Saturday, 2 May 2015

Contiki Big Indochina Adventure #3 | Chiang Rai

We were up bright and early to make our journey to Chiang Rai which was about 4 hours. With Contiki you're never stuck on a bus for too long and they make frequent stops. We stopped off at the amusing Condoms and Cabbages restaurant. As funny as the name is, it actually does a lot for the Thai Community. Condoms and Cabbages is a Population and Community Development Association's (PDA) public-benefit restaurant. Founded in 1974 it set to educate both urban and rural Thai people on family planning. They set out to train respected members of the community to distribute and provide avoidable contraceptives directly to their communities. They are also heavily involved in the prevention of HIV/AIDS throughout Thailand. Proceeds from the restaurants go directly back into the Thai community.

After stocking up on snacks and novelty key chains from Condoms and Cabbages for my friends, it was back on the bus for a Temple that wasn't on the itinerary. The White Temple or Wat Rong Khun is spectacular. It's definitely up there along with the Grand Palace as my favourite Temple. It's just picture perfect. It's magnificent and if you're in Northern Thailand I can't recommend it enough. What makes this Temple different is that it's a contemporary, unconventional, privately owned, art exhibition in the style of a Buddhist Temple. It's owned by Chalermchai Kositpipat who designed and contructed it opening it up to the public in 1997, and to this day there is still no entrance fee. Last May it was damaged by an earthquake, but none of the buildings were structurally damaged. Having first thought that the buildings structures were unsafe, Kositpipat was going to demolish the entire Temple and not rebuild it - so luckily for us Tourists it's still going strong. Although it's not a conventional Temple it's still a place of worship and you have to dress appropriately. They have skirts free of charge at the entrance for those wearing shorter shorts!
After an hour we were back en route to Chiang Rai which was only 13km away. If you didn't bring Dollars I'd suggest changing your money at the various money exchanges here if you're on the way to Laos, as they mainly just accept US Dollars for your Traveller Visa($43 for Irish Citizens, you're charged differently bases on your country) and we didn't have too much free time to ourselves in Chiang Rai to find a currency exchange

Hill Tribes
After we checked into the Hotel we had some free time to get a bite to eat. We all decided to meet in the lobby for a family meal after we all got settled in. Ignoring the "Divide and Conquer Rule" (where you all split up to eat in different places so it doesn't take too long) we all went to a typical Thai restaurant. I ordered Chicken in Cashew nuts, as clearly I hadn't had enough of it the previous night! It was delicious and I had no trouble wolfing it down as we were on a very tight schedule. With minutes to spare to catch our bus, we all ran in to the only department store in Chiang Rai to buy some presents for the children of the Hill Tribes. A few euro's is nothing to us, but the kids were thrilled when we pulled up with toys and colouring books! One word of advice however is to keep some of  your gifts until near the end to make sure everyone one gets something. We had to frantically find someone in the group with gifts left as one little girl didn't get anything and we couldn't break her heart. All of the group partook in this optional extra and it was a great insight into Thai culture and great to enjoy it with everyone. We saw five different Hill Tribes, including the Long Neck (Padaung) which were by far the most interesting. And as you can see in the photo's the girls wear neck rings from a very young age. We spent a few hours at the Hill Tribes and I bought a few souvenirs, I'd much rather buy off the Hill tribes, than the markets! 

After the Hill Tribes we went back to the Hotel for a quick shower before going out to explore Chiang Rai's Night Bazaar  and to get a "Shit Shirt" and some cheap food for dinner. We got some Pad Thai for something like €4 and it was good, not as good as the previous night but saying that I didn't leave much on my plate. We also picked up some Pork Skewers for €1 each and man they were good!  In terms of dodgy stomachs I'd just err on the side of caution. If something looks funny don't eat it and when in doubt opt for vegetarian. After dinner our search was on to buy the Shittest Shirt in Chiang Rai! All the shirts were pretty awful and we all had a great laugh, at each other's expense of course. We pretty much took over the small bar and danced (I remember "Shake It off" distinctly!) and drank copious amounts of Cocktails as they were dirt cheap. We all took over as DJ for the night and blasted all the music we wanted to hear. I wasn't allowed, as my taste in music is definitely shitter than the shittest shirt.The bar was in stumbling distance to the hotel which was great after  all the cheap cocktails! I wasn't too crazy and I don't do well in the morning and if you add a hangover to the mix it's a disaster! 
After retiring to bed at a not too unreasonable hour it was up bright and early to say goodbye to Thailand and Hello to Laos, our destination for the next 6 days.
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Thursday, 30 April 2015

Contiki Big Indochina Adventure #2 | Chiang Mai

Arriving at Chiang Mai train station we all stuck together and were greeted with a colourful bus which was ours for the next 3 days and we were also introduced to our local guide. With Contiki throughout Asia you've your own personal guide for each specific place which is wonderful. Each and everyone of the guides were so informative and friendly and would answer any question you had! We boarded the bus and drove 15 minutes or so to the Hotel. This hotel was by far the nicest hotel. We weren't able to check in as it was early and our rooms weren't ready yet, but we dropped off our luggage and headed to breakfast. This breakfast was by far the best- Hello Waffles? After eating our bodyweight in Waffles, we all relaxed for an hour and around 11am we were on our way to our second temple of the trip, Doi Suthep.

Doi Suthep  is located 15km outside Chiang Mai. The Pagoda's are located up 309 steps and I promise you it's worth it. It wasn't too difficult and thankfully it wasn't too hot for us all! It definitely didn't disappoint, it was stunningly beautiful and we got the chance to be blessed by monks which was a lovely experience. We also had a chance to learn about the Chinese Zodiac and find out which ones we were. Mine was the year of the Snake -1989, something I'm not too fond about, but as a friend told me a lot of the great's are Year of the Snake, so here's hoping! We spent around an hour and a half here and it was the perfect amount. The majority of us got blessed by monks and we all got our Chinese Zodiac in that time too as well as having many a photo opportunity. 

After the Doi Suthep we had an optional that Contiki don't endorse and I now know why. The Tiger Kingdom. The majority of the group went, myself included. I'm not saying I wasn't aware of the fact the Tiger's aren't treated as fairly as they should, but I went along anyway and along with the Ping Pong show is one of my only regret's of the trip. For around 1,000 baht(€29 Euro) you can take photo's of Tigers ranging from baby cubs to adults. They are very much on drugs, and where the tiger keepers(is that what they're called?) weren't obviously cruel towards the animals but you still feel uneasy. On the way out I saw four grown tigers kept in a cage, no bigger than a Box room and my heart just sank, It's something that doesn't resonate well with me that I went, but I did and I can't turn back time. The only thing I can do is try and warn others about it and discourage people from going. Anyway, after the hour drive back to the Hotel after a quick shower and change we were on our way to do one of the Optional Extra's which was a Thai cooking class, which was so much fun and probably one of my favourite Optional Extra's. We set off to the local food market first to learn about all the different ingredients.

 After the market we hopped into two separate vans and made our way to the Cooking School, which was a little bit outside of Chiang Mai. The cooking school was so popular it has recently been refurbished to cater for it's growing demand so we had a swanky new kitchen to work with, each having our own spacious work station. It was all outdoors which our Tour Manager had pre-warned us about so we all made sure to cover ourselves in insect repellent. Thanks for the heads up! We made four dishes, the first being Tom Yum soup which was absolutely delicious and so simply to make and really quick. After demolishing it down, we started making our main dishes. The second being a pumpkin curry which was different but tasted amazing! The third dish was chicken and cashew nuts which is what I'd usually order out if I was in an Asian restaurant and the fourth my all time favourite Asian dish being Pad Thai. Needless to say they all tasted delicious. We all ate all our dishes at the end together at a number of tables and bonded more over Thai food. For desert Mango and Sticky Rice was served up to us, and My God it tasted amazing. I'm not a huge fan of Mango back home in Ireland, but the Mango over there was so juicy and sweet. Definitely something I'm going to make for my friends and family.
After the cooking class we made our way back to Chiang Mai and all met up at the Night Market. A few of us split up at this point half going to a Muay Thai fight and half of us going to a Lady Boy show.  Two guesses to which I went too! For 250baht(€8) we saw the show and all got a complimentary beer. It wasn't the best show in the world, but it was definitely entertaining and we all had such a laugh together! If you want to take a photo with a Ladyboy you give them a little tip and they'll be happy to pose and pout with you!
After the show we all went to bed as it was up early the next morning it was on to our next destination Chiang Rai!
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