Road Trip!

Two weekends ago (Feb 2-3…..Geez! I’m really falling behind here! I wish I could say it was because I’m so busy doing important things, but that would be a lie!) we decided to take the motorbike to Chiang Rai, a popular tourist destination about 3 hours (we were told you can get there in 3 hours in a car) northwest of where we live.

Ethan had looked up cool things to do/see near there and (surprise, surprise) found a national park (Phu Chi Fah) with an awesome view point. Ethan loves planning anything that involves the great outdoors and great sunrises (in case you couldn’t tell). We were going to leave Friday afternoon, but after finding out that all his classes had been cancelled and that I only had class first period, we decided to leave after first period. It was good a decision since it ended up taking us 5 whole hours to get to Phu Chi Fah. We stopped for lunch and a couple other times very briefly, but it was a very, very long ride. Our butts were almost as sore as they are after a day of actual biking – that’s pretty sore. Painfulness aside, the motorbike didn’t get a flat tire and was only making slightly weird noises – WIN!

When we got there we decided to head straight to the view point to check it out. Other than having to walk up there, which was a lot harder than it looked, it was really awesome. The mountain comes to a point (sort of) at the top and looks very similar to pride rock in the Lion King, but with a 360 degree view. The surrounding mountains were incredible and there is a village below the cliff that was very picturesque. Ethan decided it was one of his favorite places in the world after being up there for about 5 minutes. We still needed to find a place to sleep that night, so we had to leave the wonderful view. (E- You are basically right at the Thai/Laos border so “everything the light touches” below the cliff is Laos. The Mekong River is also in view, which is where we will be starting our adventures into Laos.)

I’m not sure that the town there is actually a town or if its just a collection of bungalows on the side of a hill. Either way it was pretty neat. Every guest house (there were several) had detached bungalow rooms and most of them had a great view of the hills below. There were a few restaurants, which also had great views, convenience stores and several souvenir shops all selling almost the exact same stuff. Anyway, we found a place to stay (wasn’t the nicest/cleanest, but it was supposedly cheaper than all the others), got dinner and went to bed early so we could get up before the ass crack of dawn to watch the sunrise.

Ethan’s alarm rang promptly at 4:45 and we were out the door by 5. It was very, very cold and it had just rained so everything was damp. Despite the cold we made it back up to the top – very slowly. On the way up there were a few Thai kids singing with little donation boxes. We felt bad that they were out in the cold at 5am so we gave them all money. They were so cute! When we reached the top we set ourselves up on a rock and watched a layer of fog on the ground below swirl around over the little town and around the hills. It was just like we had read about – a sea of clouds. So we waited until the sun was supposed to come up, but it never showed. The clouds were too thick. We were bummed, but it was still a great experience. (E- Phu Chi Fah is famous for the “sea of clouds.” Even though we missed out on a sunrise, we were still treated to the main attraction.)

Once we were back at our room we decided to pack up and head out. (E- We had to wait until Zetterberg was done scoring 3 goals and assisting on 2 others in Detroit’s 5-3 win over St Louis. It is weird having to watch the games at 7:30 am. My mood for the rest of the day is greatly affected by the outcome. Good thing this one was a W!) We stopped for breakfast on the way to Chiang Rai and got there around 11. We had planned on getting in touch with Jeff from Canada (went camping with us the previous weekend), who was visiting Chiang Rai, but we did not plan on running into him the minute we stopped in Chiang Rai. We randomly pulled over at a Pizza Company to check the map and find a place to stay when Jeff comes strolling up from the cafe next door. Chiang Rai’s not a small town! Anyway, we decided to drop our stuff at a guesthouse then meet back up with him for lunch. We got a bit lost finding the place, so we left him hanging for a bit (sorry Jeff!), but eventually made our way back into town. We got some American food and chatted with Jeff about what to do in the city. After lunch,  he took off for Chiang Mai and we headed back to our room to change. By the time we were ready to go though a torrential downpour had started so we stayed put for a while until it let up.

It didn’t exactly stop raining, but we had a few places we wanted to see before they closed so we headed out in the drizzle. It was quite the miserable afternoon in northern Thailand – cold and wet. Felt like we were in Michigan! The first place we went was a place called The Black House. Its a temple-like house with a bunch of smaller buildings that all house a bunch of really old and rather strange things. The main building had 5 tables in it – one that ran the length of the house and 4 smaller ones on the sides. Each was decorated with snake skins, huge chairs with horns and fur and random animal skulls. It was very weird. The rest of the grounds had a bunch of small buildings with more random artifacts….most of them were closed though. We walked around the grounds and eventually spotted an owl in a cage. We were looking at the owl when I noticed another cage. I looked over and saw something huge lurking in the corner of it. I stared at it for a while before I realized it was a giant snake. I pointed it out to Ethan who quickly rushed over to get a look at the monster. We soon realized that the gigantic python was actually two snakes, each about 10 feet long. We walked around their rather small enclosure and saw that there was a little door that we assumed they used to get the snakes food. Then Ethan realized that the padlock on the door that was keeping it closed wasn’t actually locked. Hmmmmm. That’s not right. Two giant snakes capable of taking down a grown man in an unlocked cage. We looked around for a worker to ask if this was normal or if it should be locked. We saw someone, but he didn’t speak English so Ethan showed him the lock. He just kept saying no… soooo we didn’t really know what that meant, but we left it unlocked. We hope that no one gets any crazy ideas about letting those snakes out because things could get really awkward for that worker.

We left the snakes and the black house behind and headed for a rather famous temple just outside the city. The temple was really tall and unlike any we had seen in Thailand. Inside the temple was circular and had stairs leading up nine floors. Of course Ethan had to see every single floor so we went all the way to the top. The first floor had a massive wood-carved Buddha and all the other floors had different wood-carved Buddha images. It was actually pretty cool if you don’t mind walking up 9 flights of stairs. After I took a picture of Ethan hanging out of the window of almost every floor we headed back into the city for dinner. We, of course, ate dinner at the Pizza Company and strolled around the night market afterward. Didn’t buy anything though.

The next morning we packed up and headed out to see the famous White Temple of Chiang Rai. We had heard many things about this temple and were really excited to see it. When we got there, though, it was not at all what we were expecting. It was more of a tourist attraction than a temple and they ran the place like an amusement park. The temple itself and the landscaping were really pretty, but it really did not feel like an authentic Buddhist temple at all. The inside of the temple had been painted with murals and the mural on the back wall is (quite famously) painted with pictures of action heroes like Batman and oddly the World Trade Center towers burning. A couple of trees had plaster heads of people from scary movies in them. The whole place was just weird. Really the only thing that impressed me was how everything was white. Normally temples are very colorful and flashy, but everything at this one is white.

We left the temple feeling a bit disappointed, but glad that we had the chance to see it. We headed back to Thawangpha after we left the temple. It took us 5 hours to get back and our butts hurt pretty bad, but the bike held up the whole way!


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