It would be too easy to say that Chiang Rai is essentially a smaller version of Chiang Mai, but it is, so I will.
Chiang Rai is essentially a smaller version of Chiang Mai.
After dumping our growing rucksacks at the Orchids Guesthouse, we headed out to find some lunch. We were delighted to find that, unlike Phayao, Chiang Rai had a wide selection of Thai and Western restaurants. We decided on BaanChivitMai, a Scandinavian style bakery that served bread, pastries, brownies, cakes, pasta, sandwiches, and all manner of delicious things that were so good they made me question my life long commitment to atheism.
We explored the town, working out where to go for the night markets and scouting potential dinner locations. After letting a nearly acceptable amount of time pass since lunch, we went back to the guesthouse to get ready for dinner. After combing my hair and shining my flip-flops, we went out to Siam Corner, a nearby restaurant serving up cheap and tasty Thai food. Whilst we were eating dinner, a couple of blokes came by taking their elephant for a walk.
We spent the following day on a temple tour of our own creation. After some careful negotiating, we rented a 125cc automatic motorbike for four days at 700 baht, about fourteen quid. Renting scooters and motorbikes turned out to be one of the best decisions of our time in South East Asia, allowing us to see more places and do things in our own time. It was also pretty fun, and made me start to think that I was probably cool.
We went to Ngam Muang temple, which is famous for holding the ashes of Chiang Rai’s founder, King Mengrai. We looked around, ate some pre-prepared sandwiches with bread from the Scandinavian bakery, and carried on our merry way. Next up was Wat Phra Kaew, one of the oldest temples in Chiang Rai. Despite being only 300m away, we spent about forty minutes riding around the town due to the creatively designed one way road system.
That night we went to Chiang Rai’s night bazaar, a smaller version of Chiang Mai’s walking street. The same Chang Beer t-shirts and elephant patterned trousers that had been on sale in Chiang Mai were available here, but there were some additional stalls. One specialised in particularly dangerous looking knives, whilst another sold completely genuine Dre Beats that had dead spiders trapped inside the boxes.
We had dinner at Da Vincis, a slightly over-priced but decent standard Italian. The Orchids was just a street away, and after some bruschetta and pizza, we headed home.
After a slow morning, we took the scooter out to Wat Rung Khun, the White Temple. Temples have a habit of looking a bit samey, which artist Chalermchai Kositpipat was clearly trying to avoid when he designed this monstrosity.
Unfortunately only men are allowed to go naked below the knee, so Elisa was made to wrap a tablecloth around her legs. If you’re thinking of visiting the White Temple, but you’re not sure what to wear, this handy infographic should let you know what is and isn’t okay:
After surviving the treacherous road back to Chiang Rai town, we went for dinner at Easy Bar. I looked to see if they had a website, but all I could find was a forum thread beginning: ‘Anyone know if the easy bar is still run by the women who runs around with a giant wooden cock chasing customers? I love that bar and planning to come back this year…. tanks’
The next day we headed out of town to visit the Buddha Cave and Tom Tu Pu. The Lonely Planet says you can cycle out here, but unless you have the thighs or amphetamines of Lance Armstrong, motorised transport is preferable.
The Buddha Cave pretty much lives up to its name, although the Buddha and owl-shit cave would have been more accurate.
Tom Tu Pu is a much more interesting stop. There are huge groups of bats which occasionally swoop down in their hundreds, terrifying everybody before flying back up to the roof of the cave. There entrance is guarded by a terrified seal:
After looking around the cave area, you can continue a short distance to the riverside for a picnic or swim. We had a packet of pockys, the chocolate coated biscuit sticks. In my attempt to inject some humour into our snacking, I accidentally bit through my lip whilst pretending to be a rodent.
After patching myself up with our emergency first-aid kit, we drove back to town. We spent a few hours looking around the Saturday walking street, which ended with Elisa trying to buy a puppy from a man who had six of them in a hamster cage. We decided to discuss it over a meal at Siam Corner. After dinner, we went to check if the puppies were still in the same spot, which they weren’t, and neither was the man. I did my best to act disappointed.
Our final day in Chiang Rai was spent packing up and getting ready for the next leg of our journey. We had a farewell meal at the Connect Cafe, just a few doors away from the BaanChivitMai bakery. We weren’t able to connect, having had the brilliant idea to leave all internet enabled devices at home for the twelve weeks we were away. The two or three occasions that this was a problem were completely overshadowed by the hundreds of times we found ourselves glad not to be tied to our phones and laptops.
The bus to Chiang Khong, our next and final Chiang, was just a short walk from our guesthouse. We came to realise that everything was a short walk, such was the scale of Chiang Rai. What it lacked in size, it made up for in convenience and comfort. Well worth a visit.
Orchids guesthouse: 7/10
Chiang Rai: 7/10