This week I did a trip to Chiang Rai which is to the North East of Chiang Mai. It was a very long day which started at 7.00am and I was dropped back off at 9.00pm.
The first stop was at a hot spring. It wasn't really much to look at really (a geyser coming out of the ground surrounded by railings) but the streams coming down from the hills you could sit at and dip your feet in. Some people couldn't manage it as the water temperature was incredibly hot.
The next stop was at the White Temple, a simply stunning place.
The White Temple is a contemporary Buddhist and Hindu temple designed by Thai artist Chalermchai Kositpipat in 1997, although construction is still ongoing. It is one of the most extraordinary temples I have ever seen – extravagant, ornate and blindingly white!!
The attention to detail is amazing with small gothic elements found around the site. Even before I approached the main temple I noticed small details like heads hanging from the trees and monstrous statues you don’t usually expect to see in a temple.
The approach to the main temple goes past a large pond, with the temple reflected in the water.
It feels like a fantastical, fairy world.
My favourite part of the White Temple was the bridge that leads to the main building. To reach the Abode of the Buddha you have to cross the bridge representing the cycle of rebirth with the pits of hell below. You cannot stop or turn around.
The hands begging desperately to escape from hell are rather disturbing.
There are all kinds of ghoulish creatures and disembodied heads of people who haven’t managed yet to overcome cravings and obtain entrance to the Abode of Buddha.
Once you cross the bridge you reach the Gate of Heaven, guarded by Death.
Up close the temple is dazzling.
At first the inside of the main temple seems simple and like many Thai temples with a Buddha statue and people praying peacefully before it. But then you turn around and see the incongruous epic mural depicting an apocalyptic end of the world with demons, explosions and strangely, many references to popular culture including the Matrix, Avatar, Michael Jackson, Spiderman and even the Twin Towers. Photos are not allowed inside unfortunately.
Once you have visited the main temple there is still more to see including a wishing well and the world’s most beautiful gold public toilets.
The temple complex is still incomplete. Chalermchai Kositpipat is training people to continue his ambitious project even after his death.
The White Temple is one of the most unusual temples I have ever visited.
After the temple we drove to the Mekong River and took a boat cruise to the Golden Triangle. This is the place where three countries meet - Myanmar, Laos and Thailand. It is called the Golden Triangle because years ago traders sold their opium stash in return for payment in gold. There was no law here as it was 'no mans land' but trading stopped years ago. Whilst cruising along we passed a dead body floating in the water. Can you believe that?!!! The guide did not seem to perturbed by it so I'm guessing it's not unusual to see dead bodies floating in the Mekong River. It had been there a few days as it was swollen and starting to turn black. I didn't get a photo but this Australian guy on the tour did!
We had a brief stop on the Laos side to look around the market and then we got the boat back to Thailand. There was no passports needed to do this.
We then drove to the most Northerly point in Thailand where the border meets Myanmar and had a brief stop there for photos.
Then we had a lunch break which was a help yourself buffet. I didn't think much of the choice and just stuck with rice and salad.
After lunch we started our four hour journey back to Chiang Mai stopping at the Karen Long Necked Tribal Village on the way.
The people from the long neck tribe are refugees from Burma who are accepted and supported by the Thai government for the tourist money they bring in. They are not allowed to go outside of the refugee camp. They are meant to live and work there, only in that small village, and a way to help this tribe is to buy souvenirs directly from them.
The handicrafts bought here can also be found in other markets in Chiang Mai. The real attraction is the women and their long necks. On my visit, I noticed how peaceful they looked. They sat on their stalls quietly, smile at the tourists and are happy to let you take photos of them.
The women wear brass copper metals coiled up at their necks that eventually elongates them. They wear the brass metal coils because based on a legend years ago, it was believed that tigers would come to the village and attack the people. The way to protect the women is to put these brass copper rings around their neck. Since then it has become a tradition and the women start wearing these rings as early as 5 years of age. I tried putting a coil on my neck and just lifting it was very heavy, around 5 kilos. Imagine wearing that all day, everyday for the rest of your life!
Nowadays the women wear them more as accessory. It is believed that the longer their necks the more beautiful they are. The women wear these long and heavy brass rings around their neck all day all throughout the year, with a few exceptions. On some occasions they remove them when they are pregnant or when they are sick.
I felt that the village was just designed for tourists but it was a rather unique sight I must say.
After the village we carried on with our long long drive arriving back to Chiang Mai at 9.00pm. Very good day!!