” We got a good deal. 1000 baht for a day tour includes a visit to the Long Neck Karen plus a 1 night free stay in this hostel..so we decided to take it”
That was the first sentence popped to my mind early in the morning in a van en route to Chiang Rai. Yeah, it was a good deal. We spent quite a time walking around the tour agents nearby So Hostel and found 1100 baht was the cheapest that we got. 1000 baht with a free stay for a night was an offer that we couldnt resist. We were on a van to our first destination, Chiang Rai Hot Spring. It was a pleasant ride passing the beautiful paddy fields reminded me of my home land, Indonesia. The driver made use of the smooth road dashing to the Hot Spring in 2 hours. As soon as the van door opened, a chilly breeze blew right to my face…”Goshh..it’s cold..” It was cold up north..
Chiang Rai Hot Spring offered 2 geysers spraying hot water up 5 meters tall in a open field which strangely full of shops and cars parking. Apparently this was just a drop by place for tourists who wanted to go to Chiang Rai or the Golden Triangle. The hot spring itself was quite interesting. You can actually boiled eggs in small ponds (or should i say gutter?) near the geyser.. But surely u wouldn’t want to bathe here..i tried to dip my foot to the pond only to find some old ladies screaming ” Noooooo” at me..It was a good call..I would have a hot pot foot Chiang Rai style..haha…We were only given 20 minutes in the hot spring. I couldn’t believe the time efficiency of Thai guides, when they say 20 minutes..20 minutes it is.. I was sipping my hot coffee trying to get myself warm when the tour guide herded us back to the van..”come on come on..we go to White Temple now.”
Wat Rongkhun or commonly known as the White Temple is such a marvel of Thai architecture with a color against the mainstream,white. Normally, Budhist temples have golden color but this one has white and silver to adorn it.Mr Chalermchai Kositpipat,the artist, started to supervised the construction of this temple in 1998 and the project still continues up to now. I can see some constructions at the back of the temple being built. Mr Chalermchai Kositpipat built this temple with his own expense and donation gathered by his supporters. He made this project to fulfill his own desire in making a unique temple that represents purity and honesty. Honestly, I found this temple intriguing. All the sculptures and relief were white, even some carps in the pond are white. I walked passing the gate towards the temple crossing a bridge that had rivers of creepy arms as if they wanted to pull you into the underworld. The interior of the temple gave an even more surprising feat. The wall was painted in orange and full of unusual pictures. You can see Keanu Reeves in the Matrix costume, Doraemon, Michael Jackson, SonGoku, and other pictures that you won’t see in any temples in Thailand, or even in the whole world.
“Come..come..now it’s time to go to Golden Triangle, those who want to go and take a boat trip in Mekong River to Laos, you can pay now..” said our tour guide reminding us in the van. At first we didn’t sign up for the Mekong River Boat Trip..but Boris and Matthew,our room mate in So Hostel, convinced us to join them. “come on, it will be fun.. let see if we can get some opium there haha.” On the way, the tour guide told us a bit about the history of the Golden Triangle. It is actually just a strip of land on the Mekong River Delta which happened to be an intersection shared by three countries, Thailand, Laos, and Myanmar. Golden Triangle has been notoriously famed for its reputation as a place where drug dealers and smugglers did their dirty business.At the peak of its business, a kilogram of opium worth 1 kilogram of pure gold,hence, the area was called Golden Triangle.
We arrived in a small pier overlooking the Mekong River. This 12th longest river in the world runs from the Tibetan Pleateau right into Myanmar,Thailand, Cambodia,Vietnam and Laos. We boarded a motor propelled boat cruising the Mekong. On the right banks of Mekong, we can see Thailand and on the left bank we can see Myanmar. Both of them have something in common. Casinos..Apparently gambling is permitted and encouraged by the governments..only at the borders of course. The tour guide mentioned about some rich Chinese from the mainland love to come and spend their cash here. The casinos were well equipped with luxurious facilities like hotels, spa and even a helipad. We passed an empty strip of land with tall grass on it. It was the No Man’s Land.. The land that belongs neither to the three countries around it. It used to be a place where the opium transaction happened and murders as well. The right spot for all bad deeds since none of the law in the three countries can put you into a trial.Feeling evil? just bring your annoying girlfriend for a visit to this land..hahaha..(evil grin)..
Our boat headed to Done Xao, a commercial island belong to Lao PDR, which was located south of the No Man’s Land. Nothing interesting in this small island except what the peddlars offer to us. Long before i had been to Thailand, I had heard and read about things that some tribes in Indochina countries consumed. I heard about some dog meat served in Thachileik,Myanmar. I even ate some bugs in Phuket and tried to swallow a larvae in Bangkok. But apparently..Done Xao offered another “delicacy”.. We were herded into a shop near the bank of the river. Our tour guide promised us a welcome drink when we arrived at the shop.”come here..try this wine..For guys it will make you like a tiger at night and for girls, it can make you feel like a butterfly’ said the shopkeeper. Interested? well..not until you heard what it was made of.. Tiger Penis..yepp..a dried 30-year-old tiger penis soaked in a rice wine with some herbs promised to give an excellent sexual performance. Nobody seemed to be interested in trying the wine. Not wanting to disappoint the shop keeper and having this YOLO spirit in me, I stepped up and gave it a shot. I took a shot and realized that i hadn’t had my lunch yet. The wine gave a burning sensation from my stomach to my body..well that’s it. Nothing felt awkward after that except the nickname “Tiger Boy” given by Boris. ” u need to find a girl tonight, or we are going to be in trouble back in the dorm haha.” Well… feeling lightweighted, i saw a shop selling some fridge magnets and Lao Beer. I bought a bottle of Lao Beer for 30 baht..darn.. It was the best beer I have ever drunk in my whole life..It was hot in Done Xao and a cold beer to quench your thirst is the best treat you can get. I heard that they sold Lao Beer for only 10 baht in the mainland, but 30 baht for a beer? you can’t get that in Indonesia.
Our 30 minutes in Lao was up and everybody was asked to go back to the boat. We sailed back to the pier and took another ride to a restaurant nearby. We had a buffet lunch enough to satisfy our hunger after being on the tourist spots since the morning. The buffet was decent, we had some traditional Thai and Cambodian food. We got a long chat about the trip and shared a good time getting know of each other. Boris was a traveller from Germany and he had travelled Thailand for 2 months and he met Mattheus, a tourist from Brazil, in Bangkok. Both of them took a train to Chiangmai and it was a toll for them. It took them 20 hours to reach Chiangmai.That info surely changed my opinion about going back to Bangkok on a train.
We then continued our ride to the northernmost city of Thailand, Mae Sai. Mae Sai is a small one road city 1.5 hours from Chiang Rai. It gained a reputation as the northernmost city of Thailand and located at the border of Thailand and Myanmar. This city is the gateway to Myanmar. Tourist can cross to Myanmar and visited a small city called Taichilek and the area nearby. However, to do this, tourists need to pay 10 USD and have their passport kept by the immigration officer at the border post.Sounds quite a bargain? I didn’t go for it because we were only given half an hour to enjoy our time here. Mae Sai had plenty of shops selling gems, local handicraft and stuffs. It was famous for the coffee too, unfortunately i had to slip the chance of trying the black juice of caffeine. The after taste of Lao Beer was still thick in my throat.
We continued our trip to our last destination, the Long Neck Karen Tribe Village. Karen Tribe is a tribe famous for the rings worn by the female of the tribe member. The rings weight about 5-7 kgs worn by the female tribe members when they reached the coming of age, 14 years old.It was said that in the old days, the tribe was under a constant attack by tigers and the female member of the tribe had always been the prey of the tigers. In order to protect them, the chief of the tribe made rings to be worn on their necks. These rings are attached to them for the rest of their life and to be added as the years to come. The rings caused the neck to grow longer, giving the nickname ‘ long neck’ to the tribe. Although they are not under threat anymore, the tribe still practice this ‘neck binding’ practice for cultural and aesthetic value. The Karen Tribe that we visited today were refugees from Myanmar. They fled from Myanmar to escape from the political and social unrest back in their homeland. When we arrived at the village, we realized that it wasn’t really a village i had in mind. It was more of a shelter..or to be honest..a human zoo. Some huts were made for them and each of the huts had a Karen woman selling some handicraft like scarf,cloth or wooden carvings. Some of them wove scarf with traditional tools and one of them sat there playing a banjo singing a traditional song. I bought a scarf from one of them, i felt sad to see them. They had some difficulties in talking. They seemed to have really small voice and i didn’t have the heart to bargain with them. After we left the village, the tour guide explained to us that the tribe were refugees and unlike other hill tribes in Thailand, they were not accepted as citizens of Thailand. The Thai government took them in and gave them a small piece of land. They can’t leave that land and the government pay them monthly for being there. The tour leader explained that the Karen Tribe enjoyed their stay in Thailand and they don’t want to get back to Myanmar. We didn’t really buy that story. We knew what we saw. Those sad faces in the compound, there seemed to be no hope for them in that place. I hope someday these people will be free and equal, not bounded by the rules confining them in a small strip of land.
The Karen Tribe Village was the last of the highlights for the day. We went back to our van and took a 3 hour ride back to our hostel in Chiang Mai. It was a busy packed day for us. All the feelings of joy, excitement,intrigue, and remorse mixed into one and surely, it was a trip i won’t forget for the rest of my life.