Week 30 – Chiang Rai, Chiang Mai, and Pai

This week we entered back into northern Thailand for the week. We crossed the border and took a van on the other side to get to Chiang Rai. In Chiang Rai, we stayed at a place called Tanya’s House, which was lovely. I really liked Chiang Rai! It had a small feeling even though it was a big city and a lot of the guesthouses, restaurants, and markets were very close together. The night market here was a cool event because there were food stalls up and down both sides, tables in the middle, and a stage with live music every night. Nearby, there was also a market with clothes and other souvenirs.

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Night market in Chiang Rai

Our first day there we decided to just wander around the city. We arrived around lunchtime and we found a little cafe with really good western food. We wandered the streets and saw several different temples and markets. As we were walking, we were stopped at one point by a police officer and told we could not walk any further. Up and down that street we saw police officers stationed and we were curious as to what was happening. Finally, we were told that the new king was in a temple nearby and was coming by in a couple of minutes. We waited and saw a bunch of Pathfinders drive by. We assume the king was in one of them and were surprised he did not have a limo.

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Wat Phra Kaeo Temple

Then, we proceeded to Wat Phra Kaeo temple where the king had just left. This temple was famous for its Emerald Buddha. It was decorated with beautiful flowers and banners for the king’s visit. Here, we also found a museum which was interesting because it explained the significance of many of the objects that we always see around temples.

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The famous Emerald Buddha

After the temple, we walked back to our hostel and on the way we ran into Helen and Mike, who were an English couple we had met in Laos. It was a happy coincidence that we met up with them again and we talked for at least an hour just in the streets. We returned to the hostel, took a shower, and then headed out for dinner. We went to the night market first and then to a bar. We went to the bar because we had passed by earlier in the day and they told us they were doing a free Valentine’s Day pig roast and we should stop by for free food. So, we headed there for our free food and quickly realized that it was the type of bar where old white men come to get Thai prostitutes. It was a bit uncomfortable sitting there and watching this. I was also able to joke with Nate his choice for our Valentine’s Day dinner. After we ate, we left to find a bit more comfortable of a bar, but we found that the town was dead. Most of the bars were completely empty! We found a pretty cool bar with an outdoor jungle patio at the back and some other travelers. We talked for awhile, had one more drink, then headed home for the night.

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Center of Chiang Rai at night

The following day we woke up early, rented a scooter, and headed out for the day. First we went to Wat Huai Pla Kung, which was a complex of temples with a enormous Buddha, a Chinese Pagoda, and a smaller version of the white temple, which they were still working on. It was kind of a bizarre mix of things there and you could tell that the whole complex was not yet finished. The white temple was very beautiful and intricate and it will be beautiful once complete. I had never seen a Chinese pagoda, so that was interesting to see as well. Finally, the big Buddha was impressive. You could go inside of it as well for a cost so we opted not to.

Standing with each of the temples at Wat Huai Pla Kung

Big Buddha and a cool wooden Buddha in the Chinese Pagoda

Next, we went to Wat Tham Phra, which was a temple in a cave. This was a cool place because there was almost no one there. You pulled up, walked up some stairs, and were in a temple inside of a cave. There was a monk sitting there who we talked to, took some pictures, and left. We drove around the outside of the cave and saw other little areas with Buddha statues as well.

Wat Tham Phra Temple

We returned to town to pick up a sweatshirt that Nate was having repaired and ate a really cheap lunch of soup and Pad Thai at a small stand near the market. After lunch, we headed to the mall to see if we could get me a new phone. We found that all of the new iPhones were very expensive, but on the way out we found some cheaper stands selling used iPhones for very reasonable prices. I bought a used phone that looked like new. We checked all of the features and the serial number to make sure that it was a legit iPhone and left. The only problem that I found later is that it did not pick up service or wifi unless you are very close to the router. 

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The White Temple was pretty spectacular! It’s like a fancy gingerbread house.

After the mall, we went to the white temple very quickly before it closed for the day. This is one of Chiang Rai’s main attractions. It is a beautifully structured temple where the whole thing is white with jewels and stones on it that makes it sparkle in the sun. We were rushed through the temple a bit by one of the guards with a whistle because it was close to closing time, but we saw enough. The entrance is a bridge between two lakes full of giant white fish. Leading into the temple on both sides you see creepy images of people that are going down into hell.

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Some creepy imagery leading up to the temple

The sheer detail on the whole temple is what sets it apart from others. Inside the temple was very interesting because on the back wall there was painting of not only Buddha, but of star wars, lilo and stitch, simpsons, and many other random things.

We then walked a bit more around the complex and they had many smaller temples that were all white and detailed as well. There were other buildings that were gold as well. In general it was a really neat complex! Yet, throughout there was also some really creepy images.

Some creepy images at the White Temple

After the white temple, we headed over to the Balloon Fiesta. We were very lucky that there was a balloon festival happening while we were in Chiang Rai. We drove over and it was much bigger than we even imagined. We had to park in a separate parking lot and jump on a shuttle bus over. There was no entrance fee, which really amazed me and there must have been 1,000 people there. When we arrived some of the hot air balloons were up in the air and there were all kinds of different balloons.

There was a huge area set up with tables and a main stage with food vendors around the outside. There were huge displays of flowers that were set up for Valentine’s Day that were lit up as well. The lighting on the flowers amazed us because the light could make the same flower look blue, red, or pink and we were unsure of the real color of the flowers. They also had figures made of boxes, an art section, and neon lights in the shape of hearts as well.

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Main area of the festival

All 3 pictures are standing in front of the same flowers!

The decorations were all ready for Valentine’s Day

After we had a look around, we found some food and took a seat at one of the tables. We had a beer as well and and sat down to watch what we had heard was supposed to be the best band in Thailand.  What we saw instead was about 1.5 hours of a children’s choir sing and dance. Although they were cute, they were not the best of singers and we were surprised they were granted such a long set. After dark, we walked around to see some of the other areas. Additionally, they circled all of the balloons around the festival areas and then lit them all at the same time. It was beautiful! We talked to some of the balloon teams because they were from the US and found that the festival pays them to ship the balloons, for their plane tickets, and lodging. I want to buy a balloon when I retire and get free trips around the world!

We returned to the city and went straight to the night market to try to buy some souvenirs. Nate found a couple of great shirts. Our favorite was one that says, “Don’t be a Dick, just be nice its that easy.” Finally, we went to a place called Swensen’s for some amazing ice cream. It was a really long day, but very good all around.

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The following day we woke up, headed to the bus station, and grabbed a local bus to Chiang Mai. This was the first time we were on a proper bus and not a minibus in weeks and it felt so good! We arrived in Chiang Mai and caught a cab to our hostel. Unfortunately, our hostel was on the side of the old city where nothing was happening and Nate was not happy with that. We rested for awhile and then walked to the street market I had attended the first time I was in Chiang Mai for dinner. Then, we took a stroll through the city and saw some temples lit up and scoped out lodging for the following night closer to the action.

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It’s amazing what you can find on a nighttime stroll

The following day we woke up, grabbed our bags, and walked across town to find another hotel. We found a pretty good one, turned in our laundry, and rented a motorbike. We used this day as a chores day because I had already been here and nothing really interested Nate. So, we went to the mall to find some shoes for Nate and to find a store that could maybe repair my phone. Unfortunately, tech support is not the same in Thailand as it is in the US and they couldn’t help me. We tried another place at another mall and they couldn’t help either, so I will have to go to the Apple store when I get home. Nate was also unlucky because it seems there is no arch support in any shoes in Thailand and so he could not buy any shoes.

Some temple visits around Chiang Mai

Pretty unsuccessful day, but we ended it with a really good Mexican restaurant. Well, it was probably just mediocre Mexican food, but after months without Mexican it tasted amazing. Then, we headed to a bar area called Zoe in Yellow that my friend Sarah told me about. She had lived in Chiang Mai for 2 years so I trusted her. It was really fun! We bought some beers from just a little store nearby and everyone was in the street and we danced. It was a good fun!

The next morning, we caught a minibus to Pai. I had heard about Pai from both Sarah and almost every travel throughout Southeast Asia. Everyone was in love with Pai as a bit of a hippie place. We arrived and checked in the Purple Monkey hostel which was just ok. You can get a double for the same price with much better quality. Then, we dropped our bags and walked to the main area. Two of the streets are filled street vendors selling such a huge variety of foods from spring rolls and noodles to lasagna and falafel. This was a really cool area just to walk around and see the hustle bustle of the night. As we walked around town we saw a little bridge to the other side of the river and over there saw live music and people. We walked over and stumbled upon a craft beer festival. Evidently craft beer is really rare in Thailand because it is illegal to brew your own beer. So the brewers had to brew their beer in Korea and then import the beer to Thailand. It was a nice night out.

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The craft beer festival was on the other side of the river

The following day, we rented a scooter as usual. First, we grabbed our bags and drove to our new hostel which was just a bit out of town called Suandoi Backpacker Resort. I was really excited about this place because the grounds were beautiful and they offered free yoga in the mornings. It would have been a dream if the beds weren’t so hard. We sat down and it was if the beds were just a wooden board. It was almost comical, so we knew we could not stay there another night. I was excited for the day as well because I was going to learn how to drive the scooter with a passenger on the back. I was a little shaky at first, but I got the hang of it and even did some off roading and it was fun! The off roading came about as we are trying to go to Pam Bok Waterfall, but Nate had accidentally asked for the walking directions so we rode our motorbike down hiking paths. At one point I had to get off and let Nate just drive the motorbike while I walked because it got a bit sketchy.

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Driving for the first time with a passenger on the back

Without knowing it we ended up at a place called The Split. I guess this is a place where the land in starting to split apart in places. Each area had a label with the year of when the split occurred. We hiked down into the gaps and it was a really interesting place. If the land keeps splitting it could become a problem for the surrounding farms.

The Split near Pai

The next stop was finally Pam Bok falls. We had an easy 5 minute hike up to the falls, then had to take our shoes and wade in the water to see the falls around the corner. The water was freezing, but the the falls were very quaint. I can’t say it was the best waterfall we have seen this trip, but it was pretty.

Pam Bok falls

We hiked back out and hopped again on the motorbike to go see the “bamboo bridge over rice paddy field.” Nate had seen this on maps.me, but I learned nothing about it in my research. I was a bit hesitant to go, but Nate really wanted to go, so we went. I am really happy that we did because it was a huge surprise. It was the really long bamboo bridge that went way over the rice paddy fields. It would be amazing during wet season to see all the rice growing, but it was still pretty. There was a pond of fish that we fed with some fish food provided. We continued on and way on the other side there was even a temple. It was kind of crazy and I can’t believe that it is not in Lonely Planet or on Trip Advisor!

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View from the bridge over the rice paddy
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Bridge over the rice paddy…definitely check this out if you are in Pai

To end our day excursion, we headed over to Pai Canyon for sunset. This place was a bit crazy because it made me feel as though I was out west. It consisted of these huge cliffs of dirt that had paths cut through them. It was much bigger than I was expecting. The sunset over the mountain was really spectacular and it was fun climbing through the paths.

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Pai Canyon at sunset

The following day we had a chill day in Pai. We woke up, had breakfast, and attended the free yoga class at our hotel. Then, we hopped on the motorbike and drove back to town to find lodging for our last 2 nights. We found a cute guesthouse that was not online, but it was really reasonable. We wandered around town looking for lunch and found perhaps my favorite restaurant ever. It was this little restaurant in a shack. There was only about 10 stools around the little bar area outside and working there was the owner and two other women. The amazing thing about this restaurant is that all of the food was completely made from scratch right in front of you. I ordered an amazing hamburger and Nate a veggie burger. With the veggie burger we even saw them grate all the vegetables up and push it into a patty. They made everything from hash browns to their own pesto sauce. It was amazing!! The owner was so nice and we had two more breakfasts and a lunch there before we left.

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Our favorite restaurant in Pai

After lunch, we went for a bit of a walk and then chilled at the hostel for awhile. That night, we ate at the street falafel restaurant which was also very amazing. Then, we went to a bar with live music and drank really cheap Thai rum.

Walking around Pai we some some gorgeous scenery and a very large spider

The following morning we woke up, ate breakfast and ordered lunch to go at our favorite restaurant, and then hopped on the scooter. We were going to go to Tham Lod cave, which is about a 45 minute drive away from Pai. What we failed to realize was that the roads were very hilly. We had to go up a big mountain pass to get up the the viewpoint and then go down the other side. Our problem was that we rented the cheaper scooter with less CC’s and the man who rented it to us failed to mention that this would not be enough power to get up the hills. So, a couple of times the scooter could not make it and one of us would have to get off the bike and run/walk up the mountain. Finally, we reached the top of the mountain and the viewpoint which was beautiful.

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At the top viewpoint

At the top, we found the weirdest swing apparatus I have ever seen. We also found some other travelers trying to figure out how it worked. Basically, it was four swings in a circle and you had to first figure out how to get everyone on, which was very tricky. Lots of guys were pulling on one swing or another in order to get someone to be able to hop on. Then, the weight was too equally distributed that the swing wouldn’t go in a circle like it was supposed to. Finally, you had the issue on how to get everyone off the swing. It was definitely an adventure. Nate got on the swing and I chose instead to document the whole encounter.

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Crazy swing at the top of the viewpoint

The rest of the drive was downhill so it was much easier because there was no jumping off of the bike. We reached the cave and it was a bit pricey for what it was. You go in groups of maximum 3 people where you split a fixed cost. The problem is that most people come in pairs, including us, so had to split the cost 2 ways instead of 3. We waited for perhaps 20 minutes while eating our lunch, but no single person came so we headed in.

Inside of Tham Lod Cave

Each group gets a local guide who has been taught a route and what to say at each step of the way. Aside from the script, our guide struggled with English a bit. We walked into the cave and she lit a huge gas lamp for light. We walked around the cave while she showed us stalactites, stalagmites, and sink holes. She told us that the rocks looked like different animals or even one rock she said looked like a boob.

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Following our guide with the gas lamp

After the first part of the tour, we got into a boat rowed us to the other end of the cave. In the water were gigantic fish! They were almost like mini sharks and our guide said the local people do not eat the fish because they taste bad. You could buy fish food and feed the fish if you wanted to. The fish know this so they follow the boats very carefully.

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Our boat driver in the cave

We reached the other end, exited the boat, and hiked up to explore more cave. Here we saw ancient coffins as well. There were also a huge amount of bats in the cave, which meant a lot of bat poop as well. Finally, we headed back in the boat and exited the cave. All in all it was definitely worth the experience even though it was a bit pricey.

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Standing near the entrance to the back of the cave

On the way back from the cave, we decided to take a bit of a detour and go to some hot springs. We went to what we heard were the “secret” hot spring, which weren’t too secret. They charged several small fees to enter, but once we arrived they were very beautiful. The water was shallow, but warm. In the hot springs we saw some people doing some type of meditation exercises in the water. We couldn’t stay long because we had time constraints, but it was definitely worth the quick stop.

The way back was quite a hilarious experience because combine minimal gas, no engine power, and a time constraint, stress is bound to happen. Nate did the best he could to speed down hills and get momentum to come back up, but of course I had to get off a couple of times. Since we had to make it back in time to return the scooter, I needed to run up these hills. Then, finally driving back we were so nervous that we would run out of gas. We made it back to the office literally on fumes (at one point we thought we had run out of gas) with only minutes to spare. It was a great final day in Pai!

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