After our 16 hour train ride from Bangkok to Chiang Mai, we booked a bus ticket to Chiang Rai, a town further North of Chiang Mai, about a four hour bus ride. Upon arriving in Chiang Rai, I have to say, it didn’t quite match my expectations. From the way I had read about it, I was expecting a small hill town (kind of like Munnar was in Kerala) with cute little streets and set in the hills. But Chiang Rai is a proper city that was a lot larger than I expected. We checked in our guesthouse in the Old City (the North Hotel – would not recommend unless you get it for less than $15!) and went on our way to checking out the city. Due to a misdirection from one of the hotel staff, we ended up on a side street at a local restaurant looking for some dinner. The menu on the board was only in Thai but we sat down and waited. After a few minutes, a woman handed us a sheet of laminated paper with 6 items on it in English from which we ordered (no prices on the menu). I had the chicken pad thai, Samir had Tom Yum soup and we shared a Fanta. The meal was delicious and definitely had great flavor to it – all for 70 TB (less than $3) – and I started to appreciate the quaintness of Chiang Rai a little more sitting in this hole in the wall outdoor café (I stretch to call it a café – what’s between a café and a street stall?). After dinner, we walked around a little more and stumbled onto a larger street with a bunch more restaurants on it and by the looks of the restaurant, definitely more of a tourist area. After stopping at a more Western coffee shop (105 TB for two coffees vs. our 70 TB dinner), we wandered into the Night Bazaar. Many big cities in Thailand apparently have these night bazaars – outdoor markets where vendors sell anything and everything from food to clothing to arts/crafts to fake eyelashes and crazy colored contacts! After browsing through some stalls, we wound up in the pavilion with live entertainment of a Thai pair singing random American songs. The area was very attractive with polished wooden tables, lights in the trees , incense burning and tables filled with diners that were waited on by different restaurants. So we had a beer and a glass of wine (chilled red wine… eesh) and listened to the entertainment for awhile. As we started back to our guesthouse, there was another section of stalls so we walked through and stumbled on another dining section of the night bazaar – the one I like to call the Thai section. The polished wooden tables and benches were replaced with stark yellow metal tables with four chairs – no waiters – just a bunch of food stalls that lined up either side of the large dining area and live entertainment that was actually in Thai. Samir and I walked up and down looking through all the interesting food stalls – hot pots where you can slow cook you own meats, noodle places, stir-fry places – the best however, were the fried creepy thing stalls – fried bees, grasshoppers, silkworms and grossly huge cockroaches! The next couple nights, Samir and I rotated between the “Tourist” dining section and the “Thai” dining section based on our mood – I even got some cotton candy! Not as good as India’s, but it was tasty. Our last night there, we ran into two ladies from Amsterdam (about our age) who swore by the fried bees. Neither of us has gotten that adventurous yet, and I was still a little sicky from India and Bangkok, so we decided to pass – but maybe one day soon! The next day, we went on a hilltribe trek – basically a full day trek through the hills / forests around Chiang Rai with a couple of stopovers to see how the villagers in the hills lived. This is one of the things Chiang Rai (and Chiang Mai) is known for, and while I can see how this can be an attraction for Western tourists, seeing the actual hilltribes wasn’t really all that unusual to us since we’ve both seen similar ways of life in India. But, we enjoyed the trek for its picturesque scenery (and it was a great workout!).
Definitely not as cool as the rolling plantations in Munnar, but still nice!
One of the most amusing things we saw on the hilltribe trek. A couple from another village came to the Karen village area to buy a pig to take back to their village. Alive. Wrapped in that blue tarp. Squealing. Craziness!
As part of the trek, we also went to see a pretty waterfall (standard in these things!).
While we elected to walk the whole time (except for an hour long longboat ride to start), there are options to also ride elephants or a car through the hills as well. However, after a full day of trekking around (with a jeep ride for the last bit thank goodness!), we were definitely ready for this!
The hot springs bath at the end of the day was the perfect way to relax and soak away the day!
And last but not least, our guide had to pick up his motorcycle from somewhere in the village – so he just brought it along in the taxi with us! Random!