Eighteen countries and four months later…welcome to Thailand!

The day we were to leave Laos we got up early with a heavy heart but also full of excitement for the day ahead – it was finally time to experience Thailand! We hopped onto our pre-arranged tuk tuk which was waiting to take us back to Luang Namtha bus station at around 8am. We bought our bus tickets in advance from Along the Namtha who we booked our jungle trek with – Van was such a nice guy that he said that he would get his tuk tuk driver to pick up our tickets from the station at no extra cost to us – so they cost us 55,000 Kip (exactly what the local bus itself charges) plus 10,000 each for the tuk tuk.

We had to laugh at the state of the bus we were about to get on – the tyres were completely bald and the inside was filthy dirty! For a minute we didn’t even think it would start as the driver tried to start the engine several times with no success. Eventually it roared (or ‘clunked’) into life and we set off on the 3 hour journey to Bokeo – a town close to the Thai border.

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The journey itself took us through the spectacular Nam Ha NPA, where we held on to each lasting image of the gorgeous Laos scenery. I couldn’t enjoy it too much however as for some reason I felt so travel sick! Haven’t felt that bad in months and had to sit with my head down for half the trip! Once we got to Bokeo, we got off and piled onto a tuk tuk with a few other passengers. The border crossing itself is in a place called Huay Xai on the banks of the Mekong River and it cost us 10,000 Kip each for the 15 minute trip there. At Huay Xai we changed the rest of our Laos Kip into Thai Baht at the BCEL bank near the riverside then headed down towards the immigration ‘check out’ booth to have our passports stamped. Thankfully no ‘stamp fee’ this time! The Long Boat to the Thai side of the river costs 30 Thai Baht (BHT) each (or 10,000 KIP) plus 10BHT for a bag. As we had more than one bag each we made sure we strapped them together first to save some cash! The crossing took just a few minutes and despite a few splashes, us and our bags got to Chiang Khong, on the other side, unharmed! After immigration formalities at a booth around the corner, we were free to continue our journey to Chiang Rai, Thailand!

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We got into a tuk tuk which was sat at the top of the hill and negotiated a price of 50BHT for him to take us to Chiang Khong bus station. As we pulled up, the bus to Chiang Rai was already sat there so we jumped on, stashed our backpacks under the feet of four monks who were sat at the back and then squeezed into the ridiculously small seats! The journey to Chiang Rai was really straight forward (apart from the fact that I needed the loo and made everyone wait while the bus driver pulled over to let me relieve myself!) and one of the first differences we noticed about Thailand was the extremely smooth road surfaces! The rest of the scenery around us didn’t look too different – we were sort of expecting Thailand to be immediately more ‘modern’, but as we are in the most Northern province of Thailand, I don’t think that’s really the case here.

On our arrival at Chiang Rai’s Terminal One Bus Station (the ‘old’ bus station) we walked around for a while looking for a guesthouse and were lucky enough to find one right in the centre of town for 350 BHT (around 7 quid). Once we were all settled in we headed out for dinner to settle or rumbly tummies and pigged out on pizza and pepsi!

The next day we spent some time wandering around the various tour operators in town to get prices for a visit to the hill tribes. Chiang Rai is a great place for this as it’s so far north so we thought that this would be the best location from which to learn more about Thailand’s other residents. After comparing prices and finding out that most agents in town are out to sell you loads of ‘added extras’ such as trips to waterfalls, temples, elephant riding and hot springs, making the price extortionate, we decided that we would just approach a tuk tuk in the morning and ask him to take us! Not that these things weren’t appealing, but we’d already done them! We then decided to re-jig our ever-changing schedule now that we were in Thailand to plan a route to Bangkok in time to meet OZ Bus 21 on November 22nd.

Once all the boring ‘research stuff’ was out of the way we grabbed some sausages on a stick from the nearest 7 Eleven shop (so glad to be back in the land of 7 Eleven!) and walked to the Hilltribe Museum and Education Centre on Thanalai Rd – about 10 minutes walk from the centre. This was a really fascinating place – not just for the displays and descriptions of the various hilltribes that are found in Northern Thailand such as Akha, Yao, Lahu and Lisu, but for the huge information display about Opium, it’s trade and misuse, and the link between hilltribes and its cultivation.

We spent a long time reading about the history of opium, from its use in medicine and the trade in opium across the world, to the invention of heroin and the issues that this drug brought to the countries who traded it. It explained a lot about the way in which hilltribes were used in Burma and around the Northern Thai border to grow opium illegally – providing them with a quick and easy alternative to growing rice for cash. There is a lot of information to take in however and our heads were spinning slightly with the plethora of information available, but we still managed to take in the rest of the info about the hilltribes themselves, their cultures and beliefs. On display are a range of village house ‘mock ups’ as well as other items that can be found in villages such as bamboo or rattan goods, rice-harvesting instruments and tribe clothing.

Later that afternoon, we went for a walk around the city, stopping off at various Thai Wats (temples) along the way, included Wat Pra Kaew, Wat Pra Singh and Wat Kiang Wiang.

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At sunset we walked up to the Mae Kok river, which didn’t quite compare to the Mighty Mekong, before spotting an energetic looking outdoor aerobics class going on in a nearby park!

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That night we went in search of a Clock Tower that we’d heard was supposed to put on a random ‘light show’ at 8pm every evening. At first we thought that we’d found it and stood on the corner for several minutes, feeling a little bit dubious about how good this was going to be….

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Then we turned around and saw this….

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The actual clock tower was spectacular! Glittering in gold and sparkling with thousands of tiny lights we felt sure that we had stumbled across the right clock now. Sure enough, at around 8pm the clock began to twinkle furiously before launching into a dramatic display of colours! Thai music was also piped into the streets so us and a small group of other tourists stood in the middle of the road, watching as the clock did it’s thing, right in the centre of a busy junction with cars, bikes and tuk tuks flying past like it was the most normal thing in the world!

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Once the ‘show’ was over we went to the Night Bazaar for dinner, where we were treated to live music and a cabaret show. This happens every night and it’s great to be able to sit there with a beer and a snack before wandering around the stalls selling the usual trinkets, clothing and paintings.

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We rounded off our first full day in Chiang Rai with a visit to a rather strange bar on the main road – the TeePee bar. This has to be the strangest bar we’ve ever been in! It was tiny, dark, the floor was covered in stones and the walls and ceiling were adorned with scary looking masks, voodoo dolls, cobwebs, guitars and pictures of rock stars. TeePee is run by a kooky little Thai guy with long hair and tight leopard-skin leggings, who plays heavy rock on repeat as well as whatever his customers want (we made him put on Eminem, U2 and Kings of Leon!). We sat cross-legged on straw mats and had a couple of beers and a laugh before finally calling it a night!

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1 Comment

  1. November 11, 16:23 #1 margaret D.

    enjoying your adventures immensely instead of scrolling I am licking my finger forgetting that i am not reading a book xxxxx

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