Tag Archives: temple

Chiang Rai – The City

Chiang Rai is the capital city of the Thailand’s northernmost province of the same name. It’s probably one of the best places to live in Thailand (in my humble opinion – I’ve spent here two beautiful years). The city’s population is about 70,000. You won’t find tall skyscrapers here, everything is spread out on a huge area and has more of a “huge village” feel rather than a “city” feel.

The climate here is much more comfortable than the one in central or southern Thailand. In fact, it can be really cold in winter! I remember crazy situations when the thermometer was showing over 20 degrees Celsius, yet the wind was so strong and cold that we wore jumpers and jackets and it was still very cold. At night, the temperature can drop down to just few degrees above zero.

As I already mentioned, the city is quite spread out and the best way to get around is by bicycle or motorbike. The city centre is rather modest – but still there are a few sights worth seeing – The Temple of Emerald Buddha (Wat Phra Kaew), the Clock Tower and the colourful Night Bazaar.

Perhaps you have heard about the famous Temple of Emerald Buddha located on the grounds of Grand Palace in Bangkok. Well, this Emerald Buddha (in Thai: พระแก้วมรกต) was discovered in Chiang Rai, Lanna kingdom in 1434. A lightning storm truck a temple where the Buddha image was kept. The statue felt down and became chipped. It turned out that the figure was covered with stucco. Upon removing all of the stucco, the monks discovered a perfectly made Buddha image from a solid piece of green jade (not emerald as the name suggests – “emerald” in Thai simply means “of green colour”). The statue was never closely examined by experts, therefore the exact composition and origin is unknown. It was probably crafted around XIV century in Thailand, but it can also come from India or Sri Lanka. The Emerald Buddha has changed its location a number of times – from Chang Rai it was transported to Lampang, later to Chiang Mai, then Luang Prabang (currently Laos), Vientiane (Laos) and eventually Bangkok, where it stays until this day. The Buddha image in Chiang Rai is an exact copy of the original.

On the grounds of the Temple of Emerald Buddha in Chiang Rai there is also a small yet interesting museum. The green Buddha pavilion is quite small but nicely done and the green-coloured glasses make quite a unique feeling about the place.

The Clock Tower seems to be located in the very centre of the city, not too far from the above mentioned temple. It was designed by a famous Thai artist Chalermchai Khositpipat (who comes from the area and also designed the very famous Wat Rong Khun – the White Temple) and is quite incredible. Everyday at 7:00, 8:00 and 9:00 in the evening the Tower plays a music and is changing colours. There is also an extra show at midnight on New Year’s Eve.

The Night Bazaar is a great place where one can eat well and cheap, buy souvenirs (or other useful things) and even watch the shows on the stage. Sometimes those are the traditional dances of northern Thailand, sometimes drag queen shows (lady-boy) and other times a local musician makes our time pass more pleasantly by playing good songs.

Chiang Rai city (A – Wat Phra Kaew, Temple of Emerald Buddha, B – Clock Tower, C – Night Bazaar)

Doi Mae Salong

Doi Mae Salong (Thai: ดอยแม่สลอง) is a place with a very interesting history. It is also one of my favourite places in Thailand. The official name of the village is Santikhiri (สันติคีรี), but it is located on a hill called Mae Salong (“doi” means mountain in Thai).

I mentioned the interesting history of the place. The early days of Doi Mae Salong go back to the time of opium trade in the Golden Triangle. The Golden Triangle was the name of the area where three countries border each other – Thailand, Myanmar (Burma) and Laos – and it was infamous for drugs trade. The following history was adopted from Mae Salong’s Wikitravel website (here).

In 1949, after the Nationalist Kuomintang government was formed, 93rd Division of the Chinese Nationalist Army refused to surrender to Chinese communists.

Unlike most of the unrelenting nationalists that fled to Taiwan in 1949, a force of 12,000 escaped from Yunnan to Burma and continued an insurgency against the Peoples’ Republic. They were at first supported by Taiwan and the USA, but diplomatic shifts later led to the partial disbanding of the nationalist forces in Burma. While thousands left for Thailand in 1961, many remained in Burma.

The soldiers that settled in Mae Salong kept it as a military base in preparation for an eventual counter-attack against communist China. They funded their arms purchases with opium production and rubbed shoulders with notorious Burmese warlord and drug baron Khun Sa, who lived a few kilometres away in Ban Hin Taek and who initially trained with the Kuomintang before founding his own army.

In the 1970s the Thai government struck a deal with the renegades: the battle-hardened soldiers would help them fight Thailand’s own communist insurgents in exchange for legitimacy and Thai citizenship. Part of their going straight involved the soldiers’ cessation of opium production in favour of the cultivation of mushrooms and above all oolong tea (a kind of between green and black tea, with the green being more dominant), which is now Mae Salong’s main product. The tea plantations can be spotted at almost every hill and valley in the area.

The road to Mae Salong is very windy and sometimes steep, yet usually very well constructed, which makes it seem actually pretty easy. Bear in mind that it doesn’t mean it is completely safe at all, as we have witnessed ourselves – but more about that later.

Probably the most famous place in Doi Mae Salong is Phra Boromathat Chedi, stupa built in honour of the Princess Mother, Srinagarindra. Next to the chedi is the Princess Mother Hall, a modern, Thai-style pavilion looking similar to a temple on the outside. There are two ways leading to the stupa – one on your feet, through 719 steep stairs (on photos) and very steep and windy paved road coming from the other end of Mae Salong (you can see the steep end of this road on the photos as well).

Other places worth mentioning are Tomb of General Tuan, the founder of Mae Salong, and Chinese Martyrs’ Memorial Museum (ticket: 20 baht, about 0.5 euro, in 2013). Museum is rather modest and its purpose is to keep the memory of soldiers that died during the fights against communism.

What is most breathtaking, are the views. Beautiful panorama can be seen especially from Phra Boromathat Chedi – from there you can also see the overwhelming tea plantations. It is definitely worth staying here for one night. During my last visit, it was a time of Tea Festival, Sakura Blossom and Several Tribes culture (not perfect name in English, but hey – this is Thailand). There was a procession of hill tribe members (living in the proximity) dressed in traditional clothes that walked through the length of the village. There was also a big marketplace and a large stage, where one could admire the shows of local folklore.

Mae Salong was founded by Chinese people from Yunnan province and therefore is a perfect opportunity to try the Yunnanese cuisine. Personally I love Yunnanese beef curry served with mantou (Chinese steamed bun without filling). Salapao (Chinese steamed buns with fillings) are also well worth trying.

On the way back we witnessed a scene of an accident – the truck has stopped on the tree growing at a turn. It is not something you can see every day. So much about the road safety.

Before arriving in Chiang Rai town, we briefly stopped at Pong Nam Ron hot springs. At that time they were still under construction, the only ready things were places for dipping feet and  ponds for boiling eggs.

The photos come again from many trips to Doi Mae Salong so do not be deceived by my constantly changing look.

Doi Mae Salong (A – Doi Mae Salong, Santikhiri village, B – Pong Nam Ron hot springs)

Tha Ton village

After scoring a beautiful sunrise at Thailand’s second highest mountain (Doi Phahompok), I continued my journey towards Doi Mae Salong, which is famous for its tea plantations.

Before I got there though, I have visited a temple next to the road and then stopped at rather small town of Tha Ton (village indeed, only about 2,000 people). Even though I have passed through Tha Ton many times in the past, I never stopped there for a longer time – which turned out to be a huge mistake. Tha Ton is located on the Kok river, which flows all the way from Chiang Rai city (and further, one way into Myanmar and another into Mekong river). The village is famous mostly for the temple – Wat Tha Ton, which consists of 9 levels. Each temple level is different – dragons and Buddha images are the most common sights here. The view of the surrounding areas from the higher temple level is simply breath-taking – the weather was very clear so the visibility was perfect. One could see military outpost on the border with Myanmar easily.

On Tha Ton-Chiang Rai water way there is a scheduled boat service. I have never decided to use this mode of transport because it takes much longer than the paved road (3h one way, 5h the other). Locals have mentioned that the boat trip is indeed quite nice, yet really long. The day was finished (and started) with the visit at one of the local restaurants by the Kok riverside. Fresh fish at good prices prepared in Thai way should not be missed by any travellers who happen to make their way in this area. Even though visiting this place is unlikely for ordinary tourists, it can provide you with a unique Thai experience.

Pakse, Wat Phu Champasak, Laos

As I ended my adventures in Tha Khaek, I moved on further south in Laos – to Pakse (or Pakxe), located a bit less than 350 km away. The bus ride takes about seven hours, though. Pakse was made in 1905 by French as an administrative outpost. The city is located at the confluence of Mekong and Se Don (Don river) and is the capital of Champasak province. The city has quite attractive location – to the west there is Thai border, to the east there is the fertile Bolaven Plateau (famous for its coffee plantations and many waterfalls), to the south is the way to Si Phan Don (Four Thousand Islands). The construction of Lao-Japanese bridge on Mekong in 2002 sped up the city’s development thanks to faster connection with Thailand. The city itself is just another lethargic Mekong city – it is more about being than seeing, so there is not much to see in the city itself. It is the perfect base to visit Wat Phu Champasak complex or Bolaven Plateau.

On the first day of my stay here I have rented a motorbike and went on in the direction of Wat Phu Champasak. It is an ancient Khmer (so the same style as Angkor in Cambodia) religious complex, I think the largest one outside of Cambodia. In 2001 it was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The complex spreads across 1400 m up to the lower slopes of Phu Pasak mountain range – 46 km away from Pakse. I got onto my freshly rented motorbike and hit the road. I followed the signs easily and everything looked nice until I have approached a small crowd of people. I asked for direction and was told that the main road is impassable, hence I have to take the small dirt path (on the photos). Intrigued by what was the reason behind all this, I stopped and came closer to the spot in which there should be a bridge – there I saw a reason for the road being impassable. The bridge was collapsed, and on what was left of it, in the valley there was a truck (just check out the photo!). The funny thing is, the trucks were in a convoy – the first one made it across the bridge but the second one wasn’t that lucky. The sign in front of the bridge said “No trucks with trailer” and “No vehicles over 15 T” – we can only guess how heavy the trucks were and for how long this ban was ignored by local drivers.

I continued my way then using the very local, narrow path (it’s hard to call it a road – see the photos) and happily arrived at Wat Phu Champasak. The site was worshipped since the 5th century but the remaining ruins are dated between 11th and 13th century. The entrance fee was about 5 euros (October 2014). Upon my arrival, it started to rain – luckily it stopped after some 30 minutes. It wasn’t heavy, but heavy enough to make photo taking really troublesome. In front of the ruins there are two large water ponds separated by the promenade. The ruins are quite well-preserved and are impressive – especially if you didn’t see the Angkok Wat in Cambodia. The location next to the mountain slope adds some charm. There are long stairs going uphill – and those stairs themselves make very interesting sight, especially in those places where trees are growing within them. At the top there are some objects connected to the site – like holy water spring, elephant stone or crocodile stone.

Before heading back I’ve noticed that my back tire was completely flat. In the village nearby I found the shop where a guy patched my tube for 1 euro. But upon arrival in Pakse there was almost no air left in the tube – I am not sure whether it was because of patching or I got a flat tire again – as I managed to return the motorbike before the tire went completely flat again.

From Pakse (A) to Wat Phu Champasak (or Vat Phou, B)

Tha Khaek Loop, Laos – Day 4

The last day of my stay in Tha Khaek I have spent on seeing those things that I have skipped on the third day – namely the Khoun Kong Leng lake (‘Evening Gong Lake’) and one, not too fancy temple. Khoun Kong Leng lake is located on the southern edge of Phu Hin Bun NPA – almost one hour drive from Tha Khaek city. It takes one hour not because of the distance, but because of the road quality – which you can see on the photos. There are also virtually no signs that would point you in the right direction – but since I knew the location from guidebook, I found the place without problems. The lake is located next to limestone mountains. The emerald-green water flows from subterranean river that filters through the limestone, making the water crystal clear. The lake is about 21 m (70 ft) deep. The locals believe that lake has mystical powers and it is named after a legend that describes a gong sounding on the full moon each month. Swimming in the lake itself is not allowed – but it is possible in the stream that flows from the lake, apparently after getting permission from the locals. However, when I arrived in Ban Na Kheu (about 1 km from the lake), there was nobody there to even notice my presence. The Lonely Planet guidebook describes the lake as ‘stunningly beautiful’ but I would be more careful when choosing words – it is beautiful, indeed, but not jaw-dropping. And as it is not the most accessible place to get to, it can be easily omitted if you are not into it.

On the way back I have made a brief stop to take photos of local people. Laos is the most bombed country in the world (per capita) and even 40 years after the war ended, it is still taking its toll. There are still ongoing projects clearing the unexploded ordnance (UXO) – mostly land mines and other bombs. The elderly man that can be seen on the photo almost surely has lost his hand because of UXO. I cannot be 100% sure of it since the family didn’t speak any English – but knowing the facts this is the most likely scenario.

After seeing the lake I went towards Pha That Sikhottabong – on the way I have stopped briefly to see the ‘Great Wall’ – a kind of huge piece of stone wall, which used to have some sort of defending purpose in the past. Now it is mostly forgotten and hidden in the woods not far from the main road (but there is about 15 km of the walls preserved to this day). Pha That Sikhottabong is a stupa that sits on the grounds of a 19th century monastery of the same name. The stupa was raised in place of thâat (Buddhist reliquary) dated 6th to 10th century. It is considered one of the most important thâat in Laos and was first renovated in 16th century by king Setthathirat, when it got its general shape. Later it was restored in 1950s and further augmented in 1970s. It is a place of a major festival in February. The monastery itself, same as the stupa, didn’t really get into me – it’s just a standard monastery/temple in Asia. If someone happens to be here for the first time though, then you are more than welcome to visit the place – especially since it is located only 6 km from the city and very easily accessible.

From Tha Khaek (A) to Khoun Kong Leng (B)