Breakfast was awful. I couldn’t really eat anything after I saw the mouse yesterday. Denali dropped his egg. It did not bode well for the day. We checked out and got on the tour bus at 7:00 am. If you are an avid reader, you will remember we booked this tour through the ministry of tourism in Bangkok the day of the four temples for four baht. The van arrived in time.Check out the name of the company, we were always able to find our van because of it. It was a 14 passenger van. The driver was confused about dropping us off in Chiang Rai and that we had bags, even though we made sure this was noted before we booked.
I had to pack the nonexistent trunk myself, because that’s my super power. We got in and off we went. First, we picked up a couple. They had the same idea as us, getting dropped off in Chiang Rai, but they had actual luggage. The driver looked exasperated and ended up putting the suitcases on the back seat. We were sitting in the back seat but moved up a row because I didn’t want to sit next to other people’s luggage. The back row had four seats. The next row three, but was split one and two. I took the two, Denali took the one. The man barked at us that we would have to sit together because the van was fully booked. We decided we would move when necessary. Two girls got on, then another by herself. That’s three. Then there were only three seats left in the van. A single seat, the one next to me, and the one with the couple with all the luggage in the back. On our last stop three girls were getting on. Denali moved over and the couple behind us rearranged so that the extra seat would accommodate a person. When the guide opened the door, he looked back at us, already moved and ready for more people, and emitted a stern hmmmmm. It was like he was waiting to chastise us to move but he lost out on the satisfaction because we already did it.
When everyone was in we drove off, and our guide introduced himself as Boo. He rattled off the itinerary and didn’t say anything about when he would be dropping the four of us in Chiang Rai. This was going to be an interesting day.We had about a one hour ride to the hot springs. I wasn’t expecting much, as the photos to entice you to go were less than stellar. We had 20 minutes to visit the hot spring. It was more than enough time. It was the biggest tourist trap we had seen yet. Just a few walled holes in the ground, with pipes creating fake geysers. It wasn’t even awesomely bad. It was depressingly sad.
Women were standing around selling eggs boiled in the hot water. There was also a giant hot spring across the street. By street, I mean a giant four lane highway. We froggered our way across, it was just more of the same thing. So back to the van we went.
We all packed back on the bus for the half hour ride to the White Temple. More than an hour later, we arrived. We had forty minutes to explore the temple grounds. I didn’t think it would be enough, but the staff there did not let you stand in one place too long. We were yelled at through a bullhorn to keep moving over the bridge to the temple. You could only go one way and once inside, no photos could be taken. You got a little plastic bag to carry your shoes and exited on the other side.
There were all sorts of pop culture heads hanging from the trees. There was also a gift shop, a museum with a gift shop, and plenty of places to buy trinkets. They also had two stations, one outside the main gift shop and one inside the museum, where you could stamp a postcard for a souvenir. It felt a bit like Disneyland. There were life sized cutouts of the artist for people to pose with. The museum was a full homage to him. It was very narcissistic.
Back into the van and onto the next stop. It happened to be the Long Neck Tribe of Karen. We got out of the van and walked down a small dirt hill. We stopped at a shopping area. Filled with the regular and and locally made trinkets. Three in our group must not have had the long neck package because they had to stay in the shopping area. We were guided down a small dirt trail to the village. The part of the village we were allowed in was a giant U shaped area. All around us were long necked women working on their hand crafts. We stopped at the first table and saw a woman working with yarn. Our guide started giving a little background on the long necked people. They were not originally from Thailand. Most were from Myanmar and some from China. The have refugee status in Thailand and cannot leave the area they live in. He then talked about the rings on their necks. They put on the first set at about age 5/6 and add a ring every year. At first the rings hurt but then the children get used to it and the pain no longer bothers them. The guide said that tourism was their only source of income and that the tour groups pay money to bring people to see them. He also said we could take pictures of everyone. It felt dehumanizing, kind of like a human zoo. I definitely did not feel comfortable posing for a picture with fake rings on my neck. A man in our group asked me to take a photo of him and his friends. As they gathered around a woman and her small children it just made me feel slightly sickened. I’m not saying I didn’t take any photos of the women, we just chose not to pose with them. I asked before I took anyone’s photo and we ended up buying a few of their hand made scarves.
This experience brought up the conversation of how life is the luck of the draw, where and when you’re born. What’s considered normal versus abnormal? Who decides? It brought up a lot of thoughts on colonization and what that meant for various countries around the world.
We went back up to the shopping area and noticed there were representatives of a few other different hill tribes. This is a woman from the Ahka Tribe.
We didn’t get very far into the rows of shops because it was time to go. But I did get my aunt something very cool. I’m not going to say because she reads this blog and I want it to be a surprise.
We got back into the van and made our way to the next stop, the Golden Triangle.
Our guide tried to up sell us a boat tour of a river between Laos, Myanmar, and Thailand. We decided against it. So we had an hour and a half to wait for the rest of the group. We wandered around.
We found a 7-11 and got some snacks. We did a little shopping. We also stopped at a local restaurant for some chicken fried rice. It was the best chicken fried rice I had the entire trip. We decided to share a plate because the tour would be giving us lunch soon.
The food was so good we ordered another round. We finished and walked towards the van. Denali wanted some iced coffee. The woman was using boiled mystery water. He said if he regretted this decision later, remember that happiness on my face while I’m drinking the coffee.
We rode for about a half hour from the golden triangle to where they gave us lunch. It was a buffet. Thank goodness we had already eaten. It didn’t look appealing at all. The only thing I felt comfortable eating were the brand new French fries they put out. I’m a semi adventurous eater, but I wasn’t trying to get food poisoning. Denali bought a glass bottle of sprite. It was flat. He was irritated so he went to try to get a new bottle. Of course trouble ensued. But in the end he got a refund. Did I mention the buffet was the back part of a jewelry store? Or that it had no sign? Nothing that let you know it was a place to eat? It was very strange. Almost like the jewelry store provided the food because they wanted you to buy their gems.
We got back in the van and drove 10 minutes to do a drive by of the Myanmar border. We could only see the immigration building. Then back to Chiang Rai, at last. Our new hotel had extra pillows in the closet. Denali didn’t want any extra, so I ended up with four pillows. It was almost like home.