Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Thailand 2016 Day 4. From Chiang Rai to Chiang Saen (are all towns here named Chiang something?)

After a very good night spent at Ben Guesthouse, which encompasses two beautiful wood buildings) I went for a spin around the city. The travel guide unenthusiastically listed two museums and any number of temples, but to tell you the truth I am about templed out. But the city is a pleasant one, so I twisted and turned without any plan, until I found myself on route 1173, heading east, and that decided the direction I was to follow for the next couple of days. Today the goal is to go to Chiang Khong, where one can cross into Laos, and from there to Chiang Saen, also at the border between Thailand and Laos.

I traversed the beautiful Waterford Valley, with enormously extensive rice paddy fields, when passing about a kilometer from a small hill from the corner of my eye I caught a sign announcing the …. Forest Park. I blew past it but over the next few hundred meters I tried to reconstruct the part I had missed and came up with the Teak Forest Park. Really? A forest of teak trees? Now, that I had to see, so I made a U-turn and plunged into a narrow concrete alley that after 100 m gave way to a dirt track. At this point I should have turned around, but my curiosity was aroused and I just had to keep going, until I found myself in a mire of mud. I proceeded as cautiously as I could, but at some point I lost my equilibrium and my scooter tipped. I barely had time to put down my foot and avoid a complete tip over, but my whole side was bathed in mud as I tried to place my center of gravity under the scooter and tip it upright. Oh, what a mess. My beautiful scooter was now caked with mud on the right side, not to say anything about my feet and right hand. I did make it to the park, which was a very pretty forest but without a miserable teak tree, and successfully crossed the mire on the way back without mishap, but I felt the most stupid rider on the road (and many expressions of mirth from bystanders did nothing to improve my spirits).

Chiang Khong was nothing special, except perhaps that this is where I first encountered serious mountains and a road in the process of being reconstructed. The mountains are fabulously green, and under the rays of the sun they glimmered like emeralds. Rice is here replaced by corn as the main crop, but in the recent past these mountain valleys were big producers of Papaver somniferum, the opium poppy.

Chiang Saen, in contrast, turned out to be quite the precious jewel. First of all I met my old friend, the Mekong River! Yes, the same river that forms a delta at the latitude of Saigon is here an enormously wide river with a lively barge traffic, and no, it does not originate in Cambodia but in the south of Chine, and at this location forms the boundary between Thailand and Laos. I am really surprised that this enormous river does not take a shortcut to the Gulf of Thailand, but rather flows south parallel to the coast all the way to Saigon. I bet it is controlled by a tectonic rift, pretty much the way the Rhine River is in Germany. I need to research this idea further.

The second surprise is that Chiang Saen has a fair amount of history. Going back to the 7th century, the city was its own kingdom, which at various times pledged loyalty to the Thai state to the south or Burma to the south. Today you can see about half of the brick ramparts that protected the city, the moat, and foundations of temples or public buildings scattered throughout the town. The city has a small museum that I shall visit tomorrow, any number of temples (which I will not be visiting tomorrow), and a promenade along the Mekong that is a real treat. I had a delicious dinner of shiitake mushrooms and spicy fried catfish salad on a restaurant overlooking the river, pondering about the many stories this old river could tell.

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