Category Archives: Chiang Rai

Rice Festival @ Yafu Village

We were recently invited to Chiang Rai to celebrate the Rice Festival with a couple of the local hill-tribes and … WOW … what an incredible experience. We were only in the hills for a day but I’m still having difficulties gathering all of my thoughts. It was definitely one of those experiences that really puts life in perspective.

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A panoramic view from our host’s balcony. The outhouse / shower is the small structure on the far right.

 

 

 

For anyone that may have the opportunity to experience a journey up the mountainside on a motorbike, it’s not for the faint of heart. We spent about 45 minutes to an hour on steep, unpaved roads that have been rutted and carved out by heavy rains. I made the mistake of not testing the brakes and suspension thoroughly on the motorbike prior to our journey and as you’ll see in the video, we had a minor spill coming down the following day.

We spoiled these two as much as we could.

Unless you were brought up on a farm it’s not too often that one gets to see pigs, dogs, cats, chickens, and even a Canadian Geese cohabiting in harmony, interacting, setting boundaries, even expressing affection with each other.

There’s no detachment from the food supply here. Several of the chickens and even one of the pigs that we saw foraging for food, just hours later provided several hearty meals during our stay and I gotta say that I had some of the best barbecued pork I’ve ever had. All of the vegetables were grown in the common areas of the village or surrounding hills and nothing went to waste. Anything we didn’t eat or use was quickly eaten by the dogs, cats, chickens and lastly the pigs. It was quite the experience to see the full circle of life. Here’s a little video of our food being prepared.

The only electrical power in the village was derived from small solar panels connected to each dwelling and the water was pumped from a local mountain spring. There was no door on the outhouse and for whatever reason the piglets seemed  to enjoy interrupting whoever was currently taking care of business at the time. There were no beds, we slept on the floor but I have to say, bamboo is incredibly forgiving and my back felt better after a night on the floor than it has on any of the “therapeutic” beds I’ve slept on in the last 10 years.

Most people from the west might consider these living conditions rather primitive yet what they lacked in the way of possessions they made up for with creativity, ingenuity and a genuine sense of community.

 

 

Goodbye Chiang Rai

Just 2 more nights to go then we are heading back to Chiang Mai.

There is a lot of love about Chiang Rai, it has the small city feeling that we had back home in Washington, there’s plenty of beautiful temples, outdoor activities and sights around the area to see but (and no offense to some of our new friends) Chiang Rai feels a bit like Leisure World. I think we’ve seen almost everything that Chiang Rai has to offer, in fact I think we covered almost everything in the first month or two that we were here. Perhaps we should have spread our explorations of the area out a little more but we wanted to see as much as we possibly could. I just didn’t think we’d run out of things to see so fast and unfortunately, we can’t fabricate an active social life out of “good intentions”. The bustling expat community and social activities in Chiang Mai are hard to beat.

The weather from November – February was just incredible, if I had to guess it’s among the best in the country, maybe the world during that time of the year. Mornings were in the mid 50’s with highs in the afternoon in the upper 80’s AND NO RAIN!!! After 50+ inches of rain in WA. the previous year with barely 8 hours of daylight in December, we felt like we were in heaven. Believe it or not we even wore jackets on a number of trips out at night on the motorbike.

Unfortunately, we were amazed (more like dismayed) at how bad the smoke was from the annual burning that began in late February. Many days it looked like the valley floor was blanketed in fog and to say it was gloomy is an understatement. We barely saw the sun for a couple of weeks. But, now that we’ve experienced our first smokey season, we’ll definitely take advantage of that time to travel next year. And, as the temps have started to rise, we’ve become acutely aware at how necessary a good air-con is and unfortunately, the living room in the house we are renting doesn’t have a/c. With floor to ceiling glass, it’s become unbearably hot during the day. All fun little lessons during our first year in Thailand.

For anyone that is interested, Chiang Rai definitely offers a more authentic Thai experience than some of the other popular cities in Thailand. English is not nearly as prevalent here (not that I expect people to speak English) and we’ve picked up far more Thai expressions than we did in Chiang Mai but I’ve gone days without speaking a full sentence in English. I’ve even started using ‘kop’ with my wife purely out of habit. I will say, there’s a certain solitude to not speaking the native language, and I’ve learned to adapt by using gestures, and non-verbal forms of communicating and when it just doesn’t go right, I smile and say thank you. It’s humbling (liberating kinda) to learn how unimportant you really are when you realize that bitching and complaining about things is fruitless BECAUSE no one understands you anyway.

We also discovered the best massage place, check out my notes about Pai Massage on our Local Favorites page. We said goodbye after one last good foot massage this afternoon. We enjoyed them so much, I think we’ve had 2 massages a week since we arrived ( 30 – 40 in total probably). Our quality of life has definitely improved in Thailand, no doubt about it.

Lastly, we’ve missed the food variety that Chiang Mai offers. We love Thai food, don’t get me wrong, but being from the west (and quite spoiled) we prefer a little more variety than Chiang Rai has to offer. We tried Mexican one night and when we ordered the nachos, the woman brought out microwaved Nacho Cheese Doritos and I believe it was Pace Picante Salsa. Jamie and I got a good chuckle out of it no less but you can’t do that to a guy that grew up in Southern California. I don’t know what the Thai’s think of OR would think of legitimate Mexican food, but it might be a great opportunity for someone looking for a small business to setup (there’s tons of fresh chicken, hot chiles grow incredibly well here, there’s plenty of corn for fresh tortillas, avocados to top em off, setup a small cart down by the school and voila). It’s possible to get a decent burger and even a pizza but like most farang food, they just aren’t the same caliber that you can find in Chiang Mai.

We are unfortunately having a bit of an issue with our landlord but I’m going to wait and see how our departure goes before I blog about that part of our Chiang Rai experience. The whole situation may have spurred a new business idea anyway, so stay tuned.

Songkran 2015

So now that we’re a few days past Songkran, I figured it was time to put pen to paper (euphamistically speaking of course) about our first New Year holiday in Thailand. The first thing worth noting is that the Thai’s celebrate several New Years Holidays during the year (World, Thai, Chinese and often individual tribes have a new year celebration of their own).

I’ll dispense with the not so fun part about Songkran: over the course of the 7-day holiday there were 364 deaths, 3,559 injuries, 3,373 accidents with 39% of the accidents attributed to drunk driving. With a little over 80% of the accidents involving motorbikes, it’s not terribly difficult to understand why there are so many (unfortunate) deaths. I sure appreciated being in a smaller town though, I’m sure Chiang Rai had it’s share of accidents but we didn’t see any ourselves. It was fairly clear as the week progressed that alcohol consumption and it’s prevalence in and around motor vehicles was on the rise, so we made it a point not to be on the road much more than was necessary.

One thing that I really appreciate about the Thai culture is that many businesses were closed for several days, the last few days of the 7 day holiday period, the whole town seemed to be shut down … we couldn’t even get a massage. Often, the businesses that were open, the employees were stationed outside their shops armed with water guns, buckets, or trash cans full of water waiting for willling, and sometimes unwilling, participants to pass by. We saw trucks with 8 – 10 people (from age 6 – 60) packed in the back, and if they weren’t all armed with super soakers, there was sure to be a 50 gallon drum of water (ice cold often) in the back. And there was no safe haven, we live on the outskirts of town and figured the “action” would all be in town …. NOPE …. the locals that run the small ma & pa shops, or live along the road, all had their buckets at the ready. They often had cones out in the road and would walk out into the lane to get our attention and slow us down ….. just to have buckets of water poured over our heads. It was all very good spirited though, I never felt like anyone was being “aggressive” about wetting us. However, we actually made it a point not to go out one day after a few days of getting absolutely drenched on the road no matter what path we took to or around town. We were able to “wave off” a few dryness saboteurs one afternoon but so many of the businesses were closed it wasn’t worth the effort.

Can you imagine what the news headlines would read after a holiday like this in the States? “Dozens dead as gun shots ensue from giant water fight in Los Angeles” … OR … “Over 7-day period, cops kill 10 citizens carrying life-like water guns because they “feared” for their dryness” … OR … “OC woman sues child 8, for making her spray-on-tan run”. But here’s the thing, the water tossing and wetting is a symbolic blessing. I suppose that in a country where 95% of the population is buddhist, the symbolism of the whole event is not lost on very many. Even the people that were trying to avoid getting wet, but did, were good spirited about it. But I will say, I targeted dry, unsuspecting foreigners as often as possible. Talk about a return to childhood, I don’t think I took a break at all one afternoon I was having so much fun.

For anyone that is thinking about visiting Thailand, Songkran is definitely one of those holidays that is unique to this region of the planet and would be worth the time. If your time is limited and you want to do a lot of other “tourist” related activities while here, it would be smart to allocate some time before or after the Songkran holiday for those activities.

The main street, standing room only.

Our 1st Smokey Season

When we decided to move to Thailand we’d already done plenty of homework so we I can’t say that we are surprised by the smokey season but experiencing it, puts it in a different perspective. We’re only a couple weeks into it and it is getting noticeably worse as the weeks progress. From what we are seeing on various Facebook groups, it appears to be worse in Chiang Mai than it currently is in Chiang Rai, however I wouldn’t be outside doing any cardiovascular activity in either city at the moment. It reminds me a little of the smog alerts we would get in Los Angeles County in the late 70’s, albeit a little more serious. Apparently this time is also used to burn a lot of household trash, including plastics resulting in fine particulates and dust that can be quite harmful to people with sensitivities.  It’s sure made for some pretty sunsets but that is no trade-off. We’ll definitely use the burning season as an opportunity to travel next year.

If you or someone you know is considering traveling to Northern Thailand, I would avoid March altogether.

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The Black House – Bandaam Museum

This museum is definitely an addition to the “Must See” list in Northern Thailand. The museum, which I wouldn’t consider to be a black house, is a collection of artwork by the deceased Thawan Duchanee. Admission is free, yep FREE. There are a number of smaller structures in addition to the main building that resembles a large temple. As one would expect, Buddhist artwork, statues and influences are present all over the property, however there is also a certain darkness  reflected in much of the artwork and displays. We will be returning at night to see the change in ambiance after the sun sets. A ton of great pictures of this museum can be found with a quick search on Google.

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The Black House - Baan Daam

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The Black House - Baan Daam 19.991990, 99.860616

Buddhist Meditation Retreat

We had the honor of attending the first Meditation Retreat put on by the Chiang Rai Sangha College of Mahachulalongkornrajavidyalaya University at Wat Phra That Phangao. The retreat was designed to provide foreigners an opportunity to learn about the Buddha’s teachings and to gain a greater understanding of the rituals, practices and life of a monk.

While most of my background in meditation has pertained to martial arts  and visualization practices, my “practice” has always been rather informal. I definitely took away a greater technical understanding of meditation and how to be more mindful in my activities and daily life. Stay tuned for video of me floating in the air.

Our days began with a morning meditation at 5:00am, followed by a vegetarian breakfast. We had lectures each day by a meditation master, a retired Army officer, followed by more meditation – seated and walking (yup, a walking meditation). While I didn’t mind the vegetarian meals, we didn’t waste any time after we got home to  run into town for some meals that included meat.

One of the more powerful experiences of the weekend was being present for the monks chanting. I wish I could have sat in the middle of them and listened to this for hours.

Serving the monks lunch.

Field trip! Some of these temples and sites are close to a 1,000 years old. Talk about historical significance. In a couple of the pictures, you can see the Mekong River in the distance and the border between Burma, Thailand and Lao, or better known as the Golden Triangle. Hard to imagine but all of the agriculture in the area was once opium fields.

 

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Wat Pra Dhat Pha-Ngao

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Wat Pra Dhat Pha-Ngao 20.244474, 100.114683

 

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Wat Phra That Chom Kitti

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Wat Phra That Chom Kitti 20.286152, 100.074140

ASEAN Flower Festival

Sooooooo we’ve been seeing these huge banners posted all over the area for the 2014 ASEAN Flower Festival and finally decided to check it out. If I had to describe it, it was like the Rose Parade meets the Arboretum meets the LA County Fair …… on steroids. In addition to all of the flowers and plant life on display there were rows and rows of vendors, tons of local food varieties, carnival rides, and lots of plants for sale (from vegetable and fruit starts to decorative plants and of course, our favorite …. orchids).

Here’s another thing I appreciate about Thailand …. there doesn’t seem to be a consistent effort to try and take advantage of consumers at every possible opportunity – parking for the Flower Festival was 20 baht (about $0.60) and there was no (as in 0) entry fee.

For anyone planning on visiting Northern Thailand, the Flower Festival would be well worth including in your itinerary.

The orchid area was probably my favorite part of the Flower Festival.

Here’s some of the orchids that were on sale by the vendors. Most were 40 – 150 THB.

We stopped by on New Year’s Eve to check out the festivities.

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ASEAN FLower Festival

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ASEAN FLower Festival 19.925263, 99.863916

Phra That Tung Luang

I’m not quite sure I have the name of this Temple correct, never the less it was a neat little find while out on the motorbike today. If anyone happens to know the correct name (map is below) please let me know.

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Phra That Tung Luang

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Phra That Tung Luang 19.978302, 99.760820

The Clock Tower

The clock tower is a popular landmark and ‘must see’ in Chiang Rai. Built in 2008 in Honor of The King, the clock tower lights up and plays music every evening at 1900, 2000 and 2100 hrs. Our favorite restaurant for Khao Soi also sets up a little stand on the southwest corner of the Clock Tower just before show time every night. It’s the perfect way to enjoy the light show and music of this popular site.

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Clock Tower

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Clock Tower 19.907166, 99.830956