A travel journal
to Thailand by SeenThat
Quote: Few places have such a potential to stir our imagination: dense jungles; wide, low-flowing rivers; soft light through green branches; opium smugglers; and Burmese pagodas. Reality is different nowadays: the jungle gave way to an opium museum and boats take you to a tourist market in Laos.
If you wish to cross to Laos in this area, the only open option is from Chiang Khon, the first town south from Chiang Saen. A truck doing the 53km way costs 30 baht and leaves at 7:30am from the post office in Chiang Saen. In such a way, you will reach the town of Huay Xai, which resembles more of a Thai town than a Lao one. From there you can continue through the Laotian stretch of the Mekong south or east through a terrible dirt road to Luang Namtha.
Kong Ne Restaurant is located in front of Top Charoen Optical, close to the terminal, and serves Khao Kriab Paak Moh, an exceptional local dish that I could not spot elsewhere. Thai dishes names usually refer to their method of preparation and their main ingredients. In this case, it means steamed rice butter with pork filling. From afar, it reminds a common dumpling, but a closer look will excite all your senses. The perceptibly thin coating looks liquid -- I wondered which kind of force held the structure together -- and has a weak bluish hue, a fragile, liquid blue with the emotional strength of an electric one. The product is appealingly prepared in front of your eyes over two bowls, with boiling water working in parallel. One of the bowls is covered with a cloth, over which a thin layer of rice flour is poured and then covered with a conical metallic cover. While this one is cooking, the second one is opened. The ready circular, thin pancake is cut in half, and in each half a small amount of shredded pork is placed. Afterwards, each half pancake is then folded into an irregular shape. They are served with garlic and coconut cream on top and fresh vegetables at their side. These delicate, highly esthetical dumplings are one of the best Thai dishes I ever tasted. Curious about their hue, I approached the chef, and she proudly showed me small, dark blue flowers that are added to the flour.
Member Rating 5 out of 5 on October 20, 2005
Sixty kilometers north of Chiang Rai is the northernmost town in Thailand, as the sign by the border cross proudly states. The way from Chiang Rai to Mae Sai passes inside a relatively narrow valley among the green hills separating the plains where these two towns are located. The town is a large typical border town ending by the Sai River at the north. It is built around a main axial road, Thanon Phaholyothin, actually Highway 1, that by the limit is transformed into a bridge that connects Mae Sai with Tachilek on the Burmese side. Both towns are a huge market catering mainly for Thais searching for cheap Burmese goods and tourists visiting the Golden Triangle or renewing their Thai visas. If you arrived by bus to the terminal (from Chiang Rai: 6am to 6pm every 15 minutes, fan 25B, air 45B, 1 hour), then you are still 5km south from the town. A truck to there costs 5B. The trucks travel straight along the main road until the bridge. If you are planning to renew your visa, then you should descend by the immigration office (look for the flags) 1km before the bridge.
For detailed information regarding the renewal and Tachilek, please read the relevant entry in my "Green Pagodas, Golden People" journal. Otherwise, the place to reach is the bridge. The main commercial and tourist activity of the town is concentrated around it. Just before the bridge and to the west, there is a long staircase to Wat Phra That Doi Wao, a temple better known as the Scorpion Temple. From there you can have exceptional looks of the whole area from the base of a huge scorpion statue.
There are several accommodations around the bridge, but I recommend the Mae Sai Complex Hotel on the eastern side of the river road. A friendly family of Chinese descent runs the place, and you can rent one of its clean rooms for 200 to 250B.
If you want to continue from here to the Golden Triangle itself, i.e. to Ban Sop Ruak or to Chiang Saen, then approach the Top Charoen Optical shop by the main road, some 200m before the bridge. The shop is next to a 7-11 branch and hard to miss due to the huge number of trucks parking around it. The trucks leave between 9am and 3pm whenever they have enough passengers and cost 30B. Most of the way is along a featureless green plateau parallel to the Sai River until the ground suddenly drops to the Mekong. You can ask the driver to stop for a moment, as you will have an excellent top view of the Golden Triangle.
Another interesting option from Mae Sai is to continue to Fang on the old way to Chiang Mai. The road goes through Tha Ton, and there are buses from the terminal at 7am, 10:30am, 1pm, and 3:30pm that cost 33B. Doi Maesalong is reached in the same way as from Chiang Rai. See the "Traveling Around" section of the overview for details.
Accommodations: There are several options, and most of them are in the immediate surroundings of the Opium Museum. Pu One Guesthouse, behind the museum, asks 500B for an air-conditioned room and for a fan room. Nearby, Golden Home Guesthouse asks 500B for an air-conditioned room and 400B for a fan room, and it is very close to the river. Farther south, SV Place offers daily and monthly rooms on a big sign, but when asked, the owner said that a daily room costs 300B and that there is no monthly option.
Accommodations: The Chiang Saen Guesthouse is at the northern side of the promenade and offers different types of rooms. A basic room with an attached bathroom and hot water costs 250B, a similar room without hot water costs 150B, and one with shared bathrooms costs 80B.
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