Except for being in a van for big chunks of the day and being unable to get too deep into anything an hour at a time, it was fantastic. (I refer to “Burma” instead of “Myanmar” because Nobel Peace Prize winning Aung San Suu Kyi uses “Burma” and the country’s oppressive leadership renamed the country “Myanmar”)
Our first stop was the White Temple, or Wat Rong Khun, which is just outside of Chiang Rai. The main structure of the temple was completed in 1997. Designed, built and owned by one of Thailand’s best known artists, Chalermchai Kositpipat, the temple is a bit of a freak. It is hard to describe its bizarre and varied detail, which includes a mural of science fiction characters, trees in the garden dripping with human skulls and a sea of hands grasping for redemption in the pond along the bridge. The use of white represents purity. Mags and I called it a cross between Liberace, Disneyland and Salvador Dali, although it appears to be a serious place of pilgrimage for local Buddhists.
After the White Temple, we headed north to the Burmese border. Many Thais in the region cross into Burma to buy cheap consumer goods and booze so it’s a busy place — although probably not representative of most of Burma. After getting our very important passport stamps, we walked across the bridge for an hour of sightseeing. Mags visited a Burmese temple and checked out the silver jewelry. I looked for antique weavings from Burma’s Naka tribe and bought two bottles of Montepulciano for $5. The wine turned out to be very funky.
Back on the road on the Thailand side, we drove for about an hour to the Golden Triangle, which is where Burma, Thailand and Laos meet at the confluence of the Mekong and Ruak Rivers. The region is one of the world’s largest producers of opium, although production in Thailand has dropped dramatically with some innovative government programs. We visited a small Opium Museum on the Thai side that was notable for its presentation of opium smoking techniques and paraphernalia, and also for its lack of information about what opium can do to bodies and communities.
Then down the hill to the river docks, we hopped a very small long boat to cross the Mekong River into Laos. The ride was thrilling, especially the times when the engine cut out in the middle of the river. On the other side, the small Laotian community we visited was pretty much closed down but we enjoyed warm Laotian beer overlooking the river before our ride back over the border into Thailand.
We ended our long and amazing day with another hike through Chiang Rai’s night market, which is a real food adventure.
Today, we took the bus to Lampang, a small city on the way to Chiang Mai. Our first stop in Lampang: the night market.