When we were in Chiang Mai, after the Loy Krathong festival, we went up to Chiang Rai, a province in northern Thailand. This involved a very early start and a long drive in a packed minibus. But it was totally worth it. We saw two of the strangest buildings I’ve ever seen in my life and visited another country.
Chiang Rai Hot Springs
The first stop on the trip from Chiang Mai was the hot springs, which was really just a place to stretch our legs, queue for the toilet, and buy a snack if we needed one. There were man-made pools of the hot water straight from the springs, but it was really hot; much like a bath when you’ve run it only using the hot tap. If you force yourself you can manage it, but your skin turns pink! The water was much too hot for the boys, and even I couldn’t last for long.
The market stalls are all around the edge of the carpark, and also alongside these hot spring geysers. An interesting place to break for a while.
Wat Rong Khun – the White Temple
Next stop was the amazing, spectacular, weird White Temple. The striking white angles and contours of Wat Rong Khun, are a Buddhist temple-cum-art exhibit. The temple that once stood on the site was in a state of dilapidation, with no funds towards its refurbishment; artist Chalermchai Kositpipat decided to entirely rebuild the structure with his own money. It was opened to visitors in 1997.
The usual Buddhist rules about clothing at temples apply here. Check out my post about the Grand Palace in Bangkok to see the exact guidelines on what to wear in a temple in Thailand. I forgot my scarf and had to hire a white (of course) wrap-around skirt to go over my shorts. It was really expensive, the equivalent of £10, so learn from my mistake!
You shuffle around the temple in a huge queue of people, if you are on a coach tour as we were. It seems everyone goes here just before lunch, but there is plenty to see around the grounds if you don’t want to see inside the main temple. I will let you know the toilets are the biggest let down here – I fully expected them to be themed but they were just ordinary!!
Baan Dam Museum – Black House
After lunch – a really yummy set-meal type array of Thai goodness – we were driven to the Baan Dam Museum, which is another art exhibition, and also known as the Black House.
Here there were lots of animal skins, antique guns, and various skulls. Not a vegan’s favourite place to visit. Odd displays of a money tree, sculptures of demons and other things in the ‘feast hall’ met us and all were labelled “do not touch”. Therefore I dashed through with Noah while Rob dawdled and looked at the interesting objects with James.
Outside Noah and I found a horse, and he was happy just to look at that. Unfortunately, on the day trip to Chiang Rai from Chiang Mai, we didn’t get a lot of time in each place. In the Black House Museum, a big proportion of our time was taken up with people keen to take photos of the boys. We couldn’t really move around without these little celebs being caught by the paparazzi, so we retired to a nearby ice cream shop. It was a good move actually since they sold natural flavoured fruit ice cream without added sugars. Yummy and not such a naughty treat. Of course, we also had Thai people trying to sneak the boys some snacks. The village lives on in Thailand!
Next stop Laos
After our ice cream, we piled back into the minibus and we drove to a dock to board a boat. Here we all had to hand our passports over to the guide, who took them through a very small immigration hut before we climbed out of the bus.
We walked down along a little path to a wooden dock, to climb into a boat. The boat was already nearly full with two other tours; one with a vibrant guide speaking English, and the other with a guide who spoke in another language but I cannot remember what it was.
The guide fancied himself as a bit of an extra from The Hangover, I think, and his jokes were not always super family friendly. No matter, because our little ones were using their time travelling productively, that is, Noah was napping and James was very nearly joining him.
In Laos, there was a small market area, with scarves, purses, and so on for sale. The local speciality is apparently snake whiskey, which is a little bottle of alcohol — rice wine or grain alcohol — with a small snake inside. Many stalls of basically the same thing! There was also a little monkey, which wanted to play with James, but he was so tired he was just upset when the monkey approached him.
So, back on the boat and back to Thailand. On the way back to the boat there were groups of little children who all wanted some money and food. If we had realised we’d have bought something in the market to give them, as the market did accept Thai Baht, even though it was a different country.
We knew what was coming… James slept on the boat on the way back to Thailand. Meanwhile, we were learning all about the Golden Triangle between Myanmar, Laos, and Thailand – one of the most extensive opium-producing areas of Asia, and of the world, since the 1950s. Most of the world’s heroin came from the Golden Triangle until the early 21st century when Afghanistan became the world’s largest producer of the drug.
If you are taking this trip you should know that they do insist on you wearing the lifejackets, and when we rode the boat they didn’t have small jackets for the children. Our boys objected to wearing them and we were “reminded” several times, first quietly and then over the microphone by the tour guide. We chose to not inflict on the rest of the boat the screaming and tantrum of the tired children if we forced them into jackets. You choose what’s best for your family.
Long Neck Karen
Our next, and penultimate, stop on the day trip to Chiang Rai from Chiang Mai was the village of the Long Necks. These are the ladies who stack brass rings on their necks from a young age until they seem to have a long neck. Apparently, they don’t really have a long neck – it’s just that their shoulders are smashed because of the weight of the brass rings. Some women have as many as 25 rings around their necks.
I do have two children, just the older one doesn't fancy having his photo taken too many times these days. Yesterday's journey included a trip to the location of the Long Neck Tribe. Personally I'm doubtful that many tourist dollars actually reach these tribes, and those that do encourage the people into a kind of 'act' they wouldn't otherwise do. I'm still respectful of those rituals that are important for the people but I don't need to see them, necessarily. So we went to a nearby hut while some from our group went to see the Long Necks, and we watched Noah chase chickens. #travelwithkids #thailand
We drank beer from a little shop in a hut, talked to other people on our tour, and waited for the majority of the tourists to get back from seeing the Long Necks before getting back on the minibus.
We had a seven or eight-hour drive back to Chiang Mai. Here you can see a little map of where we visited on this day trip from Chiang Mai to Chiang Rai. It was amazing and wonderful. I’m so glad we tried it – we were hesitant at taking the children (then aged 4 and 1) on the minibus tour for such a long distance. I’m sure we would do such a trip again in the future.