From Bangkok we flew to Chiang Rai in the North of Thailand, where we had a quick visit to see some impressive temples. Baandam (the black temple) is a collection of dark ornate buildings housing macabre interiors. The decor and furniture were all made from a sinister collection of animal bones, skins and horns and whilst we weren’t fans of most of the materials used, you couldn’t help but admire the intricate wooden carvings. Next we visited the white temple called Wat Rong Khun, which has a bright white exterior covered in tiny mirrored tiles which shimmer in the sun. The temple was built in the 1990s and the paintings inside are somewhat eccentric representations of the era. The frescos depict scenes and characters from the time, including a plane crashing into the Twin Towers, Spiderman, Elvis, Hello Kitty and Kung Foo Panda!
The next day we took a bus to Chiang Mai, where we stayed for 9 days in order to get our Chinese visas (as the Embassy was closed for a number of days over Thai New Year), which is by far the longest that we have stayed anywhere on our trip. Whilst we were in Chiang Mai we celebrated our third new year of the year (!) with Thailand’s Songkran festival. There were celebrations throughout the town with religious ceremonies and sand pagoda building going on at all of the Wats and carnival like parades going through the streets. All of the important Buddha images are paraded through the town on elaborately decorated floats and people pour water over the Buddha images in order to wash away sins and bad luck in preparation for the new year.
We had read that there would be water fights in Chiang Mai for the Songkran festival, however nothing could have prepared us for the 3 days of mayhem that ensued. The whole town erupts into one gigantic water fight. Outside every house and every street corner; someone was waiting with a bucket of water, a hose pipe or a water gun to soak you as you walked past. Everybody was fair game to soak and nobody was safe.
There were drive by shootings from tuk tuks, gangs with water buts driving round in pick-up trucks and if you were driving a motorbike you were guaranteed that people would throw buckets of water over you as you drove down the street. So, we did what any self-respecting travellers on a budget and with limited luggage space would do and bought ourselves a plastic bucket and a massive super soaker water gun! We were out fighting for 9 hours on the first day and by the end of day two muscles were aching and blisters had formed, but the fun didn’t stop.
After the fun of the Songkran celebrations, we had a more cultured day, visiting the ethnic villages at Baan Tong Luang, where a number of different ethnic tribes from Myanmar make a living by selling crafts to tourists. Whilst it wasn’t an overly authentic experience, it was interesting to see the traditional craft techniques, such as ikat weaving and to see some of the interesting outfits the women wore. One notable group were the Karen Longnecks, where the women wear brass rings around this necks. The rings are extremely heavy (5kg) and the weight of the rings gradually pushes their collarbones down enabling more rings to be added and giving the older ladies the appearance of having very long necks.
From Chiang Mai, we took a bus to Mae Sot on the border with Myanmar…