I know, I know, this next update is loooong overdue. Time seems to pass in the strangest way here, some days I feel like I’ve been here for months and months, and other days I feel like I just got here. This week seems to have flown by, but other weeks drag on and feel like forever. Well, here I am now! I know I have a few weeks to update on so I’m going to split the last few weeks into 2 different posts!
The weekend after Thanksgiving, we headed to the closest “city” to us, Chiang Rai. Chiang Rai City is the capital of another province in Northern Thailand, Chiang Rai. For us, it is the closest place that offers different food, shopping, grocery stores besides Tesco Lotus, a movie theatre, waterfalls, temples and more. After school on Friday, we raced to the bus station as per usual, stored our bikes with the lady who keeps them for a few baht a day, and hopped on the bus to Chiang Rai. It’s a 2 hour bus ride from Chiang Kham, and we drive right through the sunset which is always stunning. The drive is definitely mountainous but nothing unbearable and before we know it we arrive at the bus station.
We stayed at a guesthouse we found on Booking.com called Baan Bua Guest House. It was walking distance from the bus station and really in a perfect location for our weekend. When we arrived, the woman who owned it told us she almost cancelled our room, so she was glad we showed up (and we were glad she didn’t cancel it!). We had a private room with 2 twin beds and a small private bathroom with hot water. It was pretty cheap for a few nights, and we found it a bit more relaxing to be able to leave our stuff out rather than lock it up whenever we had to leave. The beds were…springy, but a touch more comfortable than our hard beds back in Chiang Kham.
One of the reasons we most like to get out of our town on the weekend is to have different types of food. While most people expect that we have wonderful different curries, pad thai, noodle dishes, and anything else you could get on the menu at a Thai restaurant at home, in our town, that is really not the case. In reality, we eat the same 3 or 4 meals every week, and there is very little variety to what we can have. We usually eat stir fried veggies and rice, fried rice, noodle soup or pad thai. Other than that, almost everything has meat in it, and while Emma is a vegetarian, I tend to stick to veggie dishes, especially in our town. The first night in Chiang Rai, we knew we absolutely wanted some type of Western food. Using our trusty friend, TripAdvisor, we opted to go to:
Hungry Wolf’s, #3/ 257 Restaurants in the city. On TripAdvisor, it says the restaurant is “Steakhouse, American,Bar” all of which sounded good to us. Upon arrival, we learned that a New Yorker and Australian opened the restaurant a few years ago. I was immediately overwhelmed by the menu because everything looked so good! We decided to get guac to start with, and share a large pizza. Oh, and we both got margaritas which if you know us is not a surprise whatsoever. This dinner was exactly what we needed. It is so easy to feel tired of the food, so having cheese for the first time since I’ve been here was amazing. After dinner that night we headed back to Baan Bua to get a good nights rest after a long week of teaching.
The next morning we ate at: BaanChivitMai, a small Scandinavian /European style coffee shop within walking distance from the bus stop and our guest house. When we got there we learned that the bakery is actually owned by the BCM Foundation whose aim is to help children in need and that all proceeds from the bakery go towards the foundation. I thought that was pretty unique and cool!! I had a banana pancake and an iced mocha, both things I cannot get in our town and I truly enjoyed it. It was quick, easy, and a nice feeling to know our money was going towards a good cause.
That evening we ate at:
Surf n Turf Bistro, a small Australian/ European restaurant near the Night Bazaar. It was quick, clean and the owner was very nice. When we first saw the name, we couldn’t help but laugh as Surf n Turf made it sound beachy and Bistro sounds more like a French restaurant. After dinner that night we also got ice cream sundaes from an ice cream chain called Swensons, kind of like a Friendly’s. According to their menu, it was created in California and very famous in America but I had never heard of it….
For our last meal in Chiang Rai we ate at:
Chivit Thamma Da Coffee House, the #1 rated restaurant in Chiang Rai!! While we seemed to wait for hours and hours, the meal was definitely worth it. I had salmon eggs benedict and a super deluxe caramel ice coffee of some sort and it was delicious. The restaurant was huge, and both buildings looked like huge mansions out of Europe. One was a coffee house and a bakery and the other was a bar and restaurant. They were both beautiful and it was also located right on the river. Definitely would go back here!!
We saw a lot on our short but sweet weekend trip to Chiang Rai. It’s so exciting to be able to explore a completely new place and have access to so many different things we don’t get to see every day! On Saturday morning, we were weighing our options and decided that we would do something exciting and rent a motorbike for the day. Renting a motorbike is so much cheaper than hiring a tuk tuk or a taxi, and how hard could it be, everyone else rides them!? Well, we were wrong. We were able to rent the motorbike no problem! 100 baht each, two helmets, and Emma filling out some paperwork and leaving her “insurance card id” (so she wouldn’t have to leave her passport) and we were off! Emma started off driving and I was so impressed as she scooted gracefully down the street to the main road. We were definitely too excited and not thinking because we managed to ride onto an extremely busy road with a traffic circle and both went into a slight panic. After going a little further, Emma pulled over and asked me to give it a shot. Feeling nervous, we switched spots and I gave driving a try. I cannot emphasize more, DRIVING A SCOOTER IS NOTHING LIKE DRIVING A CAR. I thought I would be fine since I have driven on the opposite side of the road before, but I was absolutely not fine. After a few too many
way too close calls with parked cars, I pulled over and we parked our scooter on the curb and sat down contemplating what the hell we should do now. We were only really half a mile from the rental shop where we started but it seemed impossible to get back. We sat there for way too long, knowing full well we looked like absolute dweebs before thinking maybe we could walk the scooter to a side street and try to practice there. We walked this heavy scooter around the block to park it and continued to think about our options there. Some actual thoughts that went through my head were:
” Come on, you can definitely ride a scooter. Teenagers do it all the time! It really can’t be that hard. Don’t psych yourself out.”
“You probably shouldn’t get back on that scooter if you’re hoping to enjoy the next few months.”
“Go practice in that sketchy bumpy long driveway with stray cats!”
“100 baht is nothing! Just return it.”
Needless to say, we decided the last option was the safest and the best. But now we were stuck, how would we possibly get the scooter back to the shop. We definitely couldn’t ride it, it was pretty heavy to roll back, and we didn’t want to make the poor man from the store walk to come find it so he could drive it back. While we were sitting there trying to figure out our next move, this nice Thai couple came over to ask us in broken English if our bike was broken. With the help of google translate, and a few cell phones, we explained that the bike was fine, but rather we rented one not knowing how to drive it, and were now scared to get back on. After a few minutes of back and forths, the wife took my helmet and hopped on our bike to drive it back to the shop, while the husband had us hop in his truck to give us a ride there. In our moment of need, this lovely Thai couple came to our rescue and I hate to think what would have happened without them. The man at the shop didn’t quite know what to think, but we let him keep our money for any inconvenience and confusion we caused him. After thanking the couple and returning the bike, we were on our way to find a new mode of transportation to take us on our adventure.
Just around the corner, we found a small older man sitting in his tuk tuk and proposed our plan for the day to him: The White Temple and Khun Korn Waterfall. He somewhat reluctantly agreed, we hopped in, and we were on our way. The sky was a bit overcast and our tuk tuk was definitely emitting some questionable fumes but about 20 minutes later we arrived at the White Temple.
The White Temple: While you would assume this beautiful structure is a Temple from it’s name, it is actually an art exhibit still being finished! Wat Rong Khun was installed in 1997 by Chalermchai Kositpipat, who designed, constructed and owns the property. The artist purchased the property and began to renovate the original Wat Rong Khun using his own money as an offering to Buddha and Buddhism. The exhibit is not expected to be finished until 2070! He intends for the site to be a center for meditation and for learning about Buddhist teachings. The whole site is one big extended metaphor, from the bridge to the temple which symbolizes the cycle of rebirth to the “gate of heaven” and so on. There is also a beautiful large golden building on the property that we could not quite figure out..turns out it was the bathroom!! All of the structures on the property were beautiful and very different from any other temple I have seen. Here’s a link if you would like to read more:
After exploring the temple and checking out the artists’ collection (work done with wide variety of mediums, it was very impressive), we headed back to our tuk tuk to send it up the mountain to the entrance to Khun Korn Waterfall.
Khun Korn Waterfall: We arrived at the entrance to the falls at about 4 PM. There was a short walk up to the path, and then an entrance to the hike that leads you to the falls. We had read the hike was just about a mile each way, give or take a little, so we weren’t too worried about the terrain. As we entered we noticed a sign that said we should be out by 4:30 PM but at that point we were going to do whatever it took to see that waterfall. The hike in was fine, definitely muddy and warm, but it was absolutely beautiful. It felt like we were trekking through the rainforest (which looking back on it, we really were). It always boggles my mind how quick you can go from feeling like you are in a city to feeling completely in the middle of nowhere here! We hiked on and soon could hear the sound of the magnificent falls and knew we were getting close. When we finally reached the falls, it was breathtaking. I’ve seen a few waterfalls here and there, but nothing compared to this powerful and ginormous force! We had read that you could swim under them to take a “shower” but honestly it seemed like it would quite literally take your breath away! We ventured closer and we did, we began to get soaked! Without even going into the water, we looked like we had fully submerged. It was absolutely stunning and worth every penny, frustration and stubbed toe of the day. We took some pictures and admired the falls and again we were off to head back to our tuk tuk and the guest house to end our day.
We got back to the guest house around 6:30 and as I was getting ready for dinner I heard Emma shriek. She ran out of the bathroom but could not quite iterate what had happened other than something had fallen out of her bathing suit. I was expected there to be a rat or a cockroach, but as I peeked around the side of the door, I spotted a fat, black, slimy leech, slithering around our tile bathroom. Absolutely disgusted by what I saw and worried that it was just attached to my friend, I quickly turned to google (what else) to figure out what this creature was. Turns out, during the wet season in the rainforest, these land leeches come out and wait for some prey to come by and then latch on. When they are full, they just fall off and go back to their lives. Unfortunately for Emma, this sucker had been on her since we left the waterfall and had caused some damage to her skin. A few changed bandaids later and she was okay, the leech was down the toilet, and the wound slowly, very slowly, began to heal. Still feeling shook weeks later and I will spare you the photo I took before I flushed it!
On Sunday, we had some time before we had to catch the bus back to Chiang Kham so we übered (is this a real verb?) to this mall called Central Plaza. We had heard from some people on our program that Central Plaza had a “Tops Market” which carries some Western foods and brands from home. The mall itself was completely and utterly overwhelming, talk about culture shock. It was full of bright lights, loud vendors, luxury stores and tons of Christmas decorations! Yes, Christmas decorations…this was totally overwhelming to us being that in a largely Buddhist country they have tons of lights and decorations out. Slightly confusing to my emotions since Christmas will be celebrated very differently here (aka I do not have Christmas Day off) but anyways….I was able to get some chocolate and tortilla chips and salsa so that kept me happy for the next few weeks!
Our weekend away in Chiang Rai was nothing short of exhilarating and eventful. I really enjoyed getting to check out this city and am looking forward to exploring more in the future (other than just passing through on busses all the time). We had a lot of fun, learned a few lessons, and most definitely enjoyed eating different food for a few days. Up next: Phayao City and Phuket!