Breakfast is around the corner at a French bakery, pancakes and coffee, pancakes good, coffee is crap, thats deuce. We could have had the complimentary breakfast at the hotel (80 baht) but we chose to go to the alternative so we can only blame ourselves.
8.30am we load up 2 mini buses, with 7-8 people in each bus and head north out of Chiang Mai towards Chiang Khong on the Mekong River and the border with Laos. We go through mountain passes, through river plains, if its not jungle it’s got fruit trees, vegetables, or cannabis planted in it. We stop for a toilet and coffee break at a modern building thats sort of a packing house for coffee and nuts, with a sideline vertigral integration into selling cannabis plants. The “grass” plants were about 15-20cm high, healthy and in black pots with Thai writing we couldn’t work out the price. News flash, he just looked at the photo and it says 35 baht for 1 plant or 100 baht for 3 plants. 35 baht is about $1.50 Aussie and 100 baht is $4.00.
Workers are in the rice paddies planting, and the further north we get the less signs there are in English. Our bus is quiet, we have Mat, Dave from Florida, one of the Irish boys, Valentin and Barbara (Germans) and us with Naa up front with the driver, the other bus has Bruce and Aussie Dave, and apparently they both hold the talking spoon. Thank goodness I’m not on that bus.
A lunch stop at the White Temple is a welcome pit stop for me, the coffee from the other place has broken the seal and I’m squirming to escape and release the pressure. The White Temple at Chiang Rai was built by a wealthy bloke using his own funds, its magnificent and it a blinding white, with some mirror tiles blended in to give it some sparkle. The toilet is world class, no squat toilet for this place, not that I could see anyway. There were a few monks around in their saffron robes but I’m guessing the bloke who built it collects rent from the many stall holders, restaurants and shops to defray the expense of maintaining the temple and its grounds.
We reach the Mekong and our hotel about 3pm, its right on the river which is massive and flowing strongly, all rooms face the river and the other side of the river is Laos. I can hear a rooster crowing from Laos. The rooms look nice but the bathroom is basic with a fuse box that must turn the hot water on and off as TMM feels he needs a shower before we go on our orientation walk about 4pm, and he comes out saying the water is very cold. BUT, I fix it for him later on, no comment but I thought a Maintenance Planner at a mine might know how to get some hot water out of a weird machine then adjust the spray so it feels like a shower and not a pressure spray.
We walk into Chiang Khong village, through it to their temple, through the temple back to the river then back to the hotel for a beer at the bar downstairs looking over the Mekong. Its quiet, apparently we’re the first Intrepid trip into Laos since it opened up about a month ago, Covid has impacted these river towns on the border between Laos and Thailand.
This area is part of the Golden Triangle, where huge amounts of opium was grown and traded. There are a lot of big houses this side of the river and in Laos that we can see over the river, I’m guessing it’s residual capital left over from the drug days. I’m enjoying the relaxed atmosphere of this place.
The Mekong is huge, and the river is high and flowing pretty fast so I’m guessing we won’t have to get off the boat and go by road in any places. The hotel is basic but ok, the views from the rooms is sensational. Tonight we are eating at a little restaurant up the road from the hotel that overlooks the Mekong River.
Dinner tonight is the group minus Bruce, not sure where Bruce is but nobody seems surprised. We are at a restaurant looking over the river, there is 14 of us and another small group of 2. The food is renowned for its Mekong River fish dishes so I have to try one, and have a mid spicy Mekong fish stir fry. Its delicious but my lips and tongue are dancing for a while after I finish and the Singha beer largy fails to cool it down, only time does that. TMM (remember him?) , has a chicken rice dish with a dipping sauce, and remarkably it looks a lot like chicken fried rice, but I could be wrong. Although to be fair he’s been pretty adventurous with his food today. We are sitting near Mat from Melbourne tonight, TMM rolls hand grenade after hand grenade under him about Victorians, I’d say the end of the night its 1 set apiece in a 3 set match.
Naa tells me she has organised flowers for a little ceremony tomorrow to put some of Tim’s ashes into the Mekong. I didn’t expect it, all I asked her the other day was, was it appropriate to leave some ashes at the temple above Chiange Mai. Its very nice of her and hopefully the group don’t mind the interruption to the boat trip. After the 400 baht dinner for two with drinks ($16) we walk back along the banks of the Mekong. Its very peaceful here and we’re all looking forward to getting over the border into Laos tomorrow and on the Mekong River for two days.
Ciao for now, leaving for Thailand heading for Laos. Paulo