Tuesday, 27 January 2009


Ancient capital of Siam

Phra Achana Mandapa

We pedalled past the white seated Buddha statues, each a moment of stationary meditation glimpsed amongst the trees. We had hired the bikes the previous evening from one of the many hire shops lining the approach road to the ancient city of Sukhothai. Paolo, our guest house owner, recommended the place. Visitors on old single-gear sit-up-and-beg bicycles cruise the roads that run through and around the ruins. Sukhothai is a delightful place for a bicycle ride, whether or not you're greatly interested in archaeology. The roads are predominantly level, the Historical Park is mostly woodland with large ponds that reflect the towering chedis or Buddha statues. Thai drivers are, on the whole, slow and courteous, though they have a tendency unusual to Sukhothai for announcing their approach behind you with a blast on the horn. Well-intended I'm sure but annoying after a short while. The site is spread out over a large area so bicycles really are the way to go. They make visiting all the main temples in the Historical Park easy to do in a day. There are also numerous temples beyond the original city walls, which form a rectangle 2km across, that require some form of transport to reach. Mopeds and mini-vans are other options but if you have the energy and fitness, bicycles allow you to take in the surrounding landscape and say hello to many people in passing.

Sukhothai Ceremony

We visited the Historical Park over five days, catching it in early morning and late afternoon light. The core of the Park are the temples and ponds that formed the very centre of ancient Sukhothai. Here are the remains of at least eleven of the grandest temples, many still hosting graceful Buddha statues, separated by tranquil ponds. The best-preserved is Wat Mahathat, a sprawling range of brick walls, columns, chedis and platforms set in a garden of trees and lawns. Mahathat was the spiritual heart of the city and would have held important relics of the Buddha under its spire-like chedi. Today, a large Buddha statue serenely sits in mediation at the front of the ruined temple hall and is still an important pilgrimage site. There are always offerings of candles, incense and flowers laid in front of his feet and, if you're lucky, you may see orange-robed and chanting monks leading a ceremony.


Two giant standing Buddhas flank either side of the chedi, their arms held out in supplication. Their robes are so finely made from limestone stucco that they seem to sway. Bridges and pathways radiate out from Matathat for you to explore the surrounding temples, each with its own character and distinctive Buddha image. One chedi is supported on a base of very patient elephants. There is enough to explore for at least a morning and if the heat becomes too much by mid-day there are plenty of fruit sellers under shady trees while the modern town with its cafes and restaurants is only a short distance away. It is worth hanging out in the Historical Park until sunset when you will find the Buddha images and temples are silhouetted against the rich oranges and blues of the sky. We had cloudless skies during our visit and while we missed out on the textured multi-hued skies that sun-lit clouds bring, even the gentle transition of a sky darkening from blue to black via bands of orange and red is a spectacle worth seeing.

Sukhothai Elephants

Sukhothai Sunset

Light of Buddha
One morning as I wandered to the west of Matathat, before the sun had risen above the trees, I stood entranced as clouds of white mist drifted languidly above the ponds. The whole world was white, pierced only by the vibrant purple of floating lotus blossoms. As the sun broke over the tree tops, the towering chedi of a temple beyond the pond glowed orange against a backdrop of still-dark woodland. The orange light seemed to slide down the chedi to engulf it and a white-stuccoed Buddha image until he shone bright amongst the pale land.  

Sunrise is a magical time of day elsewhere in Sukhothai. The following morning I cycled, shivering in the pre-dawn cold, to  Wat Saphan Hin set on a hilltop to the west of the city. The sun rises directly above the city and over a flat plain extending from the bottom of the hill to beyond the horizon. The morning I was there the sun rose as a solid orange globe in a cloudless sky. Here, the statue is of Buddha standing with his right arm extended and his hand facing out to greet the new day across the ancient city.

Hand Offering


I was only able to cycle out so early and to see so much because I chose to stay in Old Sukhothai. There are, confusingly, two towns by that name. New Sukhothai is a typical noisy, polluted Thai town 15km east of the old city and the main tourist centre for visitors to the ruins. Getting from New to Old Sukhothai involves negotiation a taxi ride or taking one of the infrequent buses. Either way, the journey is about 30 minutes. You do benefit from easier connections to the rail and bus stations if you're on a flying visit as well as a larger selection of guesthouses and restaurants to choose from. If you really want to immerse yourself in the ruins and have time to explore the different places without trying to fit them all into one day, then I'd recommend Old Sukhothai as the place to stay. The town lines two sides of the main road after it enters the original eastern gate of the city and has a choice of cafes and restaurants as well as a 7-Eleven and two budget backpacker guesthouses where you can find a room for as little as 150 baht. There is also a decent day market if you want to buy fresh fruit and veg, and a small night market with hot and cold food stalls. One new discovery we made was a little stall selling mugs of hot ginger tea over tofu. The road that heads north along the outside of the eastern  city wall has mid-range and up market guesthouses. We chose the Orchid Hibiscus because of the promise of bungalows set in a flower garden and an outdoor swimming pool. We weren't disappointed as you can read here.

Phra Achana

One of my favourite morning rides was to Wat Phra Achana, where the box-like brick and mortared Mandapa hall still shelters one of the most famous Buddha statues in Thailand. Here Buddha is shown in a popular pose, sitting in the half-lotus position with the fingers of his right hand extended to the ground in the act of subduing Mara. This notable scene from the life of Buddha represents the tim when Mara, a mythical being, tried to tempt Buddha with demons, monsters and storms out of his meditation. By touching the ground, the Buddha called up the Earth Goddess who drowned Mara and his demons. His right hand is covered in tiny squares of gold leaf placed there by worshippers honouring Buddha in hope of merit. I went so early that I had the temple to my self until the ground staff and security arrived. It wasn't until almost 10 O'Clock before the first major tour parties arrived to break the spell of tranquility. That was when I chose to leave, only to be swamped by hundreds of cycling Thai teenagers who peddled brightly coloured pink and yellow bicycles passed the ice cream seller without a pause, screeched to a halt at the end of the parking lot and proceeded to charge towards the Mandapa in a hail of shouts and laughter. At least one Sukhothai bicycle hire shop was clearly doing good business today. 

Golden Hand

Friday, 16 January 2009

Orchid Hibiscus, Sukhothai

Orchid Hibiscus Gardens

We have spent our six nights visiting Sukhothai Historical Park at the aptly named Orchid Hibiscus Guesthouse. Orchids and other flowers brighten the beautifully landscaped gardens within which the rooms and bungalows are set.

Orchid Hibiscus
In front of one of the rooms

Orchid Pool
Oval Orchid swimming pool

The OH is a bit of a price step-up for us at 800 baht for a double room, which is way more than our usual 200-300 baht on this trip. But is is worth it. The only guesthouse in Old Sukhothai below 1200 baht that has a pool. A decent-sized oval pool with lots of space for yoga at that. Most guesthouses are at New Sukhothai 15km away which is useless when you are getting up for the dawn light. By staying in Old Sukhothai we can both easily cycle to the ruins when we like. The gardens and pool are an ideal place to relax during the heat and flat light of the middle of the day. There are a couple of budget guesthouses in Old Sukhothai too, so if you want to see the ruins it is much more convenient to take a tuk-tuk from the bus station in New Sukhothai straight to the Old and find a place next to the Historical Park.

Paolo & Pinthong
Paolo & Pinthong

We certainly recommend OH to anyone on a mid-range budget. As well as the 800 baht doubles there are 1200 baht family bungalows. All are around and in a beautiful garden, the rooms are nicely decorated and the owners – Paolo and Pinthong – are incredibly friendly without being in your face. They lay on an expansive breakfast of eggs, toast, jam and marmalade and wild honey still in its comb and served on a bamboo stick. Breakfast can easily continue for an hour and is best eaten after an early visit to the ruins. You will need to cycle plenty to work it off. The service is impeccable – any question or problem immediately rectified without fuss. All the staff are friendly and efficient, even to the point of moving your drying washing into the sun if you forget. The garden is maintained every day and the whole place is immaculately clean. There are an outdoor jacuzzi for use at 300 baht a person, and a couple of chilling areas with bamboo hammocks and wooden benches. They also have mopeds to hire and recommend a bicycle hire place that will come and collect your bike the morning after you’ve finished with it so that you don’t have to think about returning it yourself.

Orchid Breakfast
Part of the Orchid breakfast

Orchid Jacuzzi
Outdoor jacuzzi
Go on, treat yourself if you plan to visit Sukhothai.

Saturday, 10 January 2009

Teak Town

Say a little Phrae for you

One in Four Buddhas
One of many Buddha images in a Phrae wat

We moved on south from Chiang Rai and the tranquillity of the Akha Hill House on Wednesday 7th January. Our next major destination was Sukhothai with the ruins of the 12th-15th century Thai capital. We decided not to bash on down the road in one 7 – 8 hour bus journey but to stopover midway at the small town of Phrae, pronounced Prayer. We were attracted to the guidebook description of a walled town comprising mostly traditional Thai teak houses, a scattering of historical wats and a place rarely visited by tourists. Phrae sounded like a town away from the main tourist hotspots that might give us an insight into normal Thai life. Another attraction was the promise of a vegetarian restaurant, which we decided we would head for as soon as we checked-in to our hotel. This was something of a departure for us because we rarely head for any guidebook listed restaurants, usually just wandering out to find a night market or street food stalls.

Another thing about the non-tourist towns is that they tend not to have backpacker or other visitor guesthouses which means the chance to stay in a normal hotel. We checked into the Paradorn, a typical Thai business hotel with dozens of rooms on three soulless corridors, because an ensuite room was going to be about 300 baht and they advertised free wifi. This is where I am now, having just skyped friends in UK over the din of the late night karaoke from the adjacent Japanese Steak House. The over-ampilifed hits of yesteryear and flat crooning of a group of Thais is a bit of s shock after the total nighttime peace and quiet of the Akha Hill House.

We have just reeled back to the hotel totally stuffed after going crazy in Yota Vegetarian Restaurant - complete vegetarian heaven – for the second night in a row. We couldn’t believe our eyes when we walked in to the restaurant on our the first to find a buffet of dishes that were all veggie versions of the many Thai dishes we have so often seen but not been able to eat in the night markets we’ve visited. They may still be talking about the greedy farangs who had two rice plates each piled with three dishes each, four big, fat spring rolls, and a serving of mock duck with hoisan sauce. I’ve only seen mock duck and mock chicken sliced and in tins but here it was displayed as large wads of the stuff, next to the mock beef, mock fish and mock hotdogs. Every dish we tried was absolutely delicious, and we must have got through 75% of what was on offer. We baulked at the latter and the mock tripe with boiled eggs in oily gravy. We left with full bellies and plans, happily fulfilled, for our return visit the next night.

In between stuffing ourselves at Yota’s we walked around compact Phrae for a day, calling in to all the old wats and a birthday-cake pink historical wooden house called Vongburi.

Light of Ages
A gable end glitters in the morning sun

The wats in Phrae are worth a day to visit. They are all traditional wooden temples with dark red painted columns, tiled roofs, beautiful glittering gold and coloured glass gable ends and golden Buddhas. Architecturally, they are northern Thai Lanna and Nan styles as well as Burmese and Lao. Northern Thai wats tend to go in for very elaborate yet graceful entrances. Like the old wats of Chiang Mai and Chiang Rai, each temple has its own personality. One very dark wat becomes brightly illuminated like a fairground organ in the late afternoon when the monk arrives to receive and bless evening observants. Another is a monk university and cagey groups of 20-something orange-robed monks can be found after classes hanging around the gates in groups and clouds of cigarette smoke or poring over manga comics.


Wednesday, 7 January 2009

Akha Hill House

A village guesthouse in the tribal mountains of north-east Thailand

Akha Hill House
Akha Hill House

The view from grew increasingly wild as Tao our driver wound the pick-up truck out of Chiang Rai, first skirting along the side of the surging Mae Kok River then climbing up a steep dirt road deep into the hills. Our destination was a tiny Akha hill village perched on the side of a hill 25km west of Chiang Rai. Here one of the villagers has managed a small guesthouse for 18 years. The Akha Hill House was the brainchild of Mr Apae; a way of bringing some much-needed income to an area that had traditionally earned a living growing opium poppies. The guesthouse was founded as a homestay at the same time that the Thai government was creating projects to substitute opium with other crops, such as tea and lychees. The business has flourished ever since, attracting backpackers, families and more affluent tourists from Thailand as well as abroad. It really is a guesthouse these days. If you arrive expecting to live and stay with a family, learning about their daily lives, then you will be disappointed. On the other hand, if you are looking for a peaceful mountain retreat that is the sole business of one Akha family and helps to cascade income to neighbouring families then the Hill House is unlikely to let you down.

Happy Mr Apae
A very happy Mr Apae

The road culminates in a series of tight bends through bamboo forests before threading its way past an oolong tea plantation where rows of dark-green low bushes march uphill in regular file. Delicate flowers the colour of fried eggs brighten the dark lustre of the leaves which are destined to be dried and exported to the tea-drinking markets of the world. A bamboo sign across the road proclaims our arrival at the Akha Hill House. To either side are slopes that descend down to narrow, forested gullies cut by mountain streams, the rush of water over boulders creating a musical score to the view back down the road we have come along. Bamboo, bananas, lychee bushes and natural forest shroud hills crowding in to either side of a long valley. A range of mountains forms the distant backdrop.

Akha Hill View
The view from our room with a view

Elevated bamboo and mud-brick bungalows, each with a terrace out front, are carefully placed to make the most of this tropical mountain view. You could picture the pandas chewing on young bamboo shoots, except this isn’t China and at only 1,500 metres above sea level it is probably too low for China’s iconic animal to bother itself with. As we discovered the next morning, the bungalows are also perfectly located to allow each guest to catch sunrise right from their bed if they are prepared to open the door. The more enthusiastic early risers can turn the mountain valley into the ideal foreground for stunning sunrise photographs.

Johun, an apprentice at Akha Hill House concentrates on his English

The guesthouse offers a free pick-up ride from Chiang Rai which arrives at about 5.30pm, so before the delights of sunrise there is the evening fire to enjoy. Guests and staff, foreign, Thai and Akha, gather around the fire to warm themselves against the freshening night chill and swap stories. Mr Apae employs a number of apprentices who are setting up their own homestays in other Akha villages and he encourages them to both improve their own English and teach some Thai with the foreign guests. We were soon learning about Akha culture and the attractions of the surrounding region as well as the Thai words for fire and wood. The apprentices also learn about community tourism through practical experience that includes leading tours and managing the restaurant. Johun is an enthusiastic 24 year-old plant sciences graduate who leads all-day walks where he describes agricultural and jungle plants. Later in 2009 he plans to open a small homestay in his village close to the Myanmar border and is currently working out how to create a website. It looks like he is keen to model himself on Mr Apae’s success.

The guesthouse offers a menu of typical Thai dishes sprinkled with a few Akha specialities such as banana tree soup and chilli paste in which to dip boiled vegetables. Staff and most guests make their way to bed by 10.00pm and then you are left to enjoy the chorus of the night sung by crickets, cicadas and frogs under the stars and moon.

Banana Flowering
A banana flower creates its fruit

Mr Apae provides a range of treks and activities, none of which are pushed or promoted to you while staying at the guesthouse. Should you wish to find out more, all you need to do is ask Mr Apae who will sit with you and go through what he has on offer. Most guests do one of two treks. One is a walk into the jungle to learn about jungle and local crops, try your hand at fishing in a stream, cook lunch in bamboo and visit a nearby waterfall that contains an impressive force of water even in the dry season. Another trip to an elephant camp, oolong tea plantation and hot springs can be done by a combination of foot, car and long-tail boat.

Strolling to the waterfall, just a 15 minute walk from the guesthouse

Sapan Span
The way to the waterfall

Trekking 7 months

Some guests do what we did, hang out on their terrace and wander around the local area. Over three days we slowly made our own way to the waterfall, tea plantation and hot springs, none of which were more than 5km away and all were accessible along well-maintained paths. We walked through forests of tall trees, stands of bamboo as well as plantations of bananas and lychee trees. On the way we wandered through the village, browsing handicraft shops set up by enterprising families and encouraged by Mr Apae, and a nearby Chinese village populated by descendents of the remnants of Chiang Kai-Shek’s Nationalists who fled China when the Communists took control in 1949. Here we found a small roadside vegetarian cafĂ© selling som tam, the ubiquitous Thai green papaya salad, and noodles with mushrooms and tofu. The owner was keen to teach us the Thai words for ingredients and different varieties of chilli condiments but I’m afraid we seem to have ultimately failed to pass our exams.

Som Tam
Making som tam

Oolong Plantation
Oolong tea plantation

We bumped into one group retuning from a tour and were invited to share oolong tea and cherry wine with them. Another day, a Sunday, while looking for the village shop, which was closed, we were invited to sample the local vodka by a friend of the shop owner as they drank away the afternoon. I also spent a relaxing hour or so in the guesthouse sauna during our last evening, warming myself to steam infused with blood vine, a very medicinal smelling local herb, which is pumped into a small bamboo and mud-brick hot room. Afterwards I enjoyed the subtle flavour of banana tree and coconut soup while frogs proclaimed their territories or sexual prowess in the gully below.

Pouring the local oolong

We spent three days, four nights at the Akha Hill House in a 350 baht bungalow with en-suite hot water shower and toilet. Rooms with shared bathrooms in the main building are available for 200 baht but you don’t get the stunning views. Bungalows go progressively upmarket to 1,500 baht VIP set-ups which come with TV, a strange necessity in such a tranquil setting. The free pick-up leaves Chiang Rai bus station at 4.30pm each day and can collect you from your hotel. It returns to Chiang Rai at 9.30am where Tao spends the day meeting foreigners arriving in the city by bus. A more delightful tout you couldn’t hope to meet. You can also get to the guest house along the river from either Chiang Rai or Chiang Mai. The boat pier is 5km from the guesthouse at the bottom of the steep dirt road but if you ring ahead they will collect you.

Hanging Loose
And the local puppies didn't wake up for much

Tuesday, 6 January 2009

Wat to do in Chiang Rai

On the trail of the temples of Chiang Rai

Door of Perception

The orange-robed monk greeted me in soft, measured English. He had just gently closed the massive, dark red teak doors of the temple behind him and carefully put on his sandals waiting for him on the steps. An umbrella hung by its handle from the crook of his left arm.

‘Where are you from?’

England I replied with a smile and short bow of the head to show respect.
‘Do you know the meaning of the doors?’

I didn’t and was glad of the opportunity to find out something about the history of Wat Phra Singh, the first of Chiang Rai’s five ancient temples I was planning to visit over the next two days. His voice was so calming that I quickly felt a feeling of tranquillity wash over me as he pointed to the four carvings of animals that towered above our heads. One door was decorated with a lion that represented fire and an elephant for earth. The other door bore mythical Buddhist creatures, a Garuda, which symbolised air and a many-headed serpent-like Naga that was water. All of these, the monk explained, form the four elements that are inside us all. He gestured that he had to go. 'Hope to see you again,' he said as he left.

Face of Buddha
One of Chiang Rai's many golden Buddha images

Chiang Rai is a historic city that lies in the far north-east of Thailand. It sits on the edge of a flat plain at the foothills of the mountain range that forms the border with Myanmar and Laos. As the mountains rise to the north-east there lies the infamous Golden Triangle where once most of the world’s opium poppies were grown by hill tribes. Now the poppies have all but gone, replaced with tea, lychees and others crops promoted by the Thai government and the UN.

Three Buddhas
Three Buddhas

We visited between Christmas and New Year, when it seems that nearly half of Bangkok has decamped on holiday to eat in the Night Bazaar and pray in the temples known in Thai as wats. There are five historic temples in the town, each with a wooden hall inside a square compound. Most Thais visit all of them over two or three days. To sit or stand in a temple, where everyone is welcome, is to watch the Thais combine tourism and devotion in one visit. Small family groups shake off their flip-flops, trainers and shoes at the door, approach the Buddha statue to pray on their knees then take photos of each other in front of the Buddha.

Wat's Inside
Wat Phra Singh

A monk given a blessing in Chiang Rai

Wat Phra Singh is known for its old doors and a statue of the Buddha in the style of the kings of Ayutthaya, the capital of Siam until the Burmese sacked it the 18th century. Nearby is Wat Phra Kaew, perhaps the most important of the city’s temples to Thais. It was here in 1434 that lightning struck the hall, splitting open the resident Buddha statue to reveal a smaller Buddha ornately carved from a single piece of jade. The original travelled across the region before settling in the main temple hall of the King in Bangkok. A replica on display in Wat Phra Kaew draws thousands of pilgrims every day. There is also an excellent museum that explains the symbolism and purpose of objects used in the temples such as trays, bowls and candlesticks as well as some of the temples’ architectural elements. The Buddha statues in main hall are unusual in being carved from burnished wood rather than golden.

Outside Wat Phra Kaew

Shadow Play

Wat Jet Yot is near the Night Bazaar and is really only notable for astrological paintings on its ceiling. Two wats are sat on top of two small hills to the west of the city; approached by paths lined by snaking dragon sculptures. Wat Ngam Meuang’s claim to fame is a shrine to King Mengrai, the 13th century monarch who founded Chiang Rai in 1262 AD to be his capital. His statue is garlanded with flowers and, somewhat unusually, small plastic toy elephants. A short walk along a quiet wooded road leads to the hilltop Wat Phrat That Doi Chom Thong which has a fine view of sunset across the distant hills and a very old chedi that locals claim as built in 940 AD despite Chiang Rai not being founded for another 300 years. It was fro this hill that King Mengrai surveyed the site for his new city.

King Mengrai
King Mengrai

Chiang View
The view from Wat Phrat That Doi Chom Thong

I returned to Wat Phra Singh twice but sadly I never saw the umbrella wielding soft-spoken monk again. What I did was to look at the temple doors with a deeper understanding, turning the ornate carvings from mere pretty decorations to symbols of Buddhism belief.


Sunday, 4 January 2009

Chian House, Chiang Rai

Chian House
Originally uploaded by Bill Bevan
Another guest house with a swimming pool. Though the colder mountain climate of Chiang Rai made a dip enticing for only a very brief time during the hottest time of the day.

Chian House wasn't in the usual rash of guide books last time we looked. It should be. For 200 baht you get a good size ensuite double room with hot shower and a large bed set in one of the buildings around a courtyard. The owner and staff are extremely friendly and helpful. As well as the transient guests, there is a decent population of ex-pats and Thais who often gather in a semi-private area each evening to chat. The food is cheap and plentiful, though the green curry was disappointingly bland. There are also an internet computer, bikes and mopeds to rent, a small library and a TV with cable for those in need of foreign language programmes.

The restaurant and pool area is a great place for a leisurely breakfast, afternoon rest with a book or an evening when you need to put your feet up rather than explore the excellent Chiang Rai Nigh Bazaar.

Changing Years in Chiang Rai

Spending time in the Night Bazaar

Thai Dance
Thai Dancers entertain the diners in the Night Bazaar

Chiang Rai is in many ways the Newcastle of Thailand. It is right up there in the far north-east corner, located on the bank of a major river with hills in the near distance. A chill wind blows from the north in the winter and a market is the main nightly drinking venue. There, the similarities end. The river was never a centre of shipbuilding, the chill wind brings down evening temperatures to maybe 12 or 15 degrees centigrade and the Night Bazaar is a far cry from the alcopop-strewn excesses of the Toon's Bigg Market. Thais and farangs flock to the Bazaar in their thousands but no one shouts, no one throws up on the pavement and there are absolutely no gangs of women teetering in high-heels and very little else.

Fried in Thai
One of the many food stalls in the Night Bazaar

John Muir
Dining out at the Night Bazaar

The Night Bazaar is, in fact, a place for culture and as well as shopping, drinking and eating, a sort-of refined Camden Market or small urban festival. The core of the market is a stage flanked on two sides by rows of small eateries selling everything from stir-fries, Thai curries and beer, to tempura, fish, Indian curries and fruit shakes. The eateries corral a vast open eating area of yellow tables and chairs that are almost all permanently inhabited by groups of young and old. Many have ceramic pots above charcoal burners full of dark liquids brought to their tables for them to dip pork, fish or vegetables. The stage reverberates to an ever-chaning though seemingly always over-amplified sequence of comperes, singers, musicians, dances, comedians and drag artists. Some Thais laugh along to the comperes and comedians - but not very often. We met John Muir, a friend from Sheffield, in Chiang Rai on the 30th December 2008. John had just flown in for a two-week holiday in Thailand and Laos. We checked out the Night Bazaar for food on our first night in the city. The day after we began celebrating New Year's Eve in the Bazaar too, beginning with fruit shakes before moving on to a restaurant for dinner. John then left on New Year's Day to go to Laos.

Moustache Squid Dish
Some of the evocatively named dishes on offer in the Night Bazaar

A somewhat Zen-like approach to food menus can be found in the Night Bazaar. The moustache is tiny squid roasts and The meatballs fries, enter the wood sound more like wise sayings of Confucius rather than a few dishes. I think it is the use of English grammar that evokes a philosophical nature. Perhaps the last dish on the menu actually translates as fried meatballs on a skewer?

Music Eyes
Chiang Rai Youth Orchestra

The stage is only one of three in the Night Bazaar. A little stage in a corner features perfomances by the Chiang Rai Youth Orchestra. A smaller stage in another open-air piazza hosts the same artists as the main stage on alternating rotation, so you can catch your favourites or not avoid the bad 'uns twice - depending on your luck. This stage features a decent restaurant under a wide-canopied tree, a beautiful setting though the food varies from good to average. Fortunately, a mad waiter sporting a mullet speaks very good English to facilitate ordering from the extensive menu.

All around are stalls selling. Clothes and handicrafts are the main items on sale. Whether it is the latest street fashion or second hand trousers, or the typical range of Thai handwoven textiles and multi-coloured tribal hats, the Night Bazaar has probably has something to tempt your wallet or purse. There is also a speciality green tea stall and one of the funkiest shoe shops I've seen. All-in-all, there is enough to keep you in the Nigh Bazaar for a couple of hours and to make it a regular nightly haunt.

Chiang Rai Market
Chiang Rai day market

Happy Marketeers
Happy Marketeers celebrate the end of the day shift

As well as visiting the Night Bazaar, we called in at a number of historical temples sprinkled through the town like golden fairy dust. More on these in another post. There is also a great day market for fresh fruit and veg, where we found a group of stallholders dancing and singing while packing up for the day on New Year's Eve. The annual Flower Festival was being held on Chiang Rai beach so we took one of the many long-tail boats that were ferrying people to the festival. We only had a short time because we were being picked up to go to the Akha Hill House later that day, so we concentrated on the displays of orchids having never seen so many in one place before.

Host of Purple Orchids
When we came across a host of purple orchids

Chiang Rai is a very attractive small city because it is one of the few major centres in Thailand which is fairly tranquil. The streets are pretty quiet away from the town centre and there is very little noise at night. The suburbs, what there are, are very lowrise and wooded, with some big old rainforest trees left marooned in gardens and roadsides. Overall, if you want ro find a laidback Thai town then Chiang Rai is worth checking out.

Expecting a Shower
Expecting A Shower