It was actually sunny when I left the hostel. Something…
At least not if you’re staying in Chiang Mai…
I had been in Chiang Mai for a couple of days and had seen the Chiang Rai day trip advertised everywhere. It included a visit to a hot spring, the White Temple, the Golden Triangle and a Long-neck tribe. At only 800baht it seemed like good value. Unfortunately the tour description only featured dot points of the stops. The two that caught my eye were the hot spring and the white temple. I hadn’t been to any other temples in Thailand but this one was meant to be stunning and who could say no to a soak in a hot spring? Well the reality didn’t live up to the expectation. I was picked up at the hostel early. It wasn’t until our guide started describing the tour that I realised how different this would be to what I had imagined. Our first stop was to be the hot springs. An hour and a half drive away and then onto the White Temple which was another hour and a half from there. As she went through the list I finally realised what I had paid for. An entire day on a cramped mini bus with only maybe half an hour at each stop. It was going to be a very long day.
The disappointment continued as we approached the hot spring. Our guide told us we would only be stopping here for about 10 minutes. Just long enough to get a drink and maybe a couple of photos. Hang on. How could we only stop for 10 minutes? Another member of the group asked the question I had been thinking “Can we swim in the hot spring?”. Our guide laughed and said no. The water is almost boiling, the locals use it to boil eggs. When the van pulled up beside it we saw a small steaming pond. It wasn’t what I had been expecting at all. I had even worn my swimsuit under my clothes. I felt a bit miffed. Honestly, they should not even advertise this as part of the tour. What we thought was going to be a highlight of the day turned out to be a toilet and snack stop.
We were packed back into the van for another hour and a half drive to the white temple. I thought that at least this would be good. This was something I wanted to see. As we walked along the path to the temple our guide told us that we would have half and hour before we needed to meet back at the bus. Only half an hour. This wouldn’t have been so bad if it hadn’t been so busy. I’m pretty sure there was about a thousand people there and our guide told us it wasn’t even very busy yet! I tried to get a few photos but you had to fight for a good spot. I walked through the temple and felt like we were all cattle being herded through as fast as possible. The temple is beautiful, don’t get me wrong, but I didn’t find it worth the visit at all. I got the sense that it had been built purely as a tourist trap. This was reinforced by the presence of a gift shop selling white temple memorabilia inside the complex. I don’t think it’s possible to actually pray or practice a religious ritual when thousands of tourists are filing past you either. Perhaps if I had visited during low season and/or early in the morning I would have felt differently but as a part of that tour it was awful.
Our next stop was the golden triangle about two hours away. The Golden Triangle is where Thailand, Myanmar and Laos meet. They are separated by the Mekong River. There we would go for a short boat ride along the river. But, it wasn’t included in the price of the tour so I had to pay another 330baht for the privilege. About the only redeeming quality that boat ride had was that you got to step foot into Laos and get a souvenir paper with the Laos entry stamp on it. I much preferred the trip up to the viewpoint to see the Golden Triangle from above. That wasn’t originally part of the tour but we got to choose between that and driving to the border with Myanmar to see a market and since it was going to add on at least an extra hour to the trip we unanimously voted against it. Our guide told us that as it was we wouldn’t be getting back to Chiang Mai until about nine o’clock that night because it was a five hour drive back from the last stop.
After lunch our last stop would be visiting a Long-neck tribe. This wasn’t included in the price of the tour either and after listening to the way our guide spoke about these people I decided I didn’t want to pay the extra to be a part of it. I don’t think I have ever felt so uncomfortable. Outside the entry to the Long-neck village there were a few hill tribe people wearing traditional dress. Our guide referred to them in such a dehumanising way. They may as well have been mannequins. I don’t know how they stand tourists coming in to gawk at them and take photos of them. They must feel like animals in a zoo. I waited by the bus until the rest of the group returned. Then it was the long journey back to Chiang Mai.
This was one of the few times where I really felt like I had wasted my time and money. I would not recommend doing the Chiang Rai day trip. I spent a good 10 hours on a mini bus that day and the stops were not worth the discomfort of those cramped seats. If you really want to see any of those places then perhaps stay in Chiang Rai itself for a few days.