Chiang Rai, Thailand

We ended our month in Thailand with a quick stop off in Chiang Rai on the way to the Laos border. In Chiang Rai we visited Wat Rong Khun, more commonly referred to as The White Temple. I had heard good things about the temple so we were looking forward to seeing it with our own eyes. There temple is impressive, intricate and unique. It even has cartoon paintings of Michael Jackson, Kung Fu Panda and Spiderman inside the temple.

We visited at midday on a Saturday, which meant it was quite busy (a few too many tourists for our liking). I think it would be better to visit on a weekday, ideally when the sun is shining too!

Next stop: Luang Namtha, Laos

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Loy Krathong, Chiang Mai

Loy Krathong is a festival of light which is celebrated throughout Thailand and Laos. It is an annual festival which takes place on the 12th full moon of the Thai lunar calendar year. When I first heard about this event and knowing that we would be around Thailand around November, I knew this was something I didn’t want to miss.

A krathong is a sculpture traditionally made out of banana leaves, flowers, a candle and incense sticks. The krathongs come in all different shapes and sizes and should float on the river. People float their krathongs on the river to pay respect to the goddess of water, to let go of any sins/grudges and to make a wish for the future.

The festival kicked off at Tha Phae Gate with an opening ceremony, followed by a parade of dancers, drummers and lots of elaborate floats. We also watched the monks’ ceremony at Wat Phan Tao temple which is surrounded by candles and beautifully coloured lanterns hanging from the trees.

The main celebrations are on the second night, the night of the full moon. Our hostel was organising transport to Maejo University where the largest lantern release was taking place. Unfortunately all the tickets had sold out, but apparently we could stand outside of the university grounds and release lanterns from there. Upon arrival we soon realised our view would be obscured by huge trees which surrounded the perimeter of the event. Maybe we should have stayed in town instead?  It turns out luck was on our side that night.. somehow all 12 of us from our minivan managed to get in. We may not have had an allocated seat or a lantern, but we were going to see the main spectacle!!

The build up to the lantern release included a mass meditation conducted by the monks. Then the time came.. everyone lit their lanterns as we stood at the back and watched with anticipation. One lovely girl came over to us and offered us one of her lanterns. A generous gesture that we weren’t going to refuse! Words can’t describe how beautiful the lantern release was, I’m not even sure if the pictures can do it justice. The whole crowd gasped in unison as the first wave of lanterns rose into the sky. It was stunning.

On the last night we headed over to the Ping river where there were dancers, a parade, lots of people making wishes and releasing their krathongs on the river whilst fireworks were going off left, right and center. Thankfully the river is just wide enough so that fireworks launched on one side don’t reach the other side. Most of the time anyway. We saw a kid, who couldn’t have been any older than 6, lighting and throwing fireworks. You certainly need to have your wits about you, but the atmosphere was great.

We really enjoyed the Loy Krathong festival, it was the highlight of our month in Thailand and is something we will remember for a long time to come.

Next stop: Chiang Rai, Thailand

Chiang Dao, Thailand

Chiang Dao is around 70km north of Chiang Mai and despite its beautiful setting it receives relatively few tourists. We stayed at Chiang Dao Huts which sits at the foot of Chiang Dao Doi, Thailand’s third highest mountain.

We visited the beautiful Wat Tham Pha Plong temple which is reached by climbing 500+ steps. On the way up there are numerous signs with Buddhist proverbs which were interesting to read and also a good reason to stop for a moment and take a rest.

We then headed to a number of spots on our ‘tourist map’, including hot springs and a lake which apparently we could swim in. Neither of these looked very appealing, so after lunch we decided to take a drive out to Pha Daeng National Park. Here we found some much nicer and cleaner hot springs to soak in. There is lots more to explore in Pha Daeng National Park including waterfalls, caves and forest trails, however the sun was starting to set so it was time for us to head back to Chiang Dao.

Next stop: Loy Krathong, Chiang Mai

Pai, Thailand

Pai used to be a small hippy/traveller town, nowadays it attracts a number of tourists, both foreigners and locals, however it still has a nice laid back vibe. Pai sits within a beautiful valley in the Mae Hong Son province, around a 3 hour drive from Chiang Mai. We stayed at Pai Country Huts which is on the opposite side of the river to town, but is easily accessible via a rickety bamboo bridge.

We spent most of our days exploring Pai by scooter; we visited waterfalls, viewpoints, hot springs and enjoyed scrambling around Pai Canyon. The canyon has several narrow paths with sheer drops either side, there are no railings in sight so it certainly isn’t the place you want to put a foot wrong! We loved it though.. the views are really impressive from here too.

Pai is also a good place to relax and spend the days lounging around in a hammock. In the evenings we wandered around the night markets on walking street and also found some nice bars with live acoustic music.

Soppong

We arrived in Soppong after a 1.5 hour local bus ride from Pai. The bus slowly spluttered its way up the mountain and around the hairpin bends. The views made the slow journey worthwhile though; very mountainous and lush.

Our main reason for staying in Soppong was to visit Tham Lod cave. The cave is over 1,600m in length and has a river which runs through it. We explored the cave on foot, then floated through the cave on a bamboo raft. There are thousands of bats and swifts that inhabit the cave. Just before sunset the swifts return to the cave for the the night, as the bats get ready to leave. We sat outside the cave and watched as thousands of swifts circled above our heads.

Next stop: Chiang Dao, Thailand

Chiang Mai, Thailand

We arrived in Chiang Mai in the early morning after an overnight sleeper train from Bangkok. Chiang Mai is Thailand’s second largest city, but it has a much more relaxed feel than Bangkok. We visited the Wat Chedi Luang temple which dates back to the 15th century. Both the main temple and the smaller temples which surround it have some lovely architecture.

The following day we took a Thai cooking class with Mama Noi Thai Cookery School. After a visit to the local market and a tour of the organic farm where they grow a lot of the ingredients, we both cooked 5 meals of our choice.  It was great fun and the food turned out to be surprisingly tasty! My favourites were the Gang Ped (Red Curry with Chicken) and the Tom Yum Kung (Hot and Sour Prawn Soup). Delicious. We were given a cook book to take away so we’ll definitely try out some more of the recipes once we’re back home.

In the evenings we wandered around the Saturday and Sunday Night Markets. The markets are huge and sell everything from clothes, jewellery, arts and crafts to foot massages and, of course, there are tons of street food stalls. We also found some good live music at the North Gate Jazz Club and Roots Rock Reggae.

On our last day in Chiang Mai we visited the Elephant Jungle Sanctuary. The sanctuary is set in beautiful surroundings about a 1.5 hour drive out of the city. Here we fed the elephants, gave them a mud bath and then washed them down in the river.

Next stop: Pai, Thailand

Bangkok, Thailand

After a 4 hour flight from Bali we landed in the bustling city of Bangkok. Having spent over 2 weeks on secluded islands in Raja Ampat, Bangkok was a bit of a shock to the senses. Lots of traffic, lights and people. One thing we did appreciate was the food; Bangkok has an abundance of cheap street food stalls. In Raja Ampat we almost always ate rice and fish, so it was great to have so many delicious meals to choose from.

On our first day we visited Wat Pho (the Temple of the Reclining Buddha). We arrived early and managed to avoid the crowds and midday heat. Aside from the main attraction, the 46m long reclining Buddha, the complex has several ornate temples. In the afternoon we went for our first floatation session at Theta State Float Center and both came away feeling very relaxed.

The next day we took a local boat along the Khlong (canal), something neither of us have done in our previous visits to Bangkok. It was a good way to see a different side of the city and avoid the traffic jams on the roads. In the evening we watched 7 fights at a Muay Thai Boxing event, it was a lively atmosphere with lots of locals betting on the outcome.

Next stop: Chiang Mai, Thailand