Disclaimer: My tense changes quite a bit in these posts as I am writing them at varied times in the experience! I’m too lazy right now to sort it all out, I just want to get it down!
We woke up early, yet again, to get on the road as we continued to travel northward towards Chiang Rai, in the Golden Triangle. Along the way we stopped at a lovely little lake side town and had the best vanilla latte I’ve ever had… or maybe I just really needed a coffee!
We arrived in Chiang Rai and drove right through it a bit further north to take a small trip along the Mekong River the border to Laos, Myanmar (which our local guide still calls Burma) and Thailand. This area of the world (Golden Triangle) is also at the center of the world Opium trade. We stopped inside an Opium Museum to learn more about the trade and history of opium in the far east. We got to our hotel around 7pm that night. A lovely little resort and spa called Phowadol.
Alex and I told the SmarTours people it was our honeymoon, and since this was my second trip with them AND our honeymoon, we’ve been escalated to VIP status on this trip. This means that we’ve had a room upgrade in every single hotel room we’ve had. This particular upgrade turned out to be a little bungalow with a patio looking out on a quiet fish filled pond. We showed up, the lady gave us our room key and then we were whisked away on a golf cart, a little way away from the rest of the group staying in the traditional hotel, to our bungalow. We then grabbed a quick dinner, walked around the quiet moonlit grounds and turned in.
Today we signed up for the optional Hill Tribe people tour. In the mountains, along the border of Myanmar and Thailand, there are tribes of people living in poverty. From what we gathered from our guide, at least one of these tribes is displaced from Myanmar, but due to the political situation there, they do not want to return. They’ve been in Thailand for 14 years now, but do not wish to become Thai citizens because they hold out hope that they will return to their country.
We were told by Boeing that we could buy some toiletries and school supplies for the hill tribe people before we went up the mountainside that we could give to the people. Naturally, I did. We left our bus and hopped in two local taxis which were basically converted pickup trucks with us sitting sideways in the bed of the covered truck. We then sped up the mountain roads to see the Hill Tribe people.
We expected to be greeted by typical village life, and instead we were greeted by people walking up to us with their hands out when they saw we had things to give, and just rows of stalls at another market. It seems the way of life for these people is to sell to the Westerners who come to experience them. I handed a toothbrush and toothpaste to a woman, and immediately had 8-10 other women swarm me with hands out pointing at things I had in the bag, demanding them. I gladly emptied the bag so as not to experience this again. It is hard to feel positive about the interaction because I cannot distinguish whether or not what we were doing was at all helpful, or was just enabling. As I do not know all the intricacies of the situation, I will not comment further.
Around 1pm we got back to our hotel and shoveled our buffet lunch down our throats to get ready for the White Temple, which Joe and Gina made us aware of, and organized cabs from the hotel to take everyone who wanted to go.
The White Temple was built recently (2000’s) and is still under construction today. It is being built by a local artist who saw it in a dream. He does not take large donations from individuals who wish to worship there, on Buddhist Principle, and has funded most of it himself. The outside of the temple is a stark, pure white, with mirror mosaic’s lining the detail. There are many sculptures and modern day masks of heroes and demons (ie: Iron Man, Gollum, Hellboy) all hanging from trees and rows of hanging “leaves” with people’s wishes and names on them. For 30 baht you can buy a lucky leaf to hang on the grounds. Alex and I got our leaf and I wrote our wish signed and dated it, and hung it up.
Inside the temple there was a modern mural with the motifs of aging man, good and evil, and many other things lining the interior walls. We were not permitted to take pictures inside of the temple, so we do not have any, but images can be seen online. There was a mural of 9/11, modern characters such as Pikachu and Spiderman, and famous faces such as Elvis all lining the walls. It was interesting, after so many ancient and historical temples, to see a modern take on Buddhism and the world in which it exists from this artist’s perspective. Alex and I loved the art style and purchased a couple of prints for our home. One, a scene of heaven, and the other, a portrait of Ganesha (a Hindu God).
As we got back to the hotel, we decided not to join the group on their trip to the night market and just relax in our beautiful suite. We laid by the pool for a bit, we grabbed nice dinner, rented a DVD, and relaxed back in the room. Around 9:30pm Joe and Gina came by and we drank beer on the patio for an hour and chatted before turning in for the night.
Today we left Chiang Rai to travel southwest to Chiang Mai. On our way we stopped at many handy craft stores and learned how local people in the Chiang Mai Province make lacquer handicrafts, silver, paper, and celadon. We were hurriedly rushed through all the explanations and stores and I was very overwhelmed. Alex, of course, bought a chess set made of celadon and we headed to our hotel where we arrived at 4:30pm.
After a brief rest up in the room, to reset my brain and recharge for the night, we got a call from Sonal on our bathroom phone (we got another room upgrade!) and we headed out to the night market that surrounds the hotel. It was stall after stall, street after street, of people selling souvenirs, artwork, clothing, food, tattoos, and basically anything one can imagine.
We then grabbed a quick drink at the hotel bar and got ready for bed as we had an early date with elephants!