Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Chiang Rai - land of a thousand smiles... or a thousand tourists

So for a bit, I thought Chiang Rai wasn’t too touristy. I had just arrived by bus from Chiang Mai, passing some gorgeous temples and beautiful scenery along the way. I found a nice, isolated guesthouse (Ya House), where I got a second floor bungalow seemingly entirely made of straw and bamboo and offering the prospect of hot showers. After settling in, I made my way down to the river and came across several wats along the way, where the monks were just performing the final ceremony to close down for the evening. One of the temples had a pretty green backlight illuminating the emerald Buddha inside. Returning from the river, I walked past a nice night market and grabbed some duck-rice for dinner at a street corner. Nearby, the ornate, golden clock tower glimmered in the early evening light.

At that time, I preferred Chiang Rai to Chiang Mai. Tourists were few and far between. There was a lively night life removed from the lady bars and nightclubs on the main strip in Chiang Mai, and street food was common. I took my chance and continued on to the reportedly “tourist-centered” Night Bazaar. At first, it seemed fine. A wide variety of stalls and venders, similar to the night bazaar in Chiang Mai, flood the streets. There were also two stages for performances. One being worrisome, given that it had “Night Bazaar” in Thai, English and French (a warning if there ever is one). The first few acts were fine. A couple musicians, a dance, and then a group of pretty Thai woman took the stage, dressed in fancy, flowery outfits, then began to dance and lip-synch to a song… in English, about Thailand being the land of smiles and where all your dreams come true. So much for my illusions about it not being too touristy.

After the song, I made my way back to my bungalow. In all though, I really liked Chiang Rai. While the night bazaar is very touristy centered, it’s quite easy to get away from it to a decent day market and night market, which still seem to be focused on the locals and haven’t been inundated with Western tourists. Many of the wats in Chiang Rai are also quite pretty, and I preferred some of them to even the best that Chiang Mai had to offer. The new White Temple in particular was amazing.

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