Jan 192016

Pua has been relaxing, but it’s time to move on. Since our vans are so heavily laden, we’ll take the lower of two mountain routes, which nevertheless will be a strain on the engines as well as our stomachs. On our way to Chiang Rai, we will detour to the little town of Chiang Kham to visit a picturesque temple before settling in at our big city lodging for a night.

Map of the road from Pua to Chiang RaiOne last run through the Oopkaew Resort’s breakfast buffet, one last stop for fancy coffees at a gas station, and we were on the road. We reached Chiang Kham around 12:30, which meant we had to have lunch immediately. It’s difficult to appreciate art and architecture on a growling stomach. A simple roadside shophouse offered chicken over rice (rice cooked with chicken fat), crispy pork over rice with a red gravy, red-cooked pork over rice with a red gravy, and stewed pork leg over rice. I ordered the red-cooked pork, which is somewhat similar to Cantonese-style BBQ pork, but less colorful and very tender, and sampled the crispy pork. Both were good.

Thus fueled, we walked down a side street to Wat Nan Taram, a Shan-style (Burmese-style) temple centered around a large and elaborately ornamented teak building. Even before we reached the gate, we heard a loud buzz like a swarm of angry bees. It turned out to be a drone, a Phantom quadcopter similar to mine, and we eventually found the operator standing near a hedge with a monk behind him (supervising?). All seemed to go well until the craft was about 1 foot off the ground and he accidentally flew it into a wall, causing it to flip and grind its propellers into the pavement. Having done something like this myself, I know how painful it is. But it was time to turn our attention to the temple itself.

We ascended the stairs and admired the Shan-style Buddha image. As our heavy bodies caused every board to creak, we were easily heard wandering the museum-like rooms, filled with a mix of statues, bells, photos, and seemingly random knick-knacks. It was as though decades ago someone donated for a garage sale but no one bought. Elsewhere on the grounds there was a naga fountain and what seemed to be a shrine to Guanyin, the Goddess of Mercy. Something for everyone.

As we made our way to Chiang Rai, we detoured to a popular attraction ringed with tour vans and flooded with European and Asian visitors. Well-known artist Chaloemchai Kositpipat has transformed an ordinary temple, Wat Rong Khun, into an ornate artwork depicting a journey from hell to heaven, although, it’s highly surrealistic so the borderline is not so clear (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wat_Rong_Khun). It’s difficult to get good photos here, and inevitably they contain other people, but at least I got a clean shot of the men’s room uninals on a wall of glittering tiles. On the side, there is a legitimate museum showing the artist’s evolution from school age drawings through numerous different media. We didn’t have time to view the whole thing, but ironically it’s much more contemplative than the temple building itself. And of course, there is a gift shop.

Back on the road, the traffic thickened and slowed. It was nearly as bad as Bangkok. By the time we pulled in at Tanya Inn and got our keys, it was nearly 5:00. I probably imbibed a little too heavily at happy hour, but with actually good tasting scotch (Johnny Walker Black), I didn’t want to add ice, water, or soda to my glass. I’ll have to figure out how to manage a little better tomorrow.

For dinner we slogged through traffic to a riverside restaurant with live music — perhaps a guy singing along with a karaoke system, since no musicians were visible. The food was generally okay, but some dishes were way off. I don’t have real-time notes of the dishes, so in some cases, I am just guessing as to what is shown in these photos…

I have to turn in early tonight. Tomorrow morning we’ll leave Chiang Rai to visit the Doi Tung project, and then venture to Mae Salong. There’s a serious risk of loss of mobile internet access in the mountains, but I’ve got my fingers crossed that I can mostly stay in touch.

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