Thailand, Phu Chi Fa, Mae Sai
It was time to get back on the road so we hired a car (Honda Jazz this time) for a few days, bid our farewells to our hosts at Homestay Chiang Rai and headed east towards the Laos border.
Our final destination was the Phu Chi Fa viewpoint but we thought we’d take the scenic route via Phayao province and the Phu Sang National Park. As we climbed the scenery became more spectacular with epic vistas around every corner, finally reaching the little village at the base of Phu Chi Fa, a cluster of cheap bungalows clinging to the side of the mountain.
The afternoon was spent enjoying the sun in the chilly climes of the hills at Phu Chi Fa. Most people make the journey here to experience the sunrise and the famous cloud, mist and fog shrouded views over the valleys and hills of Laos. There were a number of little shacks selling traditional Lao clothing and woolly hats but other than that the place was deserted.
We were here mid-afternoon and the potential for a good sunset was brewing nicely so we made our way to the ‘base camp’ and started on the 750 meter trek to the summit as the sun slunk lower in the sky to the west casting long shadows over the Mekong valley in Laos to the east.
The beauty of this place and the silent serenity that surrounded it was amazing, very few other people about also which just enhanced the ambiance. We were only at around 1,630 meters but it really felt like you could touch the sky up here.
The temperature dropped that night to below ten degrees … which is bloody cold if you’re not acclimatised to it! We were in for an early start, 04.30 up and out, heading back to the start of the trail to make the slippery, torch-lit ascent for sunrise. There were a lot mot people this time, easily over a hundred. The cold and darkness didn’t deter parents from positioning their children in local garb at strategic positions along the trail where they could sell plastic torches or sing a song on loop for a dollar.
We found ourselves a good vantage point at the top and settled in for the show. The colours and ambiance changed as the sun slowly hauled itself up for the day. Clouds would envelop us dropping the visibility to zero then, as quick as they came, would disappear revealing another spectacular vista. The Lao kids singing the same song a thousand times were beginning to irritate.
It was time to get on the road again and head north towards Mae Sai and the Golden Triangle. We stopped halfway at Mae Fah Luang and Doi Tung to marvel at the Royal flower gardens. In remembrance of HRH Princess Srinagarindra (the King’s mother) entrance was free this week.
Adjacent to the flower gardens was the Doi Tung Royal Villa where the Princess Mother spent her final days. We were allowed to go in on a little tour providing we wore plastic bags on our feet! A headset was issued (in English, Thai or Chinese) to explain the various rooms and artifacts in the place as people shuffled around in hushed tones – it was all very efficient.
Our next spot on the map was Mae Sai, a nondescript border town with absolutely nothing of interest, with the hope of going across the border to Tachileik the following day. As usual there were problems but, unlike normal dealings with Thai officialdom, the farang could go across with ease (for 500 baht of course). The Thais had to go to the amphur office and get an exit permit if they wanted to go into Myanmar (I’d always assumed they could just cross with their ID cards). Wasting half a morning in a Thai government office was not an option as time was against us, we gave up on the Burma idea and headed east again to the Golden Triangle.
There isnt really much at the GT aside from a Buddha statue, a couple of signs, and the usual tourist tat stalls. We were there before the Chinese tour buses arrived so were hounded by boat drivers wanting to fleece us 500 baht for a 5 minute trip across the river to a market on the Lao side. Grabbed a couple of shots and jumped back in the car to head back towards Chiang Rai for our final night which was spent mostly relaxing by the pool and doing a but of last minute shopping in the night bazaar.