Day 8: Visit to White Temple & Black House. Stop at a real shopping mall for workout clothes. Head to Ahka Hilltribe Village for 2 nights.
Even though we are completely templed out at this point, everyone insists we see the White Temple (Wat Rong Kun) & Black House in Chiang Rai. After looking them up and seeing how drastically different and unique the white temple is, we decide to visit it. The temple is a contemporary and very unconventional Buddhist temple built fairly recently in 1998 yet still unfinished. It is extravagant, blindingly white & covered in a shiny silver mirrored finish. You think you are in a fairytale land until you pass the trees with gothic heads hanging from it and cross a bridge with dismembered heads and hands reaching up
"trying to escape from hell". A bit like that scene from What Dreams May Come with Robin Williams where he is searching through hell for his wife and all the heads and hands are sticking up from the ground grabbing him. It is by far the BEST temple I have seen in Thailand.
Our cab driver convinces us to see the Black House on the opposite side of town (of course he just wants more money) and again, I am thankful we did. After the White Temple, I didn't expect to be impressed; but I was! The Black House, however, is not a temple and has no religious meaning. It was the estate of the artist Thawan Duchanee (who surprisingly, was a mentor of the creator of the White Temple) and like the White Temple, will be under construction for decades. The gothic design, dark woods and craftsmanship of intricate wood carvings are beyond anything you would find in the US. The estate is actually an art gallery filled with sculptures, carvings from wood and animal tusks, teeth, & bones and handmade furniture. Unfortunately, just after we arrived, the galleries closed for lunch for an hour and there was absolutely nothing to do besides sit in the heat and pay our cab driver more to wait. Sadly, we didn't get to see the inside but did get to admire the outside and a few pieces of art we could see through the windows.
Even worse than not getting to tour the interior of the Black House was the fact that we were off to a mall...a real mall...not streatside vendors selling hippy clothes and bracelets. What kind of SE Asia backpacker goes to a Westernized mall?! The flip-side is that left the mall with two pair of running shorts and some new tennis shoes to start my master plan of getting back in shape.
Next up we taxi to the office in the city of our next destination, the Akha Hilltribe Village. Two young Asian girls that I'm not totally sure would be legal driving age in the US drive us about an hour and half through the worst roads I have been on yet. It felt a bit like we should be on ATVs mudding with our friends in deep East Texas.
We arrived at the village in the evening just before sunset and enjoyed a beautiful view from our hillside bungalow. The accommodations were very rustic and minimal. A bed with springs that poked you, a mosquito net over the bed, and a shower that had a small trickle for waterflow; however, it had hot water and A/C, which is a luxury here. The children were playing in the village with bike tires and a stick. I'm used to seeing kids need a powerwheels or at least a cool bike to be happy playing outside. These kids were ecstatic and laughing uncontrollably as they rolled a single bike tire down the dirt rode and batted it with a stick to keep it rolling. One of the two english speaking me lit a fire on the porch of the common area to fight off the mosquitos. The mosquitos are giant! They are the size of horse flys.
We have traditional Thai food, curries and such, around a table with 6 others who are visiting the village then head to bed.