North to the Thai-Laos Border

2009/01/24: In Chiang Rai
Saturday was a day of rest. We did bike maintenance, talked to the company that runs a boat service to Luang Prabang, drank coffee, went to the night market, and watched the ornate golden clock tower strike 9:00 p.m.. We had seen a large group gather near the clock just before the hour and disperse soon afterwards, but didn’t know what would happen. After the regular chiming, the floodlights that light up the clock changed colours as music played, while a mechanical lotus flower slowly opened at the centre of the tower. I’m not sure what it’s meant to represent.

We liked Chiang Rai much better than Chiang Mai. It was on a tourism scale we could cope with, and the night market was relatively quiet. Nice to look, but we’re not keen on buying knick-knacks. The only thing we bought was a CD of Lanna folk tunes played on a traditional stringed instrument. We plan to mail it home from Luang Prabang along with maps and a few items no longer needed.

We met a thoughtful 22 year old Aussie at the coffee shop. He had come a month ago to volunteer on a project that is meant to provide hill tribe kids with alternatives to going into prostitution, or to escape from it. After only a month of his intended six month commitment, he found himself questioning the way that religion was annexed to the package being provided, and whether it was culturally appropriate to the kids’ needs. It was interesting to compare Aussie and Canadian perspectives on residential schools, and tell him of what we’d recently seen and the uneasy feeling it gave us.

2009/01/25: Golden Triangle and Hall of Heroin by motor bike
With apologies to self-propulsion purists, we confess we rented a small motorbike on Sunday. We wanted to visit the Hall of Opium and see the Golden Triangle. Our bodies needed a break from pedalling, and our target would have been a full day’s cycle each way. It was also off what would otherwise be our route to the border crossing. We felt a motorbike would get us there more efficiently than buses would, and allow us more freedom than joining a tour group that proposed to take us to souvenir markets as part of their Golden Triangle outing.

Chris had never operated a motorbike. I had only used a tiny trail bike on logging roads 25 years ago. I was tired, though, and Chris was keen to drive. He practiced around the block, then I got on the back and we hit the road. He shifted gears awkwardly and gripped the handlebars in terror, as I hummed the theme song from Easy Rider in his ear.

The Hall of Opium is a comprehensive presentation of the history, science, geography, and politics of opium. The building forms a tunnel through a hillside where opium was once grown. The exhibit is also a tribute to the work done by the late mother of the current King of Thailand, who worked hard to provide viable alternatives to poppy cultivation for the hill tribe people. We found it informative and moving.

After two hours each way on the motorbike, we were happy to return to our bicycles. The novelty had soon worn off, and we were both stiff from the ride.

2009/01/26: Chiang Khong 110 km
Another early start for a day to the border and the Mekong River. We were on pleasant small roads, and found a good shady spot to wait out the hottest hours. The guest house we had reserved with the boat company was a gorgeous wooden building on the riverfront, with teak verandah floors. It was probably built in the 1940s, and had not seen much recent maintenance.



One response to “North to the Thai-Laos Border

  1. Wow… a motorbike (are there any pictures of you on it?), you need a special license to drive one here!

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