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Best of Chiang Mai and Chiang Rai area

Estonia
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Best of Chiang Mai and Chiang Rai area

Greetings everyone,

I have travelled to more than 20 countries over 4 continents and never wrote a trip report. I had to write this one as it was one of the top experiences I ever had during my travels. This was not our first trip to Thailand but was our first trip to North Thailand. Our expectations were good knowing it is difficult to have a bad time in Thailand. That being said what we did and saw was far better than what we could ever hoped for.

Because our report is long and detailed we will post 1 day at a time.

June 11

My girlfriend and I arrived in Chiang Mai by the 1st class overnight train, our guide Nui and vehicle driver were there to greet us with all smiles. We depated the train station for Doi Inthanon Natioal Park. Once we arrived in the park we picked up a local guide named Boom who is a Karen man and very polite. The first stop was the summit of the highest mountain in Thailand. Boon explained the importance of the park being one of the main watersheds in Thailand and the importance of the cloud forest. At the summit is the resting place of King Inthawichayanon who saw the importance of the park as a watershed. Before the King died near the turn of this century, he commanded that his remains be placed at the top of this mountain: his ashes at the summit stupa are visited by thousands of people each year.

From here we walked across the road for a short 30 minute hike on the Anka Trail. Doi Anka was the name of the mountain before it was changed to Inthanon in 1899, which is short for King Inthawichayanon. The trail is actually a boarded walkway above the marshes and springs through large evergreen trees covered in moss along with lichens, lianas and fern. It was surprisingly quiet as we were the only ones on the trail. Boon pointed out birds including a White-browed Short Wing scampering along the wet ground and small pools. A Yellow-bellied Fantail was showing off clambering up a moss covered tree trunk fanning his tail. The Chestnut-tailed Minlas were very friendly not paying any attention to us as they flew around our heads and near our feet landing on the hand railings and branches inches from us. Further along the trail a Chestnut-crowned Laughing Thrush was hopping just in front of us as we tried to keep up. All this time Liisa, my girlfriend, was trying to keep up writing down the names of the birds boon was showing us while I was snapping photos.

From here we were taken to a Hmong Hill Tribe market loaded with fresh organic vegetables and all kinds of dried fruit. As we walked by the stall with smiling ladies in colorful costumes and their cute babies everyone was giving us tastes of the colorful dried fruits. We made a few purchases of the dried fruit along with very delicious and tender baby carrots. Boon asked us if we were ready for lunch however we were so full from the tasting and eating our carrots we decided lunch was not necessary.

Boon asked us if we would like to take a swim under a beautiful waterfall or just hike along a nice trail for a few hours to his Karen hill tribe village. We thought the swim would be a nice treat during our hike so we took or small day packs with our bathing suites in them, bottled and our dried fruit and carrots and got out of the vehicle with Boon. The driver and Nui, our guide from Chiang Mai, left for the village where they would meet us later.

We then entered a small unmarked trail in the forest. After we walked about 10 minutes we came across a small clearing where a hill tribe family was growing beautiful flowering Mums in several colors. As we continued we could hear the roaring of the cascading waterfall never far ahead. We had to make out way down a steep trail through large bamboo using stairs and hand railing made of the abundant bamboo and came into a clearing. Here was the start of the waterfall and large stream. Boon told us that the little spring on the Anka Trail at the summit was the beginning of this stream. As we continues along the stream we encountered a bamboo bridge we had to cross with Boon’s kind help to get to the base of the waterfalls and swimming hole. I ducked into the forest and changed into swim suite. Boon then showed me the best area to get into and out of the water, depth and where to swim. The water was cold but I am used to it being from Eastern Europe so no problem. The pool was clear, clean and beautiful. The surrounding canyons, beautiful forest and mist coming from the waterfalls makes this a perfect setting for a swim.

From here we followed the stream for a while then came upon a clearing. The trail now was along a ledge and to our right was a small concrete channel dug next to the trail which is the water supply for the Karen village we were hiking to. To our left were beautiful mountains and in the valleys terraced rice fields. It was not planting season yet so buffalo and cows grazed in the paddies their cow bells clanging as they walked.

We then reached the dirt road that led into the Karen village Boon talking to the villagers in his native Karen language as they passed by tell us where they were going. The first place we visited was the village school for children under 8 years old. The teacher greeted us and shoed us around. The children paid little attention to us as they were busy playing in the school yard. The teacher said there were 37 children at the school all from this one village. As we moved on with a shout of Bye, bye from the children we came upon the village coffee shop. The villagers grow organic coffee beans and bring them here for roasting and grinding to sell in Chiang Mai and other areas in Thailand. We had a couple of delicious cups and purchased some to take home.

Here we met Nui and our driver, said our good byes to Boon, his beautiful wife and daughter and returned to Chiang Mai and over night at Downtown Inn. The hotel was nothing fancy but clean, comfortable and just right for the price. In the evening we walked around the night bazaar which was nothing special for us already having traveled to Thailand before. The shocking thing is every where was empty. We saw only a very few other tourists. We had a simple Thai dinner at Anusan Market. The service was excellent, because it was low season/not so many tourists, there were 2 waiters serving us, so no need to add extra coca-cola into your class, every time we had a sip a waiter filled it again instantly. We took the short walk to the hotel and called it a night in anticipation what we will see tomorrow when we travel to Thaton.

We would like to thank All Thailand Experiences who helped to plan this trip via SKYPE and especially Nui, Boon and our driver creating lasting memories for us. Each day got better, I am writing Day 2 experience now and soon you can read it here.

Gunnar and Liisa.

Hannover
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1. Re: Best of Chiang Mai and Chiang Rai area

Hello Gunnar,

A really nice report!

I am looking forward to the next part.

Estonia
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2. Re: Best of Chiang Mai and Chiang Rai area

Thank You for Your kind words

Virginia Beach
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3. Re: Best of Chiang Mai and Chiang Rai area

Great report! :-)

Brisbane, Australia
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4. Re: Best of Chiang Mai and Chiang Rai area

Great trip report :)

Estonia
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5. Re: Best of Chiang Mai and Chiang Rai area

Morning, Day 2, June 12, 2010

After a very restful night and a nice buffet breakfast at Down Inn, our hotel, we were met by Nui our guide and we had a new driver, Geow. To our surprise Randy, the owner of All Thailand Experiences joined us. He said he needs to go on all the tours at times to make sure everything continues to go smoothly and will be with us for the next 2 days.

We checked out of the hotel and entered our luxurious van all tricked out. The seats we had were captain’s chairs only 2 across with arm rests, seat belts and vey plush. We were headed for Tiger Kingdom when Randy suggested we stop at Tannin Market first. Nui asked if we ever had Mangosteen or Rambutan and we hadn’t. She explained that these delicious fruits were now in season and we must try some. She also said Tannin Market was famous for Northern Thai sausage and cracklings or deep fried pork skins that we just had to eat.

Our next stop was tiger Kingdom. We arrived early and were the first ones there. We walked up by the restaurant where we could have a good look at the large tigers, which were pacing around their nice grassy outdoor enclosure complete with their own clean pool.

I chose to be in the enclosure with the big cats while Liisa decided the new 6 week old cubs would be best for her. Liisa was first as she entered the small very clean building housing 5 cubs. Liisa spent a good 15 minutes with the cubs and their handler petting and playing with them. As with all young animals they mostly wanted to sleep but a few were playful and enjoyed Liisa give a good rub to their ears and bellies. Randy commented on how he was here a month ago and saw them before their eyes were open. He couldn’t believe how big they have grown.

My turn was next as I entered the yard with 2 large tigers. The size of their paws and head made getting close and touching them a little apprehensive. The handlers assured me everything would be fine and was told to sit next to one. Tigers being nocturnal they were having a cat nap, which was fine by me as I couldn’t imagine getting this close to them if they were active.

The handler took photos while I was lying with the tiger and petting her, putting her paw and head in my lap with a handlers help. The handlers were always right there to make sure everything was safe. I really couldn’t believe I was doing this knowing I swipe with her paw and it would be deadly. It was an amazing experience Liisa and I will always remember.

We returned to the luxurious van and headed to Chiang Dao Cave with Nui pointing out interesting places along the way and telling us about Thai culture and the area.

When we arrived at the cave there were other tourist arriving in the back of a “Songthaew” and their guide headed them straight to the cave entrance. Nui and Randy said “don’t follow them, come here” and took us in another direction to a very old pagoda. It was built by the Shan people from Burma (then Lanna) in 191AD and looked it. You could tell there were renovations at times but still looked very old. As we walked around the pagoda there were small statues and figurines people had placed in the nooks and crannies of the main structure. Some of these were quite amazing, some were strange and some very old. We spent a good 30 minutes taking it all in and shooting lots of photos of the intricate stone work and small items left by worshipers. We kind of felt sorry for the other tourists who didn’t have the opportunity to see or even know about this wonderful old pagoda.

When we got to the cave entrance there is a large pond with colorful fish. When we visited the pond was almost empty and Nui asked to find out why. They had drained it for cleaning and were just now filling it back up again. The workers said it would take about a week to fill back up.

We then climbed the stair to the entrance of the cave. The first chamber is a worship hall with sitting Buddha images along one wall. On the back wall was a larger Buddha Statue and all along the rocks on every wall and above the chamber were statues of all sorts, some were carved into the rock. There were angles, musicians, Buddhist Monks, animals and Buddha images of all sizes in several positions, a photographers dream.

The next chamber housed another alter and guides with their kerosene lanterns to take those who wish to venture deep into the cave away from the main lighted path for a small fee. This would be great for those who have children and are adventurous then we are so we gave it a miss. We did go further into the cave about 300 more meters to the end and returned to the entrance. There were a few other interesting alters and a figure of a Buddhist carved into the rocks around 600 years ago but the first chamber was the most interesting by far.

Walking back to the van we passed several interesting stalls selling herbs for everything that ails you from coughs and headaches to menopause and impotence. They also had live herb plants you could purchase and plant in your yard, very interesting in deed. Nui asked if we were hungry as we would eat here. We had so many wonderful snacks and fresh fruit in the van we decided to just keep going and skip lunch.

Next Report:

Afternoon, Day2: visiting a Rice Mill, primitive Lahu hill tribe village and school, Thai Army Outpost on the Burmese (Myanmar) border, overnight in Thaton.

Caloundra, Australia
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6. Re: Best of Chiang Mai and Chiang Rai area

wow Gunnar you know how to write a JBR. Amazing. you are very lucky to have Randy show you around and his guides are very knowledgeable.

I was lucky enough to have Randy on my tour to visit with my sponsor child. Can't wait to hear and read more of your trip.

Estonia
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7. Re: Best of Chiang Mai and Chiang Rai area

Hello coxieSeQld,

thank You for Your kind words!

Gunnar

Estonia
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8. Re: Best of Chiang Mai and Chiang Rai area

Afternoon Day 2, June 12

After we departed Chiang Dao Cave Shrine we traveled over a ridge of mountains and into Fang Valley. Nui, our guide, said this is the second largest rice producing area in Thailand. We noticed before we came into the valley most of the fields were dry but here everything was a lush green and the paddies full of water. We were told the water comes from the small streams high in the mountains that enter the Fang and Mae Kok rivers.

We pulled into the parking lot of a large rice mill. Here there were large plastic tarps on the ground covered with rice. We walked passed people with rakes turning the still unprocessed rice on top of the tarps in the hot sun as we entered the mill. The machinery was impressive and massive standing about 20 feet high with men on top making sure everything continues to run smoothly. The large beast was shaking as the sifters shook and separated the clean white rice from the hulls to the waiting men with large burlap sacks.

We took a walk around the back of the machine where there were 4 large electric motors. Leather belts 30 feet or so long connected the motors to the machine flapping away as they went round and round. We watched as the fresh rice entered the machine from a silo above the mill and entered the shaker and the hulls being dispersed in a large heap in the field behind the mill. This is truly a work of art and I could of stayed there longer however Liisa was ready to move on as this old working breathing machinery did not impress her in the least.

As we drove to the small hamlet of Thaton Randy was explaining how he lived at the temple here for 2 years and did hill tribe projects helping those in need. His stories were exciting as well as inspiring and true as we would find out later in the day and next.

We stopped at a fruit stand where Randy and our guide Nui purchased 5 kilos of Rambutan fruit to give to the school at the Lahu village we were about to visit. The girls at the stand gave us tastes of fresh fruit including the best pineapple I have ever tasted. Randy was talking with the ladies in Thai about how the town has gone silent without the tourists that used to come here. Most of the restaurants, gift shops and guest houses were closed and the buildings on street along the river to the boat pier were shut and deserted. Nui told us that just a few years ago Thaton was a busy tourist destination for those taking the long tail boat through the mountain canyons to Chiang Mai. She said now because of guest houses on Kao San Road in Bangkok had bought up most of the property in Pai and opened businesses for tourists they were recommend they go there instead of Thaton.

We left the town and drove up into the mountains with fantastic views of the Mae Kok river valley below. We then turned onto a dirt road and into a Lahu hill tribe village and parked at the small school. Randy told Nui to take us inside while he disappeared into the village. The teacher came out of the school and greeted us. He couldn’t speak English so Nui translated for us. We took the fresh fruit and gave it to the teacher who gave it to a young lady to put in the school kitchen. The teacher explain there were 54 children in the school all between 4 and 8 years old and the older children went to the school in Thaton. Many of the young children were taking a nap in another part of the school. You could see all the little shoes pilled up out side the door where they were napping however there were 8 children the teacher were teaching how to speak Thai. We watched as the teacher had the children sitting in a circle and asked what sounds different animals made. Nui translated the lesson for us and it was fun watching them laugh at each other as the children made the different animals sounds.

As we left the class room Nui said we had to wait before we entered the village until Randy talked with the village headman to get permission. We walk to the school kitchen were they had a TV with satellite dish connected to an electric solar system. The teacher assistance was watching a program to learn English just as Randy walked up and said OK lets go.

As we entered the village among the young black pigs and chickens an older Lahu man approached us with a cup in his had and held it up to us. I thought oh no he’s begging for money, which would of surly ruined the experience. Nui said hold your hands out. As we did the old man poured water over our hands from the cup and welcoming us in his native Lahu language. Nui said this was the village headman and this is how they show respect to people of high ranking in society and welcoming us into the village. Wow we truly felt honored.

We walked around this very clean village with its traditional bamboo Lahu homes. There is running water and bathrooms were placed around the village, 1 for every 2 houses but no electricity except at the school and few homes had satellite dishes with a TV running off batteries that could be charged at the school.

We entered a small store that was also a Lahu home. Here we saw a lady weaving with her back strap loom and Lisa asked if she had anything she could perhaps purchase. Randy asked her in Lahu and she produced a few shoulder bags. Liisa took a look and made a purchase for 100 Thai baht. It’s great to know who made it and will always think of her and this beautiful village every time we look at the shoulder bag, for sure.

There weren’t many people in the village as they were all out working in their or some one else’s fields. The ones that were home paid little attention to us, shucking dried corn or making pig food from banana trees so we felt very comfortable.

When we got back to the van the driver, Gaew, asked if we wanted to go to the top of the mountain and look into Burma. Randy said there are Army check points along the way and although he knows many of the solders he could get by the check points but not sure if they would let the rest of us through but we will give it a try.

Just as Randy said about 4 kilometers up the mountain there was an Army check point. They stopped us and Gaew started talking with one of the solders who was asking questions. Randy joined the conversation and did a little name dropping of the head Abbot of Wat Thaton temple and other famous monks, the Army commander at the base in Mae Ai and a few others he knew. Gaew and Randy were instructed to get out of the van and walk over to the small fortification with other solders. As the officer was making a telephone call one of the solders inspected the van but did not enter. After a few minutes Randy, Gaew and the solders was smiling and joking in Thai. Randy came back and got in the van as Gaew gave his drivers license information to the officer in charge, got in the van and away we went on a very narrow paved road.

We traveled about another kilometer when Randy told the driver to pull over at a set of wooden and bamboo steps going up a steep embankment. As we were getting out of the van 8 dogs came running down barking at us. A solder at the top of the stairs called the dogs and told us to go up and join him which we did. When we got to the top there was a pathway leading further up to the top of the hill. The Army solder told us to go on up and have a look into Burma (Myanmar).

The path turned into a trench along the side of the mountain with sand bags and concrete bunkers. We walked up the dirt steps out of the trench to be greeted by 2 Thai army solders. There was also a nicely built hut where the solders sleep and a weapons storage depot half underground. The solders gave us binoculars to look into Burma. About 300 yards away was a mountain top filled with circles of razor wire and 50 yards past that was a Burmese Army outpost with their flag flying high. Just 50 meters this side of the razor wire was a small Thai army outpost with their flag. Looking through the binoculars we could see the Burmese solders looking at us with their binoculars, very strange.

Randy was telling us about when he used to come up here with his Thai army friends and watch the once big drug lord Kun Sa fighting the Wah Army. Randy was living at the temple in Thaton then (1993) and would spend the evening here at this out post drinking with the solders watching mortars and rockets being exchanged between the 2 sides. He told how 1 rocket shell landed in the Mae Kok river close to Thaton and killed a Thai man building a bamboo raft.

The platoon leader was explaining to Nui the area below in Burma and which tribe had which area and she would translate for us. To our left was the Wa, The Burmese in the middle and the Shan to our right. The Burmese area contained the Mae Kok River snaking through the valley with villages and a road up passed the next mountain rage. The area the Wa had was very dense forest and jungle and the Shan area more dense forest and jungle but more mountainous.

We stayed for about an hour and learned how many men were stationed there and how long before they changed men (classified). Randy wanted to know as he said next time he comes he will bring barbeque and beer and needed to know how much to bring. The platoon leader said it gets pretty cold there at night so whiskey would be better. No worries Randy said as we said out goodbyes and headed back to the van. We stopped again at the army checkpoint along the road to report in that we were safe and drove to the small hamlet of Thaton.

We arrived at our bungalows which were right on the river in a beautiful fruit orchard. The bungalow was perfect with a porch and comfortable chairs to sit outside. Nice clean room with hot shower and all the comforts of home. After we showered we all met at the cozy restaurant at the bungalows and enjoyed a feast of many Thai dishes and soups. We had a few beers talking about the remarkable day and what we would see and do tomorrow.

NEXT: Day 3

Wat Thaton Temple, more hill tribe villages a Chinese town and the black temple and white temple in Chiang Rai.

Brisbane, Australia
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9. Re: Best of Chiang Mai and Chiang Rai area

Hi - I've just found your trip report and wondering if it is at all possible to ask you to re-post it on the Chiang Mai forum. At the moment it is only on the Province forum and anyone only going to the Chiang Mai forum won't see it. A forum member sent me a message to see if we could move your trip report. I'm sure there are lots of people who follow the Chiang Rai forum who would like to see it as well.

Caroline.

Mauritius
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10. Re: Best of Chiang Mai and Chiang Rai area

Hi,

Thanks for the report on Chiang Mai.I am planning to go there for six nights.Is that too long? Is the pace of life as hectic as in Bangkok?

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