I think Chiang Mai will always be ‘home’ for me in Thailand. There is something about the politely crazy drivers, the way the Old City retains the magic of its history, and of course the beautiful, smiling locals that treat you like family. The most amazing part of our time in Chiang Mai, and one of my favourite parts of the trip so far, was going to Buo Tang waterfall, or the “sticky waterfall”. A bumpy hour and a half drive north of the old city, Buo Tang waterfall is a 150 meter tall waterfall with limestone deposits that actually make the rocks sticky! As we made our way out of the heavy, hot city air, the air flowing through our taxi (which is basically a bench in the back of a closed off pick-up truck) became cooler and fresher. Rice fields and mountains came into view, and the only buildings in sight were wooden huts with straw or tin metal roofs. Finally in the jungle, the air got even cooler and damper, and the pot-holed road we were on sent us flying around in the back of our taxi. Surrounded by dense, tropical forest, we could hear the sound of the falls in the distance. Once we finally made it to the park the falls are part of, we got out and walked toward the top of the falls. Below us, the falls rushed downward over the rolling rocks between the trees, with mountains soaring up all around. We walked down some old, wooden stairs to get to the bottom of the falls, and started our way up. The deposits allow you to literally climb up and down the rushing waterfall with your hands and feet, and not fall down. It was incredibly steep at some points, but you barely notice as you climb with the support of the sticky rocks. My first step onto the rocks was like being a kid again- I could not stop laughing and smiling and I started running up, down and around the rocks like a happy idiot. Getting down to the very bottom, I let the falls cascade over me, cleansing so much of the worries that had accompanied me on the trip thus far. As we made our way up, I felt more and more trust in the rocks under my feet, and quickly ascended the steepest parts of the falls. We found a spot where the water was flowing well, and sat on the rocks, allowing the cool water to rush around us. The sun shone through the lush, green world around us. There is something so magically peaceful about the quiet, jungle world. Everything is well at the waterfall.
The next day, we did our first (and last) guided tour. We decided to do a full day trip including hot springs, the famous White Temple, the Golden Triangle, a market, and the Baanam Museum. The tour went northeast of Chiang Mai, and turned around all the way at the point where Thailand, Laos and Myanmar meet. We left Chiang Mai early in the morning , and drove for about an hour to make it to the hot springs. This ended up being a couple of holes full of bubbling water in the middle of a parking lot with a 711. After that, we drove another hour to Wat Rong Khun, or the White Temple. This ended up being the coolest part of the tour, and made the whole thing worth it in the end. The White Temple was built by an artist from Chiang Rai, and is made entirely of white material and reflective glass. The result is spectacular- like a white castle in a fairytale. The amount of tourists- many disrespectful of the no photography and conservative clothing rules- was somewhat disappointing. Nevertheless, the temple was breathtaking. You first walk over a bridge, with “hell” below you, into “heaven”. Creepy clay hands reach up all around you, and devil’s horns line the entryway.
Entering the temple, you first see a monk sitting cross legged in front of you (which I believe was a wax sculpture) with two Buddha statues above. The walls are one giant, unbelievably intricate painting depicting this generation. Life-like paintings of spider man, batman, and every other character you can imagine from our time have a place on the walls. On the wall opposite the Buddha are the eyes of the devil, one encompassing Osama Bin Laden, the other George Washington.
After the white temple we drove another hour to the Golden Triangle, where the Ruak River and Mekong River converge and join the borders of Thailand, Laos and Myanmar. We took a boat across to Laos, where we visited a questionable black market where they sold whiskey made with scorpions, lizards, snakes, turtles and tiger penises (yes really). Shop owners yelled at you to look at their knock-off hand bags, and children begged for money on the street. It was somewhat of a disturbing experience, and we were happy to be on our boat back to Thailand, where we got on our bus again and drove to the Baandam Museum, or the Black House.
An artist- apparently an animal-loving Buddhist who died 2 years ago- bought a huge area of land in Chiang Rai and on it built many different buildings. Most of the building material was black, and the structures were made of different woods, including teak. There were some interesting art pieces and animal bones, furs and skins everywhere which really gave me the creeps. I appreciated the eccentricity of the architecture, but I had a hard time understanding the need for animal carcasses in every nook and cranny- I guess us artists really are just crazy.
Our last stop of the tour was a hill tribe up in the mountains, which we were unaware was part of the tour. They had long-necked women as an option which we opted out of. The disturbing aspects of the tourism industry became very apparent that day, and to show up in a tour bus full of foreigners to exploit somebody’s culture wasn’t really my thing. The drive back to Chaing Mai was a long 3 hours, but the stars shone brightly outside my window and I felt grateful for the experience. The next day was our last full day in Chaing Mai, and we finally got around to doing some temple walking. We picked a few of the more prominent temples to visit, and set out in the morning after a big breakfast at our favourite cafe called Blue Diamond.
All three of the temples we visited were similar, and it became clear why the acronym AFT is so popular among tourists (another f-ing temple). One of these temples was Wat Chedi Luang. The modern temple was huge, with red carpet flooring and rising golden pillars that stretched up to the high ceiling along both sides. Glass chandeliers glittered from above, and a beautiful, gigantic Buddha sat before us at the centre, with a smaller one on each side. Behind the temple was the most amazing part- a stone pyramid structure that was built in the 14th century. The bricks had crumbled off the corners, and the golden buddha at the top glittered in the sunlight. We got to chat with a local monk- a personal dream of mine- and ask him about his culture while we learned about ours. The last temple we visited was the oldest in Chaing Mai, built in 1297. This one too had a modern temple as well as a stone structure behind. It was stunning, with golden trim along the top and elephant carvings along the base. The ancient history was astounding, and I felt very lucky to be able to experience it.
The next day we finally said goodbye to Chaing Mai, and headed up in a bus to a little mountain town in northern Thailand called Pai. The roads up to the town are narrow, steep and winding. The sharp turns are notorious for causing car sickness, but luckily nobody on our bus got sick. The ride was stunning, with lush mountains cropping out of every break in the dense jungle trees. As we drove into Pai we noticed how the roads held more people than motorists, and all of the cute little street food vendors and cafes lining the street. We got dinner (I’m going to miss two dollar pad thai) and then explored the night market. It was very much like a mini Chiang Mai, but with more hippies and much quieter. Every person we met- shop and cafe owners, servers and other travellers- were extremely welcoming and helpful. On our first day we had already found our favourite spot- a cafe called Art in Chai that really did have the best chai I’ve ever had. That night I got the biggest, most delicious falafel I have ever had, and we explored the energetic night market again. The streets transform from quiet during the day to bustling, sparkling markets at night.
Unfortunately, the next day we were all plagued with some sort of sickness. I got too much sun and was in bed with heat exhaustion for a few hours. My poor dad woke up to a panicked phone call from me at 4am his time in which I asked him if I should go to the hospital. Thank god for calm and supportive parents. I eventually started feeling better, but as soon as that happened both of my travel buddies were hit with food poisoning. Needless to say it was a brutal night, in which none of us got much sleep, and we ended up missing our waterfall and canyon tour. The next day while both of them were still sick in bed, I did a bit of solo sight seeing. I went for a big breakfast and then headed to a garden cafe to read. I decided to hike up to Wat Mae Yen, a temple up in the mountains of Pai with a white buddha.
The walk up was beautiful, crossing streams and up winding roads surrounded by jungle and mountains. The town behind me, I reached the entrance to the temple. There was a huge white stone staircase leading up to the white buddha, which rewarded me with a beautiful view of Pai and the surrounding area. The mountains in the distance and rolling hills below were magical. The mountain air and sunshine cleansed my soul and ignited new hope for what was coming. I hope to return to Pai one day and see more of what the beautiful landscape has to offer.
I can’t believe how fast this trip is going, and I’m trying my best to soak in every second of this wonderful adventure. I really have fallen in love with Thailand, and I know I will be returning soon. My next post will be all about the unimaginably beautiful island of Koh Phangan (which I have already left- I’m very behind, I know!) that I have decided will be my home soon. As always, I am so grateful to all of you who take the time to read these posts, and I hope you feel like a piece of you is here with me (because it is).