Three things to do in Chiang Rai

So we were hit pretty hard in the face by reality once we stepped off our wonderful cruise down the Mekong and into Thailand. Namely, we were stuck. Our plan was to arrive at the border and take a bus straight to Chiang Rai but take note, no buses go there after 3pm. We could have skipped and gone straight to Chiang Mai but instead decided to take a morning bus which meant a night in the thriving metropolis that is Chiang Khong.

Yup, that’s about it. We did find a decent hotel that was clean and well priced though – The Green Inn (there’s only one street to this town so not hard to find). After a decidedly average meal – Tom’s arrived late and undercooked and mine tasted strangely like baked beans- we had an early night and gapped it first thing. There are two companies you can use – the red bus or the green bus. The red was packed with sad faces poking out the window for some fresh air and looked like it was going to fall apart any minute whereas the green offered the luxury of aircon. You can guess which we opted for. Bus tip: pays to book the green bus online as the seats fill up fast in the morning and online is the only way you can book prior to the morning of departure for some retarded reason.

I’ve gotta say, we were a little underwhelmed with Chiang Rai at first. Maybe it was because our hotel was in the arse end of nowhere. We wandered around and after getting frustrated that we couldn’t find anything that resembled a town centre, we headed to the most popular tourist attraction in town – The White Temple. You can book round trip private tours out there but it will cost you around 400 baht. The best option is to go to the central bus station and grab one of the public blue utes out there for just 20 baht. Getting back is easy as they run both ways pretty regularly it seems.

This place is totally worth checking out. It’s the most bogan temple I’ve seen in Southeast Asia.

We think this is the guy who designed the temple…his cut out features around the place a bit.

We were lucky enough to arrive on a Saturday which is when the (somewhat dull) centre of Chiang Mai is transformed by the bustling ‘walking street’ of Thanalai Road – aka a massive night market. I’d recommend getting there early as it gets ridiculously busy later in the night. In terms of shopping there’s not much unless you’re in the market for cheap and tacky threads…or cheap and tacky threads for your dog.

Seriously there must be a rule in Thailand that every small dog must wear a silly outfit. I think I heard this one muttering bad words under his breath.

The food options are vast and at times super weird…here’s Tom eating a mini burger slash cupcake.

Chips on a stick.

The fresh Som Tam (spicy papaya salad aka one of THE best things about Thailand) is amazing. The lady making it was super keen for me to take her picture…and yet failed to look at the camera.

This green tea drink was also great and had pretty impressive packaging. Yes that’s a bag in a bag in a bag.

On Sunday nights the place to be is ‘happy street’ (Sankhong Road). It’s essentially the same thing (I saw the same dogs dressed in even sillier outfits the poor buggers) but on a slightly smaller scale. Other than these places I’m not sure what kind of night life exists in Chiang Rai aside from a kinda lame night bazaar and some seedy girly bars so I’d recommend aiming for a weekend visit.

Finally on the list of things to do is a visit to the Golden Triangle. This is the point where Myanmar, Laos and Thailand meet. The cheapest way to get out there is to take the public mini van that leaves from the last platform of the central bus station. These are also run by the green bus company and go every half hour or so from 7am. Oh and FYI it takes around an hour and a half to get there.

Here’s Tom marvelling at the triangle.

There’s also a really big Buddha there.

And another one that feeds on coins (people roll them down those tunnels into his belly).

It’s pretty cool being able to see three countries at one time but the real reason to journey out to the triangle is for the Hall of Opium. As the area is notorious for opium production, this museum was commissioned in the hopes of educating people about the drug and its dangers. The entrance fee seems a little steep (200 baht) but is totally worth it. It really gives you a great of the history of the drug right through the ages and is not to be missed. Take note, there is a ‘House of Opium’ that’s close to where the bus drops you off but this is not the one you want.

Getting from the Golden Triangle tourist area to the Hall of Opium is  a bit of a gamble. We spent almost an hour trying to track down some sort of transport and ended up flagging down some random ute heading in the general direction. After some intense sign language and help from a local lady on board we made it. You could probably walk but it will take a while – your best bet is to do as we did (it should cost around 20 baht from the Golden Triangle area).

The grand entrance way.

And the creepy entrance tunnel that seems to go on forever.

There were no cameras allowed past this point so you’ll have to explore it for yourself. I have to say that it’s one (if not the) most impressive and interesting museum I’ve ever been to. The technology in the displays is insane and presents the information in such an interactive way that you don’t get bored. If you’re like me then an hour is about all you can stand in a museum but I could easily have spent half a day there. It’s almost like a really serious theme park! We were rushing a bit and ended up there for almost three hours so make sure you give yourself plenty of time.

I thought I was going to struggle writing this blog considering that Chiang Rai wasn’t as amazing as we’d hoped although now I look back at it, the Hall of Opium, White Temple and walking street markets totally made the pitstop worth it…even if it did mean a night spent in the glorious Chiang Khong.

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