Chiang Rai, Northern Thailand’s Base for ExplorationChiang Rai is a town about 3hours north of Chiang Mai. It often serves as a base for those wishing to travel further north to the Golden Triangle. There is also a multitude of travel agents offering tours of to see the hill-tribes, elephants, white temple, and various other attractions. Initially, we travelled to Chiang Rai with the hopes of embarking on a less touristy trek to the hill-tribe villages and a quiet few days checking out the city itself. What we did here was so much better than either of us could have imagined!
I stumbled across the Chiang Rai Bulletin, a blog written by locals about the area that recommended a few different things to do. Top of the list was Phu Chi Fah, a place neither of us had heard about. After a bit of research, we decided this was the kind of place we would enjoy and went about trying to make it happen. Check out the Phu Chi Fah blog for all the details!
ACCOMMODATIONWe did a few trips out of Chiang Rai, using the town more of a base. We stayed at the following places, and enjoyed them all for very different reasons.
City Home GuesthouseI had booked us a night at City Home Guesthouse from Chiang Mai, mainly because it is nice and close to the bus station. Jumping off the bus in the middle of a construction site (they are building a new bus terminal), we (yet again) got hassled by tuk tuk drivers. We took off, not entirely sure where to go (but hopeful to stumble across a café with WiFi), hit a dead end alley and squeezed through the fence onto another alley. Lady luck was on our side that day we walked straight into the back door of our guesthouse. We enjoyed our stay here, in a clean and spacious room with air-conditioning.
Baan JaruAfter our jaunt to Phu Chi Fah, I was a bit crook so we splashed out for a room at the lovely Baan Jaru B&B. I actually think this was the best value place we have stayed at. While it cost a bit more than we usually are happy to pay (800B), we had a lovely room with air-con and a clean, tidy bathroom. The breakfast (which is included) was amazing, an omelette, bacon, vegetables, toast, fruit, tea/coffee, and orange juice. The equivalent breakfast in a café would have set us back 250-300B. Teddy, the owner, was extremely cheery and very helpful, which added to the overall experience.
Bamboo NestA friendly English bloke who we met in Phu Chi Fah recommended Bamboo Nest to us. After reading the rave reviews and seeing 5 stars on TripAdvisor, we were sold! Nok and Noi, the gracious hosts, started Bamboo Nest 6 years ago. A cluster of about 10 bamboo huts are set nestled amongst the mountains 23km from Chiang Rai.
Nok picked us up from Chiang Rai and the drive itself was breathtaking. Once out of the city, you wind through pineapple plantations and rice fields. Be warned, there is a reason she drives a 4WD ute. The last portion of the road to Bamboo Nest is so steep and rough I’m amazed we made it up! Once at the top you can appreciate an incredible view over a valley of rice fields. We stayed here 2 nights and loved every minute of it.
FOODThe food in Chiang Rai has been a step up again. We have found the Northern Thai food to be the most enjoyable of our trip in Thailand. We ate at several different places between our different ventures. The noodle and rice dishes seemed to pack more flavour and excitement than we have found elsewhere.
Night BazaarEach night at the old bus station a night bazaar kicks off. There are two areas of seating, one that boasts an array of hot pots (which I think must be a speciality).
A curry soup rests over a bed of hot coals, which are both in clay pots. We had a selection of vegetables, noodles, chicken, pork and an egg to cook. Feeling a bit adventurous, I ordered the spicy soup. It turned out to be spicier than I anticipated and a bit too much for Jimmy, who beaded up with sweat immediately and admitted defeat about halfway through his first bowl. The flavour was incredible and as usual I enjoyed the novelty of cooking the food. Most exciting was the egg, which poached beautifully in the soup. Much recommended, however, next time I will go for the non-spicy soup option.
Bamboo NestThe food at Bamboo Nest exceeded our expectations. Fresh, home-cooked Thai food, everything we had was outstanding. Most enjoyable was the yellow curry, completely different to other curries we have had in Thailand, and the BBQ fish. To have the fish, you have to pre-order the day prior so Nok can pick one up fresh from the market. Served with bamboo sticky rice, words cannot describe how incredible this fish tasted. Perfectly cooked with a delicious sauce, I enjoyed every last mouthful.
ACTIVITIES & ATTRACTIONSAfter finding all the package tours in Chiang Mai too touristy, we had high hopes to find and enjoyable and reasonably priced tour throughout Chiang Rai. While you have the option to customise many of the tours, we found they comprised largely of driving for hours to see the many different attractions the region has. We instead decided to travel to Phu Chi Fah for a couple of days, and see a few of the Chiang Rai sights ourselves on a scooter once we got back. Another great attribute to Bamboo Nest is the guided tours Noi runs himself. We really lucked in with our trip there!
White TempleWat Rong Khun, or the White Temple as it is commonly known, is already an incredible work of art and it is far from finished! Chalermchai Kositpipat is both the owner of the building and the man behind the artistic vision.
He bought the temple in a state of disrepair, renovating and redesigning it into the glistening all-white attraction it is today. He estimates the nine temple buildings won’t be complete until 2070. Inside the main temple is a beautiful buddha and incredible bright murals on all walls. Traditional buddhist symbols, such as the lotus flower, are surrounded by the some-what strange take on modern society. Cartoon drawings of Superman, Michael Jackson, and many other familiar characters make the inside walls of the temple more comparable to pages of a comic book than other buddhist temples. I really enjoyed Chalermchai Kositpipat’s modern take of a buddhist temple, even though I don’t quite understand exactly what it all means.
Singha ParkAs Singha is one of the biggest beer producers in Thailand, we were expecting it to be a brewery. We probably should have done a wee bit more research as it is the new agro-tourism park in Chiang Rai. It was pretty incredible driving around the almost 13km of grounds, which has an adventure area (with a zipline and various activities), tea plantations, lookout points, and (strangely) some African animals that include Zebras and Giraffes. We did have fun scooting around the grounds but didn’t spend too long here.
Bamboo NestAfter being a bit put off by the generic tours offered through Chiang Rai and Chiang Mai, we jumped at the opportunity to spend a day with Noi trekking through the jungle out the back of Bamboo Nest. We set off, walking mainly uphill through clusters bamboo, listening as Noi described the uses for the different species of bamboo (of which there are many).
As we went further into the bush, he showed us different plants, one that has properties similar to paracetamol is still used by the villagers today if they get sick. Noi is a wealth of information and we both thoroughly enjoyed his commentary. For lunch we rested at Noi’s campsite in the middle of the forest. Our bamboo sticky rice and BBQ chicken was unbelievable, and up there with the best BBQ food we have both had. Incredible to think it was all over an open fire!
We continued our trek (all downhill from here luckily) to the Mae Kok river, where we had a ride on a longboat upstream. We had a short stop at an Akha village before we docked and embarked on the journey home.
After beating through the bush for nearly 2hours, rounding the corner to see the Bamboo Nest was a relief! Such an enjoyable day with a very knowledgeable and charismatic man.