A Thailand for travellers and explorers
This article was originally written for Economic Times Travel. Excerpts of the same were published in its edition dated 5th March 2015.
My husband, @RoyalEnfielder, and I are perpetual travellers. We are always looking for experiential vacations that have something unique to offer.
One of our travel quests took us to the northernmost city in Thailand, Chiang Rai. It is an offbeat tourist destination compared to other popular locations in Thailand. We drove from Chiang Mai (pronounced ching-maay) to Chiang Rai (pronounced ching-raai) through a picturesque highway with lush greenery. We usually rent a self-drive car wherever we go. It gives us the opportunity to explore a never-seen-before place with a map in our hand. It’s too much fun!
Coming back to the highway between Chiang Mai to Chiang Rai, we stopped en route at a hot water spring where they let you boil eggs that you can eat!
Chiang Rai boasts of the beautiful Wat Rong Khun or the White Temple. Before we went there, I had seen its photos on the internet and even read about how beautiful it was; but nothing matched the experience of actually seeing it! It looked like it was straight out of a fairy tale.
It is serene and just being in front of it has a calming effect on the mind. I was spellbound by its beauty and majesty. The temple premise has nine buildings; including a stylized toilet that is golden; perhaps one of the most extravagant toilets in the world!
The temple walls have intricate Thai angels, demons, mystical creatures and lavish mirror work; each one signifying a virtue or Buddha’s wisdom.
Chiang Rai is also famous for the Golden Triangle; formed by the borders of Thailand, Myanmar and Laos. Standing on the Thai border, you can see the other two countries in one sight across the confluence of Ruak and Mekong rivers.
One can take a boat ride to a small Laos island from here without any visa formalities. A big Golden Buddha is installed at this border of Thailand – a pristine sculpture with a tranquil aura.
The experiential Hall of Opium Museum stands here, depicting the history of opium and Thailand’s struggle with fighting it out of its economy. A walk through this multimedia museum leaves you feeling very surreal. I had no idea how grave the opium issue was until I visited this museum and it made me realise how bad an addiction can be. Opium caused the entire Chinese economy to tumble down for crying out loud. The museum ends in a room which has nothing on display but mirrors and some thought provoking quotes; to reflect on the entire experience and how you could help prevent narcotics from ruining lives (and economies).
It was already 5 pm when we finished the museum tour; it was time to head back to our hotel in Chiang Mai and we had almost 250 kms to drive back. By the time we exited the city (which was dead at 7 pm and we couldn’t find a place to eat); it was pitch dark. I was a little freaked out of being on an isolated highway in a country where we didn’t know anyone. I was beginning to get very worked up about it and was considering staying back in Chiang Rai for the night and drive back the next morning. It wasn’t going to happen because we were already 50 kms into the highway and amidst all these thoughts in my mind, a police man stopped us in the middle of nowhere. My heart skipped a beat. There were no street lights around. He said, “Sir, Ma’am, please park your car on the side and wait.” He didn’t tell us why. Worried and confused, we parked, only to discover a swarm of cars already parked in that dark corner along the highway. After 10 minutes of wondering what could be the matter; we asked around. They told us that the Royal Caravan will be passing from this route and hence they had to halt the traffic. Nobody was talking loudly or littering the place or getting restless; a pleasant surprise. We were all standing, murmuring to each other about what’s happening and eagerly awaiting the caravan. It did come after 30 minutes or so – a row of lavish cars; going by without much ado, in a disciplined fashion.
After the motorcade passed us, every one quietly got back into their respective cars and waited patiently for each car to leave one-by-one. Nobody honked. NOBODY. We drove out when our turn came with a smile on our face. After that, there were many patches on the highway where we could not see another car ahead or behind us – just us driving into the darkness. But that didn’t scare us even for a minute. After the whole caravan experience, we were assured that we were in a country that is disciplined, respectful of others and is not out to rob us in the least!
We reached Chiang Mai safe and sound! It was one of the most beautiful days of our trip – the temple, the triangle, the museum, the beautiful long drive with @RoyalEnfielder – it couldn’t have been more perfect!
While most people go to Thailand for its enthralling beaches, spas and night life, there is a lot in this culturally rich country that is left to be discovered; especially for travellers who want to explore something new in every vacation.