Excursions, Chiang Mai
It was easy to see the effort being made by Thai authorities to open the touristic resources to tribal people from inland. We saw the mixture between authentic tribal life, and serial production of touristy bauble.
Being a peaceful country, I expected a stronger activity close to the borders of the countries after a long war.
That absence shows how closed those countries were. But it was a good excursion, the one that took us to Chiang Rai and back, visiting the tribes.
For a different day out, away from the tourists, try the San Kamphaeng Hot Springs. Unless you've got a car, you'll need to hire a Songthaew, but it's an unusual experience, and at 40 Baht it's not going to break the bank.
Set in a wide park like setting, the springs consist of the springs themselves in which people like to boil eggs. You can buy eggs and a basket to boil them in together with fish sauce to dip the boiled eggs in both inside and outside the grounds - about 20 Baht for 4 eggs I recall.
Elsewhere, you can sit and paddle or dangle your feet in the water - the further from the springs, the cooler the water has become, but being Thailand, nobody stops you dipping your pinkies in near scalding water, so be careful!
Also available is a mineral bath swimming pool, drawn straight from the springs but at a very comfortable temperature - bring your swimming gear and towel - or you can hire a hut for a private bath and massage. This is not a euphemism for "extra services" that I am aware of and for once means what it says on the tin! The huts do not look too inviting and although you can spend the night there, I would not recommend. The cost was high as well.
Overall, it's a great place to chill out for a few hours and you could well find yourself the only westerner among the many Thai families who come here. It sounds kitsch, but it really is fun to boil your own lunch!
I took a day tour during my time in Chiang Mai which I booked with an Irish guy called John who runs a small travel agency place in the northeast of the old city. I had seen other places offer the same sort of tour of orchid farm, elephant ride, bamboo rafting and a visit to a long-necked Karen tribe village for about 1000 baht but John offered his tour for 750 baht so I took the plunge and booked it with him.
Myself and an American woman got picked up from John's travel agency place at about 9.15am in a mini-van and after picking up a few more people, we headed north-west out of the city to our first port of call - an orchid and butterfly farm called the Sai Namphung Orchid Nursery (see next tip). This was a nice place to visit, first off.
Next up it was a visit to an elephant camp where we rode on elephants for about 40 minutes or so alongside a river. We then transferred onto bamboo rafts and made our was back along the river so that we could get back to the camp. I have to say that the elephant camp didn't look all that good but then I had just come from the National Elephant Institute in Lampang which is just amazing. The camp we visited was called the Chok Chai Elephant Camp and I did see some of the smaller elephants being hit by their mahouts.
After this, we then got a ride to a long-necked hill tribe village which was very touristy with lots of souvenir stalls selling tribal arts and crafts and jewellery items. The girls here come from several different tribes but the main one is the famous long-necked Karen tribe so we did the obligatory photo opportunities and I bought a hand-made wooden women figure. Behind the stalls are a few wooden/bamboo houses which were being lived in and indeed the girls were busy doing daily jobs whilst being dressed in traditional tribal clothes but it still seemed to me to be a show for tourists.
After this we went back to the elephant camp for lunch which was so-so and then we drove off in order to do a little trekking in the hills and visit a waterfall. We then headed back to Chiang Mai via a hill village which we looked around. I was told that they had had electricity for 10 years plus there was a huge satellite dish and phone cables. We then got back to Chiang Mai at about 6.30pm. All-in-all it was an OK day out but nothing special but I suppose if your time is limited and you want to experience life outside the city, then this is a good option.
A short drive from the mountains peak are the twin Royal Chedis. They were built in 1989 to commemorate the King's 60th birthday. Inside them are Buddha images & tiled mosaics.
The Chedis give lots of good photo opportunities of the mountain and the valley. Once again cloud cover kept spoiling the views.
The national park is about 90 minutes drive from Chiang Mai. It was easy to visit on a day excursion.
After entering the national park our first stop was Doi Inthanon. This is the highest mountain in Thailand at 2565 m. The climate here was a lot cooler than in Chiang Mai. There weren't great views due to the mist that hung around it. There is a chance though to be photographed next to the sign & go on one of the nature trails into the forest.
It is located approximately 120km southwest of Chiang Mai city along Highway 108 , the area cover Hod, Chomthong and Maejam district.
The beautiful scenery of the Salak Hin River as it meanders through a very narrow gorge with sheer walls at Chong Khao Khat. A small footbridge crosses the narrowest part about 100 m above the torrent below. In the area you can find pre-historic painting from the old stone age.
After the boat trip there was a buffet lunch which was actually Ok as tourist buffets go (all the tours ate there). After our brief break we then headed to the border town at the Burma border. It is a huge tourist trap and I couldn't see anything for sale there that was any good - basically all cheap Chinese stuff. After that we headed to see the Longneck Karen hill Tribe. To get down to the hill tribe you have to descend quite a long way down steps - warning, don't go down if you don't think you can get back up! On the way, you pass various stalls set up with the tribes women selling their handiwork. Some of it is quite good. All of the women had various amounts of extremely heavy brass rings around their necks, these slowly get increased as they get older. Some of the women also have these brass rings around their arms and legs. These rings are incredibly heavy so it must take an amazing amount of strength to be able to hold their heads and bodies up.
All in all I had a fantastic time on my Golden Triangle trip. I highly recommend you doing it. It is a really long day but you'll feel like you have actually seen some of northern Thailand. Perfect!
It's about a 3 hour drive from Chiang Mai and you do get a toilet/drink etc stop on the way. The first place we visited was a temple in Chiang Rai and then quite quickly went on to the Golden Triangle. There we had an option to do the longtail boat trip which lasts for 40 minutes. On this trip you pass the huge gold Buddha, go to the actual "Golden Triangle" and also get to cross onto the Laos side of the river and visit the market there and get your passport stamped with a visit Laos stamp. Interesting, but extremely touristy. They sell strange things like snake whiskey as well as the usual colourful blankets and wood products. The strangest thing of all was the fact that there was a baby bear in a semi large pen out the back of the markets. What was it doing there? Was it there for the tourists? I'm glad that it sort of had enough room to move though and had plenty to eat with it.
We decided to take a full day tour from Chiang Mai to the Golden Triangle as well as the Karen Long necked Hill Tribe. It was a really long day (7.00am - 9.30pm) but it was completely worth it. Obviously it would be better to see these attractions from Chiang Rai but we were short on time and didn't have the opportunity. It cost 800 Baht for the full day including water, snacks and lunch. Quite reasonable I thought!
Chiang Mai is my favourite place to be. The city is laid back, can be as expensive or as inexpensive as you wish, has wonderful people and many tribes and cultural groups, much beautiful craftwork, and elephants...my passion.
If you love nature and wildlife - elephants in particular, you cannot go wrong volunteering or visiting The Elephant Nature Park.
If you are not into volunteering, the Park has day (and longer) trips where you can join volunteers in looking after and learning all about the elephants.
You wont be able to ride an elephant - you will learn why when you get there.....
If you are really lucky you may get to go on a "Jumbo Express ". A rescue and medical care project for elephants in remote areas. .
While in Chiang Mai or elsewhere in Northern Thailand, I highly recommend making a daytrip excursion to a traditional village of one of the local hilltribe ethnic groups.
Over 100 years ago, the Hilltribe peoples migrated south from China into what are now Myanmar (Burma), Laos, Vietnam, and Thailand. The six major tribes are the Karen (Kariang, Yang), the Hmong (Meo), the Yao (Mien), the Akha (Ekaw), the Lisu (Lisaw), and the Lahu (Mussur). The main profession of all these tribes is farming, and all of them tend to migrate whenever they feel that the soil at their present location is becoming depleted. Each tribe is distinct, with its own culture, religion, language, art, and dress. With Thailand undergoing rapid modern development, it is difficult yet to say whether these tribes will continue in their traditional ways of life, or whether they will eventually be assimilated into mainstream Thai society.
When visiting a hilltribe village, remember show the utmost respect to your hosts and do not treat them like a human zoo. It is recommend to present small gifts or money to villagers who show you their homes or allow you to photograph them.
Our last 2 stops during the Golden Triangle excursion were at Akha and Yao villages some where near to Chiang Rai city.
The Akha village we visited was a real one i can say. Here i saw most of the Akha peoples live in a very poor and basic life. Their houses were built by the dry leaves or something from the nature. No electricity & water supply, no proper sewage.. Deep in my heart i was very sympathy toward them and felt that we were much more luckier than anyone of them here...
We were told by our tour guide that the government placed them in this village to maintain the Akha's culture and also to attract tourist to their village. In return, they get to send their children to school for free. While we were visiting the village, the children had just came back from school not very far away. Friend of mine took a photo of the group of young Akha children coming back from school... and what happened was a few kids started to ask for "ten Baht, ten Baht, photo ten Bath..." The kids would follow us no matter where we went and keep on repeating the same sentense... Finally i gave him some candy and they just ran away...
After Akha village, we went to Yao village which was about 5 min away. Yao peoples live in a better life if compared to Akha people. I can tell this from their houses, their clothes and their face... We chatted to one of the old folk selling merchandise for living. She told us that her grandparents were from China and she was the third generation of Yao people living in Thailand. Thus she can still barely speak little chinese and since then the new Yao generation had forgotten how to speak mandarin...
If you planned to visit the Akha and Yao village or other hilltribe villages, remember to bring some candies or snacks to cheer up the children there...
Mea Sai border is situated at the very north of Thailand where one of the Thailand & Myanmar custom border is. This place is about 15 min drive from Golden Triangle, and if you were visiting Golden Triangle and wish to go into Myanmar, maybe this is the legal place to come, rather than taking the boat directly into Myanmar through the Mekong river...
We were brought here after the visit to Golden Triangle during the full day excursion. Here basically is a market place for Thai's and Myanmar's people to trade. I noticed there were a lot of merchandises brought in from China coz China is not very far away from here... The price tagged was relatively higher than the normal market price. So if you really wanted to buy anything from any of the stalls here, make sure you know how to bargain, or you will end up paying 2-5 times higher than normal price.
We went there during our second day of stay in Chiang Mai through a full day excursion. It was a very long way from Chiang Mai, and it took us about 5 hours to get to Golden Triangle including 2 stops at a hot spring & Chiang Sean.
Golden Triangle is located at the confluence of Mekong River and Ruak River, where these 2 rivers seperate Thailand, Myanmar & Laos. This place is notorious for its opium trade, and according to our tour guide, dealer from 3 countries used to trade on the boats at the middle of the Mekong river. If they were spotted by the authorities, there will be 3 escape routes for them to run...
Our journey here started with a boat trip against the flow Mekong river until the front of the Burmese Casino (Paradise) where we were only allowed to takes some photos on the boat. Then we turned back and headed to a market area where the Laos was. Anyone ever went to the Laos market area would surely agreed that the main attraction there would be their local-made whisky. They soaked reptilias like snake, scorpion, etc and extra ingredient to make the whisky. It was believed to give extra strength to the consumer. We did try the whisky and i think it tastes just like normal whisky except that you mind might not feel the same way... well, it is still a good experience to try it, or buy it if you want to bring it home...
Our boat trip cost a little more than others because we paid THB 200/person and there were 4 of us on a boat. We had checked with other visitors and they were only paying THB 400/boat with the same number of passangers. So remember to bargain and never ever believe the word your tour guide says especially when it involves $$$.