there are people giving offerings of rice, praying and lighting incense, but they’re also very busy with tourists – we were trying to work out the extent to which they were built for worship and the extent to which they’re attractions to draw tourists!

Messing about at Wat Huay Plakang

We headed back to the hostel for a coffee before myself and Hayley went out again to another temple, perhaps the most famous in Chiang Rai: Wat Rong Kun, or the white temple. We hopped on the local bus (super easy to get from Bus Terminal 1, for only 20฿) and arrived about 20 minutes later to a very pretty but very odd place. It’s all white (see what they did there with the name) and very intricate in its design, but it’s also accessorised with some quite weird gothic details: skulls, hands coming up from the ground, and shrunken head-style models hanging from the trees (one shaped like Golem and some like Marvel superheroes…). It looks almost like a stage set – aside from the swarms of tourists which broke the spell a bit. I’m glad I saw it, but I definitely didn’t need any longer than the 20 minutes or so that we were there.

Outside the white temple
The white temple, featuring creepy hands and Golem…

There are more temples, the Golden Triangle viewpoint, and some waterfalls in the surrounding area that I didn’t feel I needed to see, but there are a number of tours that tuk-tuk drivers will take you on if you’re keen to pack everything in. If you only want to see a few sights, though, we found it cheaper to split a Grab or Uber – the tuk-tuk drivers were quoting much higher prices for a return journey. Worth earmarking what you want to see and talking to a few cab options to get the best price.

Temple-spotting complete, we bussed back to the hostel for some tea and chill time. As evening approached, we went back to the night bazaar for some dinner, before enjoying a live band at the hostel.

I wasn’t in Chiang Rai for long (and felt half asleep for most of it thanks to the sleepless journey from Laos), but it’s a cool, relaxed town with some good food and a nice nighttime vibe. Let the Pad Thai crawl commence.

Until next time,

Number of strangers I’ve spoken to today: 5, including a girl in my hostel dorm who went to school with one of my friends from work.
Interaction was: proof of my ‘when I get to Thailand I’m going to bump into loads of people I have links to’ theory. All the Brits are in Thailand. It begins.

One Woman and her Backpack x

Follow me on Instagram @ellielfield

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