Juanito’s Travels 50 yr backpacker – Chiang Rai, White Temple, Wat Rong Khun and a little more Songkran pt28

white temple Chiang Rai Wat Rong Khun

Thailand was back in April. It’s now about mid-June (actually now it’s mid-September as it seemed like I started this post but never finished – what’s finished anyway?!), and mid-morning, at least when I’m starting to write this post, and I’m looking over at the Mediterranean Sea from my hotel balcony on the Greek Island of Samos (well now sitting on the coach in Australia with SBS TV playing in the background). In the distance I can see Turkey. Not far off in the distance, even with a kayak you could probably get across in four hours maybe, depending on the wind and currents which at the moment look like they’d want to take you somewhere down towards Egypt. A few Greek patrol boats are heading out to what I presume is the maritime border with Turkey that must be somewhere between Samos and Turkey. Yesterday they went all out with fighter jets, large and small patrol boats, quite the spectacle. All to keep refugees from entering the EU on what from the movies looks to be mainly very unseaworthy vessels not even as robust as a kayak.

Tomorrow we’re going the other way, in a nice big ferry with visas and passports in hand for, what I hope, is a relatively straight forward crossing. Amazing what difference a few bits of paper make. Something I reflected on in an earlier post when they wanted to deport me from the UK in 1995 where I was only saved by a faxed copy of my Irish proof of citizenship. You can read more about that here.

But, being a stickler for strict chronological telling of a story, I return to April and our trip from Chiang Mai to Chiang Rai and then over the border to Laos and down the mighty Mekong River which started with a bus trip from Chiang Mai to Chiang Rai. For the purposes of maybe being helpful if you’ve picked up a Lonely Planet and are planning to do something similar, we booked the bus online using the VIP Green Bus departing from Tambon Wat Ket – I have no memory of where that is anymore, just book a taxi through Grab (SE Asia’s Uber) to take you there, that’s the beauty of SE Asia. I totally converted to using Grab for taxis in Thailand, Cambodia and Vietnam (the last two we further on in our trip and I plan to write about them at some point in the next few months). In Cambodia (ok, I’m jumping both geographically and chronologically again) you could even use Grab for Tuk Tuks, which are fun but if you get prices directly from Tuk Tuk drivers, you’re bound to be fleeced or, in Thailand (where tuk tuks weren’t on Grab at this stage) you’ll probably be taken to some gem store, sex show or some shop you didn’t want to go to. See my earlier reflections on gem store scams that I, and many fall for. Even just a few weeks ago we spoke to a traveller on Koh Chang island and she told us she was on her way to a temple and a Thai tuk tuk driver told her the temple was closed and offered to take her and her son about Bangkok for a tour. This always ends up in something like a gem store. Luckily she didn’t buy anything and the guy in the shop was pissed off. When a tuk tuk driver tells you a temple is closed in any part of SE Asia, it is a lie. Except on one occasion when we were in Phnom Penn, Cambodia and one told us the royal palace was closed – which it actually was, but just for lunch and then only for an hour or so.

So, buy your bus ticket and get on the bus, using Grab, and tea etc bus from Chiang Mai to Chiang Rai, it’ll all be pretty easy. They may or may not tell you you’ve arrived in Chiang Rai but usually there’s someone on board who either knows you’ve arrived, or there’s a general consensus that you’re there. Just don’t follow anyone randomly thinking they know you’re in Chiang Rai, wait until you get to the actual bus terminal which is by the night markets in Chiang Rai and ask the bus driver, ‘is this the final stop for Chiang Rai’. To double check use Google maps.

We were in Chiang Rai for 3 nights. It was mostly uneventful. Sonkgran festivities continued so venturing outside was still dangerously wet, so we decided to mostly hang out at our very fancy hotel by some river a little bit out of town.

hotel Chiang Rai Juanito’s travels

The first night we had dinner out at the food markets by the bus station where we were dropped off. I’m surprised I don’t have a photo of the meal, but we were a bit tired and on the grumpy side so for once perhaps we just ate and went off to bed. It was a very good bed, a four poster with a mosquito net, very big, very comfy. Probably the best hotel we stayed at in our whole trip in SE Asia. The meal was something so spicy I could barely finish it. I think it was a khao soi, which I’d tried in Chiang Mai, except there it was nerfed up to western tastes.

I also bought a grey shirt that said ‘Chiang Rai’ in Thai at the markets. They had some pretty decent deals there.

The hotel was a good hang out after our 10ish days in Thailand. It may have been 12 come to think of it as my wife could only get a 15 day visa on a Mexican passport so we had to be out on the 15th day but wanted to maximise our time in Thailand. The only crappy bit was the smoke. We hadn’t noticed it so much in Chiang Mai, but boy Chiang Rai was pretty badly affected. It was smoke from burning in farming and forest areas in Thailand, nearby Laos and I think even China. It was on the news, my friend Kurt – who features in my page on Guadalajara which is here – was in a flap to tell me how dangerous the air was. But hell, what could we do, we were there, in the smoke and we weren’t turning back.

white temple Chiang Rai Wat Rong Khun

We did venture out to this White Temple. There was meant to be some bus going out, but the guys at the bus station said a bus had gone off and they weren’t sure when it’d be back so we shared a taxi with a woman from Slovenia, or Slovakia, or perhaps Poland, but I think it started with an ‘s”. The White Temple was much more contemporary than what we’d seen previously in Bangkok and Ayutthaya. Actually talking of Ayutthya, it was there that we met the young French woman who was with her parents who suggested that we spend more time in Chiang Rai. Not sure I mentioned that yet. Anyway, I wasn’t that into it. The White Temple, that is –  but in general Chiang Rai wasn’t too exciting, not that we could tell that much as half the shops seemed to be closed for Songran – it seemed a bit pretentious and unnecessarily garish and not really in keeping with classic Buddhist architecture. That was the point I guess, I got that, but I still didn’t like it, but luckily it was pretty small and easy to see in an hour, a blessing in the heat. Look and interesting enough, just too artsy for me.

white temple Chiang Rai Wat Rong Khun

It was still so fucking hot, people’s phones were frying and giving out warnings, I saw one guy even chuck his in the fridge for a bit to cool it down before it exploded. We had a run-in whilst there with a rather dick-headish tourist who demanded my wife get out of a photo and then went on some racist rant about her English skills. These people who think they own photo ops, it pissed me off no end. I wasn’t nearby when the rant happened as I’d gone outside the gate to sit under a tree while my wife looked around more. When she told me about it I went on a rather un-Buddhist rant about him being a fucking idiot and told him to go fuck himself and gave him the finger. His wife and child were there, but he was a prick. I think he was Russian. My wife was a bit scared after that so we kind of ran away back into town and hid away at this Irish pub. But outside of Mexico I’m not that scared of standing up to people. Mexico, you have to be careful.

white temple Chiang Rai Wat Rong Khun golden Ganesh

And oh, there was also this gold bit at the White Temple that led over to a Ganesh statue, also garish and a bit pretentious in my opinion, but might be your thing, who knows, I probably don’t know you so can’t say.

o'lane irish pub Chiang Rai

The Irish pub turned out to be a hang out for old Irish blokes looking for much younger female Thai companions. Not like young, young, call the police type young – though later we may have seen some of that in Cambodia – but definitely women not within 3-4 decades of their older male companions. And before you go commenting on my wife and I’s age difference, she’s just 6 years younger than me. Although I am also Irish-Australian and she is also very hot, so I was glad I’d splurged on the fancy hotel away from the town where the Songkran wetness continued. Ok, getting distracted here, my wife is still in Mexico, and now, as I write now, I’m not in Greece, nor Cambodia, as I wrote up there in brackets I’m in Australia. Palm Beach, Queensland, Australia and she’s still in Mexico – but only 10 more nights until she returns, and well, yeah sure, I’m getting super horny. I guess like the old Irish guys who hang out at the pub. Not sure how ethical that is but it wasn’t like they were hiding away and it seemed more of a not so unpleasant business transaction between consenting parties. The guys seemed fairly respectful.

golden clock Chiang Rai

There was this pretty golden clock in town. We didn’t see much else there as most places were closed. There weren’t even that many weed shops there. Even though I felt like a bit of a smoke I had grown unaccustomed to smoking over the years so it made me feel a bit too sleepy really, so I didn’t bother with it. Plus we were going into Laos in a day or so where weed isn’t legal and I couldn’t be bothered paying some fine to a cop for the privilege of smoking a joint and falling asleep, so I obtained the last few days after smoking the last of the weed I’d bought at Lollipop in Bangkok when we were still in Chiang Mai. It was kinda good there as I’d step out of the wet drenched crowd for a few minutes and smoke my spliff and then all the water troubles didn’t seem so bad. I’ve also been smoking for the last 2 weeks I think. Only at night mind you, with a glass of wine, a beer, a tequila or a mezcal. Today is the first day, pretty much since I returned to Australia in late July, when I haven’t had any of these. It’s also the first day I got motivated to write a blog post, so there you go, those correlations are not necessarily causation there may be something to think about there.

We did end up going into Chiang Rai town one more time, just back to the Irish pub, but otherwise we just enjoyed the hotel grounds and took the opportunity to do laundry. Little attention is paid to doing laundry in travel writing. I’m sure Patrick Leigh Fermor mentioned it a few times. He did at least write about how smelly his and his travelling companions’ clothes were after going mountaineering in Three Letters from the Andes. They seemed like they hadn’t been able to wash clothes for a few weeks. So you always have to be mindful of having a laundry day however exciting your travel adventures are. See below, we were having great fun waiting for our clothes to wash. Thailand is a very clothes washing friendly place. Also weed-friendly, good place for a massage, great place for food and probably paid sex – again as long as it’s ethical and respectful I have no problem with that, but we were fine on our own in that respect.

laundry Chiang Rai hotel Chiang Rai

So on our last night we just ate dinner at the hotel, swam a little, and for me I got in the habit of wandering down the river and drinking a can of Chang in the smokey haze while obsessively trying to avoid mosquito bites. I had layers of insect repellent on and was constantly vigilant, but there weren’t many about, one of the good things about the dryness and heat. To be honest, the heat didn’t worry us that much. Sure you didn’t want to spend too many hours exposed, especially in the middle of the day, but as long as you had good aircon the nights were very pleasant.

hotel Chiang Rai hotel Chiang Rai hotel Chiang Rai Juanito’s travels

And that was pretty much it for Chiang Rai, more food and hanging about at the hotel, very overpriced food at the hotel, and hanging out at the super awesome hotel room in Chiang Rai. The next stop was the Mighty Mekong River and the showboat down that river, which, to get to, we’d have to cross over into Laos. For the sake of simplicity we got the hotel to book us a taxi to take us to the Laos border and at 4 or 5 am we were packed and ready to go. That’s it, more on the slow boat next blog which I may even start writing tomorrow night, if I can be bothered.

hotel Chiang Rai luggage