Friday, April 30, 2010

More Chiang Rai

Chiang Rai
Chiang Rai Clock Tower

We took the bus to Chiang Rai from Chiang Mai* on Tuesday.

*Though they are spelled the same, I want to pronounce Chiang Mai-Chang My and I want to pronounce Chiang Rai-Chang Ray. I am not sure why.

We were met at the bus stop by Jake, the linguist I mentioned earlier. Back when Cale and I were planning our trip, I had asked our facebook friends if they had JE vaccinations before traveling to Southeast Asia. Our friend Joel (who we met in Orlando, but is from Alabama) recommended I become friends with some of his friends on facebook. So I did. One of those friends, Cheryl, went to school in Alabama with Jake, who is now a PhD candidate from the University of Hawaii currently in Chiang Rai working with the Akha hill tribe.

Jake dropped us off at a guest house where we made the mistake of paying for a room before seeing it. Apparently, the new air-con building is quite nice. However, we had requested a fan room, which appears to be in older, neglected buildings. It felt a little like a flop house. We immediately went for a walk and found another guest house. I highly recommend the Baan Bua to anyone in Chiang Rai. We had to just abandon the 200B we paid at the first place and paid another 250B at the new place, but it was worth it to not stay the night at the first one.

We immediately set to finding food, as we had not really eaten yet that day and it was now approaching 5pm. We wandered the streets aimlessly hoping to find some street food, but ended up at The Old Dutch. I think the name says enough about the prices and the food. Later we learned we just hadn't wandered to the correct places and had been in the more heavily tourist and expat area the entire time.

We met Jake for drinks that night. His work is pretty fascinating. He is working with the Ahka shaman to record their religious texts, which are currently only oral and only known by an increasingly shrinking number of shaman. After recording they are transcribing into Akha and then into English. When they are finished, they will publish the work.

From Jake we learned a little about the situation for the hill tribe people in Thailand. Apparently all the bordering countries refuse to claim the tribes as citizens and so most of the people are undocumented and without social services. Also, with out ID cards they cannot travel within Thailand. Even some with ID cards are not free to travel. Jake has friends with pink cards who cannot leave Chiang Rai. If she was to visit Chiang Mai (for example) she could be deported to any one of the bordering countries (that she isn't from) where in turn to she could be deported from that country to one that borders it. Later, when we traveled by bus from Chiang Rai to Tak we saw how the buses have to stop at each province border (within Thailand) and passengers have to show their ID cards. Special attention was paid to the three hill tribe kids that were sharing two seats on the bus. Each time the cops spent more time with them than other passengers and looked through their bags.

Courtesy of

Additionally, many of the popular hill tribe villages listed on tours are not true villages, but what other hill tribe people refer to as people zoos. In particular there are no Long-Neck Karens natively living in Thailand. Instead the people living in these villages are been imported from Burma for the sole purpose of being a tourist attraction. Because the women are what the tourists want to see there are few men in the villages. The women spend all day being on display and making and selling handicraft souvenirs. Furthermore, they cannot leave as they do not have ID cards and they cannot remove their neck rings as that is what makes them the tourist attraction in the first place.

Wednesday we wandered around the city of Chiang Rai and I started to want to tear my eyeballs out. I had just spent the last several days wandering around Chiang Mai and here I was wandering around Chiang Rai. It was the same stuff all over again. 7-Elevens, jewelry stores, shops and shops and more shops. At some point, walking aimlessly past yet another 7-Eleven in the oppressive mid-day heat, I turned to Cale. "We have to get out of the city! I want to go to Siem Reap now."

Cale agreed to leave after his cooking class (which he arranged for the next day) and we even went so far as to look into some of the organized tours into the area around Chiang Rai. They all included hill tribe villages (which I didn't really want to do) but they also included hikes and elephants and such. Of course, they also came with price tags of more than 2,000B per person. It seems that it is hard to find ways to do fun things in heavily tourist areas without joining some sort of tour group (especially when you don't know the language) because you cannot find information for anything else.

Luckily, we had met a Peace Corps volunteer in Chiang Mai who lived in a village in Tak. He had offered that we could stay with him as long as we like. So we called Mike up and organized to go stay with him instead. It would be outside the city. Hopefully there wouldn't even be any 7-Elevens. Cale took the cooking class on Thursday. On Friday we failed to see the White Temple by arriving just as it was closing. Saturday we left in the morning for Tak.

— Sara

Up next: Being in a wedding in Tak, morning announcements and adventures in border crossing. I am still about a week behind in my blogging.

More images from Chiang Rai here.

1 comment:

Savali Lemu said...

Jeez what a crappy life to exist only as a tourist attraction. I suppose it could always be worse.