Chiang Rai-nbow City

This post is long overdue! I’ve been pretty slack on blogging- it’s been busy and I rarely take my laptop home with me after work. Either I have something on in the evening or I want a quiet night in- laptop isn’t really needed for that… so the blogging has suffered a bit.

Time to catch up a bit!

In early October, there was a Buddhist holiday which coincided with a long weekend and so, Lisa, the amazing CEO of Thai Freedom House decided to take the staff on a trip to Chiang Rai and invited me to come along for the ride! And what a ride it was! I’m so grateful that I was able to go on this getaway, Chiang Rai was amazing and it was so lovely to get to know Lisa and some of the staff/students of the cafe better.

We hired a car, and started the long drive to Chiang Rai, stopping along the way to have coffee at the famous NGO Cabbages and Condoms which provides sexual health education to Thai people, gives out contraception and encourages safer sexual practices- especially in high risk places. Their cafe/hostel was super cute, lush and green- especially considering it was just off the highway, but the true drawcard was the creative and… appropriate decorations! Amongst the giant statues of condoms and posters with clever slogans, there was also this well dressed young lady-

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Not sure if I’ll buying the dress, but I certainly admire her ingenuity. While there I grabbed a postcard, resisting the condom related merchandise which I’m sure have made excellent souvenirs for people the world over.

We continued on, dropping our stuff at our super cute hostel called “Breakfast in the Garden” which did indeed, serve breakfast in their cute little garden, before picking up a student of ours who has now gone on to study English for International Communication at Chiang Rai University- one of the best unis in Thailand- and certainly the most beautiful! Sadly, she has to pay international student rates (much more expensive than Thai nationals) and freshmen cannot work through the term, meaning she needs to rely on donations and support from Lisa and TFH to pay for her accommodation and tuition. If you’d like to donate and support her education, please visit our website (thaifreedomhouse.org and note what the donation is for (Shan Student University Fund). It was so special to see her passion for her education and the joy she has in studying. She showed us around the university (which was SO beautiful) and the pride she had in it was really lovely to experience- I’m grateful I got to meet and spend time with this vibrant woman and I pray she can continue studying to achieve her dreams of setting up an NGO in her home town so children can receive the opportunities she has had.

Once we had taken a tour around the uni, we all hopped in the car and visited the spectacular White Temple or Wat Rong Khun which is the creation of a Thai artist and is like no other temple I’ve ever seen before. It’s entirely white, covered in glass which seems to be constantly being cleaned or replaced, and extremely ornate. Surrounding the temple itself are beautiful gardens and then, in distinct contrast, the lake of hell which thousands of hands are reaching out from. Hanging from the trees around the temple are the heads of various famous characters and people including, but not limited to Gollum, Hellboy and random old people (they’re probably people, I just don’t recognise them…).

 

The interior of temple is just as fascinating as the outside- inside is a beautiful mural which covers the entire room, starting from the back which depicts a hellish sort of state of modern society, littered with illustrations of pop culture figures- featuring Harry Potter and Voldemort, Darth Vader, Superman, Batman, Micheal Jackson, Marilyn Monroe and so many more- it became a sort of game to find all the different references as you moved around the walls. Remember, it is a place of worship so it’s best to stay reverent and not squeal when you find something- keep it to an awed “ooh…”

As you move toward the front of the temple, closer to the Buddha the picture moves to one of a heavenly paradise- I assuming a state of nirvana- which was so intricate, colourful and beautiful! You’re not allowed to take pictures inside the temple itself, so spend sometime soaking up the images and the selfie stick free atmosphere… because it’s the only place in Chiang Rai which you won’t see one!

After checking out the White Temple we headed back to the hostel, driving around the city to check out the layout of the land before having dinner and having an early night after our looooong day.

The next day we woke up to pouring rain- which thankfully abated after breakfast (but not before we had to get an uber about 500m because of the random torrential downpour which we were blessed with! Today was to be spent at the Black House and Blue Temple- it seems everything in Chiang Rai is named after a colour of the rainbow, although not entirely unjustifiably!

The Black House is an art installation which is set over a large property comprised of about 30 or so different buildings, built in traditional Thai Lanna style, but with non-traditional interior design. The Black House is a shrine to the darker side of humanity with the idea that by revealing the dark side, we can stop fearing it. Cue lots of bones, vulnerability, death, phallic imagery, and decay. It’s a fascinating place to walk around and explore and by this stage, we were blessed with bright sunshine- it would have been creepy in the gloom of the morning… but also miserably wet. Most of the installation is outside, making me exceptionally glad for the sunshine!

After lunch and exploring, we moved onto the stunning Blue Temple which is newly built and painted with the most incredible blue iridescent paint which, in the light of the sunset, was absolutely phenomenal to behold. Definitely worth a visit!! We also popped into a super cute little cafe that was styled just like a British Tea House and was perched upon the river. It was clearly a popular place and like everywhere in Chiang Rai, a selfie hub!!

On our final day, we visited the most amazing tea farm, perched on undulating green hills, with a beautiful blue backdrop. The kiosk was perched on top of these hills and had the most beautiful views- we sat outside and had a picnic, watching the tourists come and go, taking lots of selfies and doing some of the most hilarious poses. It was wonderfully entertaining.

After this, it was time to say goodbye and start the drive home, but on the way our interest was peaked by an interesting looking roadside temple which had menacing sculptures of mystical beasts eating people guarding its doors. Undettered (mostly) we drove in and hoped for the best. Somehow we stumbled into a HUGE and beautiful temple complex with so many different monuments to different Hindu and Buddhist gods and goddesses, all who are responsible for different aspects of ones life. It was a truly Thai experience- Lisa and I were the only white people I saw there- everyone else was Thai but we were all in states of awe over this pristine, brand new, vibrant theme park of eastern religion. Honestly, it felt like being in Disney land (Buddhaland) if you will- it was a total hit on the senses… overwhelming, especially after a weekend full of intense sensory experiences from the food, to the stories, to the scenery, and the COLOURS.

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We navigated the Chiang Mai traffic, arriving home in the early evening. I was planning to see a film with friends after getting home if I made it in time… and I did… but I didn’t see the film. After such a hectic few days, I truly relished the early night, market food and bed which awaited me.

I had an incredible time in Chiang Rai and am so thankful that I was able to go with the team from FBC. Massive thank you to Lisa for giving me the opportunity to go and truly feel like a member of the Free Bird family.

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Pai- or ‘A disappointing lack of puns.’

So, I did something that is utterly unlike me last week. I booked a weekend away on a TOTAL whim. I know this is TOTALLY normal for many people and especially backpackers who seem to decide to go to a different country depending on which way the wind is blowing, but for Little Miss Organised, it’s not a common occurrence.

I had some friends who were going to Pai for the Pai Jazz and Blues Festival which was on over the weekend and it was an open invitation… so I decided that I would join in! I booked accommodation at the same hostel they had booked at, without really checking the reviews too much or looking at alternatives. I booked a mini bus up and then basked in what I had just done.

How spontaneous. How very unlike me. How very exciting.
I mean, it’s not like I hired a motorbike to take on the 762 bends on the way to Pai, but EVEN SO, this is big for me.

Anyway, Saturday morning rolls around and it is WET. The day before it had been pouring all day, roads were flooded and the moat was the highest I’d ever seen it. On my way to the church BBQ, I became even more grateful for my amazing little pushbike as I was able to dodge puddles, weave between traffic jams and was one of the first to arrive (though it’s possible this is more to do with the fact that I value punctuality deeply… not something I share with many people living in Thailand. ‘Thai Time’ is definitely a thing and something I’m sloooowly getting used to.

But I digress, the point is, it’s wet and it’s humid. I am doubly pleased I’m on a minivan and not the cheaper but slower and less reliable local bus. I get picked up and taken on a journey which many would call stomach churning but which I didn’t find overly sickening. The views were beautiful, our driver wasn’t a speed demon… even if he did sometimes use his phone on the super tight bends- another reason I was eternally grateful I wasn’t OUTSIDE the minivan on a motorbike.

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Anyway, after the trip, I arrived in Pai and quickly found my way to my hostel, but was stopped by my friends who had traveled up the day before who were just about to head a local hot spring! The timing was perfect! We all hopped into a local songtaew and journeyed back up where I had just come from and found ourselves in this luxurious resort. Now, there are hot springs in nature in Pai but apparently they were closed because of the weather and the amount of water flowing into them. This was the next best thing. It was SO lovely and relaxing. The rain was very light at this stage and the contrast between the cool rain and the heat of the spa was perfect. It was set in lovely surroundings and it was nice to feel wet because I was actually submerged in water.

We spent a few hours at the spa before heading back into town for some lunch. Pai is packed with good food options and I knew it wouldn’t be hard to find something delicious. After dropping my bag off at my hostel (not without trepidation, I’ll admit), my friend Jennifer and I ventured off to find a cafe I’d read about on another blog- but unfortunately it was closed (we checked before leaving, thankfully, as it was about 20 mins away). So instead, we headed to the super cute Art in Chai- who wasn’t serving food anymore BUT a little restaurant next door was! I had a vegetarian “stir curry” which was delicious if not particularly specific and we shared a bowl of beautiful fresh fruit.

Afterwards, we decided to pop next door and get some chai while we read/worked in this beautifully decorated space. The chai was excellent. They ground it themselves upon ordering in their mortar and pestle, and the SMELL was absolutely phenomenal.

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The taste was even better. It made the perfect accompaniment to my book. I’m currently reading The 7 Types of Ambiguity by Elliot Perlman and it is EXCELLENT. Especially now that I’m really INTO it. It certainly doesn’t start slow but the first perspective is written in second person which I ALWAYS find off putting. It’s my least favourite writing style and I find it unsettling- which worked well for this book. The content is unsettling too and I love that the writing matches that. It’s v. good and I highly recommend it.

After Art in Chai closed up, Jen and I decided to wander the streets of Pai to do some shopping. It had stopped raining (briefly) and the walking street was setting up to peddle their wares. There were A LOT of elephant pants and “Love in Pai” tee shirts- but to my Australian and English teacher eyes, a distinct lack of puns!!! If a country town in Australia was called Pai you can BET there would be pie shaped magnets, claims that Pai was “easy as pie” to get to, pie themed t shirts, a pie/Pai recipe book… it would be endless.

But Pai, Thailand?! NOTHING PIE RELATED IN THE MERCH AT ALL.

I was simultaneously proud and disappointed.

After chilling in town for a while, it started to POUR and we decided to head down to one of the jazz venues. The band was excellent and the venue was packed, the rain inhibiting the use of the decent sized deck and forcing diners and jazz lovers to co mingle in uncomfortable proximity. There was a break between two acts so we went back out into walking street- bought an umbrella and grabbed some street food… I chose the highly traditional falafel pita (I knowwww, but it looked SO good. So much fresh veg and damn good looking hummus. It was MASSIVE and she just kept shoving stuff in there. I’m very glad I got it.

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After dinner, we went back to the venue and chilled out with some more jazz, enjoying the mix of the sounds of rain outside and smooth blues inside. The jazz felt as natural as it would at home and it was cool to be surrounded by people of different ethnic backgrounds, all partaking in the universal language- music.

After this we headed back to the hostel to relax before bed. Not a lot of relaxing happened. The hostel was rustic and I’m not going to complain about it because it’s definitely for some people but I did not dig the super-ultra-hippy chillness of it. I’m not a hippy. I don’t like animals sleeping near me. I REALLY don’t like smoking of any kind. Let’s just say it wasn’t for me. I eventually got to sleep around 3am and slept well after that, until I woke with the sunrise and the roosters (I liked that bit) at 6ish. I spent some time in the Word and catching up on the latest sermon from home before making my way out of my cubby house thing and waiting for some of the others to get up so we could grab some brekky.

Breakfast was also incredible… and we may have revisited Art in Chai for a sneaky morning beverage. After we were nourished, we decided to go on a walk up to the White Buddha, passing rice fields and incredible greenery on the way. It was a gorgeous walk and included lots of steps which I appreciated, even though it was meant to be a rest day.DSC02377

We spent a little while up at the White Buddha and chatted to some cute Thai kids who would run up a few steps, then pretend to die with exhaustion, rinse and repeat and I was reminded of the kids who do the same on the 1000 steps. These ones were cuter though because the steps there are WIDE and I wasn’t there for a workout, haha. Also, Thai kids in general are super cute.

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We ventured back down the hill to the cafe (Earth Tone) we had planned to eat at yesterday and I ate delicious fresh veggies dipped in a vegetarian Nam Prik Oong- one of my newly discovered faves here in Northern Thailand. One of my friends had their buddha bowl which looked DIVINE and another one had some of the loveliest fresh spring rolls I’ve ever seen. They were beautiful!! Jennifer and I stayed there while our other friends decided to go somewhere for a different sort of trip and I got through more of my book.

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I was leaving that afternoon and didn’t want to stress out about my bus so I decided around 3 to head back into town, “check out” of the hostel (basically just say I was leaving and ask for my bag) and wander around doing some more shopping. Jennifer joined me and with our powers combined we stumbled upon a local market which I found refreshing after being surrounded by tourists for the whole weekend. Pai is beautiful, yes, but it is catering for western sensibilities more than it is a nice place to get away… for me at least. And this is probably because I was constantly in town etc. When we left town and got into nature, I loved it. While in town, I definitely didn’t hate it but it didn’t quite live up to my, absolutely acknowledged high, expectations.

The bus trip back was even easier than the way up, not stopping at all and after not that long at all, we arrived back in CM, I grabbed a ST and arrived back at home, needing a shower and some water, but feeling otherwise pretty chilled out after an awesome weekend with awesome people.

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I’m very blessed to live in this place and do these things on a total whim. I look forward to bringing this slightly more relaxed Amy home with me… but I will be booking my own accommodation on that journey!

Love you all lots. xx