We departed Chiang Rai at about 8:45 AM for Chiang Mai. It was about a 3 hour drive, but we stopped twice along the way. Our first stop was at a rest stop called “Cabbages and Condoms” – it is a non-profit company targeted at promoting safe sex among the local hill tribes through education. The hill tribes are largely uneducated and begin having children in their teens, so all profits from the rest stop go towards bringing in educational speakers to the various villages to speak about safe sex. The company is all over Thailand!
Our next stop was the White Temple (Wot Rong Khun). It is a modern Buddhist temple aimed at drawing young people back to Buddhism. It was rediculously beautiful and had random twists like pictures of Michael Jackson riding a skateboard and hands reaching out of the ground.
Shortly after the White Temple, we arrived in Chiang Rai. After checking into our hotel, our Tour Manager, Jess, took us to a local restaurant to enjoy a specialty unique to Chiang Rai – Khao Soi. It was essentially a soup with soft noodles and chicken in the broth with crunchy noodles on top. Since it is Thailand, every meal also includes sticky rice. The sticky rice here is actually sticky, unlike the sticky rice back home, and you can easily eat it with chopsticks. The meal was delicious.
After lunch, we boarded mini-buses for a visit with the local hill tribes. The area was set up as a sanctuary to allow a variety of hill tribes to live their lives away from the crippling opium trade which consumed their lives for decades. We had the opportunity to meet with 5 different tribes, interact with them, buy some of their hand made souvenirs and even listen to their cultural performances.
The visit was a cultural experience that I will always remember, but it felt a bit awkward – it was like visiting people that lived in a zoo. I felt like the people loved meeting Westerners and we are a revenue stream for them when we purchase b of their handmade goods.
Some of the children were so young and they were already working on creating beautiful tapestries. Other girls that were 5 years old already had coils around their necks.
We met Mooya, who had a 5 kilo coil around her neck. Even though she was 52, she didn’t look a day over 30!
After the Hill Tribes, we headed back into town where we went to the Chiang Rai Night Bazaar where I bought two more pairs of elephant pants. The pants are the perfect wear for Southeast Asia – they’re so lightweight, but keep the bugs from biting your legs.
The Night Bazaar also had an amazing food market with a variety of food options. I tried some hot pot and also bought six spring rolls for 20 Baht ($0.60 USD).
We then headed out for a night in Chiang Rai with our group. It was another rest opportunity to get to know some of the people I’ve been traveling with!
On our way to the bar, we passed a Thai Massage parlor with the best translation I’ve seen so far. Obviously “Happy Time” is supposed to be “Happy Hour”, but given the connotation of massage parlors in Thailand, the sign was hilarious.