17 -18 September 2011
After my boat from Laos docked on the shores of Thailand, I passed through passport control in Chiang Kong easily enough, along with the rest of my tour group. We loaded up two tuk tuks with our luggage and, just like the last time, we were too heavy. The driver pumped up the tyres and we set off, almost immediately getting stuck behind a coach that was barely moving. Unlike in Laos, the tuk tuks were not trucks with us in the back but bikes with trailers for us to sit in, meaning we got blasted by fumes coming in from all directions.
We finally disembarked at the River View hotel, where we did indeed get great river views. My twin room came with a rather small wet room, from which I had to remove all toilet paper, clothes and towels before turning on the water to avoid a mass soaking. The front wall of the room was made up of glass doors that looked out onto the communal veranda. Since the air-con was broken, I had a fan that blew the curtains a little so if you were coming in and out of the shower, you had to make sure they were in position before heading in and out of the wet room.
We all had a bit of time to recuperate in the hotel before it was time for dinner in a nearby restaurant, where we had Pad Thai all round. I do love Pad Thai. Sadly, however, by the time we came out, places were starting to close for the evening and the pancake stand – which we had come to expect would be everywhere and were planning to head to for dessert – had been packed away for the night. Instead we popped into a nearby 7-Eleven, where I stocked up on water – for me – and glue for my travel diary. I was tempted to buy snacks but thought I should finish off the leftover bread rolls and Oreos I had in my bag before replenishing my supplies.
I had quite a tame night, crashing on my bed, finishing reading the Life of Pi and cracking out some Bill Bryson, but there is something to be said for relaxing alone on a warm bed with a book, listening to the ominous thunder in the distance and being glad that I wasn’t out in it.
After an 8am start, we had a breakfast stop at 7-Eleven for toasties and frankfurter sausages. I was last in the queue and re-emerged from the shop to see the minibus starting to pull away without me – that was a close call! Onboard, we actually had a working DVD player today so we watched the Shawshank Redemption and the beginning of Inception on our trip down to Chiang Mai.
We had a stop off at the White Temple – Wat Rong Khun – in Chiang Rai en route. It was easily the most bizarre, and probably the best, temple I have ever been to. The outside was white and intricate, with inlaid mirrors reflecting light. Oh, and there were fake skulls in a nearby tree, the bust of Predator (from the Arnie film) stuck in the ground and hands rising up out of a pit. And that’s all in addition to the images of Jack Sparrow, Superman, Batman, Kung Fu Panda and various Star Wars characters that were decorating the inside walls. Standard stuff really. You really have to see this place for yourself.
I am ashamed to say that when we arrived in Chiang Mai, I went for lunch at McDonald’s. One of the activity options for the afternoon was Thai massages at the local women’s prison. Apparently they train the inmates so that they have a skill when they leave the facility. A couple of the guys went off for these, whilst the rest of us went for a wander up a road which regularly had lots of night markets, but on a Sunday afternoon it was somewhat deserted.
We eventually found a little market which we explored before heading back via Subway to pick up another cultural meal for dinner, ready for our overnight sleeper train at 5.55pm to Bangkok. It was a shame we didn’t have longer in the town, it was full of tourists so clearly there was something there we had missed.
On our train, the seats were arranged in groups of four, with two pairs facing each other. There was one person to each double seat, and these would then slide down to make a bed and later a member of staff came along to unlock the top bunk which had previously been fastened to the ceiling and which held sheets, pillows, curtains, blankets and mattresses. It was actually cleaner and less packed than I had expected but, when the beds were out and the blue curtains were drawn, walking down the aisle did make you feel a bit like you were in a hospital. We spent the night chatting and playing cards before getting a relatively early night. I slept rather well but, I have to admit, I was freezing.