Waking up a little hungry, having not really managed to eat an awful lot of the dinner the night before, we were grateful for our final free breakfast from our lovely hostel. We then got ourselves checked out and sat in the common area for an hour until it was time to hop in a taxi to the bus station to go to Chiang Rai. We arrived at the bus station an hour early, as stated on our ticket, to discover everything was a bit of a shambles. When we eventually found the counter for the company we had booked with we were told to hang around stand numbers 20 and 21 and our bus would pull into one of them at some point. So off we went to find a seat and wait it out, unsure why on earth we had been requested to be there so early. Our bus finally arrived 15 minutes before we were due to leave and by that time we were particularly delighted to get into the air conditioning and get comfortable for the next 3 hours.
The journey was rather uneventful and we were delighted to discover, when we pulled into Chiang Rai, our accommodation was a mere 3 minutes walk away. So bags strapped on, we ducked and dived our way through the men offering us a tuk tuk and arrived at Bike&Bed Poshtel. Now after checking in we discovered that "poshtel" might be a bit of a stretch. Our 4 bed dorm had no windows, was painted a dark grey and had very little space to move around in, but nonetheless we got ourselves as unpacked and settled in as we could. Both feeling a bit peckish, having missed lunch, we headed out for a wander down the lantern lined main street and stopped for an early dinner in Chef Sasa.
After dinner, we didn't fancy sitting in our fairly dingy dorm so we made our way to the upstairs common room which thankfully, was much brighter and, bonus, we had it to ourselves! We enjoyed spending the night playing Jenga and Pop-up Pirate (yes, we are big kids!) before crashing into bed for an early night.
The next morning we enjoyed a lie in until 10am, which has been virtually unheard of since we left home. We headed to Smiling Moon Cafe for breakfast, although let's be honest, at this stage it was brunch. After breakfast we wandered over to one of the main (read: only) tourist attractions in Chiang Rai centre - the Clock Tower which was built in 2008 to honour His Majesty King Bhumibhol Adulyadej.
We returned to the hostel to do a bit more planning for the coming months, then made our way back into town for lunch at Connect Cafe before wandering over to the Flower Festival. The festival is in its 16th year and is held in Chiang Rai due to its cooler climate meaning, they are able to grow more flowers than in other areas of Thailand.
Once we had had our fill of beautiful flowers we returned back to the hostel to do a little more planning (we think we are nearly there, and have just about everything booked for the next 3 months so thankfully our down time in Chiang Rai turned out to be quite useful). Realising there was only so long we could stare at a computer screen/guidebook we decided we really should head out and do something with the rest of our day (and here enters an activity neither of us anticipated ever doing). Chiang Rai however, was a little limited on things to do so we headed to Cat 'n' a Cup - a cat cafe. We arrived, took our shoes off at the door, ordered a couple coffees, were given a number and told to wait for an available table. A few minutes later a family left and a table was freed up for us, so hands washed we went and took our spots on the floor and the lovely waitress brought us our coffees. All in it was a rather odd experience, the cats all seemed to hate human interaction and had perfected the body swerve when hands were outstretched to pet them. We sat for about half an hour enjoying our coffees but didn't really interact much with the cats, it was an odd experience and definitely not something we are itching to repeat any time soon (a dog cafe may be an entirely different ball game however!!)
At about 18:30 we headed back to the hostel where we were met with our new dorm mate - a lady in her 70s, in bed already, in her pyjamas, air conditioning off, and lights out. So we crept in and lay on our respective bunks in silence until we got hungry. We headed to Sanfran Burger & Beer for some dinner followed by a few drinks at Ram-Luk as we couldn't quite bear the thought of heading back and sitting in silence in our dorm again. We were enticed by the live music at Ram-Luk and quickly took a seat however upon ordering it became abundantly clear that foreigners were not welcome! We stuck it out, however after drink number 2 the silence in the dorm seemed much more enticing that being pointed at and laughed at so off to bed we went!
The next morning we were up with a 06:30 alarm as we were being collected at 07:45 for an intense day of sightseeing. Collected by our wonderful guide Cookie, we headed off to the White Temple (Wat Rong Khun). Designed by Chalermchai Kositpipat to symbolise heaven, it was opened to the public in 1997. The main building of the temple is reached by crossing a small bridge. In front of the bridge there are hundreds of outreached hands which are meant to represent unrestrained desire, the bridge proclaims that the way to happiness is by foregoing temptation, greed and desire.
Next stop, after the White Temple, was the Long-neck Karen Hill Tribe. The Karen Hill Tribe are Thailands largest ethic minority group, originally from Tibet they have moved South to the North of Myanmar and Thailand. They are called the Long-neck tribe as the women wear heavy brass rings around their necks which push down on the shoulders giving the appearance of a longer neck. (Katy tried one on and can confirm they are extremely heavy!) The majority make their living through farming however they have recently begun to capitalise on the influx of tourists to Thailand by allowing paying tourists (300THB) to wander through their villages. We were encouraged to buy their home-made wares, we were even greeted by a 5 year old with "Hello, you come buy shopping", they have clearly found an excellent way to make money. It was a little voyeuristic for our liking as we were encouraged to photograph the people at work however we drew the line when we were encouraged to photograph a young girl dressed in traditional dress. (Would we photograph a child we don't know at home? Absolutely not! Therefore why on earth would we do it in Thailand!?)
Content to be leaving the Hill Tribe behind we set off to Choui Fong tea plantation for a tasting. The grounds of the plantation were absolutely stunning and Cookie talked us through the process from picking the leaves to packaging the tea up ready to sell. We had a bit of a whistle-stop tasting of 3 different types of tea, it was so quick however that we didn't catch the names of them. They were all delicious though! (Craig informs me that one was definitely a type of Oolong!)
We hopped back into the minivan and made our way up to the most Northern Point of Thailand, Mae Sai. It is on the border with Myanmar, and filled with a bustling market stalls filled with wares from both countries.
We followed Mae Sai with a lunch stop at Number 9 Cafe, a really peaceful restaurant on the side of the road. Katy had one final Pad Thai and Craig had Khao Soi, both were delicious and well needed after a busy morning.
After lunch we headed to the Golden Triangle, where the borders of Thailand, Myanmar and Laos meet at the confluence of the Mekong and Ruak rivers. It has been one of the largest producers of opium. Eradication efforts began in the late 1990s and our guide proudly told us that there is now no access to Heroin or Morphine in Thailand anymore. This brought on great confusion for us as if there's no Morphine then what on earth are they giving people in severe pain in hospitals. Craig asked our guide this however a slight language barrier meant our guide thought Craig was trying to get his hands on some sort of opiate, thankfully with Katy seeing where the conversation was going she jumped in to make sure she knew we were pharmacists and just curious!! (As a note, you can get morphine, it just has to come from the doctor!)
Just along the road from the Golden Triangle was the Opiate Museum which was our next stop for the day. We have quickly discovered that museums here aren't quite what they are at home, with no real flow to them and no explanation for what things actually are. However we enjoyed wandering and see things like the opium pipes and opium weights that were used in years gone by. (Does it count as CPD?)
An hours drive back towards Chiang Rai and we arrived at the Black House. Designed by artist Thawan Duchanee, it is his artful portrayal of hell. It is a collection of houses decorated with the skin, bones, teeth and taxidermy of a wide array of animals. Supposedly they all died of natural causes but I'm not sure we really "got it" but then we aren't really arty people!
Final stop of the day was the Blue Temple (Wat Long Sear Tean), designed by Putha Kabkaew - a student of the gentleman who designed the White Temple. We enjoyed wandering inside and around the beautiful building as we watched the sunsetting in the background.
We were pretty knackered by the time we got back to the hostel having had such a full on day so we grabbed a quick dinner at Aye's Restaurant and joined our dorm mate who was having another super early night!
We enjoyed not having to set an alarm the next morning (although our dorm mate was intent on waking us when she left at 07:00 - probably revenge at us for being up until 22:00!) and headed to the Laundry Cafe for breakfast whilst we did our laundry in the laundrette next door - genius marketing! Back to the hostel to get all the laundry packed away and enjoy chilling out a little in our dorm now that we had it to ourselves. We got some lunch at the Pizza Company and then wandered back to the Flower Festival, this time we enjoyed watching some seriously talented young artists paint the flowers. Our night then involved a game of rummy or two before crashing out.
The next morning after checking out and grabbing some food back at the Connect Cafe, we took the bus back to Chiang Mai. We arrived early evening and had one final Thai meal at Link Cuisine just along the road from our hotel, where we had the friendliest waiter we've ever come across!
Before bed we got bags packed ready for our flight to Yangon, Myanmar in the morning!
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