Golden Triangle

17th February 2014

In the course of the last week, we went around the Golden Triangle, the northernmost point of Thailand. We visited the towns of Mae Salong, Mae Sai, Chiang Saen and Chiang Rai by bus and sorngtaaou (pickup trucks) and took a longtail boat from Chiang Rai to Thaton. So much scenery in so little time, I’m glad I’m taking the time to document everything because my mind is already full to the brim with images of landscapes and faces I don’t want to forget. Thank god for the long bus rides, I guess!

The highlights of this leg of our trip was Mae Salong, a little Chinese settlement on the back hills of Chiang Rai. Once a big player in the opium trade, Mae Salong is now famous, thanks to government crop substitution programs, for oolong tea and coffee, breathtaking views over well groomed mountains and a captivating early morning market where people from a nearby Akha hill tribe village come to sell their ware. The Akha women are petite and resemble dolls with their colourful traditional outfits and headdress and I wanted to photograph all of them so so bad, but there was this group of at least ten men, each of them equipped with the mother of all telephoto lenses as if they were on a safari, pointing their zoom at these people’s face without asking permission. It made me a little sick to think that, to the Thais, we’re potentially all the same, just some rude foreigners considering them like zoo animals. I did however buy a bracelet and some bananas from a lady and got permission to take her photos. Made me feel a little better about myself. But then I realized that my bloody camera lens is broken. All my photos are soft :/ I will need to buy a new lens somehow. Anyway. In Mae Salong market, we also had the pleasure of being introduced to patong-goh and nam-tao-hu, the least healthy but most delicious Chinese breakfast around, consisting of freshly fried donuts dipped in warm, sweetened soy milk. Highly addictive.

The next town along the road, Mae Sai, is a legal crossing border into Burma (which we decided not to visit because the logistics of it was just too complex for what it was worth, i.e. a one-day visa allowing you only into Tachileik, the town across the border). Mae Sai was nothing spectacular in terms of sights, but we had a fantastic riverside bungalow at the Riverside Guesthouse and the food at the night market was some of the best and cheapest we’ve had so far in Thailand. Our guidebook didn’t even mention the night market, but it was in my opinion the best and most atmospheric one we have been to yet.

Next up was Chiang Saen, a scenic little sleepy town along the Mekong peering across at Laos. Nothing much to report from here but the hardest mattress known to human kind and a lovely dinner along the river. From there on, we caught a bus to Chiang Rai where we stayed overnight before catching a longtail boat upriver from the CR Pier back to Thaton where we closed the loop. The boat journey was 4 short hours of wonderful scenery with a short break in the middle where I fed an elephant some bananas. You know. As you do. Head = explode.

We finished the journey in Thaton where we had a relaxing couple of days by the river in a somewhat ill-managed guesthouse where, apart from experiencing many cringe-inducing hilarious moments (you can read Richard’s Trip Advisor review here if you are so inclined), we also witnessed a fuzzy duckling following a fuchsia chick’s every step all day long. Miiiiiiih.

As cliché as it sounds, I can’t believe we have been in Thailand for over two weeks already. Time is flying too fast! Fortunately, we have been very good at living under budget (we are averaging at around $20/day each including accommodation, meals and extensive transportation) and we are considering perhaps extending our trip to South East Asia by a month.

That’s it for now! We are on a rollercoaster of a bus ride from hell to Pai as I type this! I want to give due credits to my other half and state that about 50% of the travel photos I post here are by him.

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