Sunday, November 4, 2012

Blake vs. the Canadians in Chiang Rai

          A busy October. Back to America for three weeks for my dad's wedding and to visit some friends and family. Then, just as the jet lag was wearing off it was back to Thailand, half-way around the globe. I spent a few days in Bangkok at some old haunts near the oh so infamous Khao San Road, met my girlfriend's parents for the first time, and showed them around the city hitting the Grand Palace and several other tourist spots. Having packed up all my belongings and moved out of my house in Surat, I still had three and half weeks to kill before orientation for my new job. After four days in the city, I was already dying to get away from the noise and stink of Bangkok, so north I went. First stop: Chiang Rai.
Chiang Rai

          It took 15 hours on a sleeper train from Bangkok, then another three hour bus ride, and finally a 10 minute tuk-tuk to reach my accommodation (Chat Guesthouse) in Chiang Rai town. I checked in and paid for a night (90 baht/person/night for a double bed), took a hot shower, and went to sleep.
          At 5:30 am Mother Nature sounded the alarm clock in the form of several screeching roosters just below my window. My goal for the day was to see what Chiang Rai had to offer without breaking my budget (I'm paycheckless for the foreseeable future). For 150 baht (about $5 USD) I rented a motorbike for the day and followed the free map I got from the tourism authority to Chiang Rai's famous Wat Rong Khun (the White Temple).
Wat Rong Khun
Narnia/Chiang Rai, Thailand.

The White Temple

          Reminiscent of a Narnian castle, Wat Rong Khun is a Buddhist and Hindu temple as well as a seemingly never-ending art project for its creator, the artist Ajarn Chalermchai Kositpipat. Funded entirely by public donations, the project began in 1997 with a projected completion date for the year 2070. The inside of the White Temple (which is not allowed to be photographed) is somewhat of a social commentary and features scraps of pop culture painted atop of traditionally designed Buddhist walls. Aside from the beautiful and unique architecture there's also a gallery with paintings, drawings, and sculptures by Kositpipat.
Britt's new friends
          After Wat Rong Khun, Britt and I hopped on our trusty two-wheeled rental and sputtered another 20 km down a scenic connection of badly paved mountain roads until we found Khun Korn Waterfall.   From the entrance of the park it was a 45-minute hike up and down a muddy trail cutting though bamboo thickets and jungle. Brittany was immediately befriended by three little Thai girls that were in absolute awe that a foreigner could speak their language so well. The mist from the waterfall cooled us off as we took some photos, then back down the trail to the motorbike we went.
Khun Korn Waterfall
Chiang Rai, Thailand

          We only wanted to pay for the bike for 24 hours, so the next day we were on foot. In the morning, we checked out Wat Phra Kaew (Temple of the Emerald Buddha). Guess what I saw? A temple. And an emerald Buddha.
          We killed some time in the afternoon at the Hilltribe Museum and got our learn on about the local native cultures and the history of opium in the region... welcome to the Golden Triangle.

          Finally, just before dusk, we were picked up in an ancient Land Rover-style 4-wheel drive SUV by Nok, the owner of Bamboo Nest Guesthouse where we'd be staying for the next two nights. About 30 km outside of town, we turned on to an unpaved driving path and it was all off-road and uphill from there. Upon arrival at Bamboo Nest we dropped our bags in our private bamboo bungalow and followed the moonlit trail back to the common area for a home-cooked Thai dinner. There were six other travelers there but unfortunately four of them were Canadian so conversation wasn't exactly electrifying.
          Noi, Nok's husband and co-owner of Bamboo Nest, lit us a fire in the fire pit. Britt called it a night and went to bed. I made the ill-considered decision to stay up drinking cheap Thai beer with the Canadians and two others. I was outnumbered and ended up defending America as the subject of a relentless interrogation. They bombarded me with an unending barrage of half-witted questions like,  “Why do we know the name of you're president, but you don't who Stephen Harper is?”
“Stephen Harper? Hmmm. You mean the guy in the wheel-chair with the robot voice that's always talking about space and time travel and worm holes? Oh. No. Wait. That's Stephen Hawking,” I half-jokingly answered. 
          In truth, I had no idea who Stephen Harper is (the Canadian Prime Minister-- thanks Google). Didn't know. Didn't Care. I don't go around asking stupid questions to Canadian people like, “Why do you think its okay to wear denim shirts?” or “Are you growing that mustache because you lost a bet or are you actually serious?”
          Outnumbered as I was, I easily fended off these haters from the land of snow and syrup. The truth is, Canadians are jealous of Americans. Robin Williams said it best, “Canada is like a loft apartment over a really great party”. While things were still in good spirits I said goodnight to Joni Mitchell and the other hippies and went to bed.  
          I woke up the next morning with a slight headache and a dry mouth. It all disappeared when I stepped on to the bamboo balcony outside of my bungalow. It was a comfortably cool morning and the sun sparkled off the shiny green jungle, still wet with mountain dew. Leftover mist trapped in the valley blanketed rice paddies in the distance. Otherwise it was clear. This is the type of scenery that Northern Thailand is renowned for. It was an entirely different kind of beautiful than what I am used to in the south. The guesthouse was appropriately named. It really is like a Bamboo Nest in the side of the mountain.
          I spent the rest of the day exploring the compound a bit, but mostly laying around in the hammock on my bamboo porch. Nok had done a superb job with the landscaping and there were various flowers, plants, and trees strategically placed to add that much more to the already naturally impressive terrain. There's an abundance to do at Bamboo Nest. They offer jungle treks and 4x4 off-roading. It's only an hour's hike to a waterfall and natural hot springs. If that's too far, a ten minute stroll down the mountain will bring you to a Lahu hilltribe village.
          Since I've been back in Thailand, the two days I spent at Bamboo Nest de Chiang Rai have been by far my favorite and the most relaxing. It's easily one of my top 3 places I've stayed in all of my travels. I could go on and on into more detail about Bamboo Nest, but I figured the best way to show how great it is would be to show you with a quick video. Here's the newest Blake's World episode... Enjoy!

Want to see what it's like at Bamboo Nest de Chiang Rai?  Watch the video above!
my porch view

photo credit: Britt D

Old Whitey

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