Nick and I really enjoyed our time in Laos and stayed longer than anticipated. We left 2 days before our visas expired, totaling 28 days. We crossed into Thailand by land and experienced the most relaxed border crossing thus far. There was no fee, no passport photo, no fingerprint, no vaccine history, no visa, no passport photocopy and no health check. We arrived to Chiang Kong, the border town, which was noticeably more developed than most of Laos, less expensive and had delicious food.
The next day we rented a motorbike and headed south to Phu Chi Fa Viewpoint. We drove for a few hours in thick fog and when we hiked to the lookout, couldn’t see more than a few feet in front of us. We spent the night among hundreds of Thai tourists and woke up at 5 am to try the viewpoint again for sunrise. While leaving our “hotel”, Nick asked me to hold the break of the motorbike while he buckeled his helmet (we were on a hill), as I grabbed the break I revved the throttle. I flew off the back of the bike while Nick almost crashed into a police office. This was a great start to our day! We eventually arrived to the vewpoint and were rewarded with a beautiful sunrise above the clouds. The Thai tourist scene was almost more exciting than the sunrise and was a refreshing change from backpackers. As we headed back to Chiang Kong we drove over passes and down into settling clouds.
We immediately headed to a Chiang Rai with only 1 breakdown as the bus ran out of gas halfway. Our bus driver borrowed an empty barrel from a neighbor, jumped in a tuk tuk and returned with enough gas to get us to our destination. Chiang Rai is a small modern city with a cat cafe and many 7-11s. We explored the day market, night market, Hilltribe Museum, White Temple and Black House. The Hilltribe Museum was extremely educational and had exhibits on opium (golden triangle), the 5 main Hilltribes, uses for bamboo, and traditional clothing. We learned that the ethnic minority, long neck Karens are actually from Myanmar and have been solely brought to Thailand for tourism. They have been exploited for tourist visits and homestays and unable to leave these created villages. If in Northern Thailand, do your research and please do not visit the long neck Karens.
On our second day, in a Chiang Rei, we visited the White Temple or Wat Rong Kuhn. In 1997, this Buddhist temple was bought by artist, Chalermchai Kositpipat and he turned it into art exhibit. As you enter the temple you walk over a sea of hands which represents temptation. As you enter the beautiful white temple with reflective details you notice the paintings on the walls. The art was a combination of Buddhist and modern cartoon art. The most unique section of the wall showed the world trade centers on fire, wrapped by a constrictor, as the bottom of the snake turned into a gasoline pump and Pikachu (Pokémon) was pumping gasoline into the mouth of a dying man. The contemporary art was very confusing and hard to understand it’s connection to Buddhism.
After, Nick and I took a local bus to the Black House or Baandam Museum, which also depicts Buddhism through contemporary art. The artist, Thawan Duchanee, took 40 years to build over 40 houses on his property, and each are pieces are of art themselves. It resembles Thai spirituality tinged with oriental and western philosophy. Some houses resemble black temples while others look like thrown porcelain pottery. Each house holds his art and collections of bones, skins, fur, horns, shells, silver, gold, and bamboo from around the world. Although I had a hard time understanding the meaning of the art, I enjoyed contemplating his mental state while creating the work. Overall, I thought this exhibit was remarkable and although Nick wasn’t as excited as I, he was impressed nonetheless.
“Do not seek for understanding
in the temple of mysterious
feel them my friends from heart to heart
Do not ask the meaning of the stars in the constellation
Smile of the baby in the cradle of mothers
Sweet fragrance in the pollens of flowers
it is the work of art,
my friends in the deepest of my mystic mind,
Come closer to my spirit
Listen to the heartbeat, without word.” -Thawan Duchanee
Nick and I just arrived to a Chiang Mai where we will eat, climb and spend Christmas. We wish everyone happy holidays and a happy new year! xo