|Tuk-tuk in Bangkok|
On Tuesday 1st of February Vern, Jo, David and I flew out of Ho Chi Min to Bangkok, caught the train into the city and a taxi to China Town. We stayed at China Town Inn (Yaowaraj Rd Sampuntawong Bangkok.Ph +662225020315) It is noticeably shabbier than the equivalent price hotels in Vietnam. China Town was fully dressed up and busy for Chinese New Year, Thai style. It was fun prowling the streets for 24 hours prior to departing on the night train to Chang Mai.
The train north to Chang Mai left at 6pm evening and was due into Chang Mai at 7.20 am the next morning. It would have been much better to have had bottom sleepers each. Instead, we had a top and a bottom per couple. Top berths in second class sleeper is very narrow. Bottom berth would be big enough for two at a pinch. Toilets….left a lot to be desired and the less said the better!!. Food aboard was pricey for Thailand but good quality. We arrived in Chang Mai and went to a hotel we had pre-booked with an agent at the train station. BMP Resident. +6653208822. www bmpresident.com. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org.
First impression was a little dodgy but it was OK, the food was good and it was an easy walk into the Old Walled City.
We hired motorbikes again and set off with map to find the Air Asia office so Vern and Jo could organize flights to Patong for a few days R&R prior to heading back home to work. That task accomplished there was a lot of cruising about the streets of the old town while we had bikes. You don't see much on a bike in town though because you don't stop. Just buzz by. However we were able to get some sense of the size of Chang Mai.
On the 4th of Feb Vern and Jo went off on an elephant trip for the day so we wandered the streets, found a number of lovely antique shops and galleries and organized a car for hire to drive to Chang Rai the following day.Jo and Vern returned gushing with excitement over their excursion so David and I decided to have a go at it when we got back from Chang Rai.
On the5th of Feb The car a Toyota Yaris, was delivered and we ferried Vern and Jo to the airport on our way out of town to drive north. It was sad to say farewell we had all had such a great time. Such a nice way to spend time together. No commitments of family or work just quality time such as you don't get when you visit home on return trips from the boat.
Leaving Chang Mai we drove north west towards Fang overnighting in a small but pleasant hotel along the way. Next day we dawdled through towards Chang Rai passing through some spectacular mountain scenery. We stopped in a small village where the Lunar new Year festival was being celebrated by a number of different ethnic groups. Dancing chanting and eating we the order of the occasion and we were invited to participate.
Arriving in Chang Rai just before dark we spent some time looking for somewhere to stay. Our map was awful and we finally found Maekok Villa (445 Singhaclai Rd Chang Rai. Ph 053711786 Opposite the Overbrook Hospital) near the very center of town. It is very central and we had a very good room up stairs, clean and comfortable.US27. Maekok is an easy stroll round the corner from the Thailand Tourism Center and after arming ourselves with several maps and brochures we set off into the countryside to the north west of Chang Rai. A full day was spent driving round the mountainous roads to all sorts of dead ends at the Burma boarder. We stopped in outback hill villages, ate local fare and chatted to the locals. No one understanding a word the other was saying.
The area at this time of year is very dry and the air quality by afternoon is quite bad as the stalks from the harvested crops are being burned off in preparation for new plantings. its amazingly populated and cleared from the bottom of the steep gullies to the mountain ridges. One detour we did took us far out through dirt roads to an advertised Tea Plantation somewhere to the north west of Doi Mae Salong. It was called Chouifong Tea Plantation and established in 1979. It was a spectacular drive and the tea plantation is an impressive sight straddling as it does several mountainsides, gullies and ridges. To get there towards the end of the road we had to pass through an army encampment complete with huge camouflaged guns. The soldiers were however very friendly and waved us through. On our return they explained that the Burma boarder was only just down the spur about 100m. We could see a barracks of presumably Myanmar soldiers just on the next ridge!.
This area is still called the Golden Triangle but its notoriety as a big opiate area is past. Today the country is dotted with fruit trees, crops of rice, sunflower, and numerous things I couldn't put a name to. When you go on a tour you have a guide who will perhaps know the names and history but on your own you go places tours don't go. We think a little of both is a good balance. Before heading back to Chang Rai for the night we drove out to Mae Sai one of the official boarder crossings with Burma.
In all we covered about 1200km and took in sights to the east and west of highway No.1. It would have been better to bus to Chang Rai and hire a car there. There is not a lot to see en-route and its quite a long journey.
More Photos of ChangMai and ChangRai