Sunday morning, Iben and I set out for some exploring of the far north of Thailand. The main purpose of the trip was to reach Chiang Rai and check out the university, Mae Fah Luang, that we had both been looking into as a good place to do our masters degree. Saturday night was spend browsing through Wikitravel, “Exploring Chiang Mai”, by Oliver Hargreave, and a few other guide books. I’d heard that the mountains of Doi Angkhang, right on the border with Myanmar, should be quite amazing, and we both agreed that we would try to reach those as the first stop of the trip. We also found out that apparently it was possible to continue further north to the town of Tha Ton and from there jump on a boat to Chiang Rai. There were only one concern. We had to go by public transportation, and therefore decided that trying to make a plan would not be of any good. We would just go with the flow and figure everything out along the way. Travel as we like it!
First stop was the bus station in Chiang Mai, where we invested 80 baht (approx. $2.5) in the bus ticket for the 4 hour drive up to Fang in the north. We were the only farangs on the bus and we didn’t see any other western tourists for the next 24 hours. In Fang, a friendly man in the ticket office, with absolutely no English vocabulary, got us on a songthaew back south again to a T-junction outside of town where the road to Doi Angkhang started. There, we arranged a songthaew driver to take us the 25 km up in the mountains. We had to pay 1400 baht to go up and down again the next day. We asked if we could stay 2 nights but that would be 1900 baht instead, since the driver were actually going to wait up there and couldn’t wait for 2 days…
The drive up to Doi Angkhang was both beautiful and nerve wrecking. The views were just incredible. Our driver took us to a hotel in a small village that I don’t even know the name of. At the hotel, we were greeted by a young man who actually spoke english, and guess what! He had studied at Mae Fah Luang University in Chiang Rai. We checked in to a room with a panoramic view over the mountains on two sides. By far the best view I ever had in a hotel room. 600 baht. Nothing much was going on in that small town, but we really enjoyed just strolling around, enjoying the views and reading our books on the balcony. We had lunch at one of the few restaurants in town and I had a Coca Cola bottle from 1996. I don’t know the age of the actual content, but it tasted fine at least.
The next morning our driver took us back to the T-junction, where we had to wait for another songthaew to take us back to Fang. In Fang, we catched yet another songthaew up to Tha Ton. The driver told us the price would be 75 baht, but when we arrived and I tried to hand him 160 baht (75 + 75 + a small tip), he told me “No, no!” and would only accept 50. Apparently it was only 25 baht per person. Tha Ton was very quiet. Except for in the evening, where we had dinner at a karaoke restaurant on the banks of the River Kok where Iben was invited to sing Amazing by Bruno Mars in front of the 8 other Thais who were there. We slept in a quiet hotel, which I think was owned by a Chinese family, and had a small terrace right next to the river. 500 baht.
Tuesday morning began with a hike up to the Wat Tha Ton temple, which had a great view over the river and the mountains. Iben didn’t have anything to cover her legs, so I was kind enough to lend her my palestinian scarf that she wore as a sarong. After a bit of sightseeing and an ice cream at Jack’s Coffee (or “Check’s Coffee” as the girls we met the day before in the songthaew pronounced it), we headed down to the boat pier. Here we had to wait for a lady to call the nearby hotels to see if there were 2 more people who wanted to do the trip. Otherwise we would have to pay for all 4 spots in the boat. One spot was 350 baht and the trip was supposed to take 3-4 hours. Fortunately, two dutch girls at a resort down the river wanted to go to Chiang Rai as well, and off we went. The boat trip down the River Kok was one of the most amazing experiences in my entire life. The scenery was extremely beautiful and changed all the time. The trip ended up taking only 2.5 hours, which I guess was because of the rainy season. After 2 hours of sailing, we stopped at some sort of tourist trap, which was truly anti-climatic. We could pay to pet a giant snake, but we all passed on that one.
In Chiang Rai, we checked into Fun-D hostel where we would stay for two nights while exploring what might become, at least for Iben, a future home town. Chiang Rai was really nice. Every night we had dinner at the local night market and in the days we explored the surrounding areas. The first day we took a local bus out to the university, which was really interesting. It was almost surrealistic to finally see the place after all the preparation we had been doing back home. Even though I’m probably not gonna do a masters anymore, it was still fun to see the place. A truly beautiful campus, overlooking the mountains and forests.
On our second day, we joined a sightseeing trip around the province, which was fun and a good experience. It was super touristy, but who cares. It was the most convenient way for us to check out the area with the limited time we had. The highlights for me were the border town of Mae Sai, where Thailand borders Myanmar, and the Golden Triangle, where the Ruak River meets the mighty Mekong River. From the viewpoint at the Golden Triangle you have a stunning view of Laos, Myanmar and Thailand. After the sightseeing, our guide had agreed to drop us off at the bus station in Chiang Rai, so we could catch a bus back to Chiang Mai. Only problem was that the bus was full and the next one didn’t leave until 6.15 AM the next morning. So far, not planning anything had been awesome, but at that time, I think we both regretted not checking the bus timetables ahead of time. We checked into a nearby hostel, had dinner at the night market once again, and left Chiang Rai the next morning. The bus ride was beautiful and a great way to end a great trip on-and-off the tourist track.