Chiang Rai is a city situated in northern Thailand, close to the famous Golden Triangle (where the borders of three countries /Thailand, Laos, Myanmar/ meet and where opium used to value the same as gold, hence the name!). You can visit the city and its most important points in one day, provided that you don’t have going for trekking in your plans. We went on an excursion, which included driving about 240km to visit 10 points starting in the early morning and finishing around 7pm! Not all of the places are worth visiting, but we have to admit that we wouldn’t have been able to visit half of them on our own, so all in all, the trip was worth doing.
What was included in the sightseeing program? Here’s a long list:
- Tea plantation
- White Temple
- Blue Temple
- Black House (admission fee: 50THB/1,25USD)
- Villages tribes: Akha, Lahu, Long earring, Long neck (admission fee: 300THB/7,50USD)
- Mae Sai – Thailand and Myanmar border, the view from the vantage point on the border drawn by the riverbed
- Monkey cave
- Golden Triangle
- Opium Museum (admission fee: 80THB/2USD)
- The ruins of the temple in Chiang Saen
The tour cost us 900THB /22,50USD per person (we haggled the price, of course). It included a buffet lunch, English-speaking guide and pick-up from and drop-off to the ho(s)tel.
Starting from the beginning: we were taken on a vantage point overlooking a tea plantation. If you’ve ever been in Sri Lanka, India or Malaysia on such plantations, the one in Thailand will not make an impression on you. If it’s your first time and you haven’t seen the tea plantation before the one in Thailand may be your start point. The view is nice, and that would be it.
The temples: White Temple and Blue Temple are sites not to miss in Chiang Rai. You can visit them on your own and get to them by bus, but it wouldn’t be possible to fit the Golden Triangle in on the same day, because it’s a loooong way to get to the border. Admission fee to the White Temple is 50THB (1,25USD) if you want to do it on your own (besides, you can enter the Blue Temple for free). Blue Temple has a beautiful interior, while the White Temple impresses mainly from the outside. The complex of buildings surrounding the White Temple consists of 21 buildings which still require a lot of work (it is estimated that their construction will be finished in 70 years).
Above you can see the entrance to the White Temple illustrating reincarnation.
Silver leaves with visitors’ wishes written on them are hanging from the ceiling in a pedestrian area close to the White Temple. You can buy a leaf in many places in the temple complex.
The above golden building is not a temple, it’s a toilet!
Black House, where the entrance fee is paid additonally, didn’t appeal to us at all. If you like wooden sculptures (you can even find penises made of wood there!) you will enjoy this place. There is exhibition inside the main building where you will see some paintings, skin of animals (snakes, crocodiles) and props.
On the table there is a skin belonging to a gigantic snake.
The best thing I enjoyed near the Black House was passion fruit ice-cream for 0,50USD! Yummy!
We were wondering for quite a long time whether we should really go to the next point of the tour – a village with so called long neck women (it’s possible to skip it as an additional fee needs to be paid). The women there wear brass rings around their necks (it all starts at the age of 5). We realized that if at least one of us didn’t go, we would not be able to evaluate this point of the excursion. So it was me who went there. The government charges each tourist: 300THB / 7,50USD for the entrance, and before you enter the village you can see loads of pictures of smiling long neck women allegedly leading a happy life there. But is it really true? The huts of these women were ‘’transformed’’ into souvenir shops, at which they sit all day along with their children. Seeing the approaching tourists they don’t force them to buy their products, but immediately change the seat position, pose for pictures, smile, or pretend to do so – such an artificial theater. Who are these women? They are from Myanmar, they fled from Burma to escape from regime thinking that in Thailand they would find a better life. Meanwhile, the Thai government used their ” uniqueness ” and closed them in Karen village (supposedly the women agreed on that), providing basic goods and earning money on them! To be honest these women look as if they were trapped there, just look at our pictures and you will find there the same women with whom Martyna Wojciechowska or some other famous travellers were taking photos.
Tourists are curious about what the women with ‘’long necks” look like so they pay 300THB and then they can see with their own eyes how sad life of these women is. And where does a ” tradition ” of wearing brass rings on a neck (looking as animal collars) come from? It was a way to defend these women against attacks by tigers. First coils were put on 5-year old girls’ necks and with age more and more rings around their necks were added. These women do not have a long neck, this is just an optical illusion steming from the fact that they have a sunken chest and ribs from carrying these heavy rings. They wear them until they die, and after so many years their necks cease to be tense and do not fulfill their function as they should, so taking off the rings from their necks wouldn’t actually help them. What arouses mixed feelings is the fact that allegedly these women were not forced by anybody to be closed in the village and act like puppets, they had the right to choose to lead a normal life, but didn’t use that opportunity. This topic is considered as controversial and it doesn’t surprise anyone why. But to know the truth, we would have to ask the owners’ of ‘’long necks ” themselves how they feel about their lives and get to know them closer – unfortunately, the language is a barrier. From my point of view it was the saddest part of our tour.
The ticket that you buy to see long neck women can be used in the same village to see some other tribes: Akha, Lahu and women with long ears – and it couldn’t be more commercial than that. I barely approached the Akha village, and 2 women began to pull me into their stalls, they agreed for the pictures because they thought that I would buy something from them. I sneaked away from the spot and soon reached the stalls of the women from the Lahu tribe, and saw a group of tourists eager to buy some souvenirs so I quickly moved forward, and I was able to see only 2 inhabited huts a bit further, and then I reached a village of women with long ears, the spectacle repeated again. What a disappointment! Besides, their ears were not long at all, only slightly stretched down with wide ear lobes (most probably formed from piercing them with 4-centimeter elephant tusks, which with time began long and floppy) and decorated with long earrings. Traditional tribal costumes were beautiful, but this point of the tour was the most artificial one and it may cause a huge disappointment for many visitors.
Above you can see a woman from the Akha tribe in traditional clothes.
A woman from the Lahu tribe trying to persuade a tourist to buy a shawl from her ”store”, and below: a typical hut in the village.
A long ear woman.
Approaching lunchtime. They took us to a nice place and we really enjoyed the food. Michal still feeling a bit uncertain about his stomach after stomach problems in Myanmar carefully chose the ‘safest’ kind of food and he survived 🙂
We went further, next point of the tour was Mae Sai. We were taken on a vantage point from which you could see a border between Thailand and Myanmar drawn by the riverbed. The view was just nice.
Near the vantage point you could come across very beautiful small temples.
Then we went to the so called Monkey Cave, where there is a temple located at the riverbed, around which you can meet dozens of monkeys. Monkeys, like monkeys made a lot of noise. Seeing people they were expecting gifts such as bananas, peanuts and other treats. You can go up the stairs and enter the cave, where you will find a small altar with the Buddha, and going back you can come across a vantage point.
Then we got to the Golden Triangle where from the vantage point you could have a view over 3 countries simultanesously: Thailand, Laos and Myanmar! As mentioned before, some time ago opium here had exactly the same value as gold. 1 kg of gold could be exchanged for 1 kg of opium, and vice versa. Currently, of course, the production of opium is illegal, but if you ask who is the biggest producer of opium in the world confirmed by the United Nations, you will hear that it’s Myanmar (where by the way it’s illegal as well :)), and the second place is Thailand. Where does opium come from? This magic powder was taken from poppy seeds. The largest quantity of opium but also the worst in terms of quality can be achieved from a poppy with white petals, while the smallest quantity, but the best quality is achieved from a poppy with purple petals.
In the photo we’re on the Thai side, a peninsula on the left belongs to Myanmar, and the land on the right belongs to Laos.
The whole process of opium production along with the way how it was smoked was described in Opium Museum. They have long pipes for smoking opium, photos of tribes that liked the drug and various props. The entrance fee is extra 80THB / 2USD. If it wasn’t for the fact that our guide passed us a lot of interesting information regarding the topic, the museum itself wouldn’t not seem so interesting.
After such a busy day can you imagine that no one bothered to get off from our van and see the ruins of the temple in Chiang Saen? Me and Michal were already familiar with a similar view of the ruins from Myanmar, as they were just ruins of brick pagodas – so you can erase them from your list of places to visit. Nothing special.
We thought that the day was almost over, and then all of a sudden upon returning to Chiang Rai we came across the so called Flower Festival held there that year on the 28th-29th of January. It was a purely magical evening. One of the parks in Chiang Rai was all decorated with myriads of flowers, trees shimmering in the night adorned with lights, and what’s more, in the park there was a scene where dancers and acrobats wearing amazing costumes gave an amazing performance. Sharing with you the magic and charm of that evening:) :