Exploring the Golden Triangle

13 Aug

color photo at the golden temple reflection in a window

In less than 5 minutes I crossed the transient waterway of the Mekong River and entered into an entirely new land, and delved into an entirely different culture and way of life.  Welcome to Thailand and the heart of the Golden Triangle!

As soon as I stepped out of the wooden canoe and onto land, I could feel the difference.  You could feel progress & motivation in the air.  In just a couple of minutes we found an air conditioned truck serving as a taxi to take us to Chiang Rai – and to top it off the taxi driver (and owner) was a woman.  I could hardly believe it a female taxi driver, who speaks English, in a comfortable air conditioned truck – wow!  This is Thailand alright.  We are still at the Thai-Lao border and we try to buy some provisions using our left over Lao Kipp (the Lao currency) and they don’t accept it.  We tried for days to use our Kipp all over Northern Thailand, and no one would take it.  That is communisim for you! it was the same way with the Cuban Peso.

The scenery on our two hour drive from the Lao-Thai border to Chiang Rai was spectacular – an expansive fertile river valley dotted with humble homes and farms.  I noticed that here the average rice farmer uses some mechanical agricultural equipment whereas in rural Laos everything was done by hand.  We passed by a few dozen children dressed in their school uniforms, their hair neatly cared for, bright white socks & polished shoes, all riding their bikes home from school.  Northern Thailand is lovely.

Color photo of rice paddy and farmer in Thailand

We arrive in Chiang Rai, a fairly industrious city in the heart of the revered Golden Triangle of Southeast Asia.  I’m exhausted.  By this time I’ve spent several days and sleepless nights in the tree houses in Laos, long days on a long slow boat, several nights in hostels.  And to top it off, today alone, I’ve hiked about 10 kilometers with a heavy pack, zipped through the tree tops, and dealt with a couple of border crossings on water & foot.  Just when I’m ready to take a deep breadth, I’ve found we’ve arrived at a much needed destination – Laluna Hotel – the urban oasis – in Chiang Rai.  It is the prefect time and place to decompress & chill out.  Freshly prepared passion fruit juice and a shrimp & papaya salad – yes please!  Freshly shredded & pounded green papaya, tossed in a broth of fish sauce, lime & chili, topped with some fresh veggies, peanuts, & jumbo shrimp.  Fresh, clean, and delicious…  One of Thailand’s special treats!     –  Try this recipe  –

color photo of a papaya and shrimp salad

This kind of ultimate relaxation lasted a couple of days.  Enjoying the garden oasis swimming pool.  Meandering through the streets of Chiang Rai.  And like the icing on a cake – a full day at the spa – aromatherapy cleansing sauna, ayurvedic massage, and some reflexology.  There is no better way to rejuvenate at the tail end of a long & arduous adventure through Laos.  This is exactly what my body needed.  It brought my body and soul back into alignment, balancing my chakras.

After a couple of nights of good sleep and days filled with warm sunshine & refreshing dunks in the pool we were ready for another challenge.  This time mountain biking throughout the greater Chiang Rai area – 50 kilometer bike trip with the best tour service I’ve ever used Chiangrai Cycling Tours.  And I do mean it was the best tour – and day overall – in my life.  Everything about it was amazing.  Bee (one of the tour company owners) picked us up from our hotel and we headed out a couple of kilometer to where the got fitted with mountain bikes and helmets.  Off we went… biking through small neighborhoods then onto dirt road through the Northern Thailand country side.  Complete serenity.

Color photo biking through the country side in Chiang Rai Thailand

We stopped every several kilometers to check out some of the wonderous little intricacies along the way.  Our guides, Bee and his brothers, gave us the “inside scoop” on life in the Golden Triangle.  We stopped at a neighborhood crematorium – every neighborhood (even in rural areas) has their own crematorium, which is a central part of their Buddhist ways ( referred to in Thai as Lankavamsa.  We continued on stopping at a nearby temple.  There were many temples, one in each of the little towns we passed through, much like you have a church.  Except “going” to temple is different than “going” to church.  The temple is a sacred place and people come to visit when they choose to come to visit, no particular time.  There aren’t daily mass services like in Christianity.  Like all spiritual “houses”, these temples are equally ornate and cherished by the people.  Many of the temples also have pagodas surrounding them that serve as Wats for all the monks.  It is very typical for young men to spend anywhere from 1 to 20 years studying monkhood in a Wat.  Our guide and his brothers were all Monks for several years.  I appreciate all the special little factoids they bestowed on me about Therevada Buddhism and their cultural practices.

color photo of a local temple in Northern Thailand

As we biked through rural areas, forests, and farms we’d also stop along the way to check out neat little “treasures” in the Golden Triangle.  At one stop Bee stopped to show us the birds nests that hang from the trees like woven sacks.  Its so facinating how something so unique also exists in Costa Rica, some 17,000 kilometers away.  Nature impresses me at every turn – here in the “utopia” of Northern Thailand and in the humble tranquility of Laos.

Color photo of guide holding-up the birds nests

I know what some of you are probably thinking… our guide “stole” the nests from the birds, how horrible!  Well actually the birds abandon the nests after a season and the old nests eventually fall to the ground.  Bee was showing us the structure of fallen birds nests.  So no sad birds without homes on our trip!  This is just one of those little things about this bike trip that made is just awesome.

We biked onwards, another 15 kilometers or so, until we reached the revered White Temple – known as Wat Rong Khun.  It is modernly majestic & totally unconventional – its a Buddhist AND Hindu temple – how cool!  It is all white, representing the Lord Buddha’s purity and the use of glass in it’s design represents Buddha’s wisdom.  It is a piece of modern spiritual history and is still a work in progress today, much like La Sagrada Familia in Barcelona.   Its design is both dark and enlightening, each reflecting a facet of life on Earth.  Ornate sculpture of all sorts of dreams and mysteries surrounds the temple.

photo of the white temple in Thailand

Sculpture at the White Temple in Thailand

We spent several hours walking through the White Temple.  Its interior is floor to ceiling mural artwork all over the walls with some of the most intricate and socially & politically profound messages.  The interior painting glows, and brigs forth issues of nuclear security, resource wars, and ideological wars between Islam and the Western world.  It also ties-in the spiritual aspects of Buddhism.  There are paintings of fish (water), elephants (earth), swans (wind), lions (fire), and simply nature.  We continued through the temple and even had a chance to walk through the “workshop” where the artist and his teams continue to build sculptures for the continued development of the temple.  It is an incredible feat for humanity.

color photo of the workshop at the White Temple in Thailand

Then, the best part of all, we were walking through the village surrounding the temple and we go to stop by a small museum, and standing right there is the artist responsible for this living masterpiece – Chalermchai Kositpipat.  Our guide, Bee, introduced us and we were able to talk with him for a few moments.  He is a very spiritual person, also formerly a monk, and was born & raised in Chiang Rai.  He is a renowned artist in Southeast Asia and much of the world for his painting and sculpture.  Much of his work is “not for sale”… even several million dollars can not buy you one of his paintings for he prefers them to stay in Chiang Rai where visitors from around the world can come and enjoy them in the museum.  I feel so blessed for having had the opportunity to be here, to see, feel and live this remarkable treasure in rural Northern Thailand.

Our bicycle trip didn’t stop here… we stopped to enjoy a traditional Northern Thai lunch.  I enjoyed a bowl of delicious chicken soup cooked in coconut milk broth with lemon grass, veggies, hot peppers, and rice noodles.  It really was divine, and it cost just $1 – that is not a typo!  Life is Good here in more ways than one!

color photo of Thai soup

Another 15 or so kilometers to go, most of which were uphill into the mountains outside of Chiang Rai – we were headed for Doi Luang National Park.  Just a few kilometers into the final uphill stretch and the heavens decided to open up, like they never had before.  It was pouring cats and dogs – like a brief monsoon rain.  The roads will filled with water.  That didn’t stop us.  We kept peddling away.  Its almost like the thai special soup and the white temple had also given us an extra dose of energy.  A feeling of rejuvenation came over me as I peddled up into the mountains with the rain pouring down.  I couldn’t stop smiling.  About an hour later, and totally sopping wet, we entered the boundary of the park… just 5 more kilometers to climb.  It was enduring.  I was tired but determined and strangely energized at the same time.  Then we reached the place where we stop and hike into the park.  Yes… after biking nearly 50 kilometers, we are now heading out for a 1.5 hour long hike into the mountain.  The cherry on top of the day, was a visit to one of the grandest waterfalls in the world.

color photo of waterfall

It was beautiful and so worth the hike.  Oh… and there were NO leeches.  This did make is it so much more enjoyable.  Hiking back out from the waterfall, I realized how deprived of energy I was feeling.  And then we arrived at our Guide’s truck and there was a spread of delicious Thai snacks for us… tempura sweet potatos, banana bread, and my new favorite thing – mangosteen!

Color photo of Thai snacks from our great guides!

After enjoying these delicious Thai treats it was time to hop on the truck and head back to Chiang Rai.

All I can say, is WOW!  This was one of the best days of my life.  I feel so blessed.

color photo of white buddha statue in Thailand

5 Responses to “Exploring the Golden Triangle”

  1. NANNA August 13, 2011 at 10:54 am #

    What a fabulous time you had !!!!!! Soooo interesting.
    One to remember forever.
    Love,
    Nanna

  2. rainworks August 13, 2011 at 11:02 am #

    This chapter sure made up for the last adventure, so beautiful, and what a wonderful experience. The food looked delish, and that White Temple seems so pure and yet profound!
    Love Dad

  3. Mummy August 13, 2011 at 1:41 pm #

    Sound absolutely wonderful!!

  4. The World Wanderer August 15, 2011 at 11:00 pm #

    I was just in Chang Rai and the Golden Triangle a few weeks ago! Thanks for taking me back to those amazing memories! I’m already ready to head back…

  5. dave May 21, 2012 at 12:42 pm #

    I from thailand this is blog is great I’m glad to see you came to ours country

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