Thursday, February 07, 2008

New Year's Eve in Chiang Rai

Chiang Rai was a haven away from tourist central, so we thought. Unfortunately, it wasn't so much that way at all. Sitting from our dinner restaurant the night before, you couldn't tell at all if we were in Thailand or a Western country from the stores in our view. All of English or American backgrounds. Ah, well. It provided us for decent shopping for things we needed for our upcoming hike. It was New Year's Eve this day and a bit cooler than Chiang Mai since we were even more northern. This day was pretty much a temple day for us. The temple you see below was nearby our guesthouse. Not even sure of the name of it but just went in for a quick glance.

The main goal of our day was to get to this one temple that was recommended to us by the tour guide we booked with the night before. It is called Wat Rong Khun and was out of central Chiang Rai. We went to the marketplace and somehow bartered with the songthaew drivers without any English on where we wanted to go and for a decent price. It was probably about 20 minutes out of Chiang Rai using a songthaew. It's pretty much the main transportation used in Thailand. In Chiang Rai, they were a regular truck and in the back, there's a roof and two benches where the customers sit facing each other. You tell the driver where you want to go and negotiate a price. So, you cram as many people as you can, sometimes 15 people in the back of these trucks and all going separate directions.

Wat Rong Khun temple was phenomenal, my most favorite temple by far. In case you haven't noticed yet, in Thailand, all the temples are glittery gold. Wat Rong Khun was completely white set atop lush, green grass and with the bluest skies that day. According to wikipedia, the white color stands for the Lord Buddha’s purity; the white glass stands for the Lord Buddha’s wisdom that shines brightly all over the earth and the universe.

The place was just brimming with people. As it's new, only just recently constructed - it's not mentioned in guide books yet. In fact, it's not even completely finished. So shockingly, we were the only people there that weren't Thai. When approaching to go to the main temple, you have to cross a bridge. The bridge represents the crossing over from the cycle of rebirth to the Abode of Buddha. The small semicircle before the bridge stands for the human world. The big circle with fangs is the mouth of Rama or Rahu, meaning impurities in the mind, a representation of hell or suffering. The bridge isn't there to protect you from water, but rather from hundreds of hands reaching out at you. Each hand is uniquely different. Some fingers are regular, some are like alien, some have crazy nails, some have amphibian like hands, one nail had nail polish, one hand was giving me the middle finger, no two were the same. We walked through the temple twice to get a good feel for it. I still remember it very clearly over a month later.
Getting back to Chiang Rai from the temple was a bit more difficult than getting to the temple. We were hoping to catch another Songthaew but weren't really sure where to find one. We decided just to start walking and flag one down. We reached the main strip of road, somewhat like a highway and we still hadn't seen one. Ok, we thought, the walk won't be that bad. Walking, walking, walking...sweet a Chiang Rai sign! Shit, 13 kilometers. Nothing to do but keep walking - 3 bicyclists pulled up besides us and starting speaking to us in Thai. I said back to them Chiang Rai because I figured they were asking why the hell we were walking there. Since we couldn't communicate they just keep going on. Finally, we saw one of these Songthaews coming down the road, we flagged it down and hopped in. Thank goodness. About 4 minutes later, we passed those bicyclists and I waved goodbye to let them know we'd get to Chiang Rai okay.

The next place we went to was the Hill tribe museum and Education Center. I don't even know where to start on about Hill Tribes in Thailand, it's a topic that I am actually researching right now for my adult advanced class. Basically, in a nutshell - there are 6 predominant groups of hill tribes that reside in mainly Northern Thailand. They have emigrated from Myanmar/Burma, Laos and Southern bits of China to escape persecution for one reason or another. Here they reside in Thailand for hundreds of years, moving from one area to another once they run out of good land to grow crops on/live on. These people have no money, no schools, no health care, no rights as humans. Some are trying to wait their time out until human rights workers can get them to developed countries as war refugees to set up a new life. There are all sorts of issues that have arisen with these people. The Hill Tribe museum high-lited not only their cultures and history but about several controversial issues. I'll leave that for another day as well. Maybe, I'll post up here on what I end up writing for my adult class because we'll be talking about all the controversial bits. Strangely enough, since returning from Thailand, one of the main issues has been written about on the BBC.

Here are the links, if you're interested in this topic:

A video report on it

The written report

I promise, I'll post up my report on it in the next week for further information. The museum really affected me, it was so informational and one of the best things I did in Thailand. I hate being 24 and feeling so ignorant about topics. This is one of those topics that I wish I had known more about prior to my trip. The museum was really eye-opening and pretty amazing. We must have spent about 2 hours there before leaving.

The last place we went to on this day was a temple called Doi Tong - which was placed high up on a hill. We read that it was supposed to offer amazing sunset views - but that was a bit of lie. You couldn't really see much because the trees were too high. It would have been beautiful had we been able to see it. We got to see some of the landscaping through openings and it was spectacular.
Doi Tong is described as a phallic Stonehenge up on the hill. It's supposed to be the Buddhist layout of the universe. The biggest penis was made to represent Mount Sineru, the axis of the universe, while the series of other smaller penises and moats and pillars are to represent the heavens and the earth, the great oceans and rivers and the major features of the universe. I think you need a really phenomenal imagination to be able to see all that, but that's how the story goes.

So, yea, today was New Year's Eve. We started it out at a restaurant that had live dancing and music.
But we actually rang the New Year's in at the Tee Pee bar with a bunch of Australians and their tour guide. The bartender was absolutely insane, he didn't ever speak - he only screamed. He took your order in an Ozzy Osbourne type of way...screaming. HOW CAN I HELP YOU? THAT'S TWENTY BAHT! HELLO! and all the while screaming along with the music that he chose to play...which also involved screaming. If I were friends with him, I'd nickname him SCREAMER. The bartender and tour guide put together a beer bong for us. So, I did my first beer bong in like 4 years that night....Ruth did one and so did some of the Aussie's.
For the countdown, we all made a circle around a table and put our arms around each other and counted down and screamed HAPPY NEW YEAR! It's not such a big deal in Thailand because they don't really celebrate New Year's Eve as December 31st like we do in Western countries. So for being in small Chiang Rai, if we wanted to celebrate it, we needed to celebrate it with other Westerners. It was a lot of fun though. The night ended when one of the Aussie's started throwing up all over the place and Ruth and I decided since we had to wake up early to go hiking it should be time to go.