Wednesday, November 23, 2011

We spend a few days in Chiang Rai

We've been in Chiang Rai for the past few days. I had to make a visa run as the first of my 60-day visas was due to expire on November 22nd. Mae Sai is only an hour from here so on Sunday we rode up there where I checked out of Thailand and crossed the river border into Myanmar, turned around and checked right back into Thailand. This border crossing is one of Thailand's busiest and I saw many farangs in my few minutes at the passport control offices. It only costs 500 baht to enter Myanmar although travel is still greatly restricted in that country. AFAIK, foreigners are not allowed to travel anywhere in Myanmar unless you enter the country by air. There is a small Burmese border town just across the river, Tachilek, that features a shopping area selling all manner of baubles and knock-offs of more expensive items. The selection of branded and logo-ed motorcycle gear is impressive and all of it costs far far less than the real thing.

My visit to Tachilek was short because Nut had forgotten to bring her passport or ID along and couldn't come over -- she was waiting "back in Thailand". Plus, there was this persistent street vendor trying to sell me viagra who simply wouldn't take no for an answer. It was interesting that his starting offer of 4 tablets for 450 baht was eventually lowered to 50 baht, which just goes to show that you should probably never buy for the first price you hear. I finally shed this PITA by making for the bridge to Thailand. I wasn't really into shopping and I certainly wasn't going to buy any drugs from a street vendor but I had wanted to see the moto gear for future reference.

Old hotel in Mae Sai

Anyway, I'm now using the second of the three 60-day tourist visas I got from the Thai Embassy in Los Angeles in August. This one will last me to January 20th when I will have to make another visa run somewhere. We had a nice lunch in the market in Mae Sai and shopped around for tea. I am a big tea drinker, no pun intended, and finding good quality black tea here has been difficult. For this trip I brought along 2 kilos of my favorite, a China Keemun black tea I buy from Upton Imports in Massachusetts.

You'd think that tea would be easy to come by here in Thailand where they grow the stuff but what I've found so far has been unsatisfactory. With Nut available to help with the linguistics we walked around the market in Mae Sai where we happened upon a few shops selling paper-wrapped blocks of Yunnan tea from China. This is the northernmost part of Thailand and the Myanmar-China (Yunnan Province) border is only about 100 miles north of here, which is the reason the local shops have Chinese tea. For 140 baht I bought a 250 g block of compressed Yunnan tea to sample to sample. Turns out it's an excellent tea, especially for the price I paid, about $4.50 USD for a little over a half pound. We've looked for it here in Chiang Rai because I'd like to buy more but haven't had any luck.

Aside: Speaking of tea, I like mine "English style", that is, with milk and a sweetener, specifically, evaporated milk and honey. Honey's easy to find but since the floods in Bangkok, evaporated milk has been impossible to find in the shops, and believe me I've looked for it in many of them. So while some bemoan the shortages of beer or of  bottled drinking water, I bemoan the scarcity of Carnation canned milk. My sharp eyed girlfriend spotted a window full of Carnation in a small shop along the highway the other day -- I bought four cans so I've enough to last for a while. Silly me.

We made a day trip to the little town of Phraya Mengrai to visit with fellow blogger Village Farang and his lovely wife Oiy at their beautiful home. It was a fun visit and our time together passed much too quickly. They generously invited us to stay the night but Nut was feeling too shy to stay over with people we had only just met. I hope to visit again someday and take them up on their invitation. Unfortunately, I forgot to take my camera along so cannot show you either their home or the gorgeous sunset we caught on the way back to town.

Next day we took another ride, this time to a popular hot springs just west of the city. The countryside around Chiang Rai is quite beautiful and is easily accessible. Before we got to the hot springs I spotted a turn off for a waterfall. There was no distance posted on the sign but I thought it would probably be fairly close to the highway we were on. But in that assumption, as in so many other things, I was wrong. The narrow concrete road twisted and turned, rose and fell, changed to gravel and then paving blocks, and finally back to concrete. No cars, nobody walking, and no other motorbikes. Highly unusual for this country. Nut got scared and had begun "counseling" me to turn back when we eventually reached a small village, some attractive tea plantations, and the waterfall in question.

On the road to Huai Kaeo Waterfall

Tea plantation near Huai Kaeo Waterfall
Huai Kaeo Waterfall
Nut and the Phantom on the road back from Huai Kaeo Waterfall
We resumed our trip to the hot springs by a different route but it wasn't much better than the way in except for being shorter. The "shoulder" in the photo above is about 12 inches lower than the road so one really wants to stay away from it at all costs. The hot springs were located in a nice park on the river Kok but were not remarkable -- in fact I just looked for a photo to include here but didn't find one -- I never snapped the shutter during the visit. Nut and I sat by the river for a few minutes and then headed back to Chiang Rai.