Chiang Rai… Now HERE is Asia….

So I cancelled my plan of going to Bangkok because of the protests that are going on there currently. I decided instead to head to Chiang Rai. It came highly recommended by several friends and I had a friend of the family living there (teaching abroad) so it seemed like a good option. It turns out it was!

My friend Elyse is teaching in Mae Chan (?) and her friend Katelyn is teaching in Chiang Rai city center. They also had a few friends from their program (who are teaching south of bangkok) come up for the weekend. It was great to meet everyone and catch a glimpse of what these youngster are doing in there lives (early twenties). I wish I had the balls or the foresight to do this when I was there age. It seems incredible. They work during the week and travel around Thailand a lot on weekends. They have plans to go to Phuket and Malaysia for new years and once they are done with their 6months-1year of teaching they are going to continue to travel. It just seems like an awesome way to travel through Asia on the cheap and being able to take your time while doing it. Super jealous!

So, I arrived in Chiang Rai after a travel day from Singapore to Bangkok to Chiang Rai. I got to the airport here around 6pm. I had to buy a taxi ticket in the airport and unfortunately all the sim card stands were closed. So I was hoping for the best that my driver knew where he was going and that he wouldn’t veer off course. The taxi cost me about 200 Bhat (1USD=30bhat).. Everything in Thailand is SUPER CHEAP!!! (more on that later). I had forgotten what the exchange rate was when I went to the ATM at the airport so I had only taken out 1,000 Bhat (about $35) lol. I made another trip the next day after meeting my friends.

marionette horses at the night market in chiang rai

I have an entire post about the hotel so I won’t get into any detail about that here.

Getting around town is pretty easy. Chiang Rai “central” is pretty small and you could probably walk the whole thing in about 20 minutes. My hotel was a 10-15 minute cab ride (20 or so by tuk tuk). The people in town are all really friendly and they’ll often exchange a head bow or smile. The town is pretty touristy too with lots of white folk wondering around. There are backpackers and also lots of non locals that appear to be living here as well.

Everything is dirt cheap here. I took Elyse and Katelyn out for lunch the first day and I think it cost me 15 bucks. Eating somewhere in town is the way to go in my opinion. There are plenty of restaurants/bars to choose from and the food is good and super inexpensive. I had pad thai with shrimp for the first time and it was good. I’ve never really eaten Thai food before so I had no idea what to expect. I liked all the food I ate here in Chiang Rai and I have another week in Thailand so I should get my fill.

You can rent a scooter for an entire day for about $2. Thai messages at places along the street are about $3. Stuff at the night market (which we went to on my second night in town) were also really cheap. Elyse picked up a sweet little fanny pack (yup!) for a couple of dollars. If I was interested at all in souvenirs (and had room in my luggage) I could have killed it at the market. The market is really cool and is a must visit if you are in town. Some stalls have things that appear to be handmade (we actually saw a few people making their items right there) and then there were lots of stalls were everything looked like crappy, mass produced stuff.

Speaking of scooters, WATCH OUT for them. Everyone’s on a scooter (I’ve heard it’s like a circus in bangkok). Families of four fit on scooters that are really made for 1 person. You’ve got mom and dad and kid number one and then kid number 2 who’s like less then a year old. And the kids stand on them like it’s no big shit. It looks really really dangerous and considering there doesn’t see to be any traffic laws to speak of, I imagine there must be tons of accidents all around town. The sidewalks all across town are all ripped up with some being repaired and others seemingly just not. So you are often walking in the street, dodging and weaving through cars and scooters. You need to pay attention.

We spent my first day wandering around town and on my second day I wandered around a bit by myself. I stopped in a bar/hostel to grab a drink and just relax/kill some time. I was the only one in the place until an american looking girl came in. She sat for a few minutes and I figured why not spark up a conversation. We were the only two people in the place and worst case she didn’t speak english. Best case, I’ll make a new friend. She did speak english so I asked her to join me.

Here name was Hannah and she is in town teaching also. There seems to be a lot of teachers all over. We met up with a few of her other friends (Jake, Rachel and Max) who are all teaching here in Chiang Rai. I find it very interesting to just meet new people, even if its for an hour, and chat with them about what they have going on. Some of us met up with Elyse and Katelyn for dinner in the night market (Sawadee). There were 5 of us eating. I got some seafood and fruit dish with rice. It was really good and everyone else seemed to enjoy their meals also. We got a bottle of wine (for like $5) and I think the total bill was around $30. I paid for the meal. These kids are living here off about $1000 a month (which obviously goes a long way) so I figured they need the money more then me. It was my little way of saying thank you also. They need their money to travel so what’s $30 between friends?

Elyse, Katelyn and myself went off on our own and went to TeePee bar to meet their thai bartender friend, Tu. This guy is hilarious. I’m not sure what kind of drugs he is either on or probably heavily abused in the past, but I’ll take some. The bar is really grungy and he’s got classic rock ballads playing on the stereo and tv’s. He was wearing these funky goggles and a wig (he has 15-20 wigs throughout the place that he switches between throughout the night). His english is pretty good and I would TOTALLY recommend you coming here if you are ever in town. It’s about a 3 minute walk from the entrance to the night market. It’s a really small, whole in the wall, place. But super fun.

After that we walked to a club the girls had been to before. It was an indoor/outdoor place with a live band, stage, and seating outside and clubby atmosphere inside (they started with a DJ but had a band come on later in the night). It’s amazing how similar a club is here in little chiang rai to a place in the city. Tables around a dance floor, bar in the corner, guys buying bottles, girls holding hands as they go to the bathroom. Pretty typical scene. Only difference here is some of these people were probably 15 and some of the women were actually men.

I won’t get too into it, but the “lady boy” situation here is really… interesting? They are certainly much more ‘progressive’ about transgender/cross dressing/etc here then in the states and it’s totally acceptable to be a lady boy.

Elyse’s friends finally met up with us around midnight and we sat down, had a couple drinks, and just chatted. Taylor and Steven are teaching south of bangkok and took a 6+ hour drive to get up here. They all met in orientation and have continued talking over the month or two they’ve all been here. It seems like some of the teachers I’ve met have really good situations and love where they live and their schools,etc. While others, not so much. But I guess that’s the way it goes. I would just keep thinking about the travel opportunities that living in southeast asia would afford me. I mean you have vietnam, cambodia, loas, malaysia, indonesia, bali, etc… all a short flight away. We called it a night around 2 and decided to meet back up in town the next morning for a trip to the “White Temple”. Taylor and Steven and their friend Jack had a car so we’d all just drive together.

The white temple is very interesting (especially inside [no photos allowed, sorry]). The decorations have something to do with all the things that Buddha (and I guess people) have to overcome in order to live life on the right path (or something like that as It was crudely explained to me). They have tons of visuals painted all over the walls including the twin towers burning with a snake running through, angry birds, spider man, michael jackson and SOOO much other weird shit. The temple was really packed with tourists though and you weren’t allowed to stand in one place for more than a minute without getting yelled at by a security guy to keep moving.

From the white temple we hit up Wana Horse and … wait for it… OSTRICH farm. Word on the street is they let you ride an ostrich here. So we figured… why not! And we were NOT disappointed. I didn’t think I wanted to do it. We had watched a video of all these stupid tourists (soon to be us) getting tossed off of the birds as if they were angry bulls. There looked to be mud in the videos and I just didn’t want to end up with something broken and being all muddy.

We got there and everything looked pretty dry. The birds looked like shit though. They were missing a ton of feathers and obviously were not happy to be here. We paid 5 bucks each and got to ride. Elyse and Jack where the first two brave souls. You just hop on, bare back, wrap your legs around this things body, grab it’s wings and hold on for dear life. As if being on the back of an ostrich isn’t enough.. you know with the risk of it turning around and eating your face, or tossing you off, or eating your face… the handlers were provoking them to run and gallop and shit. It was a riot to watch, less so to partake. It was something that was fun(ish) and I would totally suggest it to anyone. I felt pretty gross afterwards and pretty lousy for the animal who seemed to be struggling under my bodyweight…. so I’ve packed on a couple pounds overseas… so what !! :) I wish I had long pants on because wrapping my bar legs around this things ‘chest’ did not feel great. It was an experience for sure and as the sign at the farm says… “once in your life”.

We went back towards town and grabbed some more food and they were nice enough to drop me off at my hotel. I checked out and got in this cab for the 3 hour (ish) ride from Chiang Rai to Chiang Mai (south) which is costing me about 2500 bhat (around $83). There is a bus that runs down to Chiang Mai which is supposed to be totally acceptable and only like $5 but with all my gear I went for private travel.

Chiang Rai was a GREAT experience and the perfect way to enter into the real Asia and into Thailand. I am really grateful that Elyse allowed me to join in on the festivities and was nice enough to show me around. It certainly made everything easier and set me up nicely for the 10 days or so that I will be spending in this country.

an elephant ornament at the market in chiang rai a fat baby sculpture at a temple in chiang rai thailand a mash in the market in laos in the golden triangle the entrance to the opium museum in chiang rai thailand some boats along the river in the golden triangle in thailand the pool at le meridien in chiang rai thailand thailand-chiang-rai-trek-sign Tu - the local bar owner in chiang rai thailand a mask at teepee bar in chiang rai thailand a tuk tuk in chiang rai thialand walking up to the white temple in chiang rai thailand a hanging ornament that we bought at the white temple in chiang rai thailand one of the smaller buildings at the white temple in chiang rai thailand a wide angel shot of the white temple in chiang rai thailand golden flowers at a temple in chiang rai thailand a boat at a dock in the golden triangle in thailand by chiang rai a boat under cover at the golden triangle tour on the river north of chiang rai a mask on the little island by laos on the golden triangle tour a sculpture in front of the buddah at a temple in chiang rai thailand some shutters at a temple in chiang rai thailand

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