logbook1.gif (2755 bytes)

money_small_anim3.gif (11952 bytes)

Chiang Mai - Chiang Rai 8 - 11 December

Unlike Mandalay with its trishaws, high tech tuk-tuks - little motorized three-wheelers with open sides - are the mode of transport in Chiang Mai. The three of us took one to the "old town" which didn't look particularly old.  There were a few old buildings dotted around but the modern world has definitely taken over in Chiang Mai.  With only 200,000 inhabitants, it would be a much more pleasant place to live than polluted Bangkok, but there isn't much of interest to the tourist (except the Buddhist Pagodas now called Wats, but we had seen so many in Bagan).  Ray left us to go and watch a live rugby sevens tournament, presided over by the King called the King's Cup.  Meanwhile, Flemming and I looked at handmade paper in a shop owned by an Englishman.  It's beautifully made with petals inserted in the paper.  Flemming wants to redecorate our awful purple loo at home with it.

After a lunch of lovely crispy coconut sprouts - spelt "spouts" on the menu - we returned to the hotel to catch up on e-mails and website.  Our quota still hadn't been renewed so we were unable to post anything new.   Later we dined at a cultural centre where we could watch Thai dancing while we ate. We were pleasantly surprised to find that the majority of the audience was Thai.   Thai dancing by the women is done mostly with the hands while the feet shuffle around and a leg occasionally gets kicked up behind.  Then there was sword dancing and fire dancing performed by men - rather more dramatic.  Meanwhile Ray watched Thai boxing at a food plaza.

The owner of the Riverview Lodge was most congenial.  His hobby was collecting vintage cars and I counted eight of them in the hotel car park.   They were mostly Mercedes.  He was interested to learn of our world trip in the Mooney and was keen to drive us to the plane in one of his Mercedes, but we had to disappoint him.  We knew that the car wouldn't get through Security onto the apron.

At the airport, we were told off for not having reported to the Information desk on arrival.  That is where one pays the landing fees in Thailand.   Apart from that there was no hassle, and the landing and parking fees were a reasonable $50. After an otherwise uneventful flight of 45 minutes we landed in Chiang Rai, capital of Golden Triangle country.  Since we were still in Thailand, we didn't have to go through customs, and we left the airport in record time. On the approach there was some confusion about a waypoint (IAF) called MAILA, which according to the GPS database was at 30 DME from Chiang Rai, while our approach charts showed the same point at 25 DME Chiang Rai. After some discussion the friendly female controller informed us that the approach charts had been recently revised, and we realised that the GPS database was current while the approach chart in our trip kit already was outdated.

We asked the taxi driver to take us to the first guest house in the guide book, called Mae Kok Villa.  The main building was a charming, albeit dilapidated, old Thai house.  As we had been warned in the book, the owner was surrounded by several dachshunds.  He was a retired maths teacher and his English was quite good.  We told him we wanted to do some trekking and his immediate reaction was "Watch out for the drug dealers.  If they see that you've seen them they are likely to shoot you".   I showed him our guide book where it said that you could do some individual trekking by taking a boat from Chiang Rai for one hour on the Mae Kok river and then visit several hill tribe villages, all within a day's hike.  After that, he relaxed a little and then proposed that we go to a new guest house in the hills, run by the chief of an Akha village.  We had missed the boat for that day, so he arranged for us to be picked up by the Akha chief in his pick-up truck.  With a few hours to spare, we rearranged our luggage so as to only take what we could carry on our backs, leaving the rest at Mae Kok Villa for our return 2 days later.

For the ride up the hills, Ray insisted on  roughing it in the open truck with some young backpackers from Australia and Germany, so Flemming and I sat in relative comfort.  The road was extremely rough, slippery and almost vertical in places.  It seemed a miracle that no one got thrown out, but chief Apae was a skilful driver who knew the road like the back of his hand.

We eventually arrived at a small village of wooden shacks surrounded by thick jungle.  Although the young Australian couple that had ridden with us had booked first and therefore had the first choice of hut, in view of our seniority in age, they kindly offered to let us take the most "luxurious" one, called the "Project Bungalow".  It wasn't  exactly  my idea of luxury, but at least we had an attached bathroom of sorts - cold shower and basin and hole-in-the-ground loo.  Although we had no electricity in our room, they had it in the dining area and we were able to get cool beers.  We bought the Australian couple, Richard and Lucy, a beer to thank them for their generosity.  One beer led to another and we enjoyed a pleasant evening chatting to all the young people, most of whom were travelling for several months in South-East Asia before heading for Australia or New Zealand.  It was chillier after dark than in Chiang Mai, but Apae lit an open-air log fire so it was quite cosy.  According to chief Apae, he is raising funds to send the local children to school and all the proceeds from the "project bungalow" contribute to the fund.  The project was explained in a notice on the wall of the dining area and there was a call for donations to be paid into a bank account.  It all sounded a very worthy scheme and Flemming was ready to make a donation until he heard a rumour that Apae and his project might not be as above board as it appeared.

It is known that most of the hill tribe people used to grow opium as one of their main sources of income.  This is now forbidden and it is now smuggled in from Burma instead.

We retired early to bed and slept well in spite of the hard bed.   The next morning, the three of us went on a walk to a pretty waterfall and continued on the path for another hour or so.  We were trying to follow a circuit that was shown on a leaflet for the guest house, but the only signposts were in Thai.   Actually, having seen a lot of publicity in Chiang Mai for treks to the hill tribes and elephant rides, I had expected the whole area to be pretty commercialized, so I didn't mind the lack of direction... or trekkers.  We came across a village which was deserted apart from a woman and a couple of children, none of whom spoke a word of English.  They weren't wearing hill tribe costumes, though.  It seems that the hill tribe people only put on their colourful costumes these days in order to sell handicrafts to tourists.  Apart from lush vegetation, banana trees galore and some butterflied and dragonflies, there was little in the way of fauna to see.  No snakes or lizards and even birds were rare. We heard the odd twitter or warble but that was about all. 

We returned to the guest house for a light lunch.  Then Ray took it easy while Flemming and I walked to some hot springs about an hour away.   This was a pleasant spot by the Mae Kok river.  It was all quite civilized with a mown lawn and huts arranged neatly by the riverside.  There was even a choice of 2 "restaurants" with limited menu consisting mainly of fried rice and vegetables.  The hot springs were pretty hot in spite of a  hose with cold water running into it.  I soothed my tired leg muscles in the hot water, then hosed myself down with the refreshing cold water.  It was from here that we were due to take a boat the next day back to Chiang Rai.  Actually, I would have preferred to change our plans and take the boat back that day to only spend a total of 2 nights in the Chiang Rai area, and thus gain a day in Krabi by the sea further south.  But the flight authorizations wouldn't allow for that.  So we walked back up the hill to the guest house, this time in company of one of the German girls called Jeanette.

Our second evening at the guest house was similar to the first.   We awoke at sunrise to our view over the jungle partly shrouded in morning mist.   Jeanette and the other German girl called Anja, joined the three of us after breakfast for the walk to the hot springs and river.   After a light lunch there, we found a longtail boat, a slim river boat, powered by car engine, to take us to Chiang Rai for 60 baht (just over $1) each.  The river was pretty shallow so it took skill (and no doubt knowledge) for the boat driver to avoid getting snagged.  It was a lovely ride and the cool breeze a godsend.  We spotted some elephants on our left, but unlike Tanzania, these were tame ones for the tourists to ride into the jungle.

On our return to Chiang Rai we checked into our rooms at the Mae Kok Villa and had a welcome cold shower before rushing out to the airport to pick up some of our now unwanted baggage and send it off to Ulla and Martin in Denmark.  The post office closed at 4.30 pm and we had precious little time to do it in.  But we just made it, thanks to the help of our young woman taxi driver who drove us to the nearest post office and participated in preparing the parcels.  The parcels cost $50 to send, even by seamail, but we thus save about 8 kgs.

After a couple of days of roughing it, we were all ready for a little "fine dining".  We went to a restaurant that had a dancing show.   Both performers and audience were entertained by a 2-year-old who thought she was part of the show.  The singer even got the giggles!

Click on image to enlarge, click browser back to return

15-Hilltribe_Boy.jpg (32075 bytes)

Hilltribe boy in Chiang Mai

15-River_View_Lodge.jpg (51580 bytes)

The garden of River View Lodge

15-Chiang_Mai_Dancer.jpg (28720 bytes)

Chiang Mai dance show

15-ChiangMai_Depart.jpg (23951 bytes)

Departure from Chiang Mai

15-Akha_Hill_Sunrise.jpg (24724 bytes)

Early morning view from the 'Project Bungalow', Akha Hill guest house.

15-Waterfall.jpg (58432 bytes)

Waterfall near the Akha Hill guest house

15-Bamboo_Angela.jpg (52039 bytes)

Bamboo woman in the jungle

15-AkhaWoman.jpg (34636 bytes)

Akha woman sewing handicrafts

15-Longtail_Mae_Kok.jpg (39632 bytes)

Cruising the Mae Kok river in a longtail boat

15-Mae_Kok_Elephants.jpg (27892 bytes)

Elephants along the Mae Kok river

plane_prev_home_next3.gif (2099 bytes)