The town is less developed, and certainly smaller than Chiang Mai. It had a tiny tourist section, a two-block-long length of street in the center of town, where several pizza joints, Italian food restaurants, and trinket shops catered to a small enclave of tourists. There was a decided lack of Thai restaurants, with the one exception of a food court with surrounding food stalls, but that only opened up at night, as part of the night market. One glance at the menus of the tourist places told us they were not as cheap as we had been lead to believe. We had to walk a few blocks away from the tourist area in order to find some local eateries, but even they were expensive by Thai standards.
Our tour started very early the next morning by being crammed into a van with five other tourists, a driver and a guide who spoke broken English, then a long drive north through some lush, hilly country. We stopped a garden park, dedicated to the King’s mother, that was way over the top with different varieties of plants – everything from orchids to cactus. It felt like a botanical garden Disneyland. We then headed-off to Maesai, the northernmost tip of Thailand where we had a view into Myanmar. Next we visited an Opium museum, and learned more about the cultivation, production and smuggling of the white powder than I ever wanted to know.
At last we approached the Golden Triangle, which is the spot where two rivers come together, forming the borders of Thailand, Burma, and Laos. It’s a beautiful setting, but there really isn’t much there to see. The fun part was climbing into a long-tail boat for a high-speed ride down the river to a Lao settlement. The village was very poor, and made money by selling trinkets to us tourists who came down the river. Still it didn’t quite seem like it was worth the five-hour drive just do a quick thirty-minute ride on the river.
(A chedi at Wat Mahathat in Chiang Saen)
A funny thing happened the day after our Golden Triangle tour. We ran into our guide, the one who spoke broken English, on the streets of Chiang Rai. He was very gracious and led us to his home for a traditional snack, then took us to the market where we had lunch at a soup stall in the center of the market. We all had the curry noodle soup, a specialty of the area, served with crispy buffalo rind. It was tasty but there were some unidentified bits of animal organs hidden in the soup. We had a very pleasant afternoon with him showing us around the center of town, explaining to us which restaurants were good for which dishes, and what to look for in the various temples. The man had a wealth of knowledge, as you would expect from a guide. That actually wasn’t so funny, but what occurred the following days was. We kept running into him every time we when out strolling. It seemed he was stalking us. We literally couldn’t go out without “accidentally” running into him. It got to the point where I began looking around corners, trying to avoid him. It turned into a very entertaining game, tying to go a full day without seeing him.I must admit that after a full week, I was glad to leave Chiang Rai.
Chiang Rai time: