Thailand, Chiang Rai

It was time to leave Chiang Mai and head north, we’d booked a VIP bus to Chiang Rai for the following morning, costing 270 baht each for the 3 hour journey. Buses have improved a lot since I last took one in Thailand (which is well over ten years ago), instead of being limited to the blue government ones with a lunatic at the wheel, there is now a raft of private companies with new vehicles and competitive prices.

Our hotel in Chiang Rai was more of a home-stay – a small family run place 7km west of town. We chose this over the bland Thai and Chinese style block hotels that are everywhere and it turned out to be the best place we stayed at. That extra personal service and attention goes a long way, especially when you’re used to bored desk girls playing with phones when they’re supposed to be tending to customers.

It was a few hundred meters walk to the River Kok and a delightful little gem of a restaurant there that we returned to every day. I instantly liked Chiang Rai and its surrounds, far more laid back and picturesque than the manic city life in Chiang Mai.

That evening we headed into town for the weekly night bazaar and walking street – a kilometer of market stalls and very cheap clothing and shoes (happy wife).

One of Thailand’s most famous temples, Wat Rong Khun, just happened to be a few kilometers from our accommodation so we grabbed a couple of bikes and rode over there. As expected it was uber touristy, again 80% Chinese, but an impressive structure nevertheless. It was one of the rare few places we visited that didn’t charge to get in … Buddha doesn’t need tourist dollars it seems. However donations were made to create your own silver dangly bauble to hang there for eternity.

A few clicks down the road from the white temple is the Boonrawd Singha Park; sprawling, cleanly kept grounds of bicycle lanes, lakes, flower gardens, animal enclosures, cowboy ranches, tea plantations and lawns with a backdrop of green carpeted undulating hills. Again, no charge to get in and a few options of exploring this impressive place – an electric bus which 99% of the Thai and Chinese took, or rental mountain bikes which of course we opted for.

It was time to do what we do best and get on two wheels. We were heading west up the river valley and into the mountains that border Burma in search of waterfalls, hot springs, Lanna villages and general adventure. It no longer feels like you’re in Thailand when exploring these parts, long gone are the SUVs, Starbucks and iPhones that today’s materialist Siamese clamor for with such fervor. They are replaced with rolling hills, river valleys, bamboo hut villages, wooden bridges, buffalo carts and subsistence farming – a truly timeless place.

Crossing the river we were in search of a secluded local waterfall. The ‘road’ getting there was a challenge to say the least but the rental PCXs were up to the task. Riding along winding paths through tea plantations and rustic villages was a joy, we ended up back in town as the sun dropped lower in the sky at a place called Chiang Rai Beach, which was essentially a sand bar in the river where the locals hung out.