After finally getting myself to leave Pai I took a bus to Chiang Mai where I immediately hopped on another bus to Chiang Rai. I arrived Chiang Rai at around 9:30 in the evening and begun searching for a phone as I had contacted someone through CouchSurfing who'd possibly be able to host me. When searching for a phone I was approached by a Jewish man, Shalom, from Seattle, who'd been living in Chiang Rai for the past 12 years, and asked if he could interest me in staying at his hotel, The North Hotel. Well it wasn't really his hotel and he didn't technically work there, but he's friends with the owner and enjoys helping the staff. He can speak fluent Thai and the staff from the hotel doesn't speak English very well. I told him my situation and he kindly let me use the hotel's phone. Unfortunately the guy I contacted through CouchSurfing couldn't host me as he was already hosting two other people. Since CS was a no-go I decided I would take a look at the hotel. Even though the hotel was way out of my price range, I decided to book two nights and splurge a little bit. Well, I mean, it was splurging for "my" standards. The room cost $9-10 per night, which included air con, my own bathroom, a hot shower, free Internet, and had a real chill atmosphere. Shalom, like myself, really enjoys jazz music and played some Miles Davis for me upon request. He had a collection of jazz Cd's to choose from. It was great.
The next morning I took a bus to the beautiful Wat Rong Khun or White Temple (see pictures above). I had heard nothing but good things about this temple and was anxious to see it. I have to say, it was one of the coolest temples that I've seen--or the most trippy, at least. The mural inside the temple was spectacular. It's too bad that tourists aren't allowed to take pictures of it. It was a mural of the Buddha defeating his inner demons before he attained enlightenment. The mural contained images of Neo from the movie The Matrix, Superman, Darth Vader, images of war and the World Trade Center. Again, it was like nothing I'd seen before. It was an extremely unconventional Buddhist temple created by Chalermchai Kositpipat, a Thai visual artist.
That night I wandered through the night bazaar in Chiang Rai. In the middle of the bazaar there was a food court and a stage with live musical performances. After dinner in the bazaar I went back to my hotel where I watched the replay of the Manny Pacquiao/Joshua Clottey boxing fight that I'd missed a few nights ago. Score! Go Manny Pacquiao!
The following morning I walked to the bus station not knowing where I would be traveling to next. After I inquired where the line of buses were going I decided I would take the bus that left first, which happened to be Chiang Saen. So off to Chiang Saen I went...
Chiang Saen, land of the Golden Triangle, is a small, quiet city. The only reason worth visiting Chiang Saen is to see the Golden Triangle, located in Sop Ruak about 10 kms away. According to my Lonely Planet guidebook, Southeast Asia: On a Shoestring, "The three-country border between Thailand, Myanmar and Laos forms the legendary Golden Triangle, a mountainous frontier where the opium poppy was once an easy cash crop for the region's ethnic minorities."
When I arrived Chiang Saen I walked aimlessly looking for a place to stay. I'd remembered seeing an information center from the bus when approaching the city, so I decided to check it out. Unfortunately the woman working at the information center didn't speak English. Darn it! But just as I was walking out the door I ran into Joe. And Joe just so happened to own a hostel, called Tankun Hostel, which opened last week. He told me a bed would cost only 99 Baht per night and if I wanted to see the Golden Triangle I could rent a bicycle from him, costing only 80 baht for the day. Nice! So I hitched a ride with him on his motorbike back to the hostel. Again, it never fails how everything just seems to work out.
Once I got myself established at the hostel, I rented a bicycle and rode it to Sop Ruak about 10kms north to see the ''official'' Golden Triangle. The town of Sop Ruak was exactly what the guidebook said it would be: A tourist trap. But it was worth the bicycle ride there and to pose in front of the 'Welcome to the Golden Triangle' sign. It was neat to see Myanmar (Burma), Laos, and Thailand at the same time. I didn't stay long, just long enough to take my touristy pictures and to enjoy my snack while overlooking the river of the Golden Triangle. That was a sufficient amount of time to spend there.
Afterwards I rode my bicycle to a Buddhist monastery and checked out some of the surrounding temples. Back at the hostel I watched a movie, something I hadn't done in a long time, and hung out with three guys staying there--two of which were from Spain and the other was from Italy. The next morning the four of us guys traveled to Chiang Khong, a border town and launching point to enter Laos. There's really nothing going on in Chiang Khong, just somewhere to rest before entering Laos--which I was doing.
I was really anxious to travel Laos, as I'd heard nothing but good things from fellow backpackers who'd been there.
Yo, Laos, ready or not here I come!
Next stop: Luang Prabang, Laos