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Two Day Excursion To Chiang Rai
from Chiang Mai, Northern Thailand

We took a two day, one night excursion from Chiang Mai to Chiang Rai and the 'Golden Triangle' in early January 2008. We booked trough Vieng Travel, our preferred travel agent in Chiang Mai Province.

We chose the option of travelling as a couple without other passengers in a minibus with driver and guide, which is the most expensive option. The main reason for this was that we needed to renew our visa stamp at the Myanmar border and wished to stop at a number of points of interest to us along the route, not wishing to inconvenience any fellow travellers.

Wat Tha Ton - Large White Buddha - Big White BuddhaWe left the Chiang Mai Gate Hotel, Chiang Mai at about 08.00 and headed up Highway 107 heading northwards following the course of the Mae Ping River up through teakwood plantations, bamboo groves and limestone tors. Travelling through Chiang Dao towards the towns of Fang and Tha Ton where we visited Wat Tha Ton, and afterwards waited our long-tailed boat to take us closer to Mai Sai and the Myanmar (Burma) border crossing.

Akha woman - The countryside around Tha Ton is settled by a number of hill tribes including Aka (Akha), Karen (Yang), Lahu, Lisu and Yao. Tha Ton is also home to some Chinese nationalist exiles, forced to flee after a coup in BurmaThe river here forms part of the border demarcation in places. The small town of Ban Tha Ton has changed 'ownership' numerous times in the turbulent history of the two countries! Thailand 'won' the most recent tussle over this area known in Thai as Ban Rom Thai, with its local Shan ethnic group. The countryside around Tha Ton is settled by a number of hill tribes including Aka (Akha), Karen (Yang), Lahu, Lisu and Yao. Tha Ton is also home to some Chinese nationalist exiles, forced to flee after a coup in Burma.

The cruise along the Mae Kok River, accompanied by our guide Nong, lasted about an hour. The water level of the river was very low and our skipper had to manoeuvre round semi-submerged tree stumps, shoals, sandbanks, minor rapids and boulders! We saw kingfishers and fishermen plus a pagoda style Wat. We saw the beauty of the scenery change from agricultural paddy and other crops to hill forest. At the end of the river trip we were met by our driver at a Black Lahu village on the north bank 30 minutes drive from the Mai Sai border immigration post.

Myanmar-Thai border at Mai SaiOur 'visa run' across the Myanmar-Thai border at Mai Sai took about twenty minutes. We crossed the bridge had our passports stamped within minutes and came straight back. This was astounding after our experiences crossing the Cambodian border which took almost an hour just to leave Thailand!

Our next stop was the world famous 'Golden Triangle’ and the Opium Museum near Sop Ruak, where Thailand meets Myanmar (Burma) and Laos (Lao). Once a hub for opium and drug running. Thailand in the foreground, Burma to the left (sand bar too) and Laos to the right. This is now a regular 'tourist trap’ on the Thai side of the border. These are a must see if you are in the vicinity! The other two country's governments have not yet developed the 'hype' over this geographic phenomena.

We then travelled down the Highway 1 through Mae Chan to Chiang Rai, reaching our hotel, The Golden Triangle Inn, as darkness fell. After a good meal washed down with cold 'Chang' lager we headed for the Night Bazaar, which was a slightly smaller version of the Chiang Mai one! Our age began to show as we started yawning around nine! We headed back to the inn for a good night's sleep.

Day two started with an American Breakfast of eggs and ham at the hotel and we were ready for off as soon as Nong and 'Top Gun' turned up at 07.30!

First stop was the only 'remaining' section of moated city wall at Yang Soeng Gate followed by a visit to the statue, shrine of King Mengrai AKA Rama V of 'Anna and the King' fame. Chiang Rai became a separate province in 1910, after being part of the kingdom of Lannathai for centuries. When Lannathai was incorporated into Thailand, Chiang Rai remained as an autonomous region and was administered from Chiang Mai.

Our next port of call was the original site of the 'Emerald Buddha', Wat Phra Kaeo on Trairat Road, a little slice of heaven in Chiang Rai.

The Wat Rong Khun, in the area of Pa-or Donchai and the only 'White Temple', is the brainchild and life's work of the famous Thai artist Chalermchai KositpipatWe headed out of Chiang Rai on our whistle stop tour, continuing due south on the Highway 1 (A2) to go to Wat Prom Khun or Wat Rong Khun, Chiang Rai. The Wat Rong Khun, in the area of Pa-or Donchai and the only 'White Temple', is the brainchild and life's work of the famous Thai artist Chalermchai Kositpipat, recognised and honoured by the His Majesty the King of Thailand. The Rong Khun Temple is a dazzling example of stylised Lanna architecture and high Thai art, glittering in the morning sunlight, an awe inspiring site. We suspect that work here will not be finished in a lifetime as new additional buildings are sprouting up around the site. The main Viharn houses a beautiful white jade Buddha image.

Leaving the Wat complex, that includes a gallery of original works of Chalermchai Kositpipat, we headed into the countryside, entering an area of vineyards and orchards, after turning on to Highway 118 through the small town of Mae Suai. One of the fruits grown around here is an apple shaped fruit with a 'stone' instead of a core, with the Thai name of Put Sa which somehow translated to Ju Jub in English! A tasty little number (Aroy jing jing - Yummy truly!) in any case.

Our guide Nong was becoming our Thai language teacher and friend pointing out the 'Dragon fruit' cactus and other points of interest along the way to our next, unscheduled stop at Wiang Pa Pao, hot spring wells, a popular little spot for travellers to picnic on freshly boiled eggs! Our next scheduled visit was to the hot spring spa resort area south of the Khun Chae National Park, the watershed for the Mae Lao River.

Sankhampang Hot Springs Resort covers about 35 acres and has developed around a series of hot springs and geysers. A popular day out from Chiang Mai or Chiang Rai by visitors and locals alike. The water only has a slight sulphur odour. We spent a pleasant hour or so just walking round the well stocked gardens and watching the locals 'take the waters'. There is camping and tent rental within the park as well as cottages to rent for longer stays.

The Hot Springs being our last stop, we headed back to Chiang Mai to get home before dark.

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