The Garden City
27.12.2009 - 27.12.2010 25 °C
Chiang Rai, the northern province of Thailand has always been overlooked in comparison to its close neighbour Chiang Mai, which is a very popular destination among the mix of travellers and tourists from western, europe or other asian nations. This could be well understood because of the vast difference between these 2 provinces in terms of its development of tourist attractions as well as the nightlife entertainment establishments by the Tourist Authority of Thailand (TAT) or the Thai government. In Chiang Rai, if one was to look for a good night out for couple of beers or to party with fellow travellers or tourists, you would find that this is not the best place for such fun activities. As of now, I have not been to Chiang Mai, so I am not in a position to comment much further about this northern city. Nevertheless, much had been said about Chiang Mai's notorious nightlife just as with its central counterpart of Bangkok and southern counterpart of Phuket. Chiang Rai is the place to be if you are into nature and seeking for calm, peaceful and quiet holiday. The best time to visit Chiang Rai should be between November till early March where the weather would be cool with moderate to low temperature. I recently travelled to Chiang Rai province, visited several of the great and interesting places within the province including Mai Sai, which I wrote of earlier. Mae Sai is located at the north most of Chiang Rai province and neighbouring Mynmar, where the border town, just few hundred metres walk away from Mae Sai is Tachilek.
Chiang Rai offers some of the best tourist attractions in Thailand including Doi Mae Salong, a hilly, calm & peaceful tea plantation township while Doi Tung is a former royal hill retreat with beautiful flower gardens and a former royal villa for visitors to have a closer look. I travelled in a minivan to Doi Mae Salong from Mae Sai town, which is about 40kms or 1 and half hours drive. Just after leaving Mae Sai town, there many roadside stalls that sell strawberry fruits as well as varieties of strawberry wines. The fruits were freshly plucked from the farms and packed into small boxes for sale. Strawberry wines were also on display at racks on the makeshift stalls while some traders have strawberries planted just next to their stalls. I had a try on these strawberries and though they weren't sweet, these fruits were definitely fresh. You can also get a try on the varieties of wines and if you like you can purchase them right away from the rack. Continuing the journey to Doi Mae Salong, the scenery were pleasant with views filled with open land as well as hills and mountains that dotted the road up to Doi Mae Salong. Some of the sceneries were so great that one would want to stay for as long as he or she wants to enjoy the wonderful atmosphere. The road up to Doi Mae Salong was winding at certain stretch but most of the journey, the road was in good condition, weather was fine though slightly cloudy and whole journey can be summed up as pleasant. The first stop at Doi Mae Salong was the Mae Salong Flower Resort. This resort was named as such because it has a large flower garden on the right side of the resort from the main entrance, which isn't located on a flat ground but on a semi-round curvy landscape several metres above the flat land similar to the velodrom stadium but half the size. Before reaching this flower garden, there was a tea centre just after the main entrance on the right side where visitors could sample many choices of tea available at this centre. You can also purchase the tea you like after sampling them, where a "tea lady" will brew them up for you the tea that you would like to try. Apart from tea leaves, which were packed in colourful and attracticve packaging, you can also purchase other tea related items including tea cups and tea brewing accessories. On the left of the resort compond were where the main lobby including a restaurant is located. The resort wasn't centred on a single large building with rooms but with several small "huts" scattered around the resort compound. The restaurant at the resort overlooked the hills on the rear side of the resort with an open area filled with tables for the resort guests and restaurant patrons to enjoy the great sceneries and the cool and pleasant weather.
The next stop from Mae Salong Flower Resort was The Tomb of General Duan, which houses the remains of General Tuan Shi-Wen, one of the Kuomintang (KMT) anti-communist leaders which were defeated by the Chinese communist in China and being forced out from the country. The tomb was located on a top level ground led up by several steps of stairs to its main tomb area, where an altar for prayers and a large concrete slabs with chinese characters and the word The Tomb of General Duan. Also found at this main tomb area were old photos of General Duan taken on various occasions and events during his heydays. One of General Duan's sons can also be seen here where he would speak in either Thai or Chinese in explaning about the history of the tomb and stories of his late father's struggles together with his late father's comrades during war era. From the main tomb area, the scenes from here were scenic since it overlooks the hills and houses on the lower level. On the lower ground of the tomb was a tea centre the same as the one at Mae Salong Flower Resort. In fact, I came to learnt that all the establishments in Doi Mae salong including resorts, hotels, tea proprietors and tea plantations would have such facility at their premises. The size of the tea centre depends on the size of the establishments, the bigger the establishments, the bigger would be the tea centre. Just as in any tea centres available at Doi Mae Salong, visitors can get to try the different tea varieties prepared by a "tea lady" and buy the choice of tea they like.
From General Duan Tomb, we moved on to the Doi Mae Salong town centre, where there was a main bazaar located here houses mainly dozens of tea shops as well as restaurants specialise in hot "man tou" a chinese style bun and also pork belly. Most of the tourists buses and minivans will stop here for the tourists to shop for tea leaves for own consumptions, as gifts for family, relatives and friends and for lunch. Apart from tea leaves, there were also many other dry food products from northern region and from China. Tea brewing accessories and tea pots and cups, some used in the olden days were also available and sold here. Several hilltribes women were also seen plying trade on shops fivefoot corners. There was also a massive concrete slab to signals the location of the area in Thai words located along the centre of the bazaar area. The road along the area was wider with shops mostly concentrated and lined along the main road.
The last stop at Doi Mae Salong was the 101 Tea Plantations which is the largest tea plantation farm in Doi Mae Salong. The tea farm was huge and massive here. Plantation workers can be seen returning with baskets full of fresh tea leaves on their back when I arrived here. This tea plantation farm is similar to the Boh's plantation farm in Cameron Highland but in comparison of the size, both were well spanned over the hills and flat lower ground area. There was also a tea centre here for visitors to try the tea varieties and for them to purchase.
Doi Tung was formerly a royal hill retreat which has been turned into a public and tourists attraction. This flower garden township is located about 28kms from Doi Mae Salong. Centre of the attraction at Doi Tung is a large flower garden where visitors can take nice photographs of the colourful variety of flowers and trees available at the garden. To enjoy the great scenery and cool weather, you can also relax over aromatic coffee and cakes at the Thai trademark coffee house, Doi Tung coffee at the open concept cafe as well as a Doi Tung coffee kiosk. Apart from colourful flowers, the grass that filled the ground of the garden were all being well maintained where they all looked fresh. The flowers were also being well taken care of and the garden named Mae Fah Luang is also being well maintained by the garden workers as it look clean with flowers blooming. Some of the trees were also decorated with pot of colourful flowers on its branches. Outside the garden are some of the souvenier stalls located that sell t-shirts, hilltribes costumes and many other items including tea. There was an area where tall tree branches decorated with long thin yellow colour (signifying royal colour) bunting flowing down from the tree branches located at the main entrance to Mae Fah Luang at Doi Tung.
I was at Chiang Sean town, located on the north east of Chiang Rai province also best known as the Golden Triangle where I travelled here from Doi Tung. This small town being tagged as the Golden Triangle because of its location which is near the Mekong River that borders between 3 countries, Thailand, Laos and Mynmar. It was also a town that was once thrived with the poppy plantations that produce the opium, one of the dangerous drugs that were being misused in the form of herion. There are several attractions that worth the visit when in Chiang Sean including the Opium Museum, Wat Phra That Phukhao and also the large Buddha statue at the riverside near the pier for boat services to Laos and Mynmar. The Opium Musuem is located at an inner section of the row of shops along the only main road of the town which was on the upper level of a shop cum house building. At the entrance of the musuem, you need to pay small fee of THB50 and will be given a postcard, where you can stamp on it with many choices of rubber stamps with various characters and words that signify the Golden Triangle theme. The postcard pictures also come with the theme related to the opium and Golden Triangle as well as hilltribes communities. On display in this musuem are brief description of the opium lord, Khun Sa, the life stages of poppy flowers, various pipes used to consume opium, replicas of man cosuming opiums, replicas of opium house, pictures of different hilltribes communities in northern Thailand, opium measurements, opium weighing machines and pictures of how opium were being harvested. Various souveniers were also available at the exit area of the musuem. Wat Phra That Phukao is one of the few historical temple sites left within Thailand and should be considered as one of the most important old Thai historical heritage. It was believed that the wat was already 1,200 years old. There is an welcoming arch at the main entrance to the compound of Wat Phra That Phukhao which resembles the roof of the temple greeting visitors. Entering from here, there are a long stretch stairs with multiple steps to reach the main wat area, which has an Ubosot or the ordination hall and also a wiharn on the left side of the ubosot. At the rear of the wiharn is the ruins of Buddha dated to as far as 1,200 years old where parts of the ruins had been damaged due to its years in existance till this present days. The main wat (ubosot) has very skillful architecture finishing in particular its exterior and its main entrance doors where it was beautifully crafted with good sense of traditional designs. From what I could observed, the ubosot had been reconstructed to preserve its former design and architecture. The large Golden Buddha statue sits proudly inside the ubosot. On the left of the ubosot were a drum and 2 bells being placed on. From the wiharn area, it overlooks the charming Mekong river and buildings over at neighbouring Lao, which has a casino over at the boder crossing there. There is also another casino resort over at Mynmar which has yet to be open to the public which presently under renovation and soon to be completed. Just accros Wat Phra That Phukhao, near the riverside, is where a large Golden Buddha in a sitting position placed on a higher level from the ground is located. There are also 2 large chang (elephant) where visitors can walk around the chang and pray for good fortunes. Many visitors seen grouping within the area to snap photographs of the Golden Buddha, to pray for good luck at the large changs and to enjoy the nice Mekong river views which overlooks the Lao PDR and Mynmar.
The next day, from Chiang Sean, took the bus and head to Chiang Rai city which is about 30km away. Along the way, the bus dropped and pick up passengers from various stops. At one stop, I witnessed several western/european students who could be in a student exchange programmes of where they boarded the bus I was in to Chiang Rai. First stop at Chiang Rai was the King Mengrai Statue at the King Mengrai Park, which was located right at the centre of the city. This park is filled up with nice green grass turf with nice, bright, colourful and fresh flowers decorated within the park. Also found at the park is the digital clock and temperature board. The centre of attraction of this park apart from the great looking flowers is the King Mengrai statue. On the left, right and cenre of the statue are small golden elephant (chang) decorated with yellow garlands.
From King Mengrai Park, the next destination was the Wat Phra Keaw (also known as Emeral Buddha temple) with also a museum annexed to this temple within its territory. According to history, the Emerald Buddha was sculpted by Gods as a gift to Venerable Nagasen Thera from Patna Bihar state in India. It was later moved to Sri Lanka before King Anurudha of Bagan, Mynmar requested the Emerald Buddha from Sri Lanka. Instead of arriving in Mynmar, the boat that used to transport the sculpture was swept ashore and landed in Cambodia. It was later moved to Angkor, Sri Ayudhaya, Lop Buri and Kampheang Phet. Later, King Mahabhrom from Chiang Rai took the sculture to Chiang Rai and hid the sculpture at the pagoda at Wat Pa Yiah. A lighting incident finally revealed the Emerald Buddha sacred treasure and from then on, the sculpure had been moved from one place to the other with Chiang Rai owned the sculpture for 45 years (1391-1436), Lampang for 32 years (1436-1468), Chiang Mai 85 years (1468-1553), Laos for 225 years (1553-1778) and Bangkok (1778 to present). The main ubosot building is red in colour with golden colour flowery decorations on its wall and arch. Inside the ubosot known as Phra Ubosot, the Golden Buddha sits on a higher level from the ground with several steps to reach the sculpture. The floor is fully carpeted in red with walls in red colour decorated just the same theme as its exterior designs. The musuem, known as Hong Luang Saengkaew is a thai traditional wooden building with a Buddha and sacred monk statue placed on the side of the building on the way to the main entrance to the musuem. The museum display among others the Buddhism and northern Thailand's cultures and sculptures. Within the Wat Phra Keaw surroundings is also a pagoda, known as Phra Chedi resembling a mini Shwedagon Pagoda. The Phra Chedi was where the lighting incident struck Wat Phra Keaw took place. The main ubosot, known as Ho Phra Yoke, built Lanna-style is where the Emerald Buddha was placed on. The Emerald Buddha sits on a special and distinctive small house with light effects and the interior of the wat is lit with green neon lights on its wall. A large Boddhi tree photo in a large framed potrait was placed on the rear of the Emerald Buddha. Another magnificent temple in Chiang Rai, apart from Wat Phra Keaw is the Wat Rong Khun, a white Buddhist temple which is not the conventional style of wat found in Thailand or other parts of Indochina region. The theme of the wat is white with many other paintings on the ubosot's wall and sculptures within Wat Rong Khun were not the typical drawings or sculpture that would be seen in other temples in Thailand. Here, you can get to see the sculpture of human skulls and arms depicting people who were drowning or asking for help. Even the safety cones found on the road were found to have human skulls on top of the cones. Inside the ubosot, pictures were not allowed. The drawings on the wall of the ubosot with modern and fantasy world theme including that of ultraman. The boundary of Wat Rong Khun was surprisingly sizeable with a small park and mand made lake at the rear of the main ubosot while towards the right of the ubosot after exiting it from the rear side, was a golden coloured washroom which could be easily be mistaken for an viharn or assembly hall of a temple. This temple was design and contructed under the supervision of Chalermchai Kositphipat, where his large human size cardboard mannequinne was found at the entrance to the main ubosot. Apart being known as a garden city of the north in Thailand, Chiang Rai is also a main agriculture producers, including fish farming and rice producers. The are many lands in Chiang Rai that comprised of rice crops and independant businessmen who ventured into fish and toad farming. I had the opportunity to visit a family in amphoe Phan, south of Chiang Rai of where they involved in such businesses. I get to witnessed on how fishes were mated, fish eggs were harvested from the fishes mouth, fish eggs were being preserved and hatched. One of the famous food in amphoe Phan is the king cat fish. This family also owns a restaurant nearby a wat with a large standing golden Buddha structure on top of a hill with a significant pagoda (phra chedi) at the rear of the wat. To reach this wat, you can either get the guide to drive all the way up or you can choose to walk up from the over hundreds of steps from the base level.