Our first destination in Thailand was Chiang Rai up in the North. It is mainly a trekking destination to see hill tribes, but also has a few nice temples to see. We were lucky to find a very nice guesthouse with the second attempt. Orchid guesthouse is only 5min walk from rhe market and bus station away but also very nice and quiet. It is good value especially as they provide hot and cold water, coffee and hot chocolate as well as bananas for free. After we settled into our double room we went out in search of our first Thai meal.
The food in Thailand is well known as a unique cuisine full of flavour. We were very interested to try it out. Our guesthouse recommended a pad thai place near the big clock tower in the middle of a roundabout. Walking along the road to it, it was evident we were walking through the red light district with lots of small bars and scantily dressed thai women looking pretty in each one. We hurried past and found the beautiful golden clock lit up with coloured light and sparkling. The restaurant was on the street and the tables had good views of the clock which has an hourly show in the evening. We ordered some pad Thai and tucked in. The show started with music, different coloured lights and some moving parts in the centre. It wasn’t spectacular, but the lights showed off the clock and its glittering jewels well.
After dinner we walked across town to the night market. Chiang Rai has a permanent night market which is on every day. It’s not huge but there are some nice things for sale. There are also two food areas, one large expensive restaurant and the other a giant food court with 45 stalls selling anything from shakes to hot pot. In this court, everything was much less expensive. We were sad that we had already eaten as it smelt so good. We bought some spring rolls and a shake as an after dinner treat and sat down to enjoy some of the live music. There were dancers, a band and some lady boys performing all evening. With the plan to return the next evening we went back to our guesthouse for a hot chocolate before bed.
The next morning we went for a walk around town, posted a parcel home, and visited the famous Wat Phra Kaew which once housed the Emerald Buddha. The statue was said to have emerged from a stupa when it was struck by lightning. Nowadays the Buddha is in Bangkok and has been replaced by a green marble version. It’s a nice small temple with lovely decoration, paintings and a good museum alongside. Leading up the stairs to the main hall you pass 8 Buddhas, one for each day of the week although Wednesday has two for some reason (morning and evening). This seems to be common in Thailand and people give offerings to the statue of their birth day. The museum contains a collection of religious artefacts with explanation of what they are used for, so it’s not a bad place to start learning about Buddhism.
For the afternoon we planned to visit a well recommended private museum. Seeing an opportunity to get his haircut for only 40 Baht, Matthias made a pit stop at the barbers. He ended up with a super-short summer cut which is probably quite good to have in hot Thailand. Then we walked quite a long way in the heat of the day, only to find that the museums address was wrong on Tripadvisor. Luckily we found a café with some good coffee and a nice cheese toastie to make all the walking worth it. Hot and bothered we decided to leave the museum for another day and instead look forward to dinner on the night market.
We set our hopes on a hot pot, which proved to be a good option. For 200 Baht we got a big bowl of broth, glass noodles, herbs, lettuce and a plate full of meat and seafood. The broth comes in a terracotta pot over a traditional Thai charcoal stove. Then you add some or all of the ingredients and of course as much chilli as you like. A few minute waiting and stirring and your hot pot is ready. It’s quite fun to mix up your own meal. It was also very yummy.
The next morning we set off to Chiang Rai’s most famous attraction, Wat Kun Rung or the white temple. We caught the bus south (20B) and were dropped off just outside. This temple is stunning. It is painted dazzling white and has inlaid mirrored glass that makes it shimmer in the sun. Before visiting the temple we went to the art gallery around the corner where a collection of art from the temple designer is on display. The art is nice to look at but not really to our taste. Thankfully the temple is more impressive and we really enjoyed squinting at its beauty. One good tip would be to wear sunglasses, a white temple and Thai sunlight make for a very bright view.
Back in town we dropped by a cat cafe we had seen a few days before. Lunch and cats were a good combination. For some reason none of the cats came to cuddle with us so all we could do was watchimg them play around the café.
Refuelled we set off to find the small museum as the day before. Second time around we found it. Oub kham museum is a private collection of Lanna artefacts including a golden throne and a huge collection of items from the period of the Lanna Kingdom. The Lanna Kingdom which existed for around 400 years, is something the Northern Thai people are very proud of. Our tour guide around the museum was great, pointing out the most interesting objects and explaining how they fitted into Lanna life. We even had the privilege of going into a secret room.
Since Chiang Rai is more of a jumping off point for trekking and seeing hill tribes we decided to get out of the city on our final day. Having seen hill tribes in both Laos and Vietnam and not wanting to visit the human zoo of the long neck Karen (women with a tower of golden rings around their necks), we decided to visit a tea plantation. Lots of tea is grown in the North of Thailand and we were interested in how it was grown and processed. We rented a motorbike and made the 30km journey up to Choui Fong. Choui Fong is famous for producing good quality Thai tea including green, oolong and ceylon teas. It’s probably the most visited plantation purely because it is close to Chiang Rai. The ride there was simple (just along the scooter lane of the main road) and we suddenly arrived into rows of tea plants. The hillsides covered with tea are nice to look at. We have to say we were a little disappointed by Choui Fong. There were three large buildings. One factory and two cafés containing small shops. We watched a minute long video about tea processing, but there was almost no information about tea growing. We had to make do with Google and tasting some tea flavoured cakes alongside our ice teas. The Thai tea and green tea were both good and went well with cake. We wandered through the tea fields before Zoë had her first go at motorbiking and drove us back to Chiang Rai.
Overall Chiang Rai has enough to see for a day or two and is a good place from which to journey north into the hills. In fact we met quite a few people who came up from Chiang Mai for one night. If want to use it as a jumping of point to explore the area you could spend up to a week there. The night market food court is a great place to try the local food and the cat cafe is good to get some cuddles. It’s not really a must see city but a good stop on the way to or from Laos.