Dear TA Members:
I have had several private messages recently asking me about general things to do in Chiang Rai. After my 1 December trip to Chiang Rai I will find time to do some more specific suggested itineraries to place in the upper right column of our forum, but right now I just don't have the time. So, instead, I am reposting my trip report from July 2008 below, which should help some of you currently doing your planning.
I'll also do some posts while I am in Chiang Rai in early December.
Safe Travels my friends,
We spent 17 days in July in Thailand. This was our fourth trip in the past four years. This trip was myself and my husband (ages 50 and 59) my sister (47) and my 16 year old niece. I am pleased to report my 16 year old niece never had a moment of boredom and reported this was the most extraordinary and amazing experience ever!
I'll post the Chiang Rai and Chaing Mai portion here, and then post the Bangkok and Koh Samui portions on those forums. I'll divide this into sections so you can guide yourself to what might be of most interest to you, and will do it in a couple of posts.
I have traveled to many places in the world and used numerous guides, but none compare with our guide in Chaing Rai/Chaing Mai and the guide we have used in Bangkok. We have had other friends use them and they have agreed with our assessment.
Our guide in northern Thailand is from Chiang Rai but he also accompanied us to Chiang Mai. His name is Jermsak and his email is Jermsak_Cei@yahoo.co.th. His rate was 700 baht per day. He is a genuine, extremely honest, sincere, kind, knowledgeable, professional and gracious tour guide. We never had to worry about being taken places where he received a commission. This was our second time using him and we could not have been more pleased. He arranged everything I asked him to and took us everywhere we wanted to go. Jermsak was raised in a Hilltribe outside of Chiang Rai and knows the area of the Golden Triangle, Chinag Rai and Chiang Mai very well. He did anything and everything he could to make sure we had superior service and enjoyed our stay. He speaks great English, is 39 years old and has been a tour guide about 15 years. I wish I could have someone like him on every trip we take.
Our driver was Mr. Bai. He doesn't have an email but we arranged for his services through Jermsak. He does have a phone number if anyone is interested, you can email me for that. He had a large airconditioned, new and extremely clean van. He was a great driver, spoke some moderate English, and waited on us hand and foot. His rate is 1,600 to 1,800 baht per day and you pay the fuel. He always had drinks (beer, soda, water) and cold towels ready for us.
These two gentleman would often pick us up at 8 a.m. and drive us around until way into the evening.
For those of you going to Anantara, Mr. Bai charges 1,200 baht to drive from the Chiang Rai airport to Anantara and that includes fuel. It is a much better deal than having Anantara pick you up.
If you contact Jermsak, tell him "Judy and Dale" sent you.
I will post separate reviews for our hotels. We stayed at De Naga in Chiang Mai and Anantara in the Golden Triangle. This was our second stay at Anantara and our first at De Naga. I'd stay at both again. Anantara is a bit expensive but we had great service. De Naga has a few kinks to work out, but overall is very good value for the price. De Naga was 2,600 baht per night for the premier deluxe room and 2,900 baht per night for the grand deluxe.
CHIANG RAI/SOB RUAK ACTIVITIES
We flew into Chiang Rai and drove to Anantara in Sob Ruak. We took the boat ride over from Sob Ruak, and crossed the Mekong River to the little market on the other side of the river, in Laos. The market is nothing spectacular, excpet that it is worthwhile for buying Laotian weave scarves if you aren't going to be visiting Laos. The boat ride over though is kind of fun.
We went to an orphanage outside of Chiang Rai, which does not have any government funding or an official sponser. We had specifically asked Jermsak to try to find such a place for us. This orphanage is a Mom and Dad and their 2 year old child who have taken in 16 orphans. We spent the morning there and it was wonderful. The children did some musical performances, we passed out used clothing we had brought with us and gave new toothbrushes and toothpaste to all of the children. An amazing morning. We had to leave our van on the road and ride about 10 minutes up to the orphanage as the road was dirt and too full of pot holes for the van to make it up. The dad from the orphanage came to pick us up in is truck. This type of adventure gives you a taste of the real cultural life of people who live outside the tourist area. The orphanage is called "El Shadai for Hill Tribe Project." My 16 year old niece was really moved by this experience (as we all were)and a couple of the girls in the orphanage were here age.
We took a lovely boat ride down the Mae Kok river, starting near Chiang Rai, for about an hour to go Elephant riding at Ruammit. It was just us and our guide on the boat, as we had requested. We prefer elephant riding here as you truly go through the jungle and the elephant camp is run by the local villagers. There are no "elephant tricks" and you aren't with a big group of people going on the ride. We had two elephants for four of us and rode for about 90 minutes, through streams, up and down steep hills, etc. This is a "short neck" christian Karen tribe that runs the camp.
Jermsak arranged for us to eat at a "jungle" restaurant. It was a unique experience and definitely one I would recommend. It was only a mile or so from where the elephant ride ended and was a little out door thatched hut with picnic tables and one woman who did the cooking in an open air type of hut. We had 4-5 different dishes and they were great. We were the only customers that day and were given spectacular service.
Jermsak, our guide, also ran through the jungle carrying our cameras in order to get pictures of us while we were riding elephants.
There is a Lao tribe that sells some hand made cross stitched scarves near the village in Raummit and we bought some of these, which I find lovely.
We went to the night market in Chiang Rai and really enjoyed it. We've been to night markets in Chiang Mai, Bangkok, Luang Prabang etc., and I found this one very nice. It was small enough to be able to experince a lot and not so crowded as Chiang Mai. I found a great little shop selling rosewood items, with a lovely woman who had this shop for 7 years. Her prices were very good.
We had massages in Chiang Rai for 200 baht for a one hour oil massage and 200 baht for a one hour foot massage.
Outside of Sob Ruak, we went to a school (we asked to visit schools and orphanages) and took a vehicle for about 30 minutes up a very steep dirt road with huge pot holes. Our vehicle was a tractor motor attached to a small truck like vehicle with benches in the back. We were there in the rainy season and it had rained, so the water was rising into the truck's motor and we were all "cheering" on the motor to make it through as it sputtered away. It was a really fun experience.
This school is located at the golden triangle area and is near the late princess mother's development project, which she started when she began her push to rid the area of illegal opium production. We gave all of these children (90 students) toothbrushes and toothpaste and clothes. My sister, who is a speech pathologist in a U.S. school, was astounded by how polite all the children were. The school council president, a young girl of about 13, gave a little speech thanking us. It was in Thai but was interpreted for us. I thought it was very brave of her to do.
We stopped at another restaurant on the way down that was great. It was probably the best meal we had. Again it was an open air type of restaurant, where our chicken was grilled between two sticks over a fire. The restaurant also has an "art exhibit" which is a small building with some local artist water colors and some unique T-Shirts that have Akha beading sewn along the neckline. The water colors were about 13 x 18 and were 300 baht and extremely well done. The beaded t-shirts, which were nice women's t-shirts, were 200 baht. The owner of the restaurant was a former tour guide in Chiang Rai.
We went to the small opium museum in the town of Sob Ruak and also the large opium museum in Sob Ruak, that is right across the street from Anantara. It was an amazing museum. It is extremely interactive and well done. None of us thought we would enjoy spending much time at a museum, but we all were impressed. It takes at least two hours to see it.
We spent a day at the pool in Anantara and it was glorious. We did splurge and have massages one evening at Anantara, but it is expensive but a very nice atmosphere.
MASSAGES, TAXIS AND RESTAURANTS IN SOB RUAK
I have seen many posts on trip advisors that talk about being "stuck" with the high prices of the restaurants and spa and drinks at Anantara because it is hard to walk back up the hill on the curvy road at night after dark and there being no taxi service. This was also our experience in 2006. Anantara will pick you up in Sob Ruak but it is very expensive.
This time we found that a small little massage place had opened on the main drag in Sob Ruak, right at the bottom of the hill that goes up to Anantara. The foot massages were 150 baht and the full body massage (oil) was 300 baht. They weren't the quality that Anantara has, but if you don't want to spend 2,700 baht for an oil massage or 1,800 baht for a foot massage at Anantara, its a nice alternative. I prefer to have daily foot massages when traveling in Thailand so I can't do the Anantara ones on a daily basis due to cost.
We had dinner at the restaurant that was across the street from the massage place, right at the bottom of the hill from Anantara, overlooking the Mekong river, and it cost us $9 per person for our main course, two glasses of wine each and ice cream for dessert. Main courses averaged 80 to 120 baht. A much better deal than Anantara. Anantara has a fabulous breakfast buffet but their restaurants are very pricey. We did eat there our first night as we were tired and arrived late, but the cost was twice the cost in town and the food wasn't as good (we had ordered Thai food at Anantara).
It was raining when we left the restaurant in Sob Ruak so we asked the waiter if there was any way we could find taxi service. Five minutes later a very nice man arrived with his car and took us to Anantara. The price was a total of 100 baht for the four of us ($3). His name was Aree and his wife owns the massage place across the street. The vehicle does not look like a taxi, just an ordinary car (very clean) but you can use his services by contacting the restaurant or the massage place.
I had requested in advance that Jermsak try to arrange to take us into Burma, beyond the border town. It took a fair amount of work but he did arrange for us to go on tuk tuks, about 30 km outside of the border town in Burma. It was a fascinating experience. We went into a small village where the village chief came out to meet us. The village chief took us to the village school, which was surrounded by barb wire. The school had 60 children and we left a donation, clothes, toothbrushes and toothpaste. We also visited some Akha Hilltribes in this area.
The ride in the countryside of Burma was beautiful. It is such a pretty country. We were amazed by how welcoming and friendly the villagers were to us. The village chief even invited us into his thatched roof home for tea. However, the jugs in which the tea was kept, didn't look like something we should drink from (there was no running water or electricity in the village). My husband, being the brave man he is, did drink some of the tea to be polite. My sister was grateful my husband drank it as wse didn't want to be rude but didn't think we were that brave. Don't worry, hubby did not get sick.
It did become apparent to me that while in the countryside of Burma, we were "the attraction" as it was quite obvious that many of these Burmese villagers outside the town had not had much, if any, contact with caucasions. They all waved and smiled at us as we left the village.
The only way to reach the village we went to is by Tuk Tuk, as it is off the main road and on a very bumpy, narrow dirt road.
Do be aware that even if you just want to go into the border town in Burma, crossing over from Mai Sai, Thailand, you have to surrender your passport to the Burmese government when you go in. You must be out by 6 p.m. and the military return your passport when you come out of the country.
We did some shopping in the border town, as it is always a good place to get locally made jewelry, knock off purses etc., and is much cheaper than if you buy the same thing in Chiang Rai or Chaing Mai. I bought a lot (25 or so) necklaces for 45 and 60 baht, and lacquer ware for 180 baht for the trays and 90 baht for the set of 6 coasters in the laquer container. This was our second trip into Burma but we hadn't previously went outside the border town.
We were in Chiang Rai, Sob Ruak and Chaing Mai in mid July. We had some rain in the late afternoons, generally from about 4 to 6 p.m. The days were perfect. Both hotels provided unbrellas. It was not too hot and we usually had a little cloud cover. I'd definitely travel again in the "rainy season."
Happy and adventurous travels to you all.