Rest. Reading. Or X-treme makeover: haircut, manicure, pedicure, etc. Check out Wuttisak Aesthetic Clinic in the CBD: if only their assistants were not so attractive, it wouldn’t be so intimidating. CR is not really the place for plastic surgery or a sex-change: go to BKK if that is what you want.
Cooking class @ home in own kitchen, after trip with my hostess to the markets. Chilled bottle of Siam Winery’s Naga white wine. Or two bottles, perhaps.
There are several excellent Thai cooking schools available here.
I think I would particularly like to learn next how to make green mango salad. Green mangoes are delicious. My last lesson involved cooking the rather fragile long green eggplant. However, I wasn’t over the moon about the fermented pork sausage: the neighbour’s dog did well that day. Actually, the dog’s done quite well ever since I arrived.
If you are a keen cook, it is great fun if you can find a self-catering apartment. You can learn Thai cooking, and you can also experiment with unusual local products.
I make an excellent chicken liver pate, using the tiny little green peppers you can buy at the market. They are not really peppers: if you cook them (as I have discovered) they lose their taste: but if you sauté some fresh chicken livers in butter and brandy, blend them and add the whole peppers by hand, it’s rather good.
The other night I had some Thai friends to dinner. I had a vase of purple and green lotus seed flowers on the table, which they promptly ate. This was somewhat disconcerting. The seeds are supposed to be good for the heart.
There are inevitable misunderstandings: I also served some raw peanuts. My friend was saddened and mystified: she asked me, why did I not fry them? Was I ill? However, we are on a par: every day she sends me a cold croissant, filled with raw onion and mayonnaise. When I am not well, she gives me fresh warm pumpkin juice, a Thai cure-all. This is enough to bring on a relapse.
Talking about social encounters in Thailand, I have found it useful to have a file on my computer. Call it Home: call it what you will. I created this file regarding the most common questions asked of farangs in Thailand: where do you come from, who are your family, what do you do and how much do you earn. This is not idle curiosity. Society in Thailand is stratified. One of the reasons your anxious interrogator is asking these questions is in order to place you within their hierarchy. Your social status, as seen by Thais, will have an influence, both on the words they use to address, or speak, about you; and the way they ‘wai’ you. As a farang, you may be outside the whole system, but stratification is a component, nonetheless. Of course, curiosity is also a natural part of this process. Pictures are a wonderful thing. So I have a file, and it has lots of pictures. You can include photographs of family members up unto the 12th generation and cousins twice removed, and these will all be eagerly viewed and commented upon. I also included photos of my pets, plants in my garden, the town where I live: that sort of thing. This file has become so popular I am now a tourist attraction for visiting family members.
And another thing: privacy in Thailand is a foreign concept. So, having viewed this file, my friends then like to commandeer my computer and look at all the other files as well. What they make of my collection of pictures of strange and unusual hats I do not know. The whole family likes to come in while I am having a massage, and they enjoy having a little chat, sitting around the bed. If you like to read, you have a real problem: a farang sitting in the garden with a good book obviously is in search of company, and the book is just a pretext. One must never be alone.
Back to kitchens: please note that in a typical out-door Thai kitchen you are going to have close encounters of a personal kind with all sorts of interesting insects, such as suicidal snails, militant millipedes and other things. Also, they usually don’t have hot water in kitchens here: it’s ‘fill a kettle’ territory. This kind of cooking environment is not for everyone. You won’t save money by having your own kitchen, because take-away food here is so cheap, but you can experiment with all the amazing new foods you find @ the market and it’s nice to be able to make a cup of coffee. Few accommodations outside the major resorts provide coffee-making facilities.
I sat there the other day, surrounded by orchids, eating a green mango salad. A butterfly landed on my forehead, and sat there for quite some time, thinking.
Nice: very nice.
If you don’t want to do any of these things, why not a day excursion to Phu Chi Fa, SE of CR on the Thai-Laos border: Chi means ‘point’ in Thai, and the mountain is indeed pointed. It takes 2 to 3 hours to drive there and 20 minutes to walk to the top. There are spectacular views and I recommend arriving in time to watch the sun rise over the mists below. Many people prefer to go the night before and stay nearby, so they do not have to get up early. That is a good idea.
In the cool season there is a bus service to Phu Chi Fa from the Old Bus Station @ 7 am and 1 pm: check beforehand.
On this trip to Phu Chi Fa you can also shop for handicrafts in a local village; visit the magnificent flower gardens @ the Doi Pha Mon Highland Agricultural Extension Office in Amphoe Thoeng; lunch @ a prawn farm-restaurant and visit the twenty-five metre high Phu Sang Waterfall, which consists of 35°C water from hot springs. An interesting day, with lots of variety. The Agricultural Extension Office is open daily from 8.00 - 16.30 hrs.
If you are here in February the region has a flower festival to celebrate the blooming of Dok Siew (Dok Siao Ban or Blooming Siao Flower Festival) which includes sports competitions and cultural performances by hill tribes at Ban Rom Fa Thai in Amphoe Thoeng.
During the winter months you can see tulips, lilies, red salvia, poinsettias and other flowers. There is also an organic garden. Visitors can buy agricultural products and souvenirs.
Volunteer, and/or donate to a worthy cause.
There are numerous ways to make a difference. A simple web search will open up opportunities for you in terms of your interests and expertise. See, for example, http://www.thaicharities.org/ or the special section on TA.
There are 2 important aspects to consider about volunteering:
1. Be discerning, and do your research before you commit. Some organizations may not suit you. If you are particularly interested in the hill tribes, look up, for example, the Akha entry in Wikipedia and examine it carefully. Fully research the links provided. You may find some of this information disquieting. The ideal volunteer situation is when both the intellect and the emotions are involved.
2. Just be very careful about volunteering, in terms of your visa. Under Thai law, you are not allowed even to think, or to do anything, without a work permit. I leave it up to you and the organization you want to work with to discuss this problem. If you are only volunteering in terms of social interaction with children for a day or two, I can’t see that this will be a major hassle. Discuss it with your host organization.
There are many ways to make a difference. Show initiative. If you are a car mechanic, for example, you might be able to provide a really special half-day experience for aspiring young apprentices. Computer skills are always in demand, especially behind the scenes.
And, if you don’t actually want to teach something, take a small group of children in care out for the day to a waterfall, or other attraction, and have a truly, truly wonderful time. A day you will never forget.
Or visit and donate supplies. Ask what they need. If you are dropping by for the first time, you might like to bring fruit: cater for 20, although some organizations care for larger numbers of children: check in advance. There is a wholesale fruit and vegetable market where you can purchase supplies. You can never go wrong with a donation of rice. Food, musical and sporting equipment, books, art supplies, clothing, healthcare items (including toothpaste and toothbrushes), cleaning stuff for both humans and houses, and haberdashery (needles, buttons, thread), are just some suggestions.
I hear good things about The Mirror Foundation, in the hills nearby, and the International Humanity Foundation, near the old airport in town. The IHF ‘is a non-religious, non-political, non-profit organization that strongly believes in an equal opportunity for all and in preserving the cultures, traditions and beliefs of the marginalized communities it works in.’
If you have special curatorial skills and want to participate in museum conservation, contact the Lanna Heritage Conservation Center, Oub Kham Museum: 053-713349/ 08-1992-0342.
If you are into boxing; want to help young homeless boys and love horses, some sponsorship would be appreciated by the Abbot of Wat Tham Phra Archa Tong (Golden Horse Temple), which is about 20 kilometers northwest of Mae Chan in Tambon Sri Kham. A former Thai boxer, Phra Khru Bah Neua Chai Kositt provides education and shelter for orphans from border areas. The young monks ride horses in the morning to collect alms and they also practice Muay Thai boxing in the evenings. Maintaining the temple, the school, the clinic, all these people and 200 horses is an expensive task. Buy the award winning 2006 documentary DVD Buddha's Lost Children by Dutch director Mark Verkerk http://www.buddhaslostchildren.com/ to learn more.
The last time we took a donation to a temple, on Buddha Day, we took a full ute-load: I noted large bags of rice; cartons of loo paper, soy sauce, cooking oil; and all sorts of other things. You might ask, why make a donation to a temple? They also undertake a wide range of educational and charitable activities. Our trip to the temple was a noisy one. If you travel in a typical Thai twin-cab, there are 5 people in close proximity. Every Thai has two mobile phones. Each phone has a particularly annoying ring-tone, from strident whistles to chattering birds. Take 4 Thais, a total of 8 phones, and listen to the phones ring incessantly for four hours. I call this a Telephony of Thais.
If you have a special project in mind, research The Chao Phya Abhai Raja Siammanukulkij Foundation. It is privately financed by its founders and its activities are adequately funded. However, it welcomes voluntary donations and suggestions for new projects. I would like to recommend making a donation for a scholarship; a particular student, or a special activity. You can find out about some of the students @ insiithaihouse.com/foundation_activities.htm. A very well run organisation indeed, which caters for disadvantaged young people from the north of Thailand, particularly through education and by providing opportunities in the sports and the arts and entertainment industries. This is the charity for you, if you want to move beyond triage and into sponsoring excellence. In the long-term, excellence can be as valuable as triage: remember Gramsci.
For cat lovers, if you visit the Buddha Cave (Tham Phra), a large bag of cat food would be much appreciated. The cats play a supervisory role (as cats tend to do) within the temple precincts.
A visit to farangs in the local prison would no doubt be appreciated by them. Stretch your boundaries.
An aside: when making a cash donation in Thailand, it is a good idea to put it in an envelope, please. This is seen as the polite way to do things.
Days 19, 20 and 21
Go north for a few days.
Expedition to Mae Sai, 61 km north. One of Thailand’s premier folk-rock bands is Caribao. They were in CR recently. Buy their CD ‘Mae Sai’ and play it as you travel along. See it in advance on U-Tube: the latter is a great resource which is often overlooked when planning a trip.
From Mae Sai, you can go north into Myanmar
From Mae Sai, you can go east:
The Golden Triangle and the Casinos
Hall of Opium and The Opium Museum
Mae Sai – Myanmar: by crossing the river @ Mae Sai into Tachilek. Possibly spend several days in Myanmar? Please note: From Tachilek, you can travel as far as Kengtung (Chiang Tung), 160 km away, where you can visit a Wat and an ancient banyan tree. To travel to the rest of Myanmar, a visa in advance is needed. One-day passes for non-Burmese nationals crossing into Burma are issued at Burma customs in Tachileik. Passports are confiscated and a temporary travel permit is issued; the permit is exchanged for the traveler's passport upon crossing back into Thailand. If you are considering an excursion into Myanmar, I leave that to your own research.
I will tackle the trip eventually: I want to go to the port once called Martaban, now Moulmein, famous in antiquity for its magnificent large ceramic jars. And to Syriam, where the Portuguese adventurer Filipe de Brito y Nicote was killed in 1613. And to the west coast, where the Golden City of Mrauk-U flourished between 1430 and 1784 A.D. The Dutchman Schouten, who visited it the 16th century, said that it was the richest city in Asia he had visited, and comparable in size and wealth to Amsterdam and London. Get there before it disappears: the Burmese are currently building a railway through the ruins.
Mai Sai shopping: don’t stay the night here: keep going
En route from Chiang Rai, in strawberry season, roadside stalls sell strawberry products.
On the way, visit Wat Tham Pla (called both ‘Fish-Tail Cave Temple’ and ‘Monkey Temple’) which is 13km south of Mae Sai. Note: 300 steps, but wonderful views. There are also other caves nearby, if you like this sort of thing. The most important is about 8 km from Mae Sai, in the Tham Luang-Khun Nam Nang Non Forest Park, where you can visit Thaam Luang (Great Cave), which stretches for 7 km. This area is of particular interest to botanists also.
Personally, I find Mai Sai a little depressing. There are bargains to be had, particularly in the back alleyways. When you purchase something, always open the parcel and check that you have got what you paid for. The stuff in the main street is not for anyone with an interest in art and aesthetics and authenticity, although if you want a fluffy Chinese rug with a picture of a lion on it, this is the place for you. Dried Chinese mushrooms are good value, as are brocade slippers with shocking pink toggles. I should have bought 20 pairs.
The main gem market is located on the east side of Phahoyothin Road at the intersection of Soi 3 and Soi 4. Here you can find rubies, sapphires, jadeite, moonstone and black, or red, spinel. I rather like pale pink-violet kunzite. However, over time it fades irreparably: it is fragile, and vulnerable to heat and sunlight. See a good variety of stones @ Cleopatra Gems, 134/2 Tessaban Road 4, Mae Sai. They also have a website, so you can do some research before you arrive.
The Mandalay Shop on the main road opposite the Police Station is horrendously expensive, but has a good range of jade (they have 2 kinds of jade: Jadeite (hard) and Nephrite (soft). There is a factory out the back, near the toilets. You might like to ask if you can wander around. The shop also stocks rubies and sapphires from Myanmar and will make to order: www.mandalayshop.com
If you are really interested in mining sapphires and in gold-panning, do a sidetrip to Bokeo in Laos between January and June or, for gold-panning, to Lampang Province in the dry season. Regarding gold, go on a wild-goose chase for the reputed 5,000 tons of gold looted by the Japanese and said to be hidden in 1945 in a cave somewhere. Taksin did.
Regarding gemstones: Caveat emptor.
Perhaps I missed something when I went to Mae Sai: I didn’t like it at all.
Note: driving slowly out of Mae Sai going south, you will see on the left an interesting shop which manufactures large white contemporary Buddha statues. They are exquisite. I understand a largish statue only costs about 600,000BHT, but then there’s transport and customs duties to consider. There are 2 other shops further along the highway, but the first is the best.
There is also an excellent business near Mae Sai which is well worth a visit, if you are a tourist, a shopper, or someone who would like to design and commission some lovely things on an individual or commercial basis. They also do drop-shipping.
Jinnaluck Mulberry (Saa) Paper and bamboo products: open daily by appointment 8 – 17 hours: 81 883 9062 :81 885 0561. 235 Mai Sai – Chiang Sean Road: e-mail : email@example.com
Website : www.asiandesignconcepts.com Jinnaluck@hotmail.com
Saa paper is a renewable resource. Chiang Khong is a centre for the sale of raw saa paper materials from Burma and Laos to Thai manufacturers.
I would have lunch on the way to The Golden Triangle @ the Anantara Resort and Spa, with its famous Elephant Camp. They have done wonderful things to help elephants, including helping to build an elephant ambulance. How’s that for a cool project?
The Golden Triangle and the Casinos:
This is not my scene, but many people find it of interest. Some glamour hotels: some guesthouses. Lots of souvenir stalls.
Don’t get confused between the Hall of Opium and The Opium Museum (also known as The House of Opium). They are only a few kilometers apart and both are worth seeing.
The Hall of Opium is a $10 million dollar tourist attraction and rather theatrical drug education centre, under the aegis of the Doi Tung Foundation. There are 5,600 square metres of exhibition space and the Hall is located on a 40 acre site. A thorough walk-through might take you 2 hours. A moderately priced buffet lunch is available.
The Opium Museum (House of Opium) is a small privately owned museum in the middle of town with a collection of unique and precious artefacts. It was established by a former teacher, Mrs. Patcharee. Open daily: www.houseofopium.com
Moving on. An indifferent glass of latte @ The Serene Resort, past the large Buddha, will cost you 120BHT, but the views over the river are lovely. Watch the barges from China drift slowly past. The Serene restaurant was totally empty when we went there, but if you like understated and expensive western glamour, this might be the place to go.
Speedboats go to Don Sao Island (Laotian handicrafts) and to the Thai-owned Golden Triangle Casino in Myanmar and the new Chinese-owned King Roman Casino in Laos. You can hire a boat and go sightseeing along the river. A must-do attraction for people interested in textiles is Ban Hat Bai, a Thai Lu village further downriver.
Chiang Saen: ambience, temples, archaeology, museum, riverside ruins: a must-see and must-do place
Okay, a little history to start with. The origins of Chiang Saen lie hidden in the mists of time. It is sited extremely well.
The Mekong serves as a defensive border to the east. At a time when rivers were roads, a number of strategic and navigable waterways converged here, including the Mae Kok River, (which flows through Chiang Rai); the Mae Chan and the Mae Ruak. These rivers drained fertile surrounding valleys and facilitated centralised control. If you were building an ancient kingdom in Virtual Reality you couldn’t design a better spot.
The annals of Chiang Saen claim that nagas (mythical serpents) helped to dig the town’s moat. Ruins of 75 temples have been found within the town walls and another 66 are situated outside.
A son of the ruler of Chiang Saen succeeded his father in the mid-13th century. His name was Mengrai and he rather liked founding cities. Successful alliances, treaties and conquests saw him expand his kingdom.
He called this new creation ‘Lan-Na-Thai’, meaning ‘land of a million rice fields’, and brought prosperity and stability to the region. Mengrai built many towns and temples. In 1262 he founded Chiang Rai as his new capital, building a palace here: then Fang, which he used as a base to invade Hariphunchai (Lamphun) in 1281; then, via Mae Siao, he went on to build Wieng Kum Kam (the royal capital from 1286 until 1292), which is now a fascinating archaeological site on the east bank of the River Ping, near Chiang Mai. In 1287 he made an agreement with King Ramakhamphaeng of Sukhothai and King Ngam-Muong of Phayao, which laid the groundwork for the first Thai kingdom of Siam.
In 1296 Mengrai moved his capital again and founded Chiang Mai on the western bank of the Ping River at 4 am on the 14th of April, 1296. (Thais are extremely punctilious about dates.)
It seems that he was innovative: some of the Mon’s more desirable urban planning features were incorporated in his later cities (after Chiang Rai, unfortunately) and he encouraged the development of arts and crafts in specialized villages. This of course was an atavistic forerunner of the current One Tambon: One Product system (OTOP); which means that when this was recently adapted from the Japanese model (Oita Prefecture), it actually fitted into Thailand’s historical system rather well. OTOP promotes the use of natural resources within a traditional village culture, with areas specializing in a particular product.
Mengrai is said to have died in Chiang Mai in 1317 during a thunderstorm, when he was hit by lightning in the city market. He would have been quite an old man by then. Gossip has it that his death was punishment for having broken a promise, made in Chiang Saen early in his career, to his wife, Queen Eua Ming Wiang Chai, that he would only ever have one wife. Many years later he married Princess Pai Koma: his first queen was distraught and went into a nunnery, where she later died.
Just inside the western gate to the city and next to Wat Chedi Luang is the Chiang Saen branch of the National Museum. The museum is open 9 to 4, from Wednesday to Sunday, except on national holidays, and is closed 12 -1 for lunch. I think. Might be best to check.
A must-see, with a good shop.
Wat Phra That Chedi Luang: Next to Chiang Saen National Museum is an ancient and very beautiful 88-meter high, bell-shaped, Lanna-style chedi on a base which is 24 metres in circumference. It is the tallest religious Lanna monument in Chiang Rai province, although a bit fell off recently in the last earthquake.
Chiang Saen Lake, 4 km south of town, has been developed for recreation with swimming, boating, fishing, accommodation and early-morning and evening bird-watching. Anyone for birdwatching? Ideal between September and April, when birds migrate.
Check out this amazing site:
Click here for a checklist of the birds of Chiang Saen: The Mekong River Click here for a checklist of the birds of Chiang Saen: Nong Bong Kai (Chiang Saen Lake)
Bird Tours : Check the suggested itineraries for ideas on creating a tailor-made birdwatching trips to Thailand: Thailand bird tours: www.thaibirding.com/guiding/birdguiding.htm
Bird tours in Myanmar: simply amazing:
Dinner: try the Chinese bargees’ favourite eating spot: Kiaw Siang Hai @ 44 Rimkhong Road, Chiang Saen: all day until 8.30 pm. Chinese food, obviously.
Return to Chiang Rai. Rest: relax: swim: sort photographs: check emails: update your Blog: that sort of thing. This is the first day off I’ve given you.
Post presents home.
Lunch: try a buffet (about $8AUD) @ one of the major hotels, such as Wiang Inn or the Rimkok Resort. The laurels pass regularly between them, so do some last minute research as to which one is the best at the moment. Note that Dusit also has a breakfast buffet (200BHT), for those days when you want to indulge yourself.
How to do last minute local research before you arrive? Try Thai Visa’s Chiang Rai Forum: ask a question. Thai Visa members are not in the same quadrant as those in Trip Advisor, but I have found them helpful. You might, for example, be a farmer from the mid-west who wants to visit an orchard or fruit-processing facility. Most Thai Visa members live here and may be able to give you a tip or contact. They are not tourists, per se, but people living here with local knowledge. They might be able to help you with really obscure questions. They do not have a great deal of patience, so please, do be sensible. Thai Visa is not a tourist forum. You will be dead in the water with a question like ‘I am coming to CR for 2 days and want to know what I should see and do.’ No. Oh dear, no. Do not go there.
As an aside, if you are a farmer or an agronomist, I do know of someone who has retired as an advisor to the government and can take you round the countryside and show you more agriculture than you ever want to see in a month of Sundays. This is such an obscure area of interest I won’t bore you with it here: PM me for details.
You might like to visit some more must-see Wats. Truly. There at least two more you really should see.
Wat Jed Yot
Wat Jedyod means 'seven peaks’ and building started in 1844. There is an older and more famous temple of the same name in CM. If you are interested in astrology, the ceiling of the front portico has a painted illustration of the Thai astrological system.
Location: where else but Jet Yot Road? South of the New Clock Tower
Wat Huay Pha Kung: (I think that’s its name!). A few km north of CR a new temple in the Chinese style is nearing completion. It should be ready by the beginning of next year. We wandered around it early one evening. There are 9 storeys and a new Buddha image is being carved inside the building from a veritable forest of fragrant wood. Swirling Nagas with ferocious fangs guard the entrance, floating on white clouds. The entrance is 3 stories high, with chandeliers, moulded white plaster ceilings and marble and terrazzo floors. You can’t actually see out of the windows until you are a lot taller than I am. On the terrace 12 chedis look out across the valley. If you are a Buddhist you are supposed to locate your appropriate chedi, based on your birth date, and do reverence.
Activity Day: Hire bicycles, take a picnic, hat, torch, and water: visit some interesting hills north-west of town, going over the Mae Fah Luang Bridge. Go across the river: keep pedalling: there’s a nice little coffee shop on your left: keep going and then shop for fresh fruit @ the local market, Ban Nam Lat: stop for water @ the new 7/11 next door: then keep going and follow the signs, which indicate you should turn left @ Soi 5.
Riding past on the western side of the first limestone hill, you will pass Wat Tham Tupu on the right, which is not overwhelming, but has a nice bas-relief. If you do decide to enter, note that there is also another smaller cave at the back.
Soon you will come to Boomerang Adventure Park. Look them up on the web: they have a site with a small kiosk and toilets in the shadow of the cliffs. If you have a non-active partner, perhaps you can abandon them here while you do something athletical, like rock-climbing: first check with the Park whether they are open that day, especially during the week. The owner, Ken Albertsen, may also be able to give you detailed information on local caves and trekking opportunities.
It appears that he accidentally discovered at this site the traces of what he believes may have been ancient kilns, up to 2 metres in diameter, with fragments of slag and glass scattered nearby. I have no idea if Mr Albertsen is prepared to discuss his finds (other than place them on the web) but, if you were to visit Boomerang Park, you might let slip you are really interested in archaeology, rather than frisbee golf and zip-lines.
Further on, there is the Buddha Images Cave: Tham Phra is located on the bank of the Kok River, and is also accessible by long-tail boat from the CR pier. It’s nestled into the side of a small mountain covered in luscious flowers and plants. The stairs are steep. Inside is a Buddhist shrine with over 80 ancient Buddha images. Many cats keep watch. If visiting by car or boat, you might be able to lug a large bag of cat-food up here as a donation. Tham Pra is a lovely place, pretty and quiet, and I recommend it. The small park is well maintained: you can picnic here. In the dry season, you might be able to walk across the river to Pattaya Noi for refreshments.
If you are interested in caving specifically I refer you to the excellent and comprehensive on-line bibliography @ …shepton.org.uk/cave-bibliography.
What I REALLY think you should do, regarding caves, if you are also interested in archaeology and active pursuits, is plan to visit the Ban Rai Rock Shelter (Spirit Cave) to the west. (It’s complicated getting there.) I would allocate 3 days for this excursion: I like to take my time about important things. This is an adventure trip, so if you are more comfortable in a 5-star Bangkok Hotel and prefer shopping, this is not for you.
Archaeology: a side-note. Archaeology is one of my interests. You could spend YEARS exploring the archaeology of Thailand. These are just some quick notes for the amateur historian on holiday in CR. Just bits and pieces, in no particular order.
Read Charles Higham’s Early Cultures of Mainland Southeast Asia, as an introduction. Note also that it is always best to do your really serious research at home before you leave. When visiting many remote archaeological sites around the world, the available information in English can sometimes be abbreviated and/or simplified in the extreme, or completely unavailable. I recommend you also undertake back-up research in various museums in BKK and CM.
The ruins of fifteen ancient cities have been found in various parts of Chiang Rai province. That should keep you busy for a while.
It is estimated that human habitation in Northern Thailand dates back at least 40,000 years. Remains of bronze age settlements have been found at several sites, including Phayao to the south and @ Soppong to the west. Log coffins have been found in 83 sites in the latter area. The Log Coffin Culture seems to have existed between c100BC and 800AD. Huge teak trees were split, hollowed out and the bodies were placed within them.
A must-do is The Ban Rai Rock Shelter: ‘About a 30-minute hike from the remote village of Ban Rai, the large limestone rock shelter was a sacred space and burial ground from the Pleistocene to the Iron Age. Rock paintings found along the eastern edge of the site testify to its ritual significance. The enigmatic paintings depict birds and a large group of human figures, as well as abstract images… There is no museum in Ban Rai village, but knowledgeable locals are available as guides….
Accommodation is available @ The Cave Lodge, a bungalow about 10 miles from Ban Rai in the village of Tham Lod, which itself is near an extensive cave system open to the public…. The best time to visit is November through February.
© 2008 by the Archaeological Institute of America
The Ban Rai Rock Shelter (Tham Pi Maen) also contains the remains of 15 giant teak coffins. The Cave is 19 kms west of Cave Lodge. Cave Lodge is a few hundred metres upstream from Tham Lod, another famous cave: http://www.cavelodge.com/aboutus.htm
My second major archaeological treat (which will be an OOPs: Out Of Province excursion) would be to the south east of CR, some 14 hours driving time. Here the 20 acre site @ Ban Chiang includes a Bronze Age village and cemetery. Due to continuous occupation of the site for thousands of years, remains can be found up to 4 metres below the surface. Finds include human remains, ceramics, iron, and bronze jewellery and implements, bracelets, rings, anklets, wires and rods, spearheads, axes and adzes, hooks, blades, and little bells glass, shell, and stone objects. Ban Chiang is located in Nong Han district in Udon Thani Province. It has been on the UNESCO world heritage list since 1992. Thai politics are volatile at the best of times: I’m not quite sure what is happening about World Heritage listings in Thailand at present. It would be a great pity if they were cancelled.
My third treat would be Wieng Kum Kam (the royal capital from 1286 until 1292), which is now a fascinating archaeological site on the east bank of the River Ping, near Chiang Mai. You can hire a horse and cart to explore the precinct. On the way between CM and CR, via the Doi Saket Highway No. 1014, I would also visit Wiang Kalong, where ancient furnaces used to make terracotta utensils have been found.
And my fourth OOPs (I can’t help myself) would be to go down the Mekong from Chang Khong to Tonle Sap in Cambodia, where some scholars now believe agriculture may have been first practised. This is in conflict with the Fertile Crescent story which so many of us in the West were taught at school. While in Cambodia, I would also go to the amazing city of Bokor, an abandoned French Colonial town, featured in the movies City of Ghosts (2002) and R-Point (2004).
Now I am over-excited and am going to have to lie down.
No, not quite yet. Living history is also interesting.
It might be worthwhile, if you are here at the time, to go to the Pu Cha Phaya Lo Fair (Bucha Phra Lo) in Phayao, is which is organized in early April every year at Wiang Lo Ancient Town, Ban Huai Ngio, Amphoe Chun (slightly OOPs). This fair pays respect to the ancestors and includes parades, light and sound presentations, a procession invoking the spirits of Wiang Lo’s past kings, a Khan Tok dinner at night, and cultural performances.
And, for the serious scholar or complete eccentric, every year in the run up to the Buddhist Lent, trance dance possession rituals, called Faun Pii (spirit dance) take place in tents in obscure locations. They are believed to have evolved from ancient Mon rituals and hark back to when a matriarchal culture and animist religion existed, prior to the introduction of Theravada Buddhism. Mediums come together for a few hours, usually during the day, and enter into a ‘trance-dance’ state: they become the horse (the body) for spirits to use, spirits not having a human body themselves.
Okay, archaeology is not for you. Go to one of the major resorts for a sauna and a swim and a spa.
Or continue with some museums and temples of a slightly different kind:
MunNiTi Chiang Rai is a Taoist and Mahayana Buddhist Chinese temple on Banpaprakan Road, west of the New Clock Tower, on the northern side of the road, a little way past the big 7/11 on the corner.
On Soi Krung Thong (between Sanambin Road and Jet Yot) is a small Teh Chiew Chinese ancestor worship temple.
There's also a beautiful traditional-style Shan house in that soi. On the road to Pattaya Noi is a temple to the Chinese Goddess of Mercy, Jao Mae Kuan Im, with a large statue of her outside. Kwan Im, or Guanyin, is considered the female Buddha aspect. There's another temple to her, a Taiwanese one, in the Ban Kheck area.
If you are particularly interested in Chinese culture, you might like to visit the The Sirindhorn Chinese Language and Culture Centre at Mae Fah Luang University: 0 5391 7093, 0 5391 7097 http://www.mfu.ac.th
Da Rul Ahman Mosque on Thanon Issaraphap. Go west from the New Clock Tower, and turn right into the street just before the big 7/11 on the northern side. Chiang Rai's first mosque, it is frequented by Haw Chinese and has no minaret. There is a halal restaurant nearby.
On Thanon Aladin, southeast of the bridge to Mae Sai, is Nu Rul Islam Pakistan Mosque (Kok Thong Soi 19).
Day 24 and 25
Tour to the Chinese/Thai town of Mae Salong in the mountains and stay overnight: purchase the local speciality: Oolong tea. It is a particularly pretty area in December and January when the cherry trees are in bloom. Visit the summit: do a horse trek to the nearby villages. Buy coffee, dried fruit, home-made cherry wine and vodka, and medical herbs.
On the way: Mae Chan and shopping? Silver and handicrafts.
On the way: the Hilltribe Development and Welfare Project, 12 km from Mae Chan towards Doi Mae Salong.
Excursion: can continue north to Mai Sai from Mae Salong
Choose one national park to visit during your month in CR:
Doi Luang National Park: waterfalls and the Nang Phaya Pang Din Fai Cave
Khun Chae National Park
Phu Sang National Park
Mae Puem National Park
Lam Nam Kok National Park
Visit a coffee plantation: why not go to Suan Lahu (Lahu Garden) to the north? It would take a full day. They also have homestay.
This is an indigeneous Lahu community farm. Sixty rai are planted with Arabica coffee and fruit trees; twenty rai remain forested. To summarise part of their vision, ‘Our farming approach is to develop and use organic, sustainable and traditional cultivation methods. We use vermicompost as a component of this program. Two kinds of Arabica coffee grow on the slopes of Suan Lahu: ‘typica’ an heirloom coffee from Ethiopia, and ‘catimor’, a cross between Caturra coffee from Brazil and a coffee varietal from Timor.’ Learn all about the growing and harvesting of coffee, the latter taking place from October to January. In addition to coffee, they grow lychee, avocado, persimmon and tea. They also provide homestay and trekking.
‘Our guests are welcome to attend purification and fertility rites that villagers perform on their farm lands and in the forested watersheds, as well as dances and rituals performed in the villages.’ Please contact Suan Lahu prior to visiting: firstname.lastname@example.org
Coffee roasting: an excursion to the very professional boutique coffee roasting establishment, Doiluang Coffee Roast House, belonging to Pathaphol Maniwong, some 54 km south of town. This consists of a coffee shop in a garden, next to a small shed housing a roaster, and with some hand-sorting of beans taking place at the back of the building. The owner, through a translator, will discuss with you the different roasting preferences of the major international markets. Their coffee is the best I have tried in all my travels here. Soft, sweet, not over-roasted. Stock up. Make sure you get the roast you prefer: there are several varieties. www.doiluangcoffee.com: 053 786461